The Crackdown on Democracy Activists is “Trampling on the Eternal Good Morals of the Vietnamese Nation”

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Activists accused of plotting to overthrow the communist regime stand listening to verdicts at a People's Court in Vinh city, in the north-central province of Nghe An on January 9, 2013.  Vietnam on January 13 jailed 13 activists convicted of plotting to overthrow the communist regime, in a new crackdown criticised by the US as part of a "disturbing" trend in the authoritarian state.  (Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

Activists accused of plotting to overthrow the communist regime stand listening to verdicts at a People’s Court in Vinh city, in the north-central province of Nghe An on January 9, 2013. Vietnam on January 13 jailed 13 activists convicted of plotting to overthrow the communist regime, in a new crackdown criticised by the US as part of a “disturbing” trend in the authoritarian state. (Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

I sit at my desk and write about human rights with ease, yet in Viet Nam, blogging can land you in prison. Last week, Vietnamese authorities convicted 14 activists for plotting to overthrow the government under article 79 of the criminal code. The sentences range from three to thirteen years. The activists were all linked to the US-based, pro-democracy group Viet Tan, which the Vietnamese government labels a terrorist organization. Five of the sentenced activists are bloggers who wrote about freedom of expression. Before the start of the trial, one of the bloggers, Dang Xuan Dieu, said, “I have done nothing contrary to my conscience” and that in punishing him, the government was “trampling on the eternal good morals of the Vietnamese nation.”

The defendants were all charged after attending a Viet Tan training course held in Bangkok in 2011. Viet Tan led a resistance movement in the 1980s, but has more recently called for democracy and peaceful change in Viet Nam. A spokesperson for the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that none of the activists were alleged to have used violence.

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Arrested for Opening Up Monasteries?

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Plus ça change (plus c’est la même chose).  For those who were lulled into believing that the government of Myanmar is new and improved, and that reforms are taking place with unsurpassed speed, the rearrest of former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience U Gambira is a much-needed wake-up call.  The human rights situation in that country is still precarious, and we need to be vigilant lest they slip back into their old ways.

Ashin Gambira (aka Nyi Nyi Lwin) was arrested on December 1, 2012 – his third arrest since his ”release” in January.  Under the general prisoner amnesty, prisoners’ sentences were merely suspended, rather than expunged. That means the time that remained on U Gambira’s original sentence of 63 years when he was released in January would be added back if he is convicted of these new charges.

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Aung San Suu Kyi Charged Today in Myanmar

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Myanmar’s (Burma) pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was charged today with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man allegedly snuck into her home last week.  She now faces a prison term of up to five years – just weeks before her house arrest was set to expire on May 27th.

With general elections coming up next year many have questioned the timing of the arrest as pretext to prevent Suu Kyi’s involvement.  Is it merely a convenient coincidence?  You decide.

Suu Kyi’s female companion, Khin Khin Win, and Khin Khin Win’s daughter were also arrested at the same time.  Amnesty International is demanding that the U.N. Security Council, notably China and Japan, and ASEAN countries, urgently intervene to secure their release.  They are best placed to bring the necessary pressure to bear on the Myanmar government.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Khin Khin Win and her daughter are now among the more than 2,100 political prisoners currently being held in prison in Myanmar. Conditions in Myanmar prisons are extremely bad and jeopardize the health of prisoners.  Take action now to demand Suu Kyi’s and other political prisoners’ immediate release from prison!