Wednesday, January 20, 2010

News from first day of the trail

Vietnam dissidents put on trial for subversion

HO CHI MINH CITY — A group of democracy campaigners went on trial in Vietnam Wednesday, facing possible death sentences on charges of trying to overthrow the communist regime in a case which has sparked global concern.

Human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, 41, French-trained computer expert and blogger Nguyen Tien Trung, 26, and Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, 43, are charged with "activities aimed at subverting the people's administration," according to the indictment.

The charges against the three carry a minimum penalty of 12 years in prison and a maximum of death.

It is the most high-profile case in a series of arrests and convictions of dissidents and bloggers in the communist country over the past year.

A fourth man in the dock, Le Thang Long, 42, is accused of being an accomplice and faces five to 15 years in prison if convicted.

"This is an extremely serious case," said the indictment. "It is prejudicial to national security."

It accused the men of an organised non-violent campaign, in collusion with "reactionary Vietnamese in exile and hostile forces", to overturn the government with the help of the Internet.

"They broadly disseminated information to distort reality and make people disbelieve party and state leadership," the charge said.

Although the defendants did not enter formal pleas, Dinh and Trung told the court in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, that they had violated the law.

Thuc testified that he wanted to warn people about socio-economic problems, like corruption.

"My behaviour did not violate the law," he said, admitting that he signed a confession saying he had called for a multi-party system.

But he alleged he was "mistreated" during the investigation process which "was not conducted in accordance with the law."

All except Long were accused of having links to the banned Democratic Party of Vietnam (DPV), which Dinh testified wants to establish a multiparty system and calls for pluralism.

"What I did violated the law," Dinh said.

The DPV, which the indictment says seeks to overthrow the government, has its roots in the Communist Party. It was dissolved in the 1980s but revived in 2006 by Hoang Minh Chinh, a former communist official-turned-dissident who died in 2008.

Trung also testified that he violated the law and had been "immature".

He and the others are accused of preparing dozens of anti-state documents and blogs.

Thuc foresaw the elimination of the Communist Party by 2020, Dinh drafted a new constitution, while Trung, together with students in France, established a "democratic youth movement", the indictment said.

Long testified that he and Thuc were part of a group that discussed socio-economic issues and ways to "develop the country".

Long, who admitted writing articles and sending them to a foreign radio service, said: "I think my discussion is natural and it's within my citizen's rights."

Neither relatives of the accused nor foreign journalists and diplomats were allowed into the courtroom and watched the trial via closed-circuit television.

Dozens of police surrounded the People's Court complex in central Ho Chi Minh, where the defendants were arrested between May and July last year.

Dinh's arrest in particular sparked concern in Europe and the United States, and among a global association of lawyers, human rights watchdogs and press freedom groups.

"Their real crime, in the eyes of the authorities, was to have requested more freedoms," said press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

US consul general Kenneth Fairfax, who monitored the trial, said the case "related to exercise of free speech" and called for their release.

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