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Cablegate: Sentences Reduced at Dissident Le Nguyen Sang's Appeals

VZCZCXRO5347
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0906 2430825
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 310825Z AUG 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3061
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2160
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3268

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000906

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV VM
SUBJECT: SENTENCES REDUCED AT DISSIDENT LE NGUYEN SANG'S APPEALS
TRIAL

REF: A) HCMC 514 B) HCMC 805 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) Summary: On August 17, the Ho Chi Minh City People's
Court reduced jail sentences for three People's Democratic Party
(PDP) dissidents, although it continued to find them guilty of
violation of Article 88 of the GVN criminal code,
"propagandizing against the State." The decision, which is
applicable to three jailed PDP members even though only Le
Nguyen Sang appealed, is unusual and may indicate a sensitivity
to recent international pressure and media attention that is
causing prosecutors to think twice about sentences that could be
construed as overly harsh in "today's Vietnam." In contrast to
Sang's May 10 trial, only close family members, a few HCMC land
rights protesters and two members of the local press appeared
outside the courtroom. The noticeable lack of attendance by
other PDP dissidents illustrates to what extent HCMC political
dissidents and the human rights movement in general have gone
underground in recent months. End summary.

JAIL TERMS CUT BY SIX MONTHS
----------------------------
2. (SBU) On August 17, Poloff attempted to attend the appeals
trial of Dr. Le Nguyen Sang, the PDP dissident who was arrested
in mid-August 2006 along with fellow members Nguyen Bac Truyen,
and Huynh Nguyen Dao. All three were charged with
"propagandizing against the State" and sentenced to five, four
and three years of imprisonment and two years of probation
respectively by the HCMC People's Court on May 10, 2007(Ref. A).
As in the original trial, a formal request for CG and PolOff to
attend the appeal was denied by the GVN.

3. (SBU) After a lengthy seven hour trial, the court continued
to find Sang, Truyen and Dao all guilty of "propagandizing
against the State," but reduced Sang's sentence from 5 to 4
years of imprisonment, Truyen's from 4 years to 3 years and 6
months, and Dao's from 3 years to 2 years and 6 months of
imprisonment. Their respective two-year probation terms
remained unchanged. Sang's brother told ConGen that the court
cited "recommendations from the Supreme People's Procuracy (the
Vietnamese equivalent of the prosecutor's office)" and "on-going
changes in the country" as reasons for the sentence reductions.

3. (SBU) Sang's brother and one of his two defense lawyers, Mr.
Dang Xuan Dung, were present inside the courtroom and told us
Sang articulately defended himself during the appeal trial.
Pleading not guilty, Sang told the court that he was only
exercising his right to freedom of peaceful expression in
accordance with Article 69 of the Vietnamese Constitution and
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which
the GVN has ratified. Sang's brother told us that Sang's
vociferous self-defense was "so fearless" that the judge had to
silence him many times during the trial.

SMALL SHOW OF SUPPORT OUTSIDE THE COURT
---------------------------------------
4. (SBU) Although PolOff was denied access to the courtroom
despite a formal request made to the HCMC External Relations
Office, Poloff was present when Sang was escorted into the
courthouse by a dozen security guards and police. Sang appeared
to be in good health and spirits, smiling and waving to family
members on his way into the building. In contrast to the large
crowd of press, PDP dissidents and other supporters that
gathered outside the court for Sang's May 10 trial, ConGen
learned that only Sang's close family members, two
GVN-sanctioned reporters and three key participants in the
recent HCMC lands rights protests (Ref. B) were present outside
the court on August 17.

5. (SBU) Comment: We note that HCMC prosecutors cited "changes
in the country" as part of the rationale for reducing these
three dissidents' sentences, though those "changes" were not
specified and the sentence reductions were slight. It is
possible GVN prosecutors are beginning to think twice about
imposing sentences that could be interpreted as overly harsh in
"today's Vietnam." It may also reflect GVN's response to
increasing pressure and attention it has received on human
rights issues from international media, the USG and other
like-minded governments over the past six months. On the other
hand, the noticeable lack of attendance by other PDP dissidents
illustrates to what extent HCMC-area political dissidents have
gone underground in recent months. It remains to be seen
whether these sentence reductions signal an easing of the GVN
crackdown on dissidents. End comment.

6. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

FAIRFAX

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