A court in Vietnam jailed an American citizen for 12 years on Monday after he was found guilty of attempting to “overthrow” the ruling communist regime.
Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, 55, was born in Vietnam but moved to the United States when he was a child. He was initially arrested in Vietnam last July alongside two other local anti-communist activists on suspicion of planning activities against the government.
Nguyen’s lawyer told Reuters his client had admitted to wanting to incite protests across the country that would eventually lead to the overthrow of the government. However, he denied more serious charges of planning to attack government offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with petrol bombs.
“Their objective is to cause riots in an attempt to overthrow the administration of Vietnam and eradicate the leading role of the (Communist) party,” local newspaper Truoi Tre cited the indictment as saying.
After a trial that lasted half a day, Nguyen was handed a 12-year jail sentence followed by immediate deportation. His lawyer described the verdict as “too heavy.”
“It’s such a long sentence,” said his lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng. “Michael admitted guilt at the trial and asked the jury to reduce his sentence so that he could soon reunite with his family.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi also expressed disappointment at the verdict.
“We are disappointed by today’s verdict,” they said in a statement. “We will continue to raise our concerns regarding Mr. Nguyen’s case, and his welfare, at all appropriate levels.”
A Change.org petition pleading with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take more action to help free Nguyen is closing in on 100,000 signatures after the Vietnamese government refused to update his family on his whereabouts and condition.
“We, as U.S. citizens, hereby demand an immediate and unconditional release of Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen,” the petition reads. “Failure to do so only serves to further discredit the Vietnamese government in the eyes of the international community, and equally important, in the eyes of Vietnamese people.”
— Victims of Communism (@VoCommunism) August 5, 2018
Despite sweeping economic reforms in recent years, Vietnam remains in the hands of a tightly controlled communist dictatorship that suppresses all forms of public dissent. In their 2019 World Report, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the country’s human rights record “remains dire in all areas” by maintaining a “monopoly on political power [that] allows no challenge to its leadership.
“Basic rights, including freedom of speech, opinion, press, association, and religion, are restricted,” the organization notes. “Rights activists and bloggers face harassment, intimidation, physical assault, and imprisonment.”
“The police use torture and beatings to extract confessions. The criminal justice system lacks independence. State-run drug rehabilitation centers exploit detainees as laborers making goods for local markets and export,” they continue. “Nevertheless, increasing numbers of bloggers and activists have called publicly for democracy and greater freedoms.”