A prominent Vietnamese dissident, Father Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison for "spreading propaganda" against the country's Communist government. Four co-defendants received prison terms ranging from eighteen months suspended, to six years. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States is deeply troubled by the March 30th trial and sentencing of Father Ly:
"This trial comes in the wake of. . . .an increase in the harassment, detention, and arrest of individuals peacefully exercising a legitimate right to peaceful speech. And this is a case that we have raised with the Vietnamese government officials among other cases. . . .This is something that is certainly not a positive development."
Father Ly is a founding member of the 8-4-0-6 Bloc, a pro-democracy movement launched in April 2006. Father Ly has already spent fourteen years in prison. He had been under house arrest since early February. He was last jailed in 2001 after he urged the United States to link its trade policy with Vietnam's human rights record. He was released as part of an amnesty in 2005.
Vietnamese media have accused Father Ly and other pro-democracy activists of trying to undermine the Communist Party by forming illegal parties to field candidates in national assembly elections scheduled for May.
According to the latest U.S. State Department human rights report, Vietnam's record remains unsatisfactory. Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by the Communist Party and citizens cannot change their government. Political opposition movements in Vietnam are officially prohibited. Prominent political activists face ongoing harassment or arrest. Vietnamese authorities continue to exert control over the press and the Internet.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue of human rights when she met with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem in March. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States will be following the case of Father Nguyen Van Ly and other persecuted pro-democracy activists "very closely."