A Vietnamese court has rejected the appeal of a prominent activist who faces 30 months in jail on tax evasion charges he says are politically motivated.
The Hanoi appeals court ruled Tuesday there is no evidence to overturn the jail sentence and $60,000 fine against Le Quoc Quan, one of Vietnam's best known government critics.
More than 100 supporters of the Catholic lawyer were blocked from reaching the court. They gathered nearby instead, shouting and holding signs calling for his release.
Before his arrest, Le Quoc Quan frequently spoke out on human rights, democracy, religious freedom and other sensitive topics.
He has been on a hunger strike for weeks, and appeared tired in court. His family says he has been demanding access to a Bible, legal documents and a priest.
Rights groups say the government was hesitant to try Le Quoc Quan for his activism, so they resorted to tax evasion charges.
It is not the first time he has faced criminal charges. He was also arrested and charged with subversion in 2007, shortly after returning from a U.S. government-funded fellowship on civil rights. He was later released following an international outcry.
The U.S. embassy in Hanoi said in October it is "deeply concerned" at the ruling. It said "the use of tax laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is disturbing."
The statement also called on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience and allow all Vietnamese to peacefully express their political views.
Washington has regularly criticized Vietnamese authorities for imprisoning dozens of dissidents and critics of the country's one-party system.