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The Vietnamese authorities have jailed three bloggers accused of spreading anti-government propaganda, in a case criticized by human rights groups.
The high-profile but brief trial took place in Ho Chi Minh City under heavy security, reports say.
The trio was given jail sentences of between four and 12 years.
The government, which does not allow freedom of expression, has been under pressure from bloggers over corruption cases and human rights issues.
The three were accused of posting political articles on a banned website called Free Journalists’ Club, as well as articles critical of the government on their own blogs.
Vietnam has jailed three bloggers accused of spreading anti-government propaganda
Nguyen Van Hai, who uses the pen name Dieu Cay, received the longest sentence of 12 years.
The case of Dieu Cay, who was a soldier before he became a dissident writer, was raised by US President Barack Obama earlier this year.
Former policewoman Ta Phong Tan, who also wrote a blog called ”Justice and Truth”, was sent to jail for a decade. In July, her mother died after setting herself on fire in apparent protest against the detention of her daughter.
The third dissident writer, Phan Thanh Hai, was jailed for four years.
In a statement, the US embassy in Hanoi called on the Vietnamese government to free the group.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court convicted and sentenced blogger Dieu Cay to 12 years in prison for peacefully expressing his political views,” the statement said.
Activists have accused the government of stepping up a crackdown against bloggers and peaceful activists.
“Vietnam’s arbitrary use of vaguely worded national security laws to imprison critics of the government means bloggers are bearing the brunt of this assault on freedom of expression,” Brad Adams, Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement urging the release of the trio.
Earlier this month, Vietnam’s prime minister hit out at three blogs critical of the government.
A statement on a government website said PM Nguyen Tan Dung had ordered police to investigate and take action against those responsible.
The Pakistani PM’s spokesman has condemned a minister’s $100,000 reward for the killing of the maker of amateur anti-Islam video Innocence of Muslims.
Shafqat Jalil said the government “absolutely disassociated” itself from comments by Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour.
Innocence of Muslims, produced in the US, has led to a wave of protests in the Muslim world and many deaths.
The bounty offer came a day after at least 20 died in clashes in Pakistan.
Pakistani Railways Minister offers $100,000 reward for the killing of Innocence of Muslims maker
Friday’s violence, which saw protesters pitted against armed police, occurred in cities throughout Pakistan, with Karachi and Peshawar among the worst hit.
“I will pay whoever kills the makers of this video $100,000,” the minister said.
“If someone else makes other similar blasphemous material in the future, I will also pay his killers $100,000.
“I call upon these countries and say: Yes, freedom of expression is there, but you should make laws regarding people insulting our Prophet. And if you don’t, then the future will be extremely dangerous.”
At one point, he even called for the help of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in killing the filmmaker.
His ANP party, which is part of the governing coalition, said this was a personal statement, not party policy, but added that it would not be taking any action against him.
Shafqat Jalil said: “He is not a member of the [ruling] PPP [Pakistan People’s Party], he is an ANP politician and therefore the prime minister will speak to the head of the ANP to decide the next step. They are not ruling out action against him but say he will stay in his post for now.”
Meanwhile, scores of people were reported to have been injured on Saturday in a clash in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka between police and hundreds of demonstrators.
Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse stone-throwing protesters who set several vehicles alight, the Associated Press news agency reports.
In Pakistan itself, a peaceful demonstration was held in Islamabad. Protesters marched through the capital and gathered near parliament, chanting slogans against the filmmaker and demanding his punishment.
And in Nigeria, tens of thousands of Muslims marched in the northern city of Kano in a protest that passed off peacefully.
Marchers shouted “death to America, death to Israel and death to the enemies of Islam” in a procession several kilometres long. US and Israeli flags were dragged through the dirt.
The exact origins of Innocence of Muslims, the low-budget film that has prompted the unrest, are unclear.
The alleged producer of the trailer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is in hiding.
Anti-US sentiment grew after a trailer for the film dubbed into Arabic was released on YouTube earlier this month.
US citizens have been urged not to travel to Pakistan, and the US embassy has paid for adverts on Pakistani TV showing President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the film.
Although US targets have borne the brunt of protests against the film, anti-Western sentiment has been stoked further by caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published this week in the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
France shut embassies and other missions in about 20 countries across the Muslim world on Friday.
Julian Assange has urged the US to end its “witch-hunt” against WikiLeaks, in his first public statement since entering Ecuador’s London embassy.
Julian Assange also called for the release of Bradley Manning, who is awaiting trial in the US accused of leaking classified documents to the Wikileaks site.
He spoke from a balcony at the embassy and thanked Ecuador’s president, who has granted him asylum.
Julian Assange faces extradition to Sweden over sexual assault claims, which he denies.
Julian Assange has urged the US to end its "witch-hunt" against WikiLeaks, in his first public statement since entering Ecuador's London embassy
He said: “As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies.
