Thursday’s sentencing, which followed the detention of other pro-democracy activists, including Christians, was "yet another politically motivated trial in Vietnam" said AI, adding that it had turned "citizens who have only peacefully expressed opinions into prisoners of conscience."
Le Nguyen Sang, 48 years old, a medical doctor and leader of the PDP, was sentenced to five years imprisonment, while journalist Huynh Nguyen Dao and lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, both 39, were reportedly sentenced to three and four years in prison respectively.
The three men were charged with “conducting propaganda” against the state under article 88 of the penal code for taking part in setting up the party, communicating online with a government critic abroad, and spreading leaflets critical of the government, AI said.
The prosecutor in the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court reportedly described the ruling as a warning to other “hostile forces.” The trial, reportedly closed to international observers, lasted around four hours.
On Friday, May 11, two prominent human rights lawyers are to face trial on similar "conducting propaganda" charges as those sentenced Thursday, May 10, AI said. The Hanoi People’s Court will hear a case against Nguyen Van Dai, a member of the online pro-democracy group Bloc 8406, and Le Thi Cong Nhan, a spokesperson for the Progression Party under the penal code’s controversial article 88.
Four days later, on May 15, Tran Quoc Hien of the United Worker-Farmers Organization (UWFO) and a Bloc 8406 member, is reportedly to stand trial for apparently article 88 charges.
AI said it is "deeply concerned" about what it called a "politically motivated campaign by authorities to silence dissenting voices" which it claimed "has gradually intensified" since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Hanoi in November 2006.
The latest trials come on the heels of the sentencing of other dissidents, including Christians such as Catholic priest Catholic Priest Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly and four associates who were found guilty of "conducting propaganda" against the state. The priest, on March 30, was sentenced to eight years in prison during dramatic proceedings in which the church leader openly condemned the Vietnamese Communist leadership.
The 60-year-old Ly who spent a total of 14 years in prison since 1983 on charges of acting against the Communist state, upset officials by resuming his political activities after he was freed from jail in a 2005 amnesty, and placed under house arrest, observers said.
Other Christian and religious leaders as well as lawyers, trade unionists, and Internet dissidents with links to emerging pro-democracy groups have also been targeted with "many" facing trial, AI said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Independent churches have also expressed concerns over harassment. AI said it has urged Vietnamese authorities to honor their "international human rights obligations by releasing all prisoners of conscience." It estimates that at least over 20 people have been arrested and detained since November 2006 in what it called an "on-going" crackdown. "So far, eight have been convicted, six of them sentenced to prison terms."
Vietnamese authorities have strongly denied human rights abuses. (With reports from Vietnam and BosNewsLife reporting).