A pastor and three other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy group
have lost their appeals against convictions for trying to overthrow the communist government, a development that international rights groups have blasted as a violation of their rights. The People's High Court in Hanoi upheld a 12-year sentence for Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton on June 4 for "attempting to overthrow the people's government," the nation's Hanoimoi
reported. The court refused to overturn a similar sentence for journalist Truong Minh Duc and confirmed that Nguyen Bac Truyen and Pham Van Troi will spend 11 years and seven years behind bars, respectively, as per the original ruling. The four lodged appeals after they and two other defendants — Christian lawyer Nguyen Van Dai
and his assistant Le Thu Ha — received heavy sentences in April. Dai and Ha chose not to challenge the decisions. "We bitterly oppose the court ruling as it imposed the wrong sentences for my husband and the other activists without sufficient evidence for a criminal trial," said Nguyen Thi Lanh, Pastor Ton's wife, after the appeal results came out. Lahn, who last November called on the U.N. Human Rights chief
to help stop the Vietnamese government terrorizing her family, said her husband's lawyers were limited in their ability to mount a fair defense, but did not elaborate. As another move intended to stifle dissent, she claimed, relatives of the accused were seated at the back of the courtroom so they could not see the defendants' faces or protest to the judge. Meanwhile, police blocked all streets leading the court while officers put a cordon around it. Amnesty International described the latest ruling as "a blow to freedom of expression" in Vietnam. "This is a deeply unjust decision that consigns four men, who have done nothing more than peacefully defend human rights, to years behind bars," said Minar Pimple, Amnesty's senior director of global operations. Pimple said the four men have been deliberately silenced by the government for bravely speaking out in a country where freedom of expression is under attack. He also called on the government to "immediately cease its ongoing crackdown on dissent and stop throwing human rights defenders in jail." "These prisoners, along with others who are unfairly held behind bars, must be released," Pimple added.