08/03/2011, 00.00
VIETNAM

Hanoi: conviction of dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu upheld on appeal

by Kelly Ann-Nguyen
Hundreds of people demonstrated for the activist’s release. For the judges he is guilty of propaganda against the state and the party : seven years in prison and three under house arrest. Crackdown on the communist regime to curb internal dissent. Catholics concerned about the conditions of Fr. Van Ly.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The support expressed by hundreds of Vietnamese gathered outside the Supreme People's Court in Hanoi, was not enough: the judges have in fact confirmed on appeal the sentence to seven years in prison for Cu Huy Ha Vu, 53 year old lawyer and son of one of the leaders of the revolution. The decision at first instance was in April last and raised protests from Vietnamese and human rights activists around the world. The court affirmed he had "denigrated the party, state institutions and its policies." Vu in the past has supported the struggle of Catholics to defend religious freedom.

Today at 8.30 am in Hanoi the appeal process started, chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nguyen Son. Outside, hundreds of protesters (pictured) showed up in support of the Vietnamese activist, but the police dispersed the crowd. The hearing continued until 7 pm, when the court issued the verdict confirming the sentence of seven years in prison, plus three more under house arrest.

The Cu Huy Ha Vu story - son of the poet and revolutionary Cu Huy Can, confidant of Ho Chi Minh - has raised "an unprecedented wave" of popular support. A year ago, he - although not Christian - defended to the hilt the faithful arrested for taking part in a funeral, held at a cemetery located on land disputed between Catholics and the government (see AsiaNews 07/05/2011 59 Catholics from Con Dau arrested for accompanying funeral). In court, the activist, defended himself saying that he "never opposed the Communist Party", but claimed the importance of a "multi-party system."

For weeks, the Vietnamese authorities have been cracking down on dissidents and protesters. Fr. Nguyen Van Ly is also being targeted by police, who was arrested again while he was in the Archdiocese of Hue. The police have taken the priest and activist to prison on board an ambulance, given his precarious state of health.

Stopped for the first time in 1977, Ly has spent 17 years in prison for his fight for human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam. He was struck by a heart attack in 2009, but authorities have not given him adequate medical care. Although partially paralyzed, the consequences of disease, the priest has not been spared jail where he was released in March suffering from brain cancer.

Catholic sources report that his condition is critical. However, the authorities have ordered his umpteenth arrest, because he is charged with distribute "anti-government pamphlets" during his period of freedom.

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