Three Catholic students charged with spreading anti-government propaganda were each sentenced Thursday to more than three years in prison, while a fourth received a two-year suspended sentence.
The People’s Court of Nghe An Province in Vinh city sentenced Anthony Dau Van Duong, Peter Tran Huu Duc and Anthony Chu Manh Son, all 23, to 42, 39, and 36 months in prison, respectively, followed by 1-1.5 years of house arrest.
The fourth defendant, John Baptist Hoang Phong, 24, who had no lawyer at the court, was given a suspended sentence of 24 months.
Some 1,000 local people including Catholics and two priests gathered outside the court with banners reading “Our children are innocent” and “Protest illegal arrests,” while policemen and security officials stood by.
The defendants were accused of passing out 5,000 leaflets in May 2011 that demanded a multiparty system, criticized Communist Party policies and rejected the results of last year’s national assembly election.
“You’re innocent. Be brave! All people stand by you,” Chu Van Nghiem, Son’s father, said in court before he was removed by security officials, local Church sources reported.
Church sources also said the defendants’ relatives and lawyers plan to lodge an appeal to a higher court immediately.
Since 2011, as many as 27 bloggers, dissidents, and activists in the country have been detained and accused of anti-government propaganda.