Cu Huy Ha Vu, a political activist from an elite Vietnamese family, has been sentenced to seven years in jail for allegedly attempting to subvert the Vietnamese government.
Vu is charged with calling for the dissolution of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, advocating a multi-party political system, and characterizing the Vietnam War as a civil war.
A judge said Vu’s published writings and interviews had "blackened, directly or indirectly" Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party. He will serve three years of house arrest after his release.
Analysts say Vu’s unusually aggressive legal activism challenged the party’s authority. They say his high-profile trial raises questions about the future of open dissent in Vietnam.
Vu, a 53-year-old activist who studied law in France, was arrested in November as part of a government crackdown against activists and bloggers before a January Communist Party congress.
Vu has defended government critics, and in 2009, he twice attempted to sue Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in connection with a controversial bauxite mining project Vu claimed violated national laws.
After his November arrest, Vietnam’s state-controlled press accused Vu of spreading "groundless, fabricated and distorted information" about the state’s leadership and management.
Vietnamese activists are commonly charged with spreading anti-state propaganda, but unlike other activists, Vu hails from an elite family.
His father Cu Huy Can was an advisor to Vietnamese national hero Ho Chi Minh, and according to a local media report, his uncle Xuan Dieu was a famous Vietnamese poet.
An emeritus professor at Australia's University of New South Wales, Carl Thayer, said before the trial that Vu’s elite roots put Vietnamese communists in an "awkward position."
"How do you challenge someone with that background and say he is really subversive to the state when he comes from a family of such loyalty? State prosecutors and security authorities will try to prevent that connection from being made," said Thayer.
Although Vietnam rejected Vu’s attempts to file lawsuits opposing the Bauxite mining project, Thayer said, Vu’s activism challenged the authority of Vietnamese law.
On April 2, Human Rights Watch called for Vu’s release, noting he is one of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told VOA Vu’s trial reflects internal Vietnamese politics and is not connected to recent popular uprisings in Africa and the Middle East. Hours before Vu’s conviction, Robertson said the trial may set the example of how Vietnam responds to criticism by members of its revolutionary elite.
"Our assumption has got to be that they are trying to silence him, but I think they are probably looking beyond him also to other persons within the revolutionary elite who might want to raise their voice about what is happening, about corruption, malfeasance, abuse of human rights, land grabbing and the other things that are increasingly being raised by civil society groups from across the spectrum [in Vietnam]," he said.
According to Human Rights Watch, Vu’s wide base of supporters includes workers, bloggers, catholic parishioners and land-rights activists.