Authorities in Vietnam have given harsh prison terms to six peaceful Vietnamese human rights activists following a one-day trial on charges widely viewed by rights monitors as spurious.
In a written statement, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said the United States was “deeply troubled” by the activists’ conviction and sentencing.
Renowned human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai received the longest sentence -- 15 years; the five others -- Le Thu Ha, Pham Van Troi, Ngueyn Trung Ton, Ngueyn Bac Truyen and Truong Minh Duc received sentences ranging from seven to 12 years. Ms. Nauert called the charges against the rights defenders “vague,” including the charge of “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” She also noted that Vietnamese authorities held Nguyen Van Dai, who co-founded the pro-human rights network Brotherhood for Democracy, and his assistant Le Thu Ha, in pre-trial detention for over two years.
As the State Department’s 2016 human rights report notes, Vietnam severely restricts its citizens’ political rights; limits their civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, association, and expression; and fails to protect the Vietnamese people from arbitrary detention and unfair judicial procedures. The State Department also reported mistreatment of suspects during arrest and detention, including the use of lethal force and austere prison conditions.
Amnesty International recently reported that Vietnam is holding at least 97 prisoners of conscience “who have been robbed of their freedom for nothing but promoting human rights…many of whom are kept incommunicado in squalid conditions and routinely subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.”
In her statement, State Department Spokesman Heather Nauert emphasized that “[i]ndividuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, both online and offline. The United States is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government’s efforts to restrict these rights, through a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions and harsh sentences of peaceful activists.
“The United States,” she wrote, “calls on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.
“We also urge the Vietnamese government to ensure its actions and laws, including the Penal Code, are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution, and Vietnam’s international obligations and commitments.”