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Vietnamese Democracy Advocate Sentenced

November 12, 2003

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ A former Vietnamese communist soldier turned democracy advocate was sentenced to 10 months in jail Wednesday for ``abusing democratic freedoms″ after sending a letter to government officials demanding that other political dissidents be released.

Tran Dung Tien, 74, was arrested Jan. 22 and will be released from jail next week, having served most of his sentence while awaiting trial, according to a court official who spoke on condition of anonymity following the half-day trial in Hanoi.

Tien was arrested in Hanoi while photocopying anti-government documents _ days after sending an open letter to leaders asking that imprisoned former army colonel Pham Que Duong and academic Tran Khue, both pro-democracy advocates, be released, according to international human rights groups.

Tien was charged with ``abusing democratic freedoms to encroach on the interests of the state, the rights and legitimate interests of organizations and citizens,″ foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung said.

He had faced up to seven years in jail. The court official said Tien was convicted of writing and distributing anti-government documents and will be released on Nov. 22.

Tien, who was in the army from 1946 to 1960, has written many letters since 1996 opposing the communist government, according to London-based Amnesty International.

Tien’s wife and daughter were allowed into the courtroom, according to Tien’s brother, Tran Duc Hoa, 73, who stood across the street from the Hanoi People’s Court with foreign journalists and diplomats.

``My brother is the one who defended the Party,″ Hoa said. ``He may have committed one or two minor mistakes. The government therefore may consider his advanced age.″

International rights groups as well as the State Department have regularly criticized Vietnam for its repressive treatment of religious and political dissidents.

Hanoi maintains that only lawbreakers are punished.

Vietnam’s human rights record has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year as it has clamped down on democracy advocates, particularly those who have used the Internet. The issue was raised in Washington during Vietnam Defense Minster Pham Van Tra’s current visit there. It marks the first time a high-ranking military official has visited the United States since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

The U.S. Congress is currently considering a bill that would link non-humanitarian aid to Vietnam’s human rights progress.

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