Vietnam court jails activist for 12 years

HANOI (Reuters) - A court in central Vietnam has jailed an activist accused of trying to overthrow the state to 12 years in prison, his lawyer said on Thursday, days after two rights campaigners were barred from attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Hanoi.

Nguyen Trung Truc, 44, was also given five years of house arrest following his jail term at Wednesday’s trial in Quang Binh province, his lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, said.

In a statement, police in the province said Truc, arrested in August last year, was among a group that formed “Brotherhood for Democracy” in 2013, which conducted “anti-government activities” to “build multi-party democracy” in Vietnam.

Truc, who did not plead guilty and did not agree with the contents of the indictment, would appeal against the verdict, his lawyer said.

“He said he was fighting for the environment and for human rights, not attempting to overthrow the state,” the lawyer said.

Despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism.

Vietnam this week denied entry to the campaigners to attend the meeting being held in Hanoi, touted as the country’s largest diplomatic gathering this year.

In the United States, which has worked to establish ever closer ties with Vietnam given shared concerns about China, a spokesman for the State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by Truc’s sentence.

“The trend of increased arrests and harsh sentences for peaceful activists in Vietnam is troubling. We note that Vietnam has convicted 25 peaceful activists in 2018 alone,” the spokesman said.

“The United States calls on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.”

Reporting by Khanh Vu in Hanoi; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Leslie Adler