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Vietnam Jails Prominent Activist for 30 Months

A prominent Vietnamese activist has been sentenced to 30 months in jail on tax evasion charges critics say are politically motivated.

Le Quoc Quan was also fined about $60,000 at the half-day trial held under tight security Wednesday at the Hanoi People's Court.

Ahead of the ruling, police formed a tight ring around the court, preventing Quan's supporters from reaching the facility. Some small-scale clashes were reported.

The 42-year-old is one of Vietnam's best-known government critics. Before his December arrest, the Catholic lawyer ran a blog on human rights, democracy, religious freedom and other sensitive topics.

Duy Hoang is a Washington-based spokesman for Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group banned in Vietnam. He tells VOA it was a "politically motivated trial from the very beginning."

"Le Quoc Quan is a very well respected democracy activist and human rights lawyer. And frankly, the Vietnamese government was afraid to put him on trial for his political activism and blogging and expression, so they had to resort to tax charges."

It is not the first time Quan has faced criminal charges. He was also arrested and charged with subversion in 2007, shortly after returning from a United States government-funded fellowship on civil rights. He was later released following an international outcry.

After Wednesday's ruling, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi released a statement saying it is "deeply concerned" at the conviction. 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.

Rights groups also slammed the ruling. Phil Robertson with Human Rights Watch said on Twitter the charge represents "another black mark" on Vietnam's record.

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