Hanoi, Apr 5 (AFP) Six activists were jailed for between seven and 15 years today for “attempting to overthrow the state”, the harshest sentences in years as the communist country tightens its grip on critics.

The one-party state routinely locks up lawyers, bloggers and dissidents, but critics say a conservative leadership in charge since 2016 is a waging a crackdown that has sent a chill throughout the dissident community.

The six defendants convicted today, including prominent lawyer Nguyen Van Dai who got 15 years in jail, were sentenced after a one-day trial held under heavy security in the Vietnamese capital, lawyers told AFP.

The defendants were all charged under Article 79 for attempting to overthrow the state, the lawyers said.

The case has drawn international scorn and gained widespread attention in the country, where independent civil society groups, political parties and media are all barred by the communist state.

Article 79 carries the maximum penalty of death, but the accused were spared the harshest sentence.

The activists are linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy, a nationwide network of activists that says it has about 80 full-time members.

They were accused of carrying out human rights training, pushing for multi-party democracy and receiving funds from overseas, according to the indictment.

“At the trial today, no evidence showing the defendants’ attempt at overthrowing the state was given,” lawyer Le Luan told AFP after the one-day trial.

“The charge was very much groundless,” he said.

Five of the accused have been previously convicted, included lawyer Dai who has long been a thorn in the side of the communist authorities. Dai served four years in prison in 2007 for anti-state activity.

He was arrested along with his assistant Le Thu Ha — who was sentenced to nine years Thursday — in December 2015.

Both were initially accused of anti-state propaganda before it was increased to the more serious charge of attempting to overthrow the state. (AFP) NSA

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.