World News

Vietnam jails three over protest with flag of former South

HANOI (Reuters) - Three Vietnamese women who held a rally and waved national flags of the former South Vietnam were jailed on Wednesday for “anti-state propaganda” after a trial that lasted half a day, domestic media reported.

The defendants, all in their late fifties, were found guilty of breaching an article of the criminal code that rights groups and Western governments say is routinely used by the communist country to stifle free speech, against its international commitments.

State-run online news media said the women had previously protested about land disputes. They were arrested in July 2014 while demonstrating outside the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, the capital of the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam.

North Vietnam toppled the U.S.-backed democratic South in 1975 and formed one nation under communism, an event marked domestically as Vietnam’s reunification.

The prison terms handed down on Wednesday ranged from three years to four and a quarter years, plus two or three years of house arrest upon their release, media said.

The verdict followed a similar case last year, when a man was jailed for 15 months for “disturbing public order” when he wore a uniform of the defeated army of South Vietnam.

Rights groups and the United Nations expressed outrage last week over Vietnam’s use of criminal laws to jail two political bloggers for “abusing democratic freedom”. The United States embassy described it as “disturbing”.

Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie