January 8, 2013
Vietnamese authorities have put 14 rights activists on trial on charges of trying to overthrow the Communist government, in the largest subversion case to be prosecuted in Vietnam in years.
The defendants were arrested in 2011 on suspicion of involvement with banned opposition group Viet Tan, which is based in the United States and labeled by Hanoi as a terrorist organization.
The trial opened at a court in the northern Vietnamese province of Nghe An on Tuesday. It was expected to be brief, with a final hearing scheduled for later this week. Bloggers reported scuffles outside the courtroom as hundreds of security personnel blocked relatives and supporters of the defendants from approaching.
If convicted, the rights activists could face long prison terms or the death penalty.
Tran Thu Nam was among four attorneys who represented the defendants in court. Speaking to VOA by phone after Tuesday’s hearing, he said the defense team rejected the prosecution’s charge of subversion.
"We said there is not a sufficient basis to accuse the defendants of being members of Viet Tan. There were violations in the prosecution process. Lawyer Ha Huy Son said they are not guilty. I said they could not be charged based on the evidence recorded in the case," Nam said.
In a statement emailed to VOA, a spokesman for the California-based Viet Tan denounced the trial, calling it a sign of the Vietnamese government’s "disregard for peaceful political expression and democratic aspirations."
Duy Hoang said the activists have done nothing wrong and have the right to belong to "any political organization."
Viet Tan says it works with other pro-democracy groups inside and outside Vietnam to "overcome dictatorship and build the foundation for a sustainable democracy" through "peaceful, nonviolent struggle." It has neither confirmed nor denied that the 14 detained activists are among its members.
Trung Nguyen and Tra Mi of VOA’s Vietnamese service contributed to this report.
By Michael Lipin for Voice of America