Saturday, May 18, 2013

• Vietnam jails 2 student activists for inciting protests against China

Heavy sentences for students who 'humiliated' Hanoi by calling for protests against Beijing's territorial claims in the East Sea

Nguyen Phuong Uyen (left) and Dinh Nguyen KhaA Vietnamese court has sentenced two student activists to six and eight years in prison for distributing leaflets calling on people to demonstrate against China.

The sentences, handed down yesterday by a court in the southern province of Long An, were the latest in an intensified crackdown against dissent in the one-party, authoritarian state.

University student Nguyen Phuong Uyen, in her early 20s, and computer technician Dinh Nguyen Kha, 25, were arrested in October in Ho Chi Minh city for handing out leaflets urging protests against China's territorial claims in the East Sea (South China Sea).

The two countries have a long-standing dispute over their competing claims to the Paracel and Spratly islands, both potentially resource-rich rocky outcrops that straddle key shipping lanes.

Lawyer Nguyen Thanh Luong said Uyen was sentenced to six years, while Kha received eight years after a one-day trial. Both will have to serve an additional three years of house arrest afterwards, Luong said. "The sentences were too heavy," he said, adding that although the pair might have committed some minor infractions, the lengthy jail terms were not appropriate. "They said they did what they did because of their patriotism and to make society a better place. For this to be seen as anti-state propaganda was never what they wished."

The leaflets, signed by a group called Patriotic Youth, accused the Vietnamese Communist Party of allowing China to take over the country by occupying islands, leasing forest land, and exploiting natural resources. The group urged people "to take to the streets" against the Vietnamese communists, who were "lackeys" of the Chinese. A copy of the indictment that was posted online said the leaflets they allegedly distributed "humiliated the administration". Popular anger against China puts Hanoi in a difficult position because it cannot afford to alienate Beijing, its large neighbour.

The charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, are routinely laid against dissidents. At least 36 activists have been convicted of anti-state activity this year under what rights groups say are vaguely defined articles of the penal code. Uyen, whose plight has attracted strong online support from Vietnamese activists, called for the charges against her to be dropped as she addressed the court. "I am a patriotic student. If the court today charges me with a crime, all young people will be frightened," she said, according to an unofficial transcript posted online by activists. Photographs and reports about the trial were widely shared on dissident blogs and on Facebook.

Rights defenders appealed for the two defendants' immediate release. "Putting people on trial for distributing leaflets critical of the government is ridiculous," the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, said.

:arrow: Long An: Vietnamese activists jailed for 'anti-Chinese protest'
:arrow: Vietnam: Stop Blocking ‘Human Rights Picnics’

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