Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Hanoi People's Court of Appeals today upheld the conviction and 30-month prison sentence against Catholic lawyer Le Quoc Quan, after a hearing that lasted less than half a day.
Outside the courthouse, at least a hundred supporters clamoured for his release, with dozens of police forming a cordon sanitaire to isolate the area.
Le Quoc was tried for tax fraud, an indictment that human rights associations and foreign governments branded as "politically motivated."
The court rejected his lawyers' appeal. The latter were unable to meet their client in jail because of the refusal by the authorities.
The court found no evidence to overturn a lower court decision in October 2013 to sentence the 43-year-old Catholic to 30 months.
"The defendant did not show regret and took a disrespectful attitude towards the court," said court president Nguyen Van Son, confirming the jail term and a fine of around US$ 57,000.
The television feed to the court's observation room was cut off immediately after the verdict.
The defendant's lawyer earlier told the court that he was "completely innocent," adding that "If you want to try Le Quoc Quan for his activism, you don't need to bring him to court for tax evasion."
Tired and thin after 17 days of hunger strike in protest against his prison conditions, Le Quoc Quan spoke briefly claiming to be "the victim of a political conspiracy."
His younger brother, Le Quoc Quyet, told AFP outside the courthouse that the family had not been allowed to attend the hearing.
For their part, protesters and activists loudly called for his release, blocking traffic near the courthouse. "Le Quoc Quan is innocent. Freedom for the patriot," they shouted.
Many people wore a T-shirt (pictured) that read "Freedom for the lawyer Le Quoc Quan."
Their number was unusually high. In Vietnam, events of this kind are rare and when they do occur, they tend to attract just a few dozen people.
The Catholic lawyer and blogger was arrested and detained briefly in the past on various occasions. This time, he was arrested on 27 December 2012 under trumped-up charges of "tax evasion" and taken into custody by government officials.
Many human rights associations around the world strongly condemned the arrest.
The 30-month sentence and hefty fine (US$ 57,000) was handed down on 2 October, at the end of a hearing that lasted only two hours.
International NGOs, Catholic activists and representatives of Vietnam's main religions spoke out in favour of the dissident, who had fasted and prayed for a long time ahead of his first trial.
Le Quoc Quan's story, like that of Cu Huy Ha Vu, and dozens of other jailed bloggers and activists, shows how Communist leaders in Hanoi regularly use an iron fist against domestic dissent.
The authorities have also targeted Buddhist and Catholics religious leaders, as well as entire communities. Last year for example, both media and government launched a smear campaign and targeted attacks against the local bishop and Catholics in the diocese of Vinh.
Repression also affects many individuals, who are penalised for claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights.