12/14/2011, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Two Buddhist activists jailed for asking for religious freedom

Nguyen Van Lia, 71, and Tran Hoai An will serve a sentence of five and three years in prison. The two members of the Hoa Hao church charged with "endangering the State" and "abusing" democratic freedoms. Family members unable to attend the trial. Human Rights Watch: an unacceptable judgment.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) - A Vietnamese court has sentenced two activists of a Buddhist sect to prison, guilty of "endangering the state". The relatives of the accused and the official newspapers explain that the sentence was imposed for the possession and distribution of "anti-government" material, in April the police raided their homes, finding books , CDs, DVDs and other documents that accuse the communist government of "violating religious freedom." The agents arrested Nguyen Van Lia, 71 (pictured), and Tran Hoai An, who yesterday appeared before the judges of the People's district Court of Cho Moi, An Giang Province: the magistrates have imposed a penalty of five and three years each, for "abusing democratic freedoms" and "threatening state security."

Both of the accused belong to the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, recognized by the Vietnamese State which authorized the practice of worship. However, a group of believers decided to break free from the official movement to protest against the authorities' control over religions. Family members denounced the attempt by local officials to prevent courtroom access, the wife of one of the two could not attend the hearing. Nguyen Lu, the youngest son of Nguyen Van Lia, interviewed by Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that "an array of agents and security personnel surrounded the court" for the duration of the procedure.

Hanoi has long been the center of criticism for human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests of activists and violations of religious freedom of Buddhists, Catholics - AsiaNews has repeatedly denounced the abuses against the faithful of the parish of Thai Ha - and Protestants.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also spoken out against the sentencing of Nguyen Van Lia and Tran Hoai An, requesting the "immediate release of Hao Hao Buddhist activists" and denouncing the ruling as "outrageous and unacceptable."

In particular, Nguyen Van Lia suffers from serious health problems, HRW activists added that he had been arrested and sentenced in 2003 to 18 months in prison for commemorating the anniversary of the death of the founder of the Buddhist sect.


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