A court in Vietnam on Monday jailed three activists who led a peaceful campaign to defend farmers’ land rights in the communist state, to the dismay of champions of freedom of expression.
Nguyen Kim Nhan, 63, was given a prison term of five and a half years while Dinh Van Nhuong, 54, and Do Van Hoa, 46, received four years each at a one-day trial in northern Bac Giang province, the court’s chief judge Vu Ba Chu told AFP.
The three men will also all have to serve time under house arrest after completing their prison terms, but Chu could not immediately say for how long.
The trio were charged under article 88 of the Vietnamese criminal code, which punishes those deemed to have been “conducting propaganda” against the state.
Rights groups say this article is one of many vaguely worded, loosely interpreted national security crimes used to imprison peaceful political and religious dissidents.
The three activists had led a peaceful campaign to expose corruption and wrongdoings committed by local authorities against farmers of Bac Giang province, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Unjustly imprisoning these activists will not quiet demands for respect for rights in resolving disputes about land that are spreading across the Vietnam countryside,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy director for Asia.
Land disputes with local authorities are an increasingly contentious issue in authoritarian Vietnam, where all land is owned by the state and usage rights are not always clear or protected.
“Silencing farmers and their proponents will not solve these problems, especially as long as unjust land confiscations and corruption continue throughout Vietnam,” Robertson added.
The trio were all also accused of encouraging farmers to attend a series of 2011 anti-China rallies. The rare protests, initially encouraged by authorities, were eventually broken up by security forces with dozens of people briefly detained.