Vietnam jails activists for 'propaganda' leaflets

Vietnam jailed two young activists Thursday for distributing anti-government leaflets, in a case slammed by rights groups as a fresh attempt by the communist regime to silence its critics.

University student Nguyen Phuong Uyen, 21, was given six years in prison for anti-state propaganda, while computer technician Dinh Nguyen Kha, 25, was jailed for eight years, their lawyer told AFP.

Both will have to serve an additional three years of house arrest afterwards, lawyer Nguyen Thanh Luong said by telephone from the court in the southern province of Long An.

"The sentences were too heavy," he said, adding that although the pair might have committed some minor infractions, the lengthy jail terms were not appropriate.

"They said they did what they did because of their patriotism and to make society a better place. For this to be seen as anti-state propaganda was never what they wished," he added.

The pair were accused of distributing anti-government leaflets which "humiliated the administration" and called for demonstrations against the regime, according to a copy of the indictment which was posted online.

The charges, which carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail, are routinely laid against dissidents in authoritarian Vietnam, where the ruling Communist Party forbids all political debate.

Dozens of activists have been jailed since the one-party state began a new crackdown on free expression in late 2009.

This year alone, at least 38 activists have been convicted of anti-state activity under what rights groups say are vaguely defined articles of the penal code.

AFP's request to attend the latest trial was turned down by Long An authorities.

Uyen -- whose plight has attracted strong online support from Vietnamese activists -- had called for the charges against her to be dropped as she addressed the court.

"I am a patriotic student. If the court today charges me with a crime, all young people will be frightened," she said, according to an unofficial transcript posted online by activists.

Uyen also made a moving appeal in court to Vietnam's notorious security forces, her lawyer said. "She asked police not to make life difficult for her family and said she took responsibility for what she has done," he added.

Photographs and reports about the trial were widely shared on dissident blogs and on Facebook. At least three activists who tried to attend the proceedings were detained by police, campaigners said.

Rights defenders had appealed for the two defendants' immediate release.

"Putting people on trial for distributing leaflets critical of the government is ridiculous," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"Vietnam should stop using politically controlled courts to convict critics," Adams added in a statement.

Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run. Lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, according to rights groups.

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