Vietnamese dissident lawyer gets 7 years in prison
Cu Huy Ha Vu was accused of calling for an end to one-party rule in Vietnam.
Hanoi: A dissident lawyer and son of a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader was sentenced to seven years in prison and another three years house arrest on Monday for calling for an end to Vietnam`s government and its one-party system.
Cu Huy Ha Vu was sentenced after a dramatic one-day trial in Hanoi that saw one of his defence attorneys ejected by the judge and his other three lawyers walk out in protest. Vu was left alone to defend himself and had several heated exchanges with the judge.
The court convicted him of calling for a multiparty government system, demanding the abolishment of the Community Party`s leadership, defaming the state and distorting Vietnam`s struggle for independence by calling the country`s war against the United States a civil war.
Dozens of men in plainclothes -- and others in uniform -- loitered near the building. They blocked off surrounding streets and filmed passers-by while a busload of anti-riot police and a fire engine waited nearby.
"We`d like you to go away", one officer said outside the court. "We have a trial here."
Vu is the son of Cu Huy Can, who was a member of revered founding president Ho Chi Minh`s provisional cabinet from 1945, and is also a celebrated poet.
The Vu case shows that "no matter who or what your connections are”, if you cross a line you will be tried, said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam specialist at the University of New South Wales.
Like most trials in Vietnam, his hearing is closed to all but a few. A limited number of journalists and foreign diplomats were allowed inside to watch proceedings via closed-circuit television with poor sound quality.
Vu was dressed in a tie.
Vietnam does not tolerate any challenge to its one-party rule.
The 53-year-old Vu is the son of Cu Huy Can, a famous Vietnamese poet and revolutionary leader in the government formed by late president Ho Chi Minh when he declared independence from France in 1945.
"I did not commit the crime of spreading propaganda against the state," Vu told the court. "This criminal case was invented against me. This case is completely illegal."
Judge Nguyen Duc Chinh disagreed.
"Born and raised into a revolutionary family, he did not sustain that tradition but instead committed erroneous acts," he said.
His wife, lawyer Nguyen Thi Duong Ha, said she believed her husband was innocent.
"When you did not commit a crime, one cannot say your sentence was harsh or not," she said. "I think the sentencing was illegal."
Vu was arrested in November after he attempted to file a lawsuit against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in 2009 after a controversial Chinese-built bauxite mining project was approved in the Central Highlands. He argued the project violated environmental protection, national security and cultural heritage laws.
Court officials dropped the suit, saying they didn`t have the authority to put the country`s leader on trial.
Vu attempted to sue the Prime Minister again a year later for prohibiting class-action lawsuits from being filed, saying it violated a constitutional guarantee of the right to "gather, form groups and protest in conformity with the law”.
Security was tight around the courthouse on Monday, with police stopping traffic and pushing onlookers away. Limited access was given to international media organisations, but no cameras or recorders were allowed inside. Reporters from foreign media outlets were kept in an area outside the main courtroom and watched the proceedings on closed-circuit television.
Vu`s lawyers walked out of the courthouse after the judge refused to read or distribute 10 news interviews Vu was accused of conducting with foreign media, including Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. The interviews were used as key evidence against him.
New-York based Human Rights Watch called last week for Vu`s release, calling him "one of the most prominent defenders of cultural, environmental and human rights in Vietnam”.
"Vietnam should amend or repeal its broad national security laws instead of using them to silence peaceful government critics," Phil Robertson, the group`s deputy Asia director, said in a statement. "How can Vietnam become a country governed by the rule of law if the government continues to punish legal advocates?"