Three US citizens and four Vietnamese went on trial on terrorism charges yesterday, accused of plotting to take over radio airwaves to call for an uprising against the communist government.
The seven were led into a Ho Chi Minh City courtroom for the one-day trial. If convicted, they could face sentences ranging from 12 years in prison to execution.
But prosecutors said they sought sentences of only 18 months to 24 months of imprisonment, saying the defendants repented and had no previous criminal records. They also sought to have the defendants from the US deported after serving their sentences.
The defendants, all of Vietnamese descent, have been jailed without charges for more than a year, prompting Washington to pressure Hanoi to move forward swiftly and fairly.
US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are scheduled to visit Vietnam next week when Hanoi hosts the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the country's biggest international event ever.
As the trial began, prosecutors read a 21-page indictment accusing the defendants of plotting to smuggle radio equipment into Vietnam with the intent of taking over the airwaves to call for "a total uprising that would lead to violence and harm to the lives of civil servants and ordinary people."
According to the indictment, the scheme was hatched by the "Government of Free Vietnam," a Garden Grove, California, organization that the Vietnamese government considers a terrorist group.
The group is run by Chanh Huu Nguyen, wanted in Vietnam for alleged failed plots to bomb the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand and targets in Vietnam that included a statue of late communist leader Ho Chi Minh.
"This is a terrorist case of a particularly serious nature with the participation of many people and directed by Chanh, who heads the terrorist organization disguised as the Government of Free Vietnam," the indictment said.
Prosecutors say that the group set up an adoption agency in Cambodia as a front to disguise their plans.
On trial are US citizens Thuong Nguyen Foshee, 58, of Orlando, Florida; Le Van Binh, 31, of Tampa, Florida and Huynh Bich Lien, 51, of San Gabriel, California.
The Vietnamese citizens on trial are Tran Dat Phuong, 65; brothers Ho Van Giau, 59, and Ho Van Hien, 38 and 35-year-old Cao Tri, a US resident who had been living in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The defendants stood as the indictment was being read. At one point, Foshee suddenly looked ill and had to sit down. A female police officer fanned her with a piece of paper and patted her on the back while Foshee clenched her hands in her lap.
Under questioning from the judge, some of the defendants acknowledged carrying radio equipment to Cambodia on behalf of the Government of Free Vietnam, while others described themselves as employees of an adoption agency.
Foshee said Chanh had invited her to join his organization, but she had declined.
She said she had met with him at his office in the US several times, and he had referred to her as "vice foreign minister."
Foshee's brother, Nguyen Phu Tri, 41, said Vietnamese officials met with him while she was staying at his home in July last year during a visit to attend a wedding. He said they told him to warn her to break off any ties with the group.
"I never believed that she was a terrorist," he said.