Published: Oct. 12, 2009 at 11:34 AM
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Democracy groups have condemned the latest sentencing of activists by Hanoi's mostly closed-session "kangaroo" courts, saying the fight for free speech goes on.
A court in the northern port city of Haiphong sent six more pro-democracy activists to prison for periods ranging from two to six years only days after two other men were given three years each.
The majority were found guilty under the country's catch-all Article 88 of the criminal code of spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Some of the accused were believed to be members of the free-speech Web-savvy group Bloc 8406 formed three years ago.
The charges stem from an August 2008 incident in which all six of the activists hung banners from overpass bridges along busy roads in Haiphong and neighboring areas. Wording on the banners criticized the lack of multiparty democracy.
But the banners also slammed the Communist Party for "losing" some of the internationally disputed Spratly Islands to China and other nations. About 45 of the more than 600 tiny Spratly reef islands in the South China Sea are currently occupied by small numbers of military forces from the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
None of the accused confessed to the charges against them, media reports said. Those sentenced on Friday include writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, 60. As the group's leader, he received the longest jail sentence, six years.
Land-rights activist Nguyen Van Tuc, 45, got four years in prison. Former Communist Party member Nguyen Manh Son, 66, writer Nguyen Van Tinh, 67, and university student Ngo Quynh, 25, were given three years each.
All five of the accused got three years on probation after their sentences are finished.
Electrician Nguyen Kim Nhan, 60, received two years in jail and two years probation.
"The individuals have committed no crimes and were only exercising their rights to freedom of expression by peaceful means," the foreign-based Peoples' Democratic Party said in a written statement published by many Web sites including the Viet Catholic News.
"The Vietnam Communist Party has ignored these basic human rights, continued to crack down and used harsh sentences to silence pro-democracy activists. The People's Democratic Party strongly condemns the trials and sentencing. We call upon our members and the Vietnamese people at home and abroad to continue fighting for human rights, freedom and democracy for Vietnam."
The statement was written by party spokesperson Nam Tran, 50, whose real name is Cong Thanh Do, an engineer living in San Jose, Calif. In 2006 he and he wife were arrested while on a family visit to Phan Thiet in southern Vietnam. They were released after only a few hours. His family said at the time that he was accused of conspiring to set up a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a report on the Web site of Reporters Sans
Frontiers. He was probably detained for what he posted on the Web, noted RSF.
The sentences were "predetermined," according to the California-based Vietnam Reform Party, also called Viet Tan. The activists, along with cyber-activist Pham Thanh Nghien, arrested in September 2008 but who has yet to be formally charged, are all innocent, Viet Tan said on its Web site.
"The kangaroo trials this week have demonstrated to the Vietnamese people and the international community that contrary to its denials, the Hanoi regime does hold political prisoners."
Viet Tan said that it believed Hanoi "effectively banned public discussion on Vietnamese territorial claims in order to placate political patrons in Beijing."
In a connected incident, according to Viet Tan, writer Tran Khai Thanh Thuy and her husband, Do Ba Tan, were beaten in their Hanoi homes and taken away by undercover police. The incident happened after the couple had visited with groups protesting outside the courthouse of the trials. They were beaten with bricks and threatened with AIDS-infected needles, the Viet Tan Web site reported.
The current round of sentencing began last week when three people, including high school physics teacher Vu Hung, 43, and a poet, Tran Duc Thach, both received jail terms of up to three years. Vu Hung's brief comment at his trial was that he simply wanted his voice to be heard.
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