12/28/2017, 14.30
VIETNAM
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Conviction for Catholic activist Maria Trần Thị Nga confirmed on appeal

by Paul H. Quoc

Arrested January 25, 2017, she is found guilty of "propaganda against the state". The sentence and trial have aroused harsh criticism. The prayers of the Vietnamese Catholics and the appeal of Human Rights Watch for her release are unheard by the government.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The appeal trial of Maria Trần Thị Nga (photo), a well-known Catholic human rights activist, ended with a sentence of nine years in prison and five years of house arrest. On December 22nd, the Supreme Court of Hanoi opened the proceedings at the People's Court in the province of Hà Nam, after which the judges confirmed the sentence commuted in July at the first instance for the activist, arrested on January 25, 2017 and found guilty of "propaganda against the state". This is a provision that the Vietnamese authorities frequently use to silence bloggers and other dissident activists.

Nga is the mother of two children of three and five years and is famous for her defence of the rights of Vietnamese migrant workers and victims of land dispossession by the government, a recurrent measure in the country. Through the social networks, the activist has repeatedly denounced liberticide policies and corruption among the leaders of the Communist Party. In May 2014 she was seriously injured by a group of thugs armed with metal tubes, leaving her with a broken leg.

Maria Trần Thị Nga’s appeal took place in a climate of tension, since only her three lawyers were able to attend the hearing. Nga's husband and family members were detained by a massive police deployment outside the courtroom, where her supporters had gathered and were beaten while trying to record videos. At least nine people were arrested on the spot and taken to the Tran Hung Dao People's Committee office in the city of Phủ Lý, including Phan Van Phong, her husband.

The sentence and the conduct of the trial have aroused harsh criticism. "The evidence has not been collected in accordance with the legal process," says defense lawyer Ha Huy Son. "There is no legal evidence to support the charges against Ms. Tran Thi Nga. The court has listened to our defense, but has not taken into account any of the information we have provided. " The lawyer complains that the judging panel limited itself to sending written statements, without participating in the hearing. Even the defense's requests for the postponement of the hearing were rejected, in order to listen to the assessments delivered in person.

From Sunday 17 December, Catholics from the north and central Vietnam gathered in several churches and prayed for justice and peace, recalling the prisoner of conscience. Two days before the trial on December 22nd, the international organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked the Vietnamese government to immediately release Maria Trần Thị Nga and to drop all charges against her.

Maria Trần Thị Nga is one of the many women still held today in Vietnamese prisons for demonstrating in defense of freedom, civil rights and the environment. Vietnam occupies one of the lowest rungs in the world for freedom of the press: according to the index published this year by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, it is ranked 175 out of 180 countries. In recent months, other bloggers and activists have been convicted: the Catholic Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, 37, known as Me Nam or "Mother Mushroom", will have to serve a 10-year prison sentence; while Peter Pham Minh Hoang, a French-Vietnamese blogger also a Catholic and already tried in 2011, was deprived of citizenship and expelled from the country.

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