HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Two Catholics have been convicted of spreading anti-government propaganda and sentenced to prison in Vietnam, where local church officials and the ruling Communist Party have had an uneasy relationship for years.
Vo Thi Thu Thuy, 50, and Nguyen Van Thanh, 28, were sentenced to five and three years in prison, respectively, at a one-day trial on Tuesday, said Pham Van Phuc, a court official in central Vietnam's Nghe An province.
The two were arrested in early 2011 after distributing documents that defamed the Communist Party leadership, Phuc said. He said some of the documents were prepared by the Rev. Nguyen Van Ly, an ailing priest who has been in and out of prison and house arrest for years.
Phuc said Thuy also participated in rally by Catholics in central Quang Binh province in 2009 to ask local government to return church land. Clashes broke out after Catholics erected a makeshift place of worship on a site where American bombs destroyed a church during the Vietnam War. Communist authorities detained 18 people.
There are about 6 million Catholics in Vietnam, more than any other Southeast Asian country except the Philippines. The government insists that it has final say in the appointment of clergy.
In July, authorities sent Ly, one of the country's best-known democracy activists, back to jail more than a year after his release on medical parole.
During his parole, Ly continued to oppose the communist regime by distributing anti-government leaflets and accusing Vietnamese leaders of being too soft on China in the countries' ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea, officials have said.
Ly has been jailed most recently for helping found a group called Bloc 8406, which promotes multiparty democracy.