State broadcaster VTV aired more than 20 minutes of footage during a prime-time newscast last week of "confessions" by four people arrested for advocating democracy in Vietnam.

One of the four, lawyer Le Cong Dinh, was showed mentioning meetings with U.S. officials, including former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak.

"We were disappointed by the VTV broadcast that cited 'confessions' by several Vietnamese citizens for activities that, in many places in the world, are regarded as normal, usual discussions aimed at strengthening rule of law in Vietnam," Michalak told reporters on Wednesday.

"We were also disturbed by the negative portrayal of U.S. assistance to Vietnam," he added.

Rights groups and some analysts say Dinh's arrest on charges of "conducting propaganda against the government" in June, and the arrests of several other activists in recent months, are part of a widening crackdown by the Communist one-Party state.

Michalak said he applauded Vietnam's progress in improving the ability of religious people to practice their faith, but said there were concerns in other human rights areas, including media freedom and freedom of speech.

The day after the VTV broadcast, state-run newspapers carried articles saying more than two dozen people, including Dinh, would soon stand trial on security charges.

Dinh, and others arrested on the same charge, could face up to 20 years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch.

By John Ruwitch - Reuters - August 26, 2009