Catholic activist imprisoned in Vietnam, supporters cry foul

Five-year prison sentence is an injustice because Nguyen Van Oai committed no crime, says priest
Catholic activist imprisoned in Vietnam, supporters cry foul

Father John Baptist Nguyen Dinh Thuc consoles Catholic activist Nguyen Van Oai's mother (right) and wife after court proceedings. (Photo courtesy of Le Van Son) reporter, Hanoi
September 25, 2017
A court in central Vietnam has sentenced a Catholic former prisoner of conscience to five years in prison for resisting security officials and violating his probation terms.

The People's Court of Nghe An Province sentenced Nguyen Van Oai three years in prison on Sept. 18 for resisting police and two years in prison for violating the terms of his probation after an earlier jail sentence.

The court also gave him another four years on probation.

Oai, a 36-year-old activist from Yen Hoa parish, was arrested in January by plainclothes police as he walked on a street in the town of Hoang Mai while he was on probation that was part of an earlier sentence for "attempting to overthrow the people's government. As part of that he was in prison from 2013-15.

Following the court's Sept. 18 decision, Oai's lawyer Ha Huy Son said via Facebook that his client "did not commit the crimes."

Officers in plainclothes from the province's public security department of entered Oai's house and videoed his family without his permission on Sept. 1, 2016. In response, Oai forced the officials out of his home. He was accused of using a wooden rod to beat one officer's arm.

Oai's lawyer said the officers did not perform their duty because they did not tell Oai the purpose for their entering his home and that Oai was justified in his reaction.

The lawyer likewise said Oai — who is also a well-known blogger — did not violate the terms of his probation.

He also quoted Oai as saying to the judge that "I dared to do (my work) so I dare to accept (the punishment) but I need freedom to look after my baby." The judge was not moved and passed sentence.

Father John Baptist Nguyen Dinh Thuc said via a video clip that Oai's supporters — even his mother and wife — were prevented from entering the court which was surrounded by police.

"The sentence is an injustice because Oai committed no crime," said Father Thuc.

Outside the court, supporters raising Oai's photos and banners called for his freedom.  

After his release in 2015, Oai said he was innocent of the government's charges and dedicated his time to helping local farmers oppose governmental abuse of taxes and fees. He also assisted fishermen with legal support to sue Taiwanese-run Formosa unit over the discharging of toxic waste into waters along four central provinces last year.

Oai's sentencing comes as the communist government cracks down on dissent. More than 20 bloggers and activists have been detained this year.

Oai is a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience.

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