Persecution Escalates as Vietnam Imprisons Christian Lawyers

Vietnamese Christian lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, were yesterday sentenced by a court in Hanoi to five and four years in prison respectively, followed by four and three year periods of probation.

The Christians were convicted of "disseminating slanderous and libellous information against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" under Article 88 of the nation's Criminal Code.

Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan are among the most prominent lawyers defending religious freedom cases in Vietnam.

Their arrests were the subject of House Resolution 243 in the United States Congress, which calls for their immediate and unconditional release. However, many commentators have stated their beliefs that the sentences were decided even before the case went to trial.

The trial of the pair followed the sentencing of 60-year-old Catholic priest and activist, Father Nguyen Van Ly to eight years in prison for distributing "material harmful to the state", on 29 March 2007, and the sentencing of three other dissidents to prison terms ranging from three to five years, on Thursday.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, "This is an extraordinary display of defiance by the Vietnamese government in the face of widespread international attention and condemnation.

"Due legal process was not followed in these cases, with the pair consistently denied access to a lawyer and reports of the trial being completely prejudiced. The resulting sentences are both unjustifiable and disproportionate to the alleged offences."

Thomas added: "CSW unreservedly condemns the sentencing of these two advocates, who were trying to exert their internationally-protected rights to freedom of expression and association, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

"CSW further calls upon the international community to convey strong statements of condemnation to the Vietnamese government about this case."