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Christian human rights lawyer sentenced to 15 years in prison

by Tola Mbakwe

Six Vietnamese defendants tried on Thursday have been sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison for activities against the state.

According to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Christian human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai received the longest sentence of 15 years in prison and a further five years under house arrest. 

Dai, who's also a pro-democracy activist,  as well as pastor and activist Nguyen Trung Ton were found guilty of  "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government" under Article 79 of the Vietnamese penal code.

CSW's chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, strongly condemned the sentences and has called on the international community to do the same.

"Nguyen Van Dai, Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Bac Truyen and the other defendants have peacefully defended the rights of others in line with international human rights treaties to which Vietnam is a party.

"The accusations against them are an attempt to silence those calling for a just and fair society, and these unjust and lengthy sentences are a grim reflection of the direction the Vietnamese government is taking and the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

"We stand with their family members and supporters in calling for their unconditional release."

Dai has provided legal advice and representation to victims of human rights abuses – including religious minorities – across Vietnam. As a result of his work, Dai has been repeatedly harassed and attacked by individuals working for the authorities and served four years in prison. Dai and his colleague Le Thu Ha were arrested in December 2015.

Pastor Ton was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and two years' house arrest. After his release in 2013 he joined the Interfaith Council of Vietnam, which advocates for religious freedom. He was arrested again in July 2017.

Legal expert Nguyen Bac Truyen, activist Pham Van Troi and citizen journalist Truong Minh Duc were also sentenced.

The six will have a chance to appeal the sentences. 

CSW said a number of supporters were forcibly taken away by the police shortly before the trial.

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