HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court issued jail sentences ranging from four to 12 years on Monday to three bloggers who wrote about human rights abuses, corruption and foreign policy, intensifying a crackdown on citizens' use of the Internet to criticize the government.
The cases are particularly high-profile examples of the Communist government's attempts to stifle challenges to its authority on the Internet, which has emerged as a major avenue for dissent in the country of 87 million people. President Barack Obama has mentioned one of the defendants, and the mother of another died after setting herself on fire to protest her daughter's arrest.
The defendants, two men and one woman, are founding members of the "Free Journalists' Club," a group of citizen journalists who posted their work on the Internet. They were found guilty of spreading "propaganda against the state."
Nguyen Van Hai, who has written under the pen name Dieu Cay or "Tobacco Pipe," got 12 years, Ta Phong Tan received 10 years and Phan Thanh Hai got four years, according to defense lawyer Ha Huy Son.
The trial in Ho Chi Minh City lasted less than six hours. The country regularly convicts dissidents, and sentences have generally been around five years.
The United States, which is seeking closer economic ties with Vietnam but is also pressing it on human rights, said it was "deeply troubled" by the convictions.
"These convictions are the latest in a series of moves by Vietnamese authorities to restrict freedom of expression. The Vietnamese government should release these three bloggers, all prisoners of conscience, and adhere to its international obligations immediately," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.