Vietnam puts activist on trial over propaganda charges as crackdown on dissent continues

By Ben Stocking, AP
Friday, January 29, 2010

Vietnam crackdown continues as dissident on trial

HANOI, Vietnam — An author and democracy activist who criticized Vietnam’s communist government went on trial Friday on charges of spreading propaganda against the state, as authorities continued their crackdown on dissent.

Pham Thanh Nghien’s trial in the northern port city of Haiphong was closed to Western media and diplomats, who are ordinarily allowed to watch such proceedings on closed-circuit TV at the courthouse.

Nghien, 32, was the 14th Vietnamese democracy activist to face charges in the last three months. All the others were quickly tried, convicted and jailed.

Last year, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch gave Nghien an award for writers who have been targets of political persecution. The organization praised articles she wrote promoting human rights, democracy and better treatment of landless peasants.

Nghien, an independent journalist, was arrested at her home in September 2008 while staging a protest against the Vietnamese government’s policies toward China, its massive northern neighbor.

She displayed two banners urging the government to take a tougher stance against China in territorial disputes over the Spratlys and Paracels, two island chains in the South China Sea. She is also accused of posting photographs of her protest online.

Nghien’s trial is expected to last a day.

The outcome of such proceedings is virtually always a guilty verdict. In October, several democracy activists convicted on similar charges received prison sentences of between two and six years.

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