Vietnam: protesters receive suspended sentences


 Eight parishioners from Hanoi's Thai Ha parish walked free from court yesterday after seven of them received suspended sentences for disturbing public order and damaging property in an ongoing land dispute with the Vietnamese government.

The defendants, four men and four women. were among thousands of parishioners who joined prayer vigils and peaceful rallies over the past year in the capital Hanoi demanding the return of Catholic Church land seized by the state half a century ago.

Hundreds of Catholic supporters outside the Hanoi court building greeted the defendants with flowers as they left the building, which was guarded by rows of riot police.

Seven of the eight defendants denied the charges.

"Our vigils were a good thing for the government, because we prayed to God to enlighten the leaders' minds," defendant Le Quang Kien, 63, told the court.

he trial was held at a local government meeting hall rather than the Dong Da District People's Court. Police surrounded the location to keep unauthorised visitors out, while a crowd of parishioners from Thai Ha parish held a demonstration outside.

Seven defendants received suspended jail terms of between 12 and 15 months, minus time already served in police custody and probation periods of up to two years, and one received a warning.

Thousands of Catholics gathered at Thai Ha over the weekend to pray for the eight parishioners before their trial.

Source: An Dang/AP

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