Vietnam jails prominent human rights lawyer and five other activists
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Vietnam jails prominent human rights lawyer and five other activists

A Hanoi court jailed prominent human rights lawyer and activist, Nguyen Van Dai, for 15 years on Thursday for activities “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

Dai was sentenced along with five other activists who have been given prison sentences of seven to 12 years.

“I’m very disappointed with the trial and strongly protest it,” Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh, said. “He is innocent and he pleaded innocent at the trial. He will continue to fight and will appeal the verdict.”

In March 2013, Dai and others formed the “Brotherhood for Democracy,” which conducted anti-government activities to “build multi-party democracy” in Vietnam, according to a copy of the official indictment against Dai seen by Reuters.

In December 2015, having already served a previous four-year prison sentence, Nguyen Van Dai was arrested along with his assistant.

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“The only crime that these activists have committed is to campaign tirelessly for democracy and defend victims of human rights abuses,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“The Vietnamese government should thank them for their efforts to improve the country instead of arresting and putting them on trial.”

Despite sweeping reforms to its economy and showing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and has zero tolerance for criticism.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States was “deeply troubled” over the conviction of the six “peaceful activists,” adding that people had a “right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

She said in a statement that Washington was concerned about “a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions and harsh sentences of peaceful activists” in Vietnam and urged the country to “release all prisoners of conscience immediately.”

A statement from the European Union said the conviction “continues the negative trend of prosecuting and sentencing of human rights activists and bloggers in Vietnam.” The sentences were in “direct breach” of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Despite sweeping reforms to its economy and showing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and has zero tolerance for criticism.

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Commenting on the trial, foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told reporters on Thursday that Vietnam’s efforts to promote human rights was “widely recognised” by the international community.

“In Vietnam there is no such thing as a ‘prisoner of conscience’, and there’s no such thing as people being arrested for ‘freely expressing opinion,” Hang said.

There was heavy security outside the court after the case received widespread attention in Vietnam. Hundreds of police were present during Thursday’s trial and a planned march by families of the detained activists was stopped.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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