French-Vietnamese blogger on trial in Vietnam

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A French-Vietnamese lecturer and blogger went on trial Wednesday in Ho Chi Minh City, facing up to 15 years' jail on a subversion charge in the country's latest high-profile rights case.

France's foreign ministry has voiced "serious concern" about the case of Pham Minh Hoang, 56, who holds dual nationality and has been in custody for a year.

An official from Ho Chi Minh City People's Court confirmed the hearing had begun.

Hoang was charged with "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration", which has been used against other dissidents.

The trial is being held at a restored French colonial-era courthouse, with plainclothes and uniformed security officers on the streets outside.

One policeman tried to stop an AFP photographer from taking pictures of officers armed with clubs.

The case is being heard 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 (RSF) campaign group said in a letter to Dung last week.

It called on him to stop "political arrests" and said Hoang is 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 he only raised concerns about "ordinary issues" including education, health, social injustices and a controversial Chinese-backed bauxite mine in Vietnam.

He blogged under the pseudonym Phan Kien Quoc.

Between 2002 and May 2010, Hoang allegedly wrote 29 articles "distorting the state's policies and activities," the regime's official English-language newspaper Vietnam News has reported, citing police.

Authorities were also accusing Hoang of belonging to the Viet Tan "terrorist organisation", it said.

Viet Tan, the Vietnam Reform Party, describes itself as non-violent and pro-democracy but is banned in Vietnam.

© 2011 AFP

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