A court in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City on Monday sentenced 12 Vietnamese to prison terms of from three to 13 years on charges of supporting an exile group accused of attempting to overthrow the government in a trial described by defense attorneys as violating legal principles.
Nine of the cases were drawn from separate parts of the country, jeopardizing standards of fairness in the trial, defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng told RFA in an interview after the sentences were handed down.
“This trial violated legal procedures, as it gathered nine cases from different provinces and cities and then combined them in a single trial,” Mieng said. “These 12 people had no relationships or links with each other,” he added.
Defendant Tran Thi Ngoc Xuan, who received a 13-year prison term and was described by prosecutors as the most active member of the alleged plot, was acquainted with only two of the others brought to trial, Mieng said.
“However, she had no close ties with either of them. They simply knew each other and did not work together as members of a team,” he said.
Prosecutors had charged the group with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government” under Article 109 of Vietnam’s Penal Code and with recruiting others to join the Provisional Government of Vietnam, a U.S.-based opposition group described by Vietnamese authorities as a terrorist organization.
Speaking to RFA, Mieng said however that the defendants had only thought they were joining projects aimed at helping the country’s poor.
“In general, these 12 defendants are all poor and not well-educated,” Mieng said. “Therefore, when hearing from an online source about 18 programs providing land and houses carried out by the U.N. in cooperation with an ‘interim government,’ they registered their names and encouraged others to participate.”
“And then they were arrested,” he said.
Only Xuan declared her innocence at trial, with the others pleading guilty and asking for leniency from the court, Mieng said. Only Xuan had been able to hire a lawyer, while the other defendants were represented by lawyers assigned by the court, he added.
Xuan, who has already spent two years in pre-trial detention, will now consider filing an appeal of her sentence, which must be filed within 15 days, Mieng said.
Based in Orange County, California, the Provisional Government of Vietnam was founded in 1991 by former soldiers and refugees loyal to the South Vietnamese government that existed before the country’s takeover by North Vietnam in 1975.
The group was designated a terrorist organization by Vietnamese authorities in January 2018 after group members in Vietnam were charged with a plot to attack Tan Son Nhat International Airport with petrol bombs ahead of a major holiday the year before.
At least 18 Vietnamese have been jailed in recent years for alleged involvement with the group.
Repeated attempts by RFA to contact representatives of the Provisional Government of Vietnam for comment have gone unanswered.
Translated by Anna Vu for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.