08/19/2011, 00.00
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Hanoi turns the screws on anti-Chinese protesters

An official note warns that the “authorities can apply all necessary measures” against demonstrations by activists and nationalists. In recent weeks, the capital was the scene of anti-Beijing rallies over Chinese claims in the South China Sea. An appeal court upholds the convictions of four land rights activists.
Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vietnamese authorities are threatening to crack down on nationalist or anti-Chinese demonstration. In the last few weeks, people have taken to the streets to protest Chinese aims in the South China Sea. Now Hanoi wants to use an iron fist against dissenters following an agreement in principle with Beijing (see “South China Sea: Beijing close to a deal with Hanoi but far from Manila,” in AsiaNews, 4 August 2011). Meanwhile, a court in Ho Chi Minh City has rejected an appeal launched by four convicted land rights activists.

"For those who deliberately disobey” and try “to illegally gather causing public disorder,” the “authorities can apply all necessary measures," said a notice published in Hanoi Moi, a Communist Party mouthpiece. The unsigned warning from the authorities blamed recent street protests on "anti-state forces" bent on disrupting “national unity” and instigating divisions “between Vietnam and China”.

In the past weeks, there have been streets protests almost every Sunday in Hanoi. Hundreds of people have come together to protest against Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea (Spratly and Paracel Islands).

Open protest is rare occurrence in Vietnam where the Communist regime has always maintained close relations with China. All forms of (private or public) expression of dissent have been usually met with repression.

Not only do anti-Chinese demonstrations undermine the Communist Party’s nationalist credentials by showing them to be empty rhetoric, but they also have the potential of bringing together dissenters from different perspectives but drawn together by their opposition to a regime characterised by corruption, a lack of democracy and injustice.

In July, police broke up two marches through the streets of the capital. This was done, international relations experts say, after Hanoi initially used protests to convey its displeasure to Beijing. Once its aims were met, the Communist regime turned against the protesters using an iron fist.

Meanwhile, a court in Ho Chi Minh upheld an early conviction of four land rights activists. After five hours of deliberations, the local People's Supreme Court of Appeals confirmed an eight-year jail sentence for Tran Thi Thuy and a seven-year term for Pham Van Thong.

By contrast, Rev Duong Kim Khai had his six-year prison term cut by one year. The five-year prison sentence of Cao Van Tinh was reduced by six months at the appeal trial in southern Ben Tre province.

Relatives and supporters of the activists were prevented from attending the proceedings.

All four activists, who have provided assistance villagers in land disputes in the Mekong Delta region, will eventually have to spend five years of house arrest upon completion of their jail terms.
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