ucanews.com reporter, Vinh CityUpdated: January 10, 2013 05:18 PM GMT
Fourteen activists have been handed lengthy jail terms in Vietnam after being convicted of plotting to overthrow the communist government.
The People’s Court of Nghe An yesterday sentenced Francis Xavier Dang Xuan Dieu, Paul Le Van Son and Ho Duc Hoa to prison terms of 13 years each followed by five years house arrest.
Sentences of three to nine years in prison and two to three years house arrest where handed to 10 others, while one more, Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc, received a suspended sentence.
The defendants – 12 men and two women - including Christians, bloggers and students were found guilty of “carrying out activities to overthrow the people’s administration,” following a two-day trial in Vinh City.
They were arrested in 2011 and accused of having links to Viet Tan, a US based opposition group that has been labeled a terrorist organization by Hanoi.
They were also accused of spreading anti-government propaganda, protesting against China maritime claims, causing social disorder and advocating a multi-party system.
Bloggers and social media reported that hundreds of police and security officials had blocked roads to prevent their supporters and relatives from entering the courthouse.
Hundreds of people however, including four priests, tried to reach the courthouse to support the activists. At least eight people were arrested during scuffles during which one woman was badly beaten by police, witnesses said.
The severity of the sentence drew swift condemnation from the US and rights groups.
The US embassy in Hanoi said it was "deeply troubled" by the sentences, which follow the recent detention of prominent Catholic dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan and the confirmation of long jail terms handed to three high-profile bloggers.
“These convictions are part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam", it said in a statement released after the verdict.
It noted that Hanoi’s treatment of those individuals appears to be inconsistent with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression and due process.
"We call on the government to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience immediately," the US statement added.
International rights group Amnesty International echoed the call.
“We urge the Vietnamese authorities to release the activists immediately and unconditionally,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Vietnam.
“To misconstrue the activities of the activists as trying to overthrow the government is baseless – they have been imprisoned only for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” he added.
“Last year saw the Vietnamese government step up its crackdown on government critics and peaceful activists,” said Abbott.
“The convictions of the 14 activists illustrate a deeply worrying trend, and suggest that the crackdown is set to continue in 2013,” he noted.