12/31/2012, 00.00
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Fourteen Catholic activists could get the death penalty in Vietnam

by Joseph Dang
They are accused of subversion for going online to expose corruption in the party and the government. Their trial is being held at a time of low media coverage to avoid criticism from the international community. Starting in September, PM Nguyen Tan Dung launched a campaign against activists and bloggers, which he reiterated on 17 December. Catholic Maria Ta Phong Tan is among those at risk. In 2012, 40 activists and bloggers have been convicted.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - A group of Catholic human rights activists could get the death penalty. On 6 January, they will go on trial on subversion for violating Article 79 of the Vietnam Criminal Code, "Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration," which can entail  capital punishment. The 14 people are Hồ Đức Hòa, Đặng Xuân Diệu, Lê Văn Sơn, Nguyễn Văn Duyệt, Nguyễn Văn Oai, Nguyễn Xuân Anh, Hồ Văn Oanh, Thái Văn Dung, Trần Minh Nhật, Nguyễn Đình Cương, Nông Hùng Anh, Đặng Thị Ngọc Minh, Nguyễn Đặng Minh Mẫn, and Nguyễn Đặng Vĩnh Phúc.

For local Catholics, not only is the trial shameful, failing to uphold human rights, but it comes at Christmas time when international media attention is at its lowest. The timing is no accident and is aimed at limiting criticism from the international community.

The legal proceedings are part of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's crackdown against bloggers and critics who have exposed corruption in the Communist party and the government as well as those who got rich from the financial crisis.

As part of this campaign, security forces have targeted many internet users. In addition, during a national conference on public security on 17 December in Hanoi, Dung ordered police "to prevent the formation of opposition political organisations".

The list of violations includes the arrest of Le Quoc Quan, a well-known Catholic lawyer and human rights defender, who was detained last Thursday on allegations of tax evasion. Mr Le Quoc was arrested as he was taking his daughter to school, state media reported. Since he began to defend human rights in court and on his blog, he was disbarred and so cannot practice law.

Fr Le Quoc Thang, secretary of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Bishops' Council of Vietnam, expressed concerns with regards to repeated harassment against Le Quoc Quan, a member of the committee, and other Catholics activists.

"We are deeply saddened by the actions of the government of Vietnam," Fr Le Quoc said. "They claim Vietnam is under the rule of law but their behaviour is not in accordance with the law."

On Friday, a court in Saigon sentenced Nguyen Van Hai (a blogger known as Dieu Cay), Maria Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai to long jail terms.

A Catholic, Maria Ta Phong Tan, posted on her blog, 'Justice and Truth'. She paid dearly for her actions because her mother took her own life setting herself on fire outside the headquarters of the People's Committee in Bac Lieu.

On their website, Vietnamese Redemptorists accused police of mistreating Maria Ta Phong Tan during her detention. They warned that her health is deteriorating at an alarming speed, especially her mental health; something they suspect is being done to drive her, like her mother, to suicide.

A Mass held at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Saigon with special prayers read for the detained bloggers brought together thousands of Christians and non-Christians to offer moral support and prayers for all those jailed for exercising their freedom of expression.

According to Human Rights Watch, 40 bloggers, dissidents and activists were convicted in Vietnam in 2012. Among them at least 18 people were charged under Article 88 on "Conducting propaganda against the state."

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