Lu Van Bay, 59, was convicted of "spreading propaganda against the state" at a half-day trial in southern Kien Giang province, Presiding Judge Do Minh Hung said Tuesday. He was also given three years of house arrest after serving out his sentence.

Bay was accused of posting more than 10 articles on several overseas Vietnamese websites between 2007 until his arrest in March, the judge said. The writings called for a multiparty system and the end to Vietnam's one-party rule, he added.

The judge said Bay confessed and asked for leniency in Monday's trial.

His sentencing is the latest in a spate of crackdowns against some of Vietnam's most prominent dissidents, drawing sharp criticism from the Washington and international human rights groups. Vietnam does not tolerate any threat to its one-party rule and maintains that only lawbreakers are jailed.

On Sunday, 50 protesters were detained after attending a rally in Hanoi to denounce China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. All but 11 were released.

Last week, an appeals court reduced the sentences of two land-rights activists convicted of trying to overthrow the government while upholding the sentences of two others. Earlier in the month, a French-Vietnamese math professor was also given a three-year sentence after being convicted of attempting to overthrow the government by posting articles criticising one-party rule and holding membership in a banned pro-democracy group.

Meanwhile, last month, an appeals court upheld the seven-year prison sentence for Cu Huy Ha Vu, the dissident son of one of Vietnam's founding revolutionaries. Ailing Roman Catholic priest The Rev. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, was also returned to prison after receiving more than a year of medical leave.

The two are among Vietnam's most high-profile pro-democracy activists.

The Associated Press - August 24, 2011

US calls for release of Vietnam protesters

The United States on Tuesday called for the release of peaceful protesters detained when Vietnamese security forces broke up a weekend rally against Beijing's actions in the South China Sea.

"We are concerned by the detention of several individuals for what appears to be the peaceful expression of their views," a spokesman for the US embassy told AFP.

"We call on the Vietnamese government to release all individuals detained for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

An official police newspaper reported on Monday that 47 people were initially detained at Sunday's rally in central Hanoi.

Protesters objected to China's "invasion" of waters where the two nations have a longstanding sovereignty dispute.

Thirty-nine were released but another eight were being investigated for public disorder and resisting officials performing their duties, said the official police newspaper, An Ninh Thu Do.

The embassy spokesman, who declined to be named, said nobody should be detained for exercising the right to peaceful assembly.

"This contradicts Vietnam's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," he said.

Vietnam says it has achieved significant progress on human rights.

Five more detainees were released late Monday, said Nguyen Quang Thach, 36, one of those freed.

Under the Vietnamese legal system, the other three could be held until Wednesday for initial investigation.

"The police have been very polite and friendly. We worked in terms of cooperation, not investigation," said Thach. He vowed not to demonstrate any more but to continue his anti-China struggle in other ways.

Sunday's rally over maritime tensions was the 11th since early June, an unprecedented run in an authoritarian communist country where overtly political demonstrations are rare.

Although people were briefly detained after two earlier demonstrations, subsequent protests were allowed to go ahead until Hanoi authorities on Thursday finally clamped down and issued a stop order.

Prominent intellectuals linked to the protests have denied official allegations that "anti-state forces" took advantage of the demonstrations.

By Ian Timberlake - Agence France Presse - August 25, 2011

US senators warn Vietnam on priest arrest

Sixteen US senators on Wednesday urged Vietnam to free a dissident priest who has a brain tumor, saying that his arrest could jeopardise Washington's growing ties with Hanoi.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the senators voiced fear that Nguyen Van Ly's life was at risk after Vietnamese authorities put him back behind bars on July 25 following medical leave.

"Father Ly is in poor health and has done nothing but peacefully advocate for the basic rights and freedoms of the Vietnamese people," said the senators, who crossed the political spectrum.

"While we appreciate that the Department of State issued a statement expressing concern over Father Ly's rearrest, further action is needed," they wrote.

"The government of Vietnam must be made aware that its continued refusal to permit the peaceful advocacy of basic human rights impedes the progression of US-Vietnam relations," the letter said.

The letter was led by Senator Barbara Boxer of California, a member of Clinton's Democratic Party, and included Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber.

Ly was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to eight years in prison after helping found Bloc 8406, considered by analysts as the first organised pro-democracy coalition inside the communist country

His family said that Ly went on a one-week hunger strike after he was rearrested and may again refuse food, raising new concerns over his health.

Despite human rights concerns and bitter memories of war, the United States has markedly increased cooperation with Vietnam in recent years, including in defense. The growing ties come amid high tension between Vietnam and its historic rival China.

Agence France Presse - August 25, 2011