The trial of two Vietnamese broadcasters whose shortwave broadcasts into China had drawn the ire of the Chinese regime concluded Thursday morning in Hanoi with both being found guilty in what witnesses say was a show trial.
At 11.15 a.m. the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam sentenced Vu Duc Trung to three years and Le Van Thanh to two years, with both sentences counting time served. Since they have waited approximately 17 months in jail for trial, Trung must serve another one year, seven months, and Thanh seven months.
Trung and Thanh were found guilty under Article 226 of the criminal code, which prohibits “transmitting information illegally into the telecommunications network.” But this statute was a pretext for a prosecution whose real causes lay in the troubled relations between Vietnam and its giant northern neighbor.
Both Trung and Thanh are practitioners of the spiritual practice Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) and their broadcasts into China, downloaded from the Sound of Hope Radio network, contained programming that reported on the Chinese regime’s 12-yearlong efforts to “eradicate” Falun Gong.
The Chinese regime discovered the broadcasts and, on May 30, 2010, the Chinese Embassy sent a memo to the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security complaining specifically about the Sound of Hope content and asking the broadcasts be stopped, according to the official indictment of Trung and Thanh. The two were arrested in June 11, 2010.
Their lawyer, Tran Dinh Trien, said after the trial that Article 226 does not apply to Trung and Thanh’s broadcasts.
According to Trien, at most Trung and Thanh might be found guilty under Postal and Telecom Law Provision 1, article 64, which prohibits broadcasting without a license. This administrative offense is punished with a fine and confiscation of equipment, not with jail time.
Trien pointed out that the issue of Falun Gong did not provide a reason for prosecuting the two under Vietnamese law.
“There is no Vietnamese law that bans Falun Gong and there is no Vietnamese law that bans broadcasting information about Falun Gong,” said Trien.
Trung’s sentence of three years is the maximum under Article 226.
According to an individual who was called as a witness at the trial, the sentences given Trung and Thanh saddened but did not shock their families: they told him they had been informed before the trial what sentences would be handed out.
According to the witness, Trien supplied documents and arguments that refuted every point made by the prosecution.
The witness recalled in particular one moment in the trial after the prosecutor had asserted that Falun Gong was illegal in China. Trien asked to be shown what law in China bans Falun Gong, and the prosecutor was silent. In fact, there is no legal basis for the persecution of Falun Gong in China.
When the prosecutor asserted that broadcasting into China was illegal, Trien asked to be shown what Vietnamese law banned broadcasting into China, and again was met with silence.
A colleague of Trung’s who had been subpoenaed to appear at the court gave a similar account of the trial.
This individual thought the morning’s proceedings has been “ridiculous.”
“This is not a trial,” the colleague said. “It is just a way to frame people. The judges could not respond to any of the points Trien made. They just passed their sentence anyway.”
If the court had determined in advance what Trung and Thanh’s sentences would be, the prosecutor acted as if she had not gotten the memo.
She said that because Trung had never had any prior conviction, and because the information he gave in interrogation was correct, he should receive a reduced sentence.
Trung and Thanh have received support inside Vietnam and around the world, support that has seemed at times to unnerve the Vietnamese government.
Barriers were erected around the courthouse and traffic on the streets around the courthouse on Thursday morning was restricted. According to a source present at the trial, the trial was attended by the families of Trung and Thanh, a number of Vietnamese officials, and press that had been approved in advance by the court.
Outside, approximately 1,000 feet down the street from the courthouse, a group of about 30 Falun Gong practitioners gathered at 8 a.m. Some, dressed all in yellow, sat down to meditate, while others, dressed in regular clothes, handed out fliers to passersby.
Plainclothes police who were already on hand began beating those passing out fliers. When the practitioners yelled out to pedestrians, “Look, these thugs are beating us,” the pedestrians are said to have yelled back, “Those are not thugs. Those are police.”
At 9 a.m. two buses holding uniformed and plainclothes police arrived. The entire group of practitioners then attempted to leave, but they were all pulled into the buses and taken to the Loc Ha detention center, 10 miles north of Hanoi.