Tran Khai Thanh Thuy and her husband, Do Ba Tan, had denied the charges, saying they had been the victims of the attack and not the perpetrators.

Thuy is a known critic of the government and has publicly expressed her support for democracy campaigners.

Rights groups have accused the authorities of trying to silence her.

The Hanoi court sentenced Thuy to 43 months in prison, including time served since October.

'Total slander'

Tan was given a two-year suspended sentence and 47 months under probation.

Prosecutor Nguyen Nhu Quynh said the couple's actions "were of a hooligan nature and harmed the health of others".

The couple were accused of using a motorbike helmet and bricks to attack two men in an argument over a parked motorcycle in October last year.

One of the men was said to have had a head injury after the incident.

But the defence said there was no evidence to support the allegations and Thuy said the charges were "a fabrication and total slander".

"I protest this trial and I did not come here to suffer this," the AFP news agency quoted her as saying.

She was removed from the courtroom after her angry outburst and was not present to hear the verdict.

'Kafkaesque'

Defence lawyer Tran Vu Hai had told the court the couple "consider themselves victims in this matter", said AFP.

After the verdict was announced, he told the BBC he had not been given enough time to present his argument and the judge had not considered all the evidence.

He said Tan would appeal against the verdict but he did not expect Thuy to do so.

The trial was heavily criticised by rights groups, who said it had been orchestrated in an attempt to silence Thuy.

"Charging the victim of a beating with assault is yet another example of Vietnam's Kafkaesque efforts to silence government critics," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

At least 16 democracy activists have been jailed in recent months, in what some analysts say is a crackdown ahead of the next Communist Party Congress scheduled for early 2011.

BBC News - February 5, 2010

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Vietnam tries dissident writer on assault charges

HANOI - A Vietnamese journalist and democracy activist went on trial for alleged assault Friday as authorities continued a crackdown on dissent in which 16 people have been sent to prison in just over three months.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, 49, has been active in Vietnam's small democracy movement, which has promoted political pluralism in a country where the Communist government does not tolerate political competition.

Human rights groups have described the case against Thuy as a perversion of justice in which undercover police watched thugs attack her - and then charged Thuy with assault.

Thuy's supporters say that on Oct. 8, police prevented her from attending the trial of democracy activists in the northern city of Haiphong. That evening, prosecutors allege that Thuy and her husband, Do Ba Tan, assaulted two people after one of them complained that Tan's motorbike was blocking the alley outside the couple's home in Hanoi.

Prosecutors say Tan bashed one of the victims in the face with his motorbike helmet and Thuy threw bricks at them and beat them with a stick.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says the couple were roughed up by thugs who were waging ongoing harassment of Thuy.

"Charging the victim of a beating with assault is yet another example of Vietnam's Kafkaesque efforts to silence government critics," Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "The thugs who attacked her, the people who sent them, and the police officers who refused to intervene should all be brought to justice."

Thuy has been active in the dissident community since 2006, when she started organizations to help workers and assist farmers whose land had been confiscated by the government. Thuy, who worked for many years in Vietnam's state-controlled media, later wrote for an online pro-democracy newspaper and published a blog.

Since then, thugs have thrown excrement and dead rodents at her gate and locked her out of her house, according to Human Rights Watch, and police subjected her to a "People's Court" at which 300 people gathered in a public stadium to insult her.

She was also placed under house arrest and held in a detention center for nine months, the organization said.

In recent weeks, Vietnam has sent 16 democracy activists to jail. Some were convicted of spreading propaganda against the state, and others were convicted of attempting to overthrow the government by joining pro-democracy parties.

Among them was Le Cong Dinh, a prominent U.S.-trained attorney who represented high-profile corporate clients and also handled human rights cases. He was sent to prison for five years.

Western diplomats have decried the campaign against dissent, which they say is the result of political jockeying among Communist factions in advance of next year's Party Congress, during which the country's new leaders will be chosen.

But earlier this week, in a speech marking the party's 80th birthday, party Chairman Nong Duc Manh said Vietnam was "determined to fight the plots of hostile forces who are ... calling for a multiparty system and abusing democracy and human rights issues to sabotage our socialist regime."

By Ben Stocking - The Associated Press - February 4, 2010