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Vietnamese court sentences dissident

Tran Anh Kim, 60, at his trial yesterday, was accused of working to overthrow the state by publishing prodemocracy articles. Tran Anh Kim, 60, at his trial yesterday, was accused of working to overthrow the state by publishing prodemocracy articles. (Associated Press)
Associated Press / December 29, 2009

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THAI BINH, Vietnam - A Vietnamese court convicted a former army officer who had pressed for democratic reforms of subversion yesterday and sentenced him to 5 1/2 years in prison as Vietnam stepped up its efforts to crack down on dissent.

Tran Anh Kim, 60, was accused of “working to overthrow the state’’ by joining the Democratic Party of Vietnam, publishing prodemocracy articles on the Internet, and joining Bloc 8406, an organization that promotes a multiparty state.

Kim could have faced the death penalty, but prosecutors sought a lenient sentence, citing his distinguished military record and cooperative attitude.

The former lieutenant colonel is the first in a group of five defendants to be put on trial by Vietnam’s communist government, which does not accept challenges to its one-party rule.

They were indicted last week under Article 79 of Vietnam’s criminal code, which carries sentences ranging from 12 years to life in prison - or death by firing squad.

Kim’s trial opened yesterday morning in the northern province of Thai Binh. As the proceedings began, Kim said he had simply stood up for his beliefs.

“I joined the Democratic Party of Vietnam and Bloc 8406 to fight for democratic freedom and human rights for the Vietnamese nation through peaceful dialogue and nonviolent means,’’ Kim said.

His writings, Kim said, had been part of a campaign against government corruption.

Vietnam’s government routinely convicts and jails its political opponents, but it generally prosecutes them under Article 88, a lesser offense that prohibits spreading “propaganda against the state.’’