“We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America.
“Will it return to and re-affirm the revolutionary values it was founded on?
“Or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark?”
The US is carrying out an investigation into WikiLeaks, which has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables, embarrassing several governments and international businesses.
Alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, 24, an intelligence analyst in the American army who served in Iraq, is alleged to have leaked US government cables to the whistle-blowing website. He is set to face a court martial.
In an interview for US television in 2010, Julian Assange denied any knowledge of Pte Manning.
Julian Assange began his speech by thanking his supporters, many of whom have been holding a vigil outside the building in Knightsbridge.
Speaking of the visit by police officers to the embassy on Wednesday, Julian Assange said: “Inside this embassy after dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape. But I knew there would be witnesses and that is because of you.
“If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night it is because the world was watching and the world was watching because you were watching.”
It is an established international convention that local police and security forces are not permitted to enter an embassy, unless they have the express permission of the ambassador.
The Foreign Office has said it remained committed to reaching a “negotiated solution” but following its obligations under the Extradition Act, it would arrest Julian Assange if he left the embassy.
In 2010, two female ex-WikiLeaks volunteers accused Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, of committing sexual offences against them while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture.
Julian Assange claims the sex was consensual and the allegations are politically motivated.
In a statement issued after the Ecuadorean decision to grant Julian Assange political asylum, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK was under a “binding obligation” to extradite him to Sweden.
Goodman Gallery in South Africa has agreed not to display the controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma after reaching a deal with the ANC.
The painting has sparked fierce debate about the balance between freedom of expression and the right to dignity.
Hundreds of ANC supporters protested outside the gallery on Tuesday.
The painting, The Spear, was defaced last week. It will also be removed from the Goodman Gallery’s website.
Goodman Gallery in South Africa has agreed not to display the controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma after reaching a deal with the ANC
Under the deal, the ANC has agreed to drop its legal action demanding that the gallery remove the painting from its exhibition and the website.
The red, yellow and black acrylic painting showing Jacob Zuma echoing Soviet images of Lenin was taken down after it was covered in red and black paint.
On Monday, South Africa’s City Press newspaper said it was removing the image of the painting from its website following threats by the ANC.
In a joint news conference, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said: “Maybe we should not have gone to through lawyers, we should have talked directly.”
Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers said: “I believe in the right to freedom of expression and the South African constitution.”
“Brett [Murray, the artist] is very saddened by the hurt that the painting has caused,” she said.
The ruling party said the painting was “rude, crude and disrespectful” towards President Zuma and wants all images of the painting online and elsewhere taken down.
In an affidavit served on the City Press newspaper, Jacob Zuma said: “The portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests I am a philanderer, a womanizer and one with no respect.”
President Jacob Zuma, who has four wives, has previously sued local media companies 11 times for defamation.
The EU’s highest court has been asked to rule on the legality of ACTA, the controversial anti-piracy agreement.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been criticized by rights campaigners who argue it could stifle free expression on the internet.
European Union trade head Karel De Gucht said the court will be asked to clarify whether the treaty complied with “the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms”.
The agreement has so far been signed by 22 EU member states.
The European Commission said it “decided today to ask the European Court of Justice for a legal opinion to clarify that the ACTA agreement and its implementation must be fully compatible with freedom of expression and freedom of the internet”.
Several key countries, including Germany and Denmark, have backed away from the treaty amid protests in several European cities.
The EU's highest court has been asked to rule on the legality of ACTA
ACTA is set to be debated by the European Parliament in June.
While countries can individually ratify the terms of the agreement, EU backing is considered vital if the proposal’s aim of implementing consistent standards for copyright enforcement measures is met.
As well as the 22 European backers, the agreement has been signed by the United States, Japan and Canada.
Karel De Gucht told a news conference on Wednesday: “Let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms… especially over the freedom of the internet.
“This debate must be based upon facts, and not upon the misinformation and rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.”
However, Karel de Gucht went on to say that the agreement’s purpose was to protect the creative economy.
“[ACTA] aims to raise global standards for intellectual property rights,” he said, adding that the treaty “will help protect jobs currently lost because counterfeited, pirated goods worth 200bn euros are currently floating around”.
ACTA’s backers face strong opposition within the EU. Viviane Reding, the commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, took to Twitter to outline her worries on the treaty.
“For me, blocking the Internet is never an option,” she wrote in a statement.
“We need to find new, more modern and more effective ways in Europe to protect artistic creations that take account of technological developments and the freedoms of the internet.”
What is ACTA?
• The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is an international treaty aiming to standardize copyright protection measures.
• It seeks to curb trade of counterfeited physical goods, including copyrighted material online.
• Preventative measures include possible imprisonment and fines.
• Critics argue that it will stifle freedom of expression on the internet, and it has been likened to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
• ACTA has been signed by 22 EU members, but is yet to be ratified by the European Parliament.