Vietnam sentences dissident writer to three-and-a-half years in prison for assault

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vietnam convicts dissident writer of assault

HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese court convicted a journalist and democracy activist of assault and sentenced her to three-and-a-half years in prison Friday in a one-day trial that rights groups said was meant to silence government critics.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, 49, was found guilty by the Hanoi court of assaulting two people outside her home last October. Her husband, Do Ba Tan, 50, received a two-year suspended sentence on the same charge.

Thuy is one of Vietnam’s small circle of dissidents who have promoted political pluralism, which is not tolerated by the Communist government. She is the 17th democracy activist jailed here in just over three months.

Human rights groups say undercover police recruited thugs to attack Thuy — and then charged her with assault.

“Let me out of here, I can’t stand this trial anymore,” Thuy cried out as the prosecutor read the charges against her. Her outburst prompted a brief pause in the proceedings.

Prosecutors said that Thuy and Tan assaulted two people on the evening of October 8, after one of them complained that Tan’s motorbike was blocking the alley outside the couple’s home in Hanoi.

Tan bashed one of the victims in the face with his motorbike helmet and Thuy threw bricks at them and beat them with a stick, prosecutors said.

They said one of the bricks injured Nguyen Manh Diep, who had asked Tan to move the motorbike.

Thuy testified she acted to defend her husband after she came outside and saw him being beaten. She said she threw a brick to scare the attackers away, but it did not hit anyone.

Then, Thuy said, someone picked up the brick and hit her on the head with it.

“I’m the victim here, not a criminal,” Thuy said.

When neighbors tried to help her, Thuy said, local security forces prevented them from doing so.

But after a one-day trial, the court ruled against Thuy and her husband, saying she had been the main aggressor in the incident.

“The defendants’ hooligan-like actions belittled the law and harmed the health of others,” said judge Tran Thi Phuong Hien.

As the verdict was read, Thuy protested again and the judge ordered police to remove her from the court.

Foreign reporters were not allowed to enter the courtroom but watched the proceedings on a closed-circuit television elsewhere in the building. They were not allowed to bring cameras.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says the couple were roughed up by thugs who were waging ongoing harassment of Thuy. Earlier that day, the group said, police had prevented Thuy from attending the trial of democracy activists in the northern city of Haiphong.

“Charging the victim of a beating with assault is yet another example of Vietnam’s Kafkaesque efforts to silence government critics,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Thuy has been active in the dissident community since 2006, when she started organizations to help workers and assist farmers whose land had been confiscated by the government. Thuy, who worked for many years in Vietnam’s state-controlled media, later wrote for an online pro-democracy newspaper and published a blog.

Since then, thugs have thrown excrement and dead rodents at her gate and locked her out of her house, according to Human Rights Watch, and police subjected her to a “People’s Court” at which 300 people gathered in a public stadium to insult her.

She was also placed under house arrest and held in a detention center for nine months, the organization said.

In recent weeks, Vietnam has sent 16 democracy activists to jail. Some were convicted of spreading propaganda against the state, and others were convicted of attempting to overthrow the government by joining pro-democracy parties.

Western diplomats have decried the campaign against dissent, which they say is the result of political jockeying among factions in advance of next year’s Party Congress, during which the country’s new leaders will be chosen.

Earlier this week, in a speech marking the Communist party’s 80th birthday, party chief Nong Duc Manh said Vietnam was “determined to fight the plots of hostile forces who are … calling for a multiparty system and abusing democracy and human rights issues to sabotage our socialist regime.”

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