A Vietnamese court today sentenced a teacher to three years in prison and a further three years of probation for displaying a banner on a bridge calling for multi-party democracy.
The banner said the ruling Communist Party should “immediately proceed with democratization, pluralism and multi-party rule“. It complained that corruption was “sucking the blood of the people”, and inflation was “killing” them.
After a three-hour trial, the judge declared Hung’s behavior a “danger to society”, while Hung told the court he simply wanted “to contribute my little voice to make society better.”
Vu Hung is one of several democracy activists arrested last year on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. Six other dissidents, including writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, go on trial this week.
The activists are associated with Bloc 8406, the three-year-old democracy reform group which has been described as presenting “the most potent political challenge ever to Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.”
Vu Hung had been held in pre-trial detention and his health markedly deteriorated after being beaten during interrogation, and starting a hunger-strike to protest his treatment. Amnesty International reported that he was dismissed from his job after being arrested for demonstrating against China when the Olympic torch relay passed through Ho Chi Minh City in April 2008.
Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has sought to emulate the China model of marrying economic freedoms with political control. But with the party considered “effectively dead as a source of ideals or morality“, the authorities appear concerned that a new generation of dissidents is emerging to articulate demands for greater democracy.
The process of doi moi (“change for the new”) has delivered exceptional economic growth but the subsequent phase of coi troi (“loosening bonds”, a Vietnamese glasnost) has failed to deliver greater political freedom.