04/05/2018, 17.11
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Rally for activists on trial ends in clash and arrests in Hanoi

The defendants, including lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, are linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy. Uniformed and plainclothes police blocked a group of about a dozen of their supporters heading for the courthouse with signs saying "Democracy is not a crime" and "Oppose suppression of the Brotherhood for Democracy".

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Plainclothes police hauled off several protesters in Vietnam today as they marched to the trial of a prominent lawyer and five other activists charged with "attempting to overthrow the state".

The case against the pro-democracy activists, including high-profile lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, has garnered widespread attention in the country, where the authorities have launched a crackdown on dissent in 2016.

The accused are linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy, an activist network with about 80 full-time members across the country.

This morning, a few hours before the trial, uniformed and plainclothes police blocked a group of about a dozen supporters as they marched toward the courthouse in central Hanoi.

At least two were forced into unmarked vans whilst the others were put on a bus.

The group carried signs reading ‘Democracy is not a crime’ and "Oppose suppression of Brotherhood for Democracy" before their march was broken up.

The trial opened today amid heavy security. The activists are charged under Article 79 of the criminal code, which carries a maximum sentence of death.

According to the indictment, they are accused of carrying out human rights training, calling for multi-party democracy and receiving funding from foreign groups.

Nguyen Van Dai, 48, one of Brotherhood for Democracy's founders, was arrested along with his assistant Le Thu Ha in December 2015 following a human rights meeting with European Union officials in Hanoi.

They were initially charged with anti-state propaganda, later upgraded to the more serious charge of attempting to overthrow the state.

Dai already served four years in prison for anti-state activity from 2007 to 2011.The four others on trial were arrested in July 2017 and all have prior convictions as well.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released last February, Vietnam is holding 129 political prisoners, arrested for criticising or protesting against the communist regime.

Vietnamese authorities have rejected these accusations claiming that no one is being detained for crimes of opinion, only those punished for violating the law.

Vietnam has one of the lowest ranking in terms of press freedom. According to Reporters without Borders, it stands 175th out of 180.

Dissidents suffer daily harassment, intimidation, police surveillance and interrogation and are subjected to long periods of preventive detention, without access to lawyers or family members.

Many Catholics have also paid a price for their activism, often receiving harsh sentences, as did recently Nguyễn Văn Oai (five years), Trần Thị Nga (nine), Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh (ten) and Nguyễn Văn Hóa (seven).

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