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Vietnam dissident jailed for five years on appeal

HANOI — A Vietnamese communist turned democracy campaigner was given five years in prison for propaganda on appeal Wednesday, in a reduced sentence criticised by activists as still "very severe".

Vi Duc Hoi was also ordered to serve three years of house arrest after his release from prison at a court hearing in the northern province of Lang Son, a judicial source who did not want to be named told AFP.

The 55-year-old, who published online commentaries on issues including land disputes between citizens and the authorities, was initially sentenced in January to eight years in jail and five years of house arrest.

His case is seen by observers as part of a wider crackdown on free speech.

"It was reduced but he should not be in jail in the first place," Phil Robertson, of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.

He said it was a "very severe" penalty for "doing nothing more than expressing views that are contrary to the government of Vietnam".

Hoi was charged with "propaganda against the state", which rights activists say criminalises free speech in the one-party state. The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Hoi worked as a district official, including as head of a local state propaganda department, and was a Communist Party member for three decades until he resigned to become a democracy activist, his wife said after his arrest in October.

His essays as well as a memoir, Facing Reality, My Path to Joining the Democratic Movement, have been widely circulated on the Internet, HRW said in a recent statement.

Hoi received an award from HRW in 2009 for his writings and the group said authorities have now ordered him to hand over the money he received for that prize.

Vietnam has "intensified its suppression of independent writers and bloggers" over the last year, subjecting them to "intrusive surveillance", detentions and "increasingly long terms in prison", HRW said.

Another Vietnamese dissident, Cu Huy Ha Vu, 53, recently appealed a seven-year prison term and three years of house arrest, after a politically charged trial that drew global criticism.

Vu, whose father was a member of revered founding president Ho Chi Minh's provisional cabinet from 1945, was tried for anti-state propaganda activities, including advocating an end to one-party communist rule.