WASHINGTON DC —
Fresh from its release of two bloggers, Vietnam has sentenced three other activists to prison terms of up to 18 months for anti-state activities.
A court in southern Dong Nai province Thursday found Pham Minh Vu, Do Nam Trung and Le Thi Phuong Anh guilty of "abusing democratic freedoms" under a controversial law criticized by activists and human rights groups as too vague and prone to abuse by officials.
Lawyer Tran Thu Nam, who represented Vu, said his client refused to plead guilty.
“Pham recognized his activities, but contended that they are not illegal," he said. "In that instance, when the client does not plead guilty, my line of defense therefore is that there is not enough evidence to convict a defendant."
Vu received the longest sentence, 18 months. The other two were given jail terms of 12 and 14 months.
According to a state-run news website, the three were arrested last May after protests against China for placing an oil rig in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Vietnam authorities decided earlier this week to release two other activists.
Hong Le Tho, who is being investigated for allegedly abusing democratic freedoms, was allowed to leave detention for house arrest Wednesday for medical reasons. Writer Nguyen Quang Lap was transferred to house arrest Tuesday while the investigation against him continues.
Analysts who spoke with VOA speculated that the releases may be an attempt to earn favor with the United States and other countries as Vietnam tries to join the TransPacific Partnership trade deal. But the new convictions cast doubt on those arguments.
The U.S. has long urged Hanoi to improve its human rights practices.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.