Veteran revolutionaries jailed
From GREG TORODE in Hanoi and agencies
TWO ageing Vietnamese revolutionaries were yesterday jailed for questioning the Communist Party's monopoly on power ahead of a crucial party congress scheduled for early next year.
Court officials and sources said former leading party intellectual Hoang Minh Chinh, 76, and Do Trung Hieu, 57, were sentenced to 12 and 15 months respectively at Hanoi People's Court.
Both plain-clothed and uniformed police stood outside the court for the one-day hearing despite little attention from the passing public.
The Vietnamese Government has yet to formally confirm the sentences. Word of the pair's arrest in June has yet to appear in local media.
The charges related to 'actions against the interests of the state', a description which prompted diplomatic speculation that the pair appeared to have been treated relatively lightly.
Several observers were quick to note the pair's prison terms will take them beyond the party's eighth congress early next year, which is expected to bring several key changes and be followed by a general election.
'It's relatively mild but it seems a pre-emptive strike nonetheless,' said one Western diplomat.
Said another: 'It looks like a compromise solution - they punish a bit of dissidence, but not too heavily, just enough to make an impression.' Any clear challenge to national security or Communist Party rule in Vietnam can yield far more serious punishments.
It is understood the pair were taken to a prison on the outskirts of Hanoi where they will be held for a mandatory 15-day appeal period. Chinh is facing his third prison sentence after police reportedly discovered him circulating petitions supporting peers who were purged alongside him in the 1960s.
He has spent more than 10 years in various forms of detention stretching back to 1967.
The Moscow-trained intellectual is a former head of one of the party's key think-tanks, the Institute of Marxist Leninist Thought.
He has repeatedly criticised the party for not easing its grip on power despite relaxing restrictions on personal freedoms.
The families of both men have recently said they were in good health, but a statement from a Paris-based group called Alliance Vietnam Liberte has since raised questions about Chinh's ability to survive his term.
Hieu was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City for running leaflet campaigns questioning Hanoi's success at bring national reconciliation after the takeover of former South Vietnam in 1975.
His campaign followed the disbandment of the Club of Former Resistance Fighters who sought to question the concept of political openness in modern Vietnam.
A third prominent campaigner, Nguyen Ho, remains under house arrest after being arrested at the same time.
The jailings follow the release and expulsion at the weekend of two American-Vietnamese activists.
Washington had requested Nguyen Tan Tri and Nguyen Quang Liem be freed from seven-year sentences as part of a State Department drive to urge a greater speed of political and economic change.
The department has previously stated there are at least 200 prisoners in Vietnam being held for political reasons.
Hanoi insists it does not sentence people for political beliefs.