Vietnamese dissident sentenced to 8 years in jail

A former Vietnamese Communist Party official was sentenced to eight years in jail Wednesday for posting articles on the Internet calling for a multiparty system and democracy, his lawyer said.

Vi Duc Hoi, 54, was convicted of spreading anti-government propaganda, defense lawyer Tran Lam said. The court in northern Lang Son province also sentenced Hoi to five years of house arrest after he finishes his jail term.

Hoi was accused of violating Vietnam's national security laws by using the Internet to promote a multiparty system and democracy.

"The sentence was too harsh," Lam said by telephone. "Many people who did the same should also have been arrested and imprisoned."

Hoi joined the Communist Party in 1980 and quickly rose to a high-ranking position that involved overseeing the education of upcoming local party leaders. But he started calling for democratic reforms in 2006 and was expelled from the party a year later.

In 2009, he was honored with an award for his pro-democracy work by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In its annual report released Monday, the organization accused the Vietnamese government of cracking down on dissidents and on religious rights in 2010.

The government maintains tight control over all aspects of life and does not tolerate any challenge to its one-party rule. It maintains that people are free to express themselves, and that only lawbreakers are jailed.