US ambassador calls for release of jailed Vietnam activist

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HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — The U.S ambassador in Vietnam called on the Communist government Wednesday to release an activist who was sentenced to nine years in prison on what the envoy says are vague charges of propaganda against the state.

Tran Thi Nga was convicted and sentenced in a one-day trial Tuesday on charges of producing videos that defamed the country's leadership. The 40-year-old campaigned against environmental pollution, police brutality and illegal land confiscation, and called for a tougher stance toward China's assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius said "all people have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and of peaceful assembly." While Vietnam has made some progress on human rights, the trend of arrests, convictions and harsh sentences of peaceful activists is "deeply troubling," he said.

The court also imposed five years of house arrest following Nga's prison term, her lawyer Ha Huy Son said.

"I think this is an unjust verdict," Son said. "She did not commit the crime for which she was convicted by the court."

Nga maintained her innocence during the trial, saying she did not oppose anyone, but was only against corruption and injustice, Son said.

Nga's trial in Ha Nam, about 60 kilometers (38 miles) south of Hanoi, came a month after a court in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa sentenced prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to 10 years in prison on similar charges.

Son said there was no proof that 13 videos used against Nga in the trial — 11 taken from the internet and two allegedly found on her computer — were hers.

The videos were about subjects such as toxic chemicals dumped last year by Formosa Plastics Group's steel complex in central Vietnam in one of the country's worst environmental disasters, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, and corruption, Son said.

Vietnam opened up to foreign trade and investment three decades ago and has one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, but the Communist government continues to have almost no tolerance of dissent.

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