A group of six Vietnamese bloggers have been sentenced to a total of 66 years in prison and 17 years under house arrest.
Press freedom campaign group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) criticised the “unprecedented severity” and accused the Vietnamese government of an “intolerable crackdown” on citizen journalists.
Nguyen Van Dai, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc, Le Thu Ha and Nguyen Bac Truyen were accused of conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the state through their affiliation with human rights group Brotherhood for Democracy according to Radio Free Asia.
The group posts online reports about human rights violations.
Judges in the country’s capital, Hanoi, yesterday found the bloggers guilty of subversion in a trial which lasted just a few hours.
RSF has called for EU countries to veto a free trade agreement with Vietnam set to be approved this year.
It said Vietnam has recently become one of the “world’s worst enemies of the freedom to inform”.
RSF claimed the trial was supposed to last two days but was “dispatched in a few hours”, and that several demonstrators outside the court house were arrested.
Dissidents were placed under house arrest ahead of the trial and an AFP journalist was questioned by police, RSF said.
Head of RSF Asia-Pacific desk Daniel Bastard said: “These sentences are utterly grotesque.
“The only crime committed by these Brotherhood for Democracy members was posting articles calling for respect for human rights in Vietnam.
“The severity of the sentences has only one explanation – it was meant to intimidate those who dare to raise issues in the public interest.”
One of Brotherhood for Democracy’s co-founders, Van Dai, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest. Journalist Minh Duc and blogger Trung Ton were sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years of house arrest.
Bac Truyen, another co-founder, got 11 years in prison and three years of house arrest. Thu Ha, a female blogger, was sentenced to nine years in prison and two years of probation.
The sixth defendant, Van Troi, got seven years in prison and one year of house arrest.