Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Vietnamese court has handed down sentences ranging up to three years, at the end of a trial of three activists that lasted just one day under tight security. Several supporters who protested outside the court demanding the release of the accused were arrested.
The blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang - see photo, who led protests against China's oimperialist policies in the Asia-Pacific region - the most prominent of the three on trial, was sentenced to three years. The court in the southern province of Dong Thap found her guilty of "causing public disorder."
The 50 year old woman was arrested in February along with two other activists while they were driving to visit a former political prisoner in the province of Dong Thap. The second defendant, the 28-year old human rights activist Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh was sentenced to two years; the 34 year-old Hoa Hao Buddhist Nguyen Van Minh was sentenced to two and a half years.
All the accused were convicted under the same charge, which pro human rights activists and independent groups have branded as "political" and the result of "false allegations of violations of traffic laws", to stifle dissent. Activists present outside the court speak of "about 60 or 70 people@ protesting outside the court for the release of the accused who were "arrested and beaten at the police station".
The trial against the three activists, based on false or spurious allegations, coincides with Le Hong Anh's official visit to Beijing. The high ranking member of the Hanoi Politburo arrived in the Chinese capital for a two-day visit in an attempt to ease tensions between the two communist allies, long at loggerheads over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Last May, Beijing's decision to place a platform for oil exploration (later removed) in a disputed area triggered the reaction of the Vietnamese nationalists, with widespread protests and assaults on foreign factories, causing deaths and injuries. The sentencing today could therefore be a signal of "détente" that the Hanoi government wants to send to Beijing.
For the past several years, Vietnam has seen a harsh campaign by the government against dissidents, bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists or entire communities. Last year for example, media and government conducted a smear campaign in the Diocese of Vinh targeting the local bishop and faithful.
The government's crackdown has also touched people whose only guilt is that of claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights.
In 2013 alone, Vietnamese authorities arrested dozens of activists for crimes "against the state," based on a rule that human rights groups have branded as too "generic" and "vague".