Aug. 18 (UPI) -- A Vietnam court sentenced a dissident writer and activist to 20 years in prison on what U.S. officials say are "vague" charges of trying to overthrow the government.
Le Dinh Luong, a veteran of Vietnam's 1979 border war with China, was arrested July 24 and accused of calling for a boycott of parliamentary elections in 2016 and of being a member of the U.S.-based Vietnamese opposition party Viet Tan, regarded by Vietnam as a terrorist organization, according to a report by Radio Free Asia, which receives U.S. government funding.
Witnesses that could have given testimony to clear Luong were blocked from the courtroom during the one-day trial, Radio Free Asia reported.
Luong had also posted on Facebook a call for compensation for fishermen affected by the April 2016 waste spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group's steel plant, an environmental disaster that led to widespread protests and arrests in coastal provinces affected by the spill.
Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said Friday the move is deeply concerning and called on the country to ensure its actions and laws are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam's constitution and international obligations and commitments.
"The trend of increased arrests and harsh sentences for peaceful activists in Vietnam is troubling," Nauert said in a statement. "The United States calls on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution."
Rights group Amnesty International said Luong must be released immediately and unconditionally.
"This is a patently unjust and politically-motivated case that should be dropped," Amnesty International said.