11/04/2014, 00.00
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Vietnamese Catholic blogger and activist on trial for criticizing Hanoi government

For more than six months Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy have been held without formal charges. For the defense, the prosecution is "illegal." Pro human rights activists warn of little hope of seeing them free. If found guilty face up to seven years in prison.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese authorities have indicted a prominent Catholic blogger and his assistant, who had been held for more than six months without any formal charge over publishing essays critical of the government in Hanoi. Their lawyers respond that the proceedings instituted by the court are "illegal".

Nguyen Huu Vinh, 58, better known as Sam Ba Anh, and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, 34, will go on trial for violation of Article 258, which punishes "abuse of freedom and democracy" to "violate the interests of the State".

The indictment follows the closure of the investigation by the police, which began in the aftermath of the arrest of two last May in Hanoi.  They were detained over some essays which - according to the official media - "tarnish" the "prestige" of the state apparatus. If convicted, the two men face up to seven years in prison.

Lawyer Ha Huy Son, who will represent Vinh in court, acknowledged receipt of a copy of the results of the investigation, but has not received all documents relating to the case. In an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA), he argues that the case violates the laws of the country, because "first the police arrested them, then they went in search of evidence" to incriminate them.

For the pro-human rights lawyer Trinh Huu Long the two bloggers, if the dictates of the Vietnamese legal system are applied, have little chance of escaping a conviction.  However, Hanoi's support for the UN Convention on Human Rights could be used to obtain their release. "We can use this mechanism - he told RFA - to launch a campaign at the United Nations", while the defense has already sought aid from the embassies of Australia and the European Union to put pressure on Hanoi.

Vinh, a former policeman, founded Basam in 2007 which quickly became a platform for sharing posts and articles, often critical of the government and the communist authorities. The space has become a forum to launch fierce accusations against Beijing, over its "imperialist" policies in the South China Sea.

His arrest came just a few days ahead of China's decision to place a platform for oil exploration in disputed waters, which sparked the furious reaction of the Vietnamese nationalists. He also received beatings for covering  the trials of human rights activists and the abuse of the Catholic community in the capital.

For the past several years, Vietnam has seen a harsh campaign by the government against dissidents, bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists or entire communities. Last year for example, media and government conducted a smear campaign in the Diocese of Vinh targeting the local bishop and faithful.

The government's crackdown has also touched people whose only guilt is that of claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights.

In 2013 alone, Vietnamese authorities arrested dozens of activists for crimes "against the state," based on a rule that human rights groups have branded as too "generic" and "vague".


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