Hanoi (AsiaNews) - In a show trial held this morning, a prominent human rights lawyer, Cu Huy Ha Vu was sentenced to seven years in prison and three years of house arrest for "propaganda against the state." Thousands of Catholics have been outside the court house since this morning to show solidarity with the non-Catholic dissident. Tens of thousands of people participated in prayer vigils on his behalf in Hanoi, Saigon, and in other parts of the country.
The trial, held in the Hanoi People's Court, lasted only four hours. The charge against Cu Huy Ha Vu is very long, "spreading propaganda against the state, publication of articles, interviews with foreign media in order to sully the authority of the people’s government, implementation of psychological warfare, seeking the fall of the regime and the implementation of a multiparty system. "
In fact, in 2009, Cu Huy Ha Vu only criticized Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for having given the go-ahead to bauxite mining in central Vietnam, which threatens to destroy the lives of many minorities and creates huge problems of environmental pollution. He was the first Vietnamese to dare to sue the premier, perhaps relying on the generality of his family. Cu Huy Vu is in fact the son of Cu Hy Can, a member of the government of Ho Chi Minh City since 1945 and also a celebrated poet, famous across the country.
Vu was arrested last November in a series of raids against dissidents. Months before, he accused the Communist Party to serve only the "illegal gains of a small group " and criticized the arrest of hundreds of thousands "of government representatives of the South after the victory of the Vietcong in 1975.
This morning, hours before the trial, thousands of uniformed and plain clothes policemen blocked off streets surrounding the court for a radius of 500 meters, although the government had said that the trial would be open to all. Thousands of young people demonstrated with banners and slogans, branding the trial as a farce and demanding the cancellation of the charges and Vu’s release.
Two foreign journalists were allowed to enter the court, but without interpreters. Two relatives of the accused were refused entry , although they had a pass. Many people who wanted to enter were arrested by the police. Among them, several Catholic bloggers, journalists, lawyers and leaders of youth groups. At least two Catholic activists were arrested early this morning to prevent them from leading a protest outside the court.
In previous days, tens of thousands of Catholics participated in prayer meetings and vigils in support of Cu Huy Ha Vu who, as a lawyer, often defended Catholics unfairly arrested.
On 2 April evening, many priests and religious of Hanoi, with 5000 people, even non-Catholic, celebrated a Mass in Thai Ha, which ended with a procession before the cross and the statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, praying for the nation, justice, truth, and a patriot who will be tried. In his impromptu speech, Fr. Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, superior of the Redemptorists, highlighted the deep concern and sympathy for the lawyer, who has often defended the Catholics and is now a victim of the same corrupt and illegal system.
Many of those who attended the candlelight vigil, travelled hundreds of miles to show their support.
A woman told AsiaNews: "I'm here to be united with all Catholics to pray for Hanoi and a patriot."
A 100 km from Thai Ha, in the parish of Ham Long (Nam Dinh), Fr. Pham Minh Trieu, a diocesan priest, led another prayer vigil for a patriot and a nation where justice and truth have been trampled upon and distorted for decades, and for respect for human rights and dignity of the person ".The Redemptorists of Saigon held a vigil yesterday, in conjunction with a second in Hanoi. The pictures of the vigil were circulated on the internet prompting a lot of solidarity.