05/24/2013, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Vinh, four Catholic activists sentence reduced on appeal, but peaceful protest continues

Sentence confirmed for four other defendants. They are part of a group of 14 people in prison on charges of "subversion" against the state. Pro human rights NGOs speak of "scandalous" judgment. The judges state that "any request for pluralism is against the law."

Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The People's Court of Vinh, a town in the province of Nghe An, on the north coast of Vietnam, has reduced the sentences for four of the 14 activists - mostly Catholics - convicted in January on charges of "subversion" against the state. Eight of them appealed and, after several postponements, the trial was held yesterday.  The sentence for four others was instead confirmed, which human rights activists and international organizations have repeatedly branded as "scandalous ".  Those who have had their sentence reduced include the famous Catholic blogger Paulus Le Van Son (pictured), who will have to serve four years in prison instead of the 13 years first handed down.

Defense attorneys are openly disappointed at the outcome of the trial. "We are very dissatisfied with the assessments made by the jury" says a lawyer, because [the court] confirmed that "any request for pluralism and a multi-party system is a violation of law" and that "peaceful protests are still a crime" to be punished.

Behind the young people's sentencing is their links to the Viet Tan movement, an exiled group based in the United States that the Hanoi government considers to be "militant" and counterrevolutionary, with the aim of overthrowing the current system. In addition to Catholic bloggers Le Van Son, three other activists were granted a reduction of the sentence varying from six months to two and a half years. During the trial, dozens of supporters and ordinary citizens gathered outside the court in an attempt to show solidarity, but security forces dispersed the crowd and carried out several arrests among the most ardent and noisy supporters.

European countries, Asian and international pro-human rights committees have taken up the defense of the 14 Christian activists, to demand their release and an end to unfair trials perpetrated on the basis of false accusations. So far over 30 thousand signatures have been collected, demanding the communist authorities intercede for their release. This year alone, the authorities have sentenced at least 38 Vietnamese for activities "against the state."

The story of young Christians in prison is tied to the arbitrary imprisonment of activists and nationalists, guilty only of having peacefully protested against Beijing's "imperialist" aggression in the  South China Sea. They include the 21-year old Catholic student Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha as well as 36 other bloggers accused of online crimes and "peaceful dissidents" in jail for crimes of opinion. For the release of activists and Christians, in recent days the Vietnamese Catholic community has gathered in prayer; on May 19 a special Mass was held in the parish of Thai Ha - already at the center of a dispute with the local government for the possession certain land and the Carmel monastery - which was attended by over a thousand faithful.

 

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