Vietnam jailed three democracy activists after brief, separate trials on Thursday, adding to a growing list of political prisoners from a major crackdown on critics and dissenters in the one-party state that has drawn widespread international criticism.
State-run Vietnamnet news site said Tran Thi Xuan of Ha Tinh Province was sentenced to nine years on charges of subversion, Nguyen Viet Dung of Nghe An Province was jailed for seven years posting "anti-state propaganda" on Facebook, and Vu Van Hung of Hanoi was put away for one year for "deliberately causing injury."
Xuan and Vu were members of the Brotherhood for Democracy grouping, seven of whose members were given harsh sentences for attempting to overthrow the state in show trials last week. Dung, founder of the banned Republican Party in Vietnam, was jailed for "anti-state activity" under Article 88 of the criminal code, a catch-all Hanoi uses to stifle dissent.
Xuan's trial and sentencing were not previously announced, catching her family and lawyers off guard and forcing her to appear in court without an attorney.
“I don’t know why they kept the trial day secret and conducted it in such a stealthy way," said Xuan's brother, Tran Quyet Tien.
"In the case of a transparent government, there will not anything to be afraid of," he told RFA's Vietnamese Service. "The stealthy way makes people embarrassed. A true government must be transparent.”
Dung's father, Nguyen Viet Hung, told RFA the trial lasted just two hours.
"The court prepared beforehand all related details and Dung did not say anything," he said, adding that court officers did not accept the lawyers’ arguments for clemency.
Vu's wife, Ly Thi Tuyet Mai, said the government’s claim that his trial was open to the public was false.
"They told us that it would be public, but in reality it was not. A lot of police officials were deployed in the court area. Only Hung’s older sister was allowed in, escorted by a security agent in the courtroom.”
“Vietnamese authorities regularly claim to respect human rights but their actions suggest precisely the opposite. Vietnam's government wrongly believe that freedom of expression and association only translate into only saying and doing things approved by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam," said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
"These trumped up charges, used to attack peaceful activists like Nguyen Viet Dung and many other dissidents before him, show just how easy it is for the government to harass, detain, prosecute and imprison any person, using broadly drafted penal code articles such as conducting propaganda against the state," he said in a written statement.
A group of UN rights experts, known as Special Rapporteurs, called on Hanoi to halt its crackdown on civil society and dissenters.
“We are deeply concerned at the way these peaceful campaigners have been treated and in particular over the use of Article 79 of the 1999 penal code of Viet Nam to charge and convict dissenting voices, mainly human rights defenders, especially as Article 79 carries the possibility of the death sentence or life imprisonment,” the experts said in statement issued in Geneva.
“We also call on Viet Nam to release all political prisoners and provide a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, in line with their international obligations and commitments,” the experts said.
The experts are Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Thursday's sentencing came a week after Vietnam meted out heavy sentences to six other activists convicted of attempting to overthrow the people's administration. A Hanoi court sentenced human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai to 15 years in prison, while five other Brotherhood for Democracy activists were jailed for seven to 12 years.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Paul Eckert.