French-Vietnamese blogger jailed in Vietnam
A court in Ho Chi Minh City jailed a French-Vietnamese lecturer and blogger for three years on Wednesday for attempted subversion, in Vietnam's latest high-profile rights case.
Pham Minh Hoang, 56, who holds dual nationality, had undermined national security, chief judge Vu Phi Long said at the close of a trial that lasted half a day.
"Therefore, we have enough grounds to conclude that he committed the crime of activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration," the judge said.
The year he has already spent in custody will count towards his three-year jail sentence, which will be followed by a further three years of house arrest, the judge ruled.
France's foreign ministry had earlier voiced "serious concern" about Hoang's case.
Other dissidents have previously been convicted on the same charge, which carries a maximum 15 years in prison.
Plainclothes and uniformed security officers were seen on the streets outside the French colonial-era courthouse where the trial took place.
One policeman tried to stop an AFP photographer from taking pictures of officers, who were armed with clubs.
The trial came two weeks after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was named to a second term after consolidating his power, which activists fear heralds a tougher climate for dissidents in the one-party communist state.
"Vietnam is increasingly the target of criticism for its human rights violations," the Reporters Without Borders campaign group said in a letter to Dung last week.
It called on him to stop "political arrests" and said Hoang was being tried for acts that are guaranteed under Vietnam's constitution and international covenants on rights.
In a letter distributed by the US-based opposition group Viet Tan, Hoang's wife proclaimed his innocence.
She said her husband, who blogged under the pseudonym Phan Kien Quoc, only raised concerns about "ordinary issues" including education, health, social injustices and a controversial Chinese-backed bauxite mine in Vietnam.
Between 2002 and May 2010, Hoang wrote 33 articles "distorting the state's policies and activities," said the indictment, which also accused him of belonging to the Viet Tan "terrorist organisation".
Viet Tan, the Vietnam Reform Party, describes itself as non-violent and pro-democracy but is banned in Vietnam.
Foreign diplomats, including one from France, were allowed to monitor the trial via television from a separate room. An AFP reporter was also granted access.
Hoang went to France in 1973 but returned after 27 years to settle in Vietnam, where he worked as a mathematics lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City, his wife has said.
Last week an appeal court in Vietnam upheld a seven-year jail term against French-trained legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu, who had twice tried to sue the prime minister.
Both the United States and European Union expressed concern over the ruling, as they had days earlier when Vietnam returned to prison another prominent dissident, Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest with a brain tumour.
Late Tuesday Hanoi said the US and EU had interfered in Vietnam's internal affairs by commenting on the Vu appeal. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that there are "no so-called 'prisoners of conscience'" in Vietnam.
© 2011 AFP