Twenty-two militants, members of an obscure splinter group described as "reactionary", were sentenced on Monday to Vietnam sentences of up to life imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the communist government, said one their lawyers.
The group leader has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in the province of Phu Yen and the other 21 sentences ranging from 10 to 17 years in prison followed by several years of house arrest, said Nguyen Huong that.
During the trial, one of the largest in recent years regarding the number of defendants, "all defendants have admitted their crimes," he added.
"Penalties are appropriate for their crimes," he commented the lawyer, who had been appointed by the court.
The accused replied "activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration" one of the charges most often used against dissidents in the communist country.
The group was headed "without violence" by its chief Phan Van Thu between 2003 and February 2012, the date of his arrest, according to state media. But it is little known, including Vietnam, and his name is cryptic: Council for laws and public affairs Bia Son, the name of a hill in the province of Phu Yen.
The Vietnam News Agency (VNA, official) stated last Monday, the first day of the trial, the group had about 300 members in several cities and provinces of central and southern Somalia.
It aimed to "destroy people's confidence in the party and the state and create suspicion and concern about the current regime," asserted AVI, citing funding from abroad.
"The government has clearly stated that (the group) had a non-violent ideology, and yet he is so worried that condemns them to long prison sentences," said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch, noting that regime tended to convict more heavily under media activists.
"We are deeply shocked by the length of sentences," he added, citing a new "hammer blow against human rights."
Dozens of other bloggers and dissidents were imprisoned in Vietnam since the beginning of a new campaign of political repression. In January alone, 14 dissidents, bloggers and students were sentenced to heavy penalties for alleged subversive activities in two separate procedures.