HANOI, Vietnam – The U.S., France and a human rights group have strongly criticized the conviction of a French-Vietnamese math professor who was sentenced to three years in a Vietnamese prison for belonging to a banned pro-democracy group and publishing an anti-Communist blog.
Pham Minh Hoang, 56, who holds dual citizenship, was found guilty Wednesday of trying to overthrow the government by posting 33 articles critcizing the one-party Communist system and of holding membership in the banned Viet Tan group and recruiting others to join it. It was the second high-profile dissident trial in just over a week.
U.S.-based Viet Tan says it is a nonviolent advocate of democracy, but Hanoi considers it a terrorist organization — a claim U.S. officials say they have not found any evidence to support.
France's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it "strongly deplores the conviction" and that French consular officials had repeatedly pleaded with Vietnamese authorities for a "favorable solution."
"We hope that this decision is reconsidered, so that Pham Minh Hoang can be freed as soon as possible," it said.
The U.S. State Department in a statement expressed dismay and said the prosecution contradicted Vietnam's commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No individual should be prosecuted for exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression," the statement said.
Hoang told the court during the half-day trial in Ho Chi Minh City that he joined Viet Tan in France where it is not banned and that he did not do anything to oppose the government, according to defense lawyer Tran Vu Hai.
Hoang, who was teaching math at a Ho Chi Minh City university at the time of his arrest, said he returned to Vietnam in 2000 to contribute to the country and take care of his ailing parents, Hai said.
The court convicted him on charges that included attending a Viet Tan-organized course in Malaysia and helping to recruit new Vietnamese members, Hai said.
Amnesty International also called for Hoang's release.
Viet Tan, or the Vietnam Reform Party, issued a statement saying the group will not be silenced despite Hoang's imprisonment.
"The communist regime can incarcerate him and other patriots, but they can never annihilate the aspiration of a nation," it said. "Viet Tan will continue to work with the Vietnamese people, pursuing a nonviolent struggle to end dictatorship, build democracy and social equality, so that this aspiration will eventually come true."
Vietnam's Communist government does not tolerate dissent, and rights groups say it uses vague national security laws to imprison anyone who challenges its rule. Hanoi maintains that only lawbreakers are jailed, but there has been a wave of crackdowns since the country's new government took over last month.
Last week, an appeals court in Hanoi upheld a seven-year prison sentence for the dissident son of one of Vietnam's founding revolutionaries, despite arguments that his support for a multiparty system did not mean he was against the Communist Party.
The ruling against Cu Huy Ha Vu drew immediate criticism from activists, the U.S. government and the European Union.
The Communist Party newspaper Nhan Dan on Wednesday quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga as saying Hanoi rejected what it called "statements that interfere with its internal affairs."
Two weeks ago the United States also called for the release of one of Vietnam's best-known pro-democracy activists, a Roman Catholic priest suffering from a brain tumor. The Rev. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, 65, was sent back to prison after receiving more than a year of medical leave.