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Cablegate: Another Dissident Trial, Another Tough Sentence

VZCZCXRO5230
RR RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0528 1350837
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 150837Z MAY 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2624
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 1900
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 2823

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000528

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI ELAB PINR VM
SUBJECT: ANOTHER DISSIDENT TRIAL, ANOTHER TOUGH SENTENCE

REF: A) HCMC 514 AND PREVIOUS; B) HANOI 872

1. (SBU) The May 15 show trial for another member of the
dissident People's Democratic Party and the United Workers
Farmers Organization (UWFO) of Vietnam resulted in a sentence of
seven years imprisonment (two suspended) and two years of house
arrest for UFWO spokesperson Tran Quoc Hien. The trial follows
on the heels of two other dissident trials in HCMC and Hanoi on
May 10 and 11 (reftels). Hien was accused of violating Article
88 of the Penal Code "Propagandizing Against the State" as well
as Article 89 of the Penal Code for "disturbing security and
order." Hien, Director of Saigon Legal Consultancy, was
accused of "inciting" land protestors to demonstrate and of
writing and disseminating on the Internet anti-Party and
anti-GVN materials. HCMC press also reported that Hien,
"induced by reactionaries at home and overseas," sought to
create political unrest by seeking the repeal of the Article
Four of the Constitution and by advocating for a multi-party
government. It also alleged that he sought to "incite" protests
during the APEC summit in Hanoi in November 2006.

2. (SBU) HCMC authorities refused to allow the CG, HCMC PolOff
and the visiting EU Mission Charge to attend the trial. Court
officials told the CG that they could not allow entry without
written instruction from the MFA, the HCMC External Relations
Office told us that the courts issued a decision denying us
entry. No foreign press was present at the trial.

3. (SBU) The trial lasted approximately four hours. Hien was
represented by a local HCMC attorney, who was allowed to meet
with his client in detention and had access to materials for the
case. The lawyer told us that he spoke at the trial for about
10 minutes, arguing that Hien should be acquitted on the charge
of "disturbing security and order" because no real disturbance
occurred. The court rejected this argument. The attorney --
perhaps speaking as much to other listeners on the phone as to
us -- told us Hien confessed that his "actions were wrong" and
asked the court for leniency.

4. (SBU) However, Hien's wife (strictly protect), who was
present at the trial, told us that Hien confirmed he
participated in pro-democracy activities, but did not
acknowledge any wrongdoing. Hien's wife told us that her
husband was resolute and that he told the court that he acted
out of personal frustration over the social injustices he had
witnessed in numerous land disputes pitting the poor against the
State.

5. (SBU) According to Hien's wife, Hien admitted in court to
receiving USD 500 from an activist based in the U.S. to buy a
digital camera and take pictures of land rights protestors in
HCMC. He also acknowledged that that he approached the land
claimants at the Central Government's Complaints Office in HCMC
to provide them advice. He said that he met regularly with
other HCMC political activists such as Do Nam Hai, and
eventually agreed to become the spokesman for the United
Workers-Farmers Organization. Hien told the court that he
sought to meet with President Bush during his November 2006
visit to HCMC to "tell the President that human rights in
Vietnam were not respected." Hien asked for leniency so to take
care of his family, a request the court denied.

6. (SBU) Comment: Hien's sentence is one of the three toughest
meted out against social and political activists thus far in
2007. A number of other HCMC-based activists linked to the land
rights and democracy movement await trial, including Truong Quoc
Huy, whose April 13 trial was postponed at the last minute, and
Tran Thi Thuy Trang, a labor lawyer associate of the detained
NED grantee Le Quoc Quan. Land rights activist Bui Kim Thanh
also remains involuntarily committed to a mental institution
since November 2006. We have not seen any new land rights
protests in HCMC since September 2006 when a senior Ministry of
Public Security General warned protestors in HCMC that they
would face harsh government action if they did not desist. End
Comment.

WINNICK

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