Vietnamese activist Nguyen Trung Truc, a member of the online Brotherhood for Democracy advocacy group, was sentenced by a court in northern Vietnam's Quang Binh province on Wednesday to a 12-year prison term in a decision that drew harsh rebukes from human rights groups and the U.S. embassy in Hanoi.
Truc, 44, had been charged under Article 79 of Vietnam's penal code with carrying out activities "aimed at overthrowing the people's administration," and his Aug. 4, 2017 arrest followed the round-up of other members of the group, most of whom were also handed long prison terms after trials widely condemned as unfair.
Speaking to RFA's Vietnamese Service following Truc's Sept. 12 trial, defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng said that Truc had denied all the accusations made by state prosecutors against him, and that prosecutors had failed to present any evidence supporting their charges.
"Truc is innocent," Mieng said. "Everything that he did was protected by the law, by our constitution, and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
"Truc's last words at his trial were that as a citizen of Vietnam, he has never worked to overthrow anyone, and that he will continue his struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental protections until those goals are achieved in our country," Mieng said.
In a Sept. 12 statement, the U.S. embassy in Hanoi slammed the court's decision and voiced "deep concern" over Truc's conviction on what the embassy called "vague charges of 'attempting to overthrow the people's administration.'"
"The trend of increased arrests and harsh sentences for peaceful activists in Vietnam is troubling," the U.S. statement said, adding that at least 25 peaceful activists have been arrested so far in Vietnam in this year alone.
"The United States calls on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution."
Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International (AI) in a statement following Wednesday's trial said that all Truc has been guilty of is his advocacy for democracy and human rights in Vietnam.
"He has been deliberately targeted simply because he has expressed views and taken up causes that the country's authorities disapprove of," AI Director of Global Operations Minar Pimple said in a Sept. 12 statement.
"Nguyen Trung Truc must be immediately and unconditionally released and Vietnam's government must stop dealing with dissent by throwing its critics in jail," Pimple said.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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