Vietnam’s judiciary has maintained its implacable approach to political dissent, confirming a nine year sentence for a prominent rights campaigner and jailing five others for flying the old Saigon flag.
The rulings cap a year in which judges have willingly done the bidding of a Communist party intent on silencing its most vocal critics and intimidating others.
An appeals’ court in Ha Nam province near Hanoi rejected the appeal of Tran Thi Nga against a nine-year sentence imposed earlier this year for conducting “propaganda against the state”.
The ruling came as little surprise as recent court hearings have made little attempt to appear fair and balanced in political cases.
Antagonised the authorities
Nga, like many committed activists, refused to plead guilty to the charges against her, maintaining that she had done nothing wrong under the Vietnamese constitution which allows for freedom of speech.
She appears to have antagonised the authorities with campaigns for the rights of fishermen whose livelihood was devastated by an environmental disaster off the central coast last year.
She has also campaigned for workers’ rights and has been a prominent critic of the Communist party’s relations with China, a highly sensitive issue for a government vulnerable to charges of appeasing Vietnam’s traditional enemy.
Nga’s lawyer said the court’s verdict was biased and made no attempt at objectivity.
As in many other political cases, her supporters were prevented by police from entering the court room.
Symbol of resistance
On Thursday, a relentless police crackdown on dissent continued with the conviction of five people on the same charge of anti-state propaganda.
The five, in the southern province of An Giang, were accused of flying the yellow and red flag of the former South Vietnamese state, which was defeated when Saigon fell to the Communist armies in 1975.
The flag is feared as a symbol of resistance by the Communist authorities, and is still favoured by some exile communities in the United States that campaign for political change in their home country.
The five received jail terms of between three and five years.
Reports said some were affiliated with the independent Hoa Hao church, an influential Buddhist sect that retains a strong following in the Mekong Delta.
The authorities have long been are accused of harassing independent religious communities, such as the Hoa Hao, which refuse to accept Communist party control over their activities.