Vietnamese democracy activist disrupts trial and claims innocence, demands freedom

By Ben Stocking, AP
Friday, February 5, 2010

Vietnam dissident disrupts trial, claims innocence

HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese dissident on trial for assault disrupted the proceedings Friday, proclaiming her innocence and demanding to be freed.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, 49, is one of Vietnam’s small circle of dissidents who have promoted political pluralism, which the communist government does not tolerate. If she is convicted, she will be the 17th democracy activist that Vietnam has sent to jail in the last three months in an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

“Let me out of here, I can’t stand this trial anymore,” said Thuy, drowning out the voice of a prosecutor who was reading the charges against her.

Human rights groups have described the case against Thuy as a perversion of justice in which undercover police watched thugs attack Thuy and her husband, Do Ba Tan — and then charged them with assault.

On the night of Oct. 8, prosecutors said, the couple assaulted two people 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 say 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.

Prosecutors are seeking a three-and-a-half year sentence for Thuy and a 30-month suspended sentence for her husband.

“Their actions were of a hooligan nature and harmed the health of others,” said prosecutor Nguyen Nhu Quynh.

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.

“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, Chairman 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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