Hanoi (AsiaNews) - A Vietnamese court has sentenced four Catholic activists of Vinh, under Article 88 of the Penal Code for distributing "anti-government leaflets" and conducting "propaganda against the state" (see AsiaNews 24/05/2012 Vietnamese Catholic activists on trial for "propaganda against the state"). The young people - college students or recent graduates - appeared yesterday before the judges of the province of Nghe An, in the north of the country. According to prosecutors, they were active in the Redemptorist News information network and volunteers of a Pro-Life movement, which is fighting for the protection of human life. Their claims of innocence during the trial and the protests of thousands of Christians activists camped outside the courthouse awaiting the verdict proved to no avail.
Local witnesses reported that Duong Van Dau received a sentence of 42 months in prison, followed by 18 months' probation, Tran Huu Duc 39 months in prison and one year of probation; Chu Manh Son 36 months in prison and one year of probation, and finally Hoang Phong, sentenced to 18 months.
In spite of months of preventive detention awaiting trial, the four activists have received support and solidarity from the Vietnamese Catholics, public opinion - which appreciates the work done for the benefit of society and the poor - and the international community. Thousands of faithful from Thai Ha and Hanoi camped outside the court, trying to gain access as per the authorities' promise of open proceedings in court.
In fact, only close relatives were allowed to attend the hearing, the majority, including Fr. Anthony Nguyen Van Nien and Fr. Francis Xavier Hoang SI Huong, Cau Ram parish, were forced to remain outside reciting rosaries and brandishing placards reading "My brother is innocent" and "We protest against the arbitrary and illegal arrests of innocent people."
The police finally decided to allow them entrance inside the outer courtyard of the court, because the protests staged outside were attracting the attention of passersby and onlookers. Immediately after the trial ended, the families of the condemned announced their intention to appeal, noting that the punishment is not comparable to the alleged "offense" committed.
In recent days, the Justice and Peace Committee of the Vietnamese bishops' conference has also intervened in the court system of the country, stressing that "if the application of the law remains arbitrary and does not the rule of law closely" it ends up causing "many aberrations, which eventually push people beyond the limits ". The bishops denounced the "arbitrary arrests", which violates both the Penal Code as well as the international conventions signed by Vietnam.