Vietnam on Monday sentenced 22 activists to lengthy jail terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment, a defence lawyer said, in one of the country’s largest subversion trials for years.
The harsh punishments are part of an escalating crackdown on dissent by the communist regime, which has triggered growing international concern.
The 22 defendants were convicted of trying to overthrow the government, lawyer Nguyen Huong Que said – a charge that rights groups say is routinely laid against peaceful activists in the communist nation.
“The court gave the ringleader Phan Van Thu a life sentence, while the other 21 defendants were given between 10 and 17 years. The 21 defendants were also given up to five years house arrest after their terms end,” Que told reporters.
“At the trial, most of the defendants admitted their crime of aiming to overthrow the people’s administration,” said the lawyer, who was appointed by the court to defend the accused at the trial, which lasted just over a week.
“The sentences are adequate for their crimes,” he added.
The 22 – convicted by a court in the central province of Phu Yen – were accused of links to a little-known “reactionary” group called Hoi Dong Cong Luat Cong An Bia Son in Vietnamese.
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 Vietnamese police accounts, which depict it as a terrorist group.
Bia Son is a mountain in Phu Yen province.
The group was run “non-violently” by its 65-year-old leader Phan Van Thu between 2003 and his arrest in February last year, state media has previously reported.
Dozens of political activists have been jailed since Vietnam, a one-party state, began a new crackdown on free expression in late 2009.
In another mass trial last month, Vietnam jailed 13 activists – including Catholics, bloggers and students – in move criticised by the United States as part of a “disturbing” trend in the authoritarian state.