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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Vietnam jails Hoa Hao sect members
Buddhist monks waving Vietnamese flags
Religion is tightly controlled in Vietnam
Six members of a Buddhist sect have been jailed for up to three years in southern Vietnam following a brief and controversial trial, according to reports.

The followers of the Hoa Hao sect were arrested earlier this year after denouncing abuses of power by local officials in An Giang province in a letter to the Vietnamese Government.

They were charged with "having abused their right to democratic freedoms, disturbing social order and opposing public authorities," a court official told the AFP news agency.

A statement issued by the sect in the United States said hundreds of members in the province had been protesting against the trial.

The Hoa Hao have long complained of persecution by the Communists because of their previous armed opposition to Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

Control

The sect, which claims nearly four million followers in Vietnam, combines Buddhism, Animism, Confucianism and indigenous practices.

It is officially recognised by the country's Communist Government. But a section of its membership opposes governmental control of the group.

Reports said the leader of the group, Nguyen Chau Lang, was jailed for three years along with the other main defendant Tran Van Be Cao on Tuesday just hours after the trial opened.

The four other defendants are said to have received one and two-year sentences.

The Vietnamese officials denied reports on the Hoa Hao's website that the wife of one of the defendants had tried to stab herself to death in protest at the detention of her husband.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said the trial was about the violation of Vietnamese law and had "nothing to do with religion".

The trial comes just weeks after the US State Department criticised Vietnam in a report for holding religious prisoners.

Vietnam considers US criticism as interference in its affairs.

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03 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam condemned over human rights
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