Vietnamese Buddhist Activist Handed 5-Year Jail Term

Posted December 13th, 2011 at 11:10 am (UTC-5)
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A 71-year old Vietnamese Buddhist activist from a minority sect has been sentenced to a five-year prison term for possession of anti-government literature and videos.

The jail term for Hoa Hao Buddhist Nguyen Van Lia was issued Tuesday in Hanoi. It follows his arrest in April, when police seized books and dozens of audio and video recordings accusing the government of violating human rights and suppressing religious freedom. Co-defendant Tran Hoai An received a three-year prison term Tuesday on the same charges.

The Vietnam News Agency says the defendants were officially charged with “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.”

Ahead of the sentencing, a spokesman for the New York-based Human Rights Watch said “all signs point to religious persecution in this case.” The group's deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said Nguyen Van Lia has been mainly known for raising issues of religious oppression with foreign diplomats. He also said the activist faces medical issues that warrant his immediate release.

Nguyen Van Lia's son told VOA's Vietnamese Service that his father has consistently denied the charges. He also said the sentence will not be appealed, because the family does not believe Vietnam's appellate process works.

Analysts say Vietnamese who worship in state-sanctioned churches generally enjoy freedom of worship in communist-controlled Vietnam. But Amnesty International, in a 2000 report on religious intolerance said Hoa Haoists and other minority sects continue to face harassment, arrest and imprisonment.