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    » 09/25/2012, 00.00

    VIETNAM

    Catholics to pray for three bloggers unfairly given harsh prison sentences

    Paul N. Hung

    Sentences range between 4 and 12 years in jail, plus probation. Redemptorists celebrate Mass for the prisoners. US State Department complains the accused simply exercised their right to free speech. Human Rights Watch protests, calls on the authorities to listen to the people and to its critics.

    Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced three Vietnamese bloggers, Nguyễn Văn Hải (Blogger Điếu Cày),  Maria Tạ Phong Tần and Phan Thanh hải (blogger anh Ba Sài Gòn), to 4 to 12 years in prison, plus probation, for "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam".

    On a cold and rainy morning, police arrested and took away relatives of the accused who tried to attend the trial. Some 400 officers from the police and the secret services patrolled the streets leading to the courthouse (pictured).

    The three were arrested and convicted on baseless charges. In fact, if the law has been violated, it is by the authorities.

    International organisations like Human Rights Watch slammed the court decision.

    "We are deeply troubled by the convictions of three Vietnamese bloggers who appear to have done nothing more than exercise their right to freedom of expression," said State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

    On Sunday, the Redemptorists heeded a request by the bloggers' relatives for a Mass to pray for them and 17 other Catholics unfairly jailed. Some 2,000 people attended the service, including non-Catholics.

    "It was certain that the three faced heavy prison sentences," said Fr Joseph, "that they would 'lose' in the trial; however, their work was meaningful. They are brave patriots in a society of unjust behaviours. We prayed especially for new Catholic bloggers."

    The convictions are based on Article 88 of the Criminal Code, an infamous legal tool used to arrest and incriminate people arbitrarily.

    For this trouble, Nguyễn Văn Hải was given 12 years in prison, and five years of probation. Maria Tạ Phong Tần, who was baptised by the Redemptorists in 2009, received a nine-year sentenced, plus five years probation.  Phan Thanh Hải was given four years in prison and three on probation.

    For some, this is a harsh and unfair sentence. It allows us to understand the direction the government is taking.

    Human Rights Watch called on the government to release the prisoners immediately.  The government needs to understand the nature of social issues and phenomena and should listen to people's opinions, even their criticism. If the bloggers are gagged, or imprisoned, the country's current problems and difficulties cannot be solved.

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    See also

    27/08/2014 VIETNAM
    To please Beijing, Hanoi jails three activists on false charges
    The blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang, leader of the protests against China's imperialist policies, is sentenced to three years prison. Police arrest dozens of activists outside the courtroom, then they beat them up in the barracks. The convictions coincide with a senior government officials visit to Beijing.

    04/04/2011 VIETNAM
    Tens of thousands of Catholics in Vietnam support sentenced dissident
    Cu Huy Ha Vu, a lawyer and activist, was sentenced to seven years in prison and a further three years of house arrest for having challenged the government on pollution of mines and single party rule. His trial was not public, as the government had promised. Prayer vigils for him in Hanoi, Saigon and other parts of the country. Catholic bloggers and activists arrested.

    16/12/2008 VIETNAM
    Hanoi mayor wants to drive Redemptorists out of town
    In a letter to Vietnam’s bishops and the order’s provincial superior Nguyen The Thao demands the Redemptorists be moved “out of the area of the capital.” Three months ago he wanted the archbishop out of the capital. For ordinary people, the trial against Thai Ha parishioners has turned them into heroes, with the authorities now facing the trial of public opinion.

    14/04/2011 VIETNAM
    Catholics, arrested for supporting Cu Huy Ha Vu, released
    Lawyer Le Quoc Quan also released, although state media had announced that all those arrested would be prosecuted. Immediately after release, the lawyer and his wife went to some churches in Hanoi had to give thanks for their support.

    27/10/2010 VIETNAM
    Vietnamese bishops ask government to "explain" Con Dau situation
    President of Justice and Peace intervenes to ask "why the government is putting the peaceful parishioners Con Dau in the current tragic situation, which has resulted in one death, numerous arrests, others who have lost all their property and dozens of people who have had to flee to other countries".



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