Vietnam convicted 14 activists who participated in anti-China protests of subverting the government, drawing criticism from the U.S. as the Communist nation continues a crackdown on dissent.
The activists, mostly in their 20s and 30s, took part in demonstrations against Chinese territorial encroachment, according to Viet Tan, an exile group based in California that is pushing for democracy in Vietnam. Prison sentences ranged from 3 to 13 years.
“By persecuting these individuals for their peaceful expression and political advocacy, the Hanoi regime has shown once again its fear of civil society,” Viet Tan said in a statement posted on its website. The group said hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police officers attacked and detained supporters who showed up to witness the trial.
Vietnam has jailed bloggers, journalists and activists it accuses of spreading anti-government propaganda as a fragile banking system, inefficient state-owned firms and corruption weigh on economic growth. The convictions threaten closer military and economic ties with the U.S. as Vietnam resists Chinese moves to assert territorial claims off its coast.
The convictions “are part of a disturbing human-rights trend in Vietnam,” the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said in a statement today. “We call on the government to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience immediately.”
The U.S. cited the detention of human-rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan since Dec. 27 and sentencing of three other bloggers. In October, Vietnam jailed two musicians for spreading anti-state propaganda with songs that highlighted the growing wealth gap in the nation and urged citizens to “rise up” against invaders and “cowards who sell the country,” a reference to the dispute with China over maritime claims.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Sept. 13 ordered a crackdown on blogs that have attacked his leadership, fueling speculation that political tensions were intensifying as economic growth slowed. Vietnam has more bloggers and Internet dissidents in detention than any other country except China and Iran, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Last year, U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain said Vietnam would need to make progress on human rights before lawmakers can lift a ban on the sale of lethal weapons under a 1984 arms embargo.
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