HANOI (Reuters) - (Corrects this Aug. 22 story throughout to show defendants were convicted for attempting to overthrow the state (not found guilty of terrorism or masterminding bomb attacks). The original story and a previous correction had misrepresented the nature of the charges.)
A Vietnamese court sentenced two Vietnamese-Americans to 14 years in prison on Wednesday for “attempting to overthrow the state”, a court official told Reuters.
James Nguyen and Angel Phan were convicted, along with 10 accomplices who received shorter jail terms, after a two-day trial. The defendants all faced the same charge.
Phan and Nguyen were accused of running a network of underground operatives in Vietnam, some of whom were given titles in a shadow government such as “governor of Saigon”, or “commander of national defense guards,” the Ministry of Public Security’s official news website reported on Wednesday.
The pair assigned “counter-revolutionary” missions to the group’s members in Vietnam, the report said, including a plan to broadcast anti-government propaganda from local radio stations, organize protests, and deface an image of former president Ho Chi Minh.
“The remaining 10 defendants in the same trial received prison terms of between five and 11 years,” an official at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court told Reuters by phone.
Phan and Nguyen will be deported after serving their jail term, Voice of Vietnam radio reported.
According to state media, the pair were acting on behalf of the “Provisional National Government of Vietnam”, a California-based organization run by Vietnamese-Americans still loyal to the now defunct state of South Vietnam.
The U.S. organization, which was listed as a “terrorist” group by Hanoi in January this year, dispatched Phan and Nguyen to Vietnam in February 2017 to carry out their alleged activities on Vietnamese national holidays, according to the Ministry of Public Security’s official news website.
In June, a court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld prison sentences against 15 members of the group it said were guilty of planting bombs in the international terminal of Tan Son Nhat airport in April last year.
In another case last month, police said it had arrested seven people from a separate group over the bombing of a Ho Chi Minh City police station in June.
That incident, in which two small explosive devices were detonated, injured three people in what police said was a “terrorist case against the people’s government”.
The Provisional National Government of Vietnam did not respond to a request for comment made via its website.
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi was not able to provide immediate comment.
Reporting by Khanh Vu and James Pearson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore