08/19/2013, 00.00
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Hanoi reduces sentences for two activists, but continues to suppress dissent

by N. Hung
The 21 year-old Catholic Nguyen Phuong Uyen will be released from jail. Sentence reduced from eight to four years for the second accused, the 26 year old Nguyen Dinh Kha. Hanoi had promised an "open" trial but at least 400 policemen guarded the building and refused entry to family and friends. Activist slams judges and government under the control of the Communist Party.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The judgment on appeal by the Supreme People's Court of the province of Long An (in the region of the Mekong Delta) against two activists sparked both criticism and praise in Vietnam. Some analysts and human rights activists applaud the reduction of the sentence decided on August 16 by the appeal judges against two students, while it is common practice to confirm the initial conviction. Others add, however, that the trial should never have taken place, because it is based on false charges of a political nature. However, what clearly emerges once again is the hegemony of the Vietnamese Communist Party; Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out it continues to use the "courts and judges" and dictate the government policy undisturbed.

In recent days there was the appeal against two young dissidents: the 21 year old Catholic Nguyen Phuong Uyen, indicted on charges of violating "national security" handing out flyers "critical" of the Communist Party. The judges commuted the sentence to six years in prison with three suspended sentences, decreeing his release. Partial clemency was also offered the other defendant, the 26 year old Nguyen Dinh Kha, whose punishment was halved (four years in prison, instead of the original eight).

Local authorities had announced an open and transparent trial. However, the 100 people who came from Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and other localities were prevented from entering the courtroom. At least 400 police formed a security cordon around the building, stopping and reporting activists who tried to break the blockade.

Like many other activists, the two young students were jailed for demonstrating against the "imperialism" of Beijing - Hanoi's main ally - in the South China Sea, particularly the control of the Spratly and Paracel islands. During the trials, both rejected the court appointed defense lawyers; often, in fact, the lawyers are only called upon to endorse the judgments issued by the "government" and the Communist leadership for crimes of a political nature.

During the trials Nguyen Phuong Uyen repeatedly stated that "the Communist Party is only one organization, not the government itself." The parents of the young woman, who were stopped from entering the courtroom, said they were "delighted by the popular support" and "proud" of their daughter. Nguyen Kha instead described the 'bittersweet' nature of the girl's release but contemporary sentence of four years on appeal handed down to her son, who has to therefore remain in jail.

Both were arrested by security forces last October, during a demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City, during which they distributed leaflets calling for protest against Beijing. An age-old story for Hanoi and the local Communist Party, which in spite of nationalist proclamations has forged strong trade and political bonds with China. For the release of activists and Christians, the Catholic community has repeatedly gathered in prayer; May 19 a special Mass was held in the parish of Thai Ha - already at the center of a dispute with the local government over land and the Carmel monastery ownership rights - which was attended by over a thousand faithful.


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