A court in Hanoi has upheld the sentence for one of Vietnam’s most prominent dissident bloggers, Le Quoc Quan, who was jailed for tax evasion in October. Police prevented hundreds of his supporters from gathering nearby.
The 42-year-old Quan - a lawyer by training and a devout Catholic - was sentenced to two and half years in jail in October for tax evasion. The charges were denounced by international human rights groups as politically motivated.
After a half-day trial on Tuesday, his sentence was upheld on appeal.
The crowd of Quan supporters in Hanoi intended to march to the appeals court, but police blocked the road and surrounded them for several hours.
Among the supporters was Quan’s younger brother, Le Quoc Quyet.
Speaking before the sentence was announced, Quyet said he was not optimistic about the result.
"I don’t hope about the justice for this trial. The lawyers can’t access the court. Many people are prevented from going to the court to show their support. I don’t hope about justice, I don’t hope," said Quyet.
Quan ran a consultancy company and in his spare time wrote a blog under his own name that reported on civil rights, political pluralism and religious freedom.
His trial in October attracted criticism from rights groups and foreign governments. The United States embassy in Hanoi has said the use of tax laws to imprison government critics is “disturbing.”
In November, the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Quan’s immediate release or for his conviction to be reviewed by an independent court.
One of Quan’s lawyers, Ha Huy Son, said the case should not have been taken to a criminal court, but resolved according to administrative procedures.
Quan has been on a hunger strike for weeks demanding a bible, access to legal documents and a priest, according to his family.
At one point protesters clashed with police after news spread that Quan had fainted during the trial.
Quan’s lawyer, Son, said that Quan was very tired but didn’t faint.
Quan has attracted support from a wide variety of activists. At one point on Tuesday his supporters sang the song “Anh la Ai” - who are you? - written by musician Viet Khang in response to police crackdowns on anti-China protesters. Khang was jailed in 2012 for conducting propaganda against the state under Article 88 of the penal code.
Both men are among a growing number of people sentenced in political trials in Vietnam since 2010, according to Human Rights Watch, which said that 2013 saw at least 63 people imprisoned for peaceful political expression.