Six Vietnamese activists have been jailed for between seven and 15 years for “attempting to overthrow the state”, the harshest sentences in years in the communist country.

The six, including prominent lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who got 15 years in jail, were sentenced on Thursday after a one-day trial held under heavy security in Hanoi.

They are linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy activist group and were accused of carrying out human rights training, pushing for multi-party democracy and receiving funds from overseas.

“At the trial today, no evidence showing the defendants’ attempt at overthrowing the state was given,” lawyer Le Luan said. “The charge was very much groundless.”

Dai has long been a thorn in the side of the authorities. He served four years in prison in 2007 for anti-state activity.

Dai was arrested along with his assistant Le Thu Ha – who was sentenced to nine years on Thursday – in December 2015. The others – Pham Van Troi, pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc and Nguyen Bac Truyen – have been in custody since July 2017. They were jailed for between seven and 12 years.

“The trial has been so unfair and illogical. My husband and his friends did nothing wrong,” Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh, said. “All of them refused having committed any crime. Everything they did was not illegal.”

Earlier on Thursday, several supporters of the dissidents were hauled off by plainclothes police as they tried to march to the courthouse in central Hanoi.

The one-party state routinely locks up lawyers, bloggers and dissidents, but critics say a conservative leadership in charge since 2016 is a waging a crackdown that has sent a chill throughout the dissident community. Amnesty International this week said there are at least 97 dissidents behind bars in Vietnam.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang rejected claims that activists are being targeted and said the state is “ensuring and promoting human rights” in line with international law.

“In Vietnam, there are no so-called prisoners of conscience and no arrests of people who express their personal viewpoints,” she said, rejecting “biased” information from rights groups.

Agence France Presse - 6 avril 2018

Vietnam jails prominent human rights lawyer, five other activists

Vietnamese human rights lawyer and activist Nguyen Van Dai, 48, was charged in a Hanoi court with activities "aimed at overthrowing the people's administration" at a tightly guarded trial in the communist country.

Vietnamese human rights lawyer and activist Nguyen Van Dai was jailed for 15 years on Thursday, his wife said, along with five other activists who were given prison terms of seven to 12 years.

Dai, 48, was charged in a Hanoi court with activities “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” at a tightly guarded trial in the communist country.

“I’m very disappointed with the trial and strongly protest it,” Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh, said. “He is innocent and he pleaded innocent at the trial. He will continue to fight and will appeal the verdict”.

Despite sweeping reforms to its economy and showing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and has zero tolerance for criticism.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States was “deeply troubled” over the conviction of the six, adding that people had a “right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

She said in a statement that Washington was concerned about “a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions and harsh sentences of peaceful activists” in Vietnam and urged the country to “release all prisoners of conscience immediately.”

Commenting on the trial, foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told reporters on Thursday that Vietnam’s efforts to promote human rights was “widely recognised” by the international community.

“In Vietnam there is no such thing as a ‘prisoner of conscience’, and there’s no such thing as people being arrested for ‘freely expressing opinion,'” Hang said.

In March 2013, Dai and others formed the “Brotherhood for Democracy,” which conducted anti-government activities to “build multi-party democracy” in Vietnam, according to a copy of the official indictment against Dai seen by Reuters.

“The Vietnamese government should thank them for their efforts to improve the country instead of arresting and putting them on trial,” Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said.

Dai had been awaiting trial since his arrest in December 2015. He previously served four out of five years of a prison term he received in 2007 for “anti-state propaganda”.

Hundreds of police were posted outside the court during Thursday’s trial and a planned march by families of the detained activists was stopped.

Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Chi Tuyen said police arrived at his house as the trial began and followed him for the entire day.

“They followed me to my office, invited me to coffee, waited outside my office, followed me back home, and now they’re waiting outside my house again,” said Tuyen, who added that police had put glue in the lock of the house of a fellow activist to stop him going out.

“They did it at night,” Tuyen said. “He had to break it to get out”.

Reuters - April 6, 2018