THAI BINH, Vietnam — A Vietnamese court Monday sentenced a long-serving military officer turned pro-democracy campaigner to five and a half years in jail for attempting subversion against the communist regime.
Tran Anh Kim, 60, a former lieutenant-colonel, was convicted after a half-day trial at a court in the northern town of Thai Binh on charges that potentially carried the death sentence.
"It is a particularly serious case as it harmed national security," the president of the court Tran Van Loan said as he delivered the verdict. "He threatened the stability of the people's regime."
Another four Vietnamese, including a prominent lawyer, are to face trial in January on similar subversion charges, a sign of an increasingly hard line by the authorities against dissidents.
Kim was accused of having major roles in "reactionary and illegal" political organisations, the Democratic Party of Vietnam and the pro-democracy bloc known as "8406".
The court ordered that after serving his jail sentence, Kim must be put under house arrest for three years.
The authorities allowed the media to watch his trial via a closed circuit television.
Prosecutors said Kim, who served in the army for more than 30 years until 2000, had written articles "defaming" the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party and calling for "non-violent" regime change.
He was also accused of giving interviews to foreign media containing "false information" about the social and economic situation in Vietnam, and receiving money from abroad to buy telephones and computers.
Kim was arrested in July originally on charges of delivering propaganda against the regime, during a wave of arrests against activists accused of links with the Democratic Party.
"For three years and seven months, I have been involved in these organisations, but you didn't prosecute me... Why do you prosecute me now?" Kim challenged in court.
The banned Democratic Party, which has its roots in the now ruling Vietnamese Communist Party, was dissolved in the 1980s but revived in 2006 by Hoang Minh Chinh, the late former communist official turned dissident.
Bloc "8406", which takes its name from the date of its creation on April 8, 2006, calls for a multi-party system in Vietnam.
Prosecutor Nguyen Khac Que accused both organisations of seeking to topple the government, saying: "They are calling for a multi-party system and to eliminate the current regime."
"Tran Anh Kim was fully aware of the purpose of those organisations... but still agreed to participate in these organisations," he said.
Western governments and rights groups have voiced concern about the arrests and signs of a tougher crackdown by the regime against opponents ahead of the Communist Party congress in 2011.
In another case, the prosecution last week charged Le Cong Dinh, known for his defence of human rights lawyers, Internet activist Nguyen Tien Trung and two others with attempted subversion.
A judicial source said the trial could take place on January 20 and 21.
Amnesty International has called for the release of Dinh and Trung, describing them as "prisoners of conscience".
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