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Asia

Prominent Vietnamese dissident sentenced to jail

Cu Huy Ha Vu has been sentenced to seven years prison and an additional three years of house arrest on charges of spreading "anti-state propaganda." The ruling came after a one-day trial.

Cu Huy Ha Vu, a Vietnamese dissident

Cu Huy Ha Vu argued he did not encourage anyone to follow his views

The trial took place under unusually tight security. Only a few foreign diplomats and journalists were allowed to watch the proceedings inside via closed-circuit television. Outside the court building, Vu's supporters were sent away by police using megaphones and three men were arrested. It is one of the most high-profile cases in Vietnam in years.

Vu, who is 53, has been charged with spreading propaganda against the state with his writings, interviews with foreign media and internet material since 2009.

"Cu Huy Ha Vu's behavior is serious and harmful to society," said the head judge Nguyen Huu Chinh. The prosecutors said such behavior could "create conditions for hostile forces to fight against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung delivers speech at the opening ceremony of the 11th National Congress of Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi

Vu tried twice unsuccessfully to sue the Vietnamese PM Nguyen Tan Dung (right)

"I do not encourage anyone to follow my views, so I did not commit anti-state propaganda," countered Vu. He was left to defend himself after one of his lawyers had been expelled and the other three walked out.

Son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader

Vu, who studied law in France, was arrested last November when political tensions rose before the Communist Party’s January leadership Congress.

Two years ago, he had tried to sue Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and sought the cancellation of a bauxite mining plan, in what was apparently the first legal case brought against a Vietnamese premier.

Last October, he again filed a case against Dung - over a decree preventing class-action petitions, according to Human Rights Watch. Both attempts were unsuccessful. The current charges against Vu do not mention these legal challenges.

Vu is the son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader, who was a member of Ho Chi Minh’s provisional cabinet from 1945 and is still famous and respected. In the trial, the head judge made a comment about his being born into "a revolutionary family" and yet failing to follow in the tradition.

Because of his family history, some high-ranking officials had reservations about his arrest, an anonymous foreign diplomat, told AFP.

Attempt to intimidate critics

Portrait of Vietnam's revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh looms over the national flag formed by students holding signs during a ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City

Vu's father was a revolutionary leader and a member of Ho Chi Minh's cabinet

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that the "harsh" verdict was an attempt to intimidate the civic movement in Vietnam. Vu's case has led to "an unprecedented movement of popular support," much of it on the Internet.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that by sentencing Vu to a term in jail the government was sending out the following message: "We're serious about this crackdown and it doesn't matter who you are. We're going to come after you."

The United States expressed their concern over Vu’s sentencing. "We are also troubled by the apparent lack of due process in the conduct of the trial," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Moreover, he said he was concerned about the continued detention of several people who wanted to "peacefully observe the proceedings" and added that Vu’s conviction raised serious questions about Vietnam’s commitment to the rule of law and to reform. "No individual should be imprisoned for exercising the right to free speech," he insisted.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer (AFP, AP)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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