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Vietnam court gives light sentences to Catholic protesters

[JURIST] The Dong Da district court in Vietnam on Monday convicted eight Catholics of disturbing public order and destroying property during protests over disputed land, but gave them light sentences, letting them all go free. Seven defendants received suspended sentences of 12-15 months [AP report], and the remaining defendant received a warning. The defendants, who denied all government allegations [VietCatholic report], were arrested last August during demonstrations at the Thai Ha church in Hanoi. More than 1,000 Catholics who showed up to protest the trial [Reuters report] Monday cheered [The Standard report] as the defendants were set free.

In August, hundreds of Catholics gathered at the Thai Ha church to demand return of the land [BBC report]. Protesters broke down a wall and set up an altar. Hanoi officials claim the land belongs to the city because it was lawfully turned over to them in the early 1960s. Church authorities claim the land is rightfully theirs. Protests also took place this year at the former Vatican Embassy in Vietnam. The embassy was closed after the Communists took power in 1954. In January, the Vietnamese government said it would resolve all land disputes according to Vietnamese property law [Thanhnien report].

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