Vietnam jails 2 more activists in stepped up crackdown

Activist Nguyen Viet Dung stands trial in Nghe An province, Vietnam, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Dung was convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda at half-day trial and sentenced to seven years in prison. (Bich Hue/ Vietnam News Agency via AP)
CORRECTS HEADER FIELD - Activist Tran Thi Xuan stands trial in Ha Tinh province, Vietnam, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Xuan was convicted of attempting to overthrow the government at half-day trial and sentenced to nine years in prison. (Cong Tuong/Vietnam News Agency via AP)
Activist Tran Thi Xuan is escorted into a court room in Ha Tinh province, Vietnam, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Xuan was convicted of attempting to overthrow the government at half-day trial and sentenced to nine years in prison. (Cong Tuong/Vietnam News Agency via AP)

HANOI, Vietnam — Courts in central Vietnam on Thursday handed down lengthy prison terms against two activists as communist authorities stepped up their crackdown on dissent.

The two were given nine and seven years respectively for attempting to overthrow the government and spreading anti-state propaganda in two separate trials.

Nguyen Viet Dung, 32, was convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda by writing and posting on his Facebook page and blogs articles that the judges say distorted government policies and defamed the country's leaders. His lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan said he was also found guilty of flying the flag of former U.S.-backed South Vietnam and shooting video and photographs and posting them on Facebook.

The court also ordered Dung to serve five years of house arrest after completing his prison sentence.

Dung confessed his crimes during the proceedings, the lawyer said, adding that the court rejected his argument for lesser sentences.

Meanwhile, the People's Court in neighboring Ha Tinh province convicted Tran Thi Xuan of attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced her to nine years in prison and five years of house arrest, the official Vietnam News Agency reported.

Xuan, 42, was accused of affiliating with an outlawed group named Brotherhood for Democracy and instigating protests following pollution by Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastic Group's steel complex that devastated the fishing industry and tourism in four central provinces two years ago, VNA reported.

Their sentences came just days after seven activists belonging to the same group, including prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, were convicted and imprisoned to between seven to 15 years for subversion.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for Dung's release.

"Vietnamese authorities regularly claim to respect human rights but their actions suggest precisely the opposite," Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director said in a statement. "Vietnam's government wrongly believe that freedom of expression and association only translate into only saying and doing things approved by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam."

Despite sweeping economic reforms launched in the mid-1980s that made the country one of fastest growing in the region, the communist government tolerates no challenge to its one-party rule.

International human rights groups and some Western governments often criticize Vietnam for jailing those who peacefully express their views, but Hanoi says only law breakers are punished.

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