Vietnam puts activists on trial

Wed, Jan 20, 2010, 00:00

A prominent US-trained lawyer agreed in court on today his efforts to bring multi-party democracy to communist-ruled Vietnam amounted to subversion, an offence that can mean a death sentence.

Le Cong Dinh and three co-defendants are accused of activities meant to end communist rule, including blogging, making contact with "hostile" groups abroad and, in Dinh's case, attending a class on non-violent political change.

Human rights groups and Western governments have criticised the trial as a sham and called for the immediate release of the four defendants, saying they were guilty of nothing more than exercising their right to free speech.

Some analysts view the case as part of a politically motivated clampdown on dissent in the sensitive months before the ruling Communist Party's national congress, which will anoint new leaders and set the tone for future policy next January.

Speaking calmly and confidently with both hands on a lectern, Dinh (41) said the banned Democratic Party of Vietnam, of which he is a member, intended to call for pluralism and wanted to bring about a change in the political system.

"I admit I violated Article 79," he added, referring to the penal code entry on subversion.

Vietnamese courts sometimes lighten sentences for defendants who have made contributions to the state or appear contrite.

Prosecutors decided late last year to charge Dinh, Nguyen Tien Trung, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Thang Long under Article 79, ratcheting up the severity of the case from earlier charges of spreading propaganda against the state under Article 88, which is more commonly used in dissident cases.

The indictment, read out in court, said the case was "extremely serious" and was "prejudicial to national security".

Trung (26), who founded a pro-democracy youth group, told the court he had made mistakes due to "ebullience" and inexperience and admitted that actions he had taken violated the law.

"I really regret my actions because they have affected my family and friends," he said.