Vietnam court jails Catholic activist for 20 years

Priests hold special Mass for former soldier as lawyer condemns 'rude, wicked and unscrupulous' sentence
Vietnam court jails Catholic activist for 20 years

Catholic activist Le Dinh Luong listens to the court verdict in Nghe An province on Aug. 16 when he was jailed for 20 years for trying to overthrow Vietnam's communist government. (Photo by AFP) reporter, Vinh
August 17, 2018
A court in central Vietnam has given a 20-year jail sentence to a Catholic rights activist for conducting activities seeking "to overthrow the people's government."

The People's Court in Nghe An province on Aug. 16 also sentenced Le Dinh Luong to five years of house arrest after finishing his jail term, state-run Nghe An newspaper reported.

The newspaper said Luong was "a highly dangerous reactionary" accused of "conducting actions to overthrow the people's government."

It said Luong, 53, was found guilty of being member of the U.S.-based Viet Tan, which Vietnam treats as a terrorist group. He induced other activists to join Viet Tan, incited people to oppose the communist government and boycott national elections in 2016, and led protests against severe marine pollution.

The court building was tightly guarded by police. Only Luong's wife was allowed to attend his trial.

While Luong, a former soldier, was standing trial, 17 priests from Ke Dua Deanery concelebrated a special Mass attended by hundreds of Catholics in his home parish of Vinh Hoa. They prayed for him to be peaceful and resilient in court.

Church sources said many police and military personnel were deployed in public places. 

Nguyen Xoan, Luong's daughter-in-law, said she was proud of her father-in-law, who is "brave and proud of his 'crimes.'"

She said he kept silent during the trial and smiled as his sentence was announced. "I am innocent. Free me immediately," she quoted him as saying at the end of the trial.

Defense lawyer Dang Dinh Manh said on Facebook that "we really admire and applaud what he has done and is devoted to, and his quiet and relaxed manner at the trial."

Vietnam-based Brotherhood for Democracy said Luong's detention and trial were a blow to human rights and politics.

"All his activities only showed [respect for the] freedom of actions of political parties, speech and the press," Protestant lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, founder of the group, said in a statement.

Dai, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for an attempt to overthrow the government in April but was released and exiled to Germany in June, said that no "people's government" but "only a communist authoritarian government which is anti-democratic, anti-revolutionary and reactionary" has existed in Vietnam since 1975.

The lawyer condemned Luong's sentence and described it as "a rude, wicked and unscrupulous act of the government." He called on the government to immediately and unconditionally release Luong.

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