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Vietnamese Land Activists Jailed For Up to 8 Years

Seven land rights activists in Vietnam have been sentenced to terms of up to eight years after being convicted of subversion at a closed one-day trial.

The heaviest sentence was handed Monday to activist Tran Thi Thuy, who was identified as a member of the banned opposition group Viet Tan.

Sentences ranged between two and seven years for the others, including pastor Duong Kim Khai and two other members of an unsanctioned Mennonite group known as the Cattle Shed Congregation.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Beau Miller told the Associated Press on Tuesday that Washington has expressed its concern about the trial to Vietnamese authorities. Miller said the United States is particularly troubled that some of the defendants were denied access to lawyers before the trial in southern Ben Tre province.

The U.S.-based Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, acknowledged on its website that three of the seven are members of the party.

The party says Khai and the others had been offering legal advice to farmers whose land has been seized by the government to make way for developments.

A Vietnamese news report said some of the defendants had traveled to Thailand and Cambodia for training on how to overthrow the government by non-violent means.

The Viet Tan said some of the defendants had exercised their right to attend courses on non-violent struggle.

Last week, five members of the U.S. Congress led by Representative Ed Royce of California wrote to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung seeking the release of the seven. The letter called the trial a "stain" on Vietnam's "increasingly troublesome religious freedom record."

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.