HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- The three bloggers jailed this week for carrying out "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" received an open and fair trial, the government said.
"In Vietnam, every citizen's right to freedom is clearly stipulated in the Constitution and other legal documents," Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said.
"This right has always been respected. Just as in other countries, all law violations are punished in accordance with regulations of Vietnam's law and international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
Nghi was reacting to international criticism, including by the United States, over sentences handed down by the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court, a report by the state-run Vietnam News Agency stated.
Nguyen Van Hai, known as Dieu Cay, 60, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on a charge of spreading propaganda against the state. Ta Phong Tan, 44, received a 10-year sentence and Phan Thanh Hai, 43 and a lawyer, was ordered to three years in jail.
All were members of the Free Journalists Club, an independent bloggers' website, and thought to have posted more than 400 articles, including 26 items containing anti-state comments.
Cay, a former soldier and a founder of the Free Journalists Club, was mentioned by U.S. President Barack Obama in his statement on World Press Freedom Day in May.
Cay was accused of being the main administrator of the blog, which no longer exists, a report by the blogger news website Rappler, published from the Philippines, said.
Cay wrote on matters considered sensitive to Vietnam's Communist Party-run government, including reporting on protests against China and the calls to boycott the Beijing Olympic torch relay when it passed through Ho Chi Minh City in 2008, the Rappler report said.
Tan is a former party member and police officer turned citizen journalist, Rappler said.
Tan was arrested in September 2011 and her mother died after immolating herself in July in front of government offices in Bac Lieu province as a protest against the charges against her daughter, Rappler said.
Vietnamese media said the bloggers' stories "distorted the truth about the state and party, created anxiety among citizens and supported schemes to overthrow the government."
Another defendant, Le Xuan Lap, 54, helped the others deliver the stories was ordered placed under close police supervision, the court said.
Immediately after the court handed down the sentences, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi urged the Vietnam government to release the three bloggers, in particular Cay.
"The government's treatment of Dieu Cay appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression and due process," a statement by the U.S Embassy in Hanoi said.
"Vietnam's arbitrary use of vaguely worded national security laws to imprison critics of the government means bloggers are bearing the brunt of this assault on freedom of expression," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
Earlier this month Vietnam also responded to the U.S. House of Representatives bill called the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2012 (H.R. 1410).
The act aims to promote democracy in Vietnam by linking increases in U.S. non-humanitarian assistance to the Vietnamese government to improvements in Hanoi's human rights record.
But the bill is "based on erroneous and biased information on the enforcement of human rights in Vietnam" and will do nothing to develop human rights in the country, Nghi said in a report by the Vietnam News Agency.
Human rights are important to Vietnam and are best discussed on a one-to-one basis to narrow differences and improve understanding, Nghi said.
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