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Vietnam sentences US citizen to 12 years in prison

Vietnamese rallying for democracy, human rights in Vietnam and protesting the Vietnamese communist government's human rights abuses, on April 30, 2012. (Magicloveisintheair/Wikimedia Commons)
June 24, 2019

A U.S. citizen has been sentenced to more than a decade in a Vietnam prison over allegations that he tried to overthrow the government.

Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen pleaded guilty to the charge and asked for a reduced sentence so that he could reunite with family, but was instead sentenced to 12 years, after which he will be deported, Reuters reported Monday.

“It’s such a long sentence,” Nguyen’s lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, told Reuters. “Michael admitted guilt at the trial and asked the jury to reduce his sentence so that he could soon reunite with his family.”

“We are disappointed by today’s verdict,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said in an emailed statement to Reuters. “We will continue to raise our concerns regarding Mr. Nguyen’s case, and his welfare, at all appropriate levels.”

The trial was expected to take two days and the death penalty was a possible sentence, but the trial ended after just half a day.

The Vietnam court also sentenced two additional men for the same charges as Nguyen. They received eight- and 10-year prison sentences followed by three years on house arrest.

“Their objective is to cause riots in an attempt to overthrow the administration of Vietnam and eradicate the leading role of the (Communist) party,” the indictment said, according to Reuters.

Nguyen, a 55-year-old Vietnam native who lived most of his life in the U.S., was arrested last year due to suspicions that he was organizing protests and attacks on government offices.

He was detained July 7, 2018 during a vacation in Vietnam, and held for several weeks during an investigation before being formally charged.

His family has maintained Nguyen’s innocence and said he has not been involved with dissident activities.

“He is severely disadvantaged and unable to properly defend against any accusations against him,” said a family statement to Agence France-Press reported by Time Magazine.

Nguyen’s wife, Helen Nguyen, was one of the special guests who attended President Trump’s State of the Union address in early February, in order to spread awareness of her husband’s case, including what she described as lack of due process.

“Since he was detained, he’s had no due process at all,” Nguyen told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in February. “No visitors, no letters, nobody can contact him, even including lawyers. Only [staff from] the U.S. consulate visit him once a month for 20 to 30 minutes,” she said.

Last August, Vietnam also sentenced two Vietnamese-Americans to 14 years in jail for the same charges, the Associated Press reported at the time. The Vietnam government insisted the two men were a part of a local terrorist group.