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Vietnam court hands down lengthy prison sentences to local dissidents

A group of 22 Vietnamese activists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms by the local People's Court in southern central Phu Yen province on Monday after the group was convicted of engaging in subversive activities to overthrow the county's communist government. According to their court-appointed lawyer, the group's 65-year-old leader Phan Van Thu was given a life sentence [Telegraph report] and the other 21 defendants were sentenced to between 10 and 17 years imprisonment with up to five years of house arrest afterward. Thu ran the non-violent group from 2003 until his arrest last February, when the state media reported that Thu had set up two eco-tourism companies as fronts for subversive activities [BBC report] such as producing documents critical of the administration. During the weeklong trial each of the 22 men admitted to acting with an aim to overthrow the government. While the proceedings marked the country's largest subversion trial in years, dozens of Vietnamese have been jailed since the government began cracking down on dissidents in 2009 despite widespread international concern.

In releasing its annual World Report [JURIST report] last week, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] stated that Vietnam's government has been "systematically suppressing freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and persecuting those who question government policies, expose official corruption, or call for democratic alternatives to one-party rule" during the last few years of growing domestic dissatisfaction. Also last week Vietnamese authorities released and deported [JURIST report] Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan after nine months of detention. Quan was arrested [JURIST report] on terrorism charges for planning protests in support of a banned group of US exiles. Last month Vietnam convicted [JURIST report] 14 bloggers associated with Viet Tan of subversion issued prison sentences ranging from 3 to 13 years. In September a court in Vietnam sentenced [JURIST report] a number of bloggers for anti-state propaganda for defaming the government.

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