Six human rights activists in Vietnam have been sentenced to between seven and 15 years in jail, in a move condemned by the US as part of a "disturbing trend" by the country's authorities to restrict fundamental freedoms.
The state-run Vietnam News Agency said Thursday the Hanoi People's Court had given the longest sentence to human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, for "trying to overthrow the people's administration."
The judgment comes amid a wider government crackdown on peaceful dissent that has seen several bloggers and human rights activists given long jail sentences in the last 12 months.
"Individuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, both online and offline," said US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in statement.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government's efforts to restrict these rights, through a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences of peaceful activists."
The five men and one woman sentenced this week were accused by the Vietnamese government of founding and being part of the "Brotherhood for Democracy," a self-described network of peaceful right activists and democracy advocates the government has accused of seeking to overthrow the state.
All of them will face up to five years under house arrest after they finish their prison sentence, according to Vietnamese state media.
The Communist Party of Vietnam has ruled the country as an effective one-party state since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
Among those sentenced on Thursday were blogger Pham Van Troi, priest Nguyen Trung Ton, journalist Truong Minh Duc, entrepreneur Nguyen Bac Truyen and human rights worker Le Thu Ha.
All of those sentenced, apart from Le Thu Ha, have previously served time in jail for their activism, according to Human Rights Watch.
Amnesty International estimates there are at least 97 prisoners of conscience currently being held in Vietnamese jails.
"Unless the Vietnamese government changes course and ends all unlawful practices aimed at jailing and harassing peaceful opponents, it is only a matter of time before the list of prisoners of conscience will grow even longer," James Gomez, Amnesty's director for Southeast Asia and Pacific, said in a statement.
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