Hanoi: Vietnamese prosecutors have accused 18
members of a little-known "reactionary" group of plotting to
overthrow the communist government, official media reported
Police said they arrested the leader and 17 other members
in February after a series of raids on the group`s secret
rural command centre in Phu Yen province. They have been in
detention ever since.
Prosecutors initially said the 18 men were being
investigated for "abusing freedom and democratic rights to
violate state interests", a lesser charge that carries a
maximum of seven years in prison.
But group leader Phan Van Thu and the others have since
admitted to a charge of aiming to "overthrow the regime", the
Phu Yen local government newspaper reported on its website,
quoting an official.
The charge in theory carries the death penalty, although
Vietnam has never executed people for political crimes.
"Evidence and documents confiscated showed that the
reactionary group had a plot to topple the people`s
administration," the report said.
Rights campaigners say the accusation that a group is
conspiring to overthrow the state is regularly used to silence
dissidents in authoritarian Vietnam, where the communist party
limits political debate.
Police said at the time of the arrests that the
organisation, called Hoi Dong Cong Luat Cong An Bia Son in
Vietnamese, operated "non-violently" but aimed to overthrow
the current administration.
The group, which police say was set up by Thu in 1975 but
was little known to the public, is said to have a number of
associations in cities and provinces across Vietnam and more
than 300 members, including Vietnamese abroad.
No overseas Vietnamese dissident group has claimed to be
linked to the group.
During the raids, police said they confiscated hundreds of
documents on the operational rules of the group along with
laptops, cameras and communication equipment, and tens of
thousands in US dollars and Vietnam`s dong currency.
The group`s name translates as Council for the Laws and
Public Affairs of Bia Son, but there is scant information
about its aims beyond the Vietnamese police account. Bia Son
is a mountain in Phu Yen province.