Father Nguyen Van Ly sentenced to 8 years
Catholic priest and dissident Fr. Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced to eight years imprisonment after a three hour trial in a Hue court, in which he and his four co-defendants were allowed no legal represention. Fr. Ly was dragged out of the courtroom after he shouted "Vietnam follows the rule of the jungle" and "Down with Communism." Foreign reporters had been allowed to view the trial on video, but the video connection was cut off after Fr. Ly's outburst.
Of the co-defendants, Progression Party founders Nguyen Phong and Nguyen Binh Thanh, received six and five year prison sentences, respectiverly; while two female associates, Le Thi Le Hang and Hong Thi Anh Dao, received suspended sentences. They were all charged with violating Article 88 of the country's criminal code, which prohibits spreading anti-government propaganda. More specifically, they were charged with starting up a pro-democracy newsletter and establishing a political party, the Vietnam Progression Party.
Fr. Ly "testified only briefly at the trial, and his responses to questions from the judges were twice cut short when he tried to make proclamations," reports Matt Steinglass of Voice of America. At the end of the trial, the defendants were asked if they would like to say anything in response to the charges. Nguyen Binh Thanh said "his actions were in accordance with international law. But the presiding judge cuts him off, too, saying that is not relevant," reports Steinglass.
The trial has been widely protested. Amnesty International described the trial as "indicative of a broader crackdown on dissent by the Vietnamese authorities that has been intensifying since the country held the APEC meeting last November." It added:
"Father Ly and his associates are the first people who have been brought to trial during the crackdown -- we fear others will follow."
Reporters Without Borders, which described the trial as a "slap in the face" of the international community urged the U.S. and EU to respond to the trial in the following manner:
"We call on the European Union to suspend its cooperation programmes in judicial matters, and we will ask the US government to put Vietnam back on the list of countries that do not respect freedom of opinion and religious freedom. If the international community does not react, all of Vietnam's dissidents will be in danger."
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey called the trial "outrageous and appalling" and urged the Bush administration to immediately intervene with authorities in Hanoi to secure his release. Smith introduced a resolution two weeks ago that condemned the current crackdown on dissent, and warned that ongoing harassment, detentions and arrests will harm Vietnam's broadening ties with the United States and possibly result in Vietnam being put back on a State Department list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe and ongoing violations of religious freedom.
Sources: Amnesty International news release March 30; Reporters Without Borders news release, March 30; Associated Press/Ben Stocking, March 29,30; Agence France Presse, March 30; Asia News/Nguyen Van Tranh, March 30; Time/Kay Johnson, March 30; VNA/Nhan Dan, March 30; Paper Chase, March 30; VOA/Matt Steinglass, March 30; VOA/Dan Robinson, March 30; Asia News March 31.