Prominent dissident faces threat of long prison term

A former army officer and recently released political prisoner, Tran Anh Kim, is thought to be facing a long prison sentence after being arrested on charges of activities aimed at overthrowing the government.

Tran Anh Kim in the trial on December 28, 2009, when he was charged the first time under Article 79. Photo courtesy of AFP.

Tran Anh Kim was convicted under Article 79 during his trial in 2009. Photo courtesy of AFP.

The 66-year-old former Lieutenant-Colonel was detained late last month in the northern province of Thai Binh after being released from a five and a half prison term earlier in the year.

The case originally attracted little attention on social media as it came amidst a series of temporary arrests of political activists.

However, in recent days the police told his wife that Mr Kim would again be prosecuted under Article 79 of the penal code, which can carry a penalty of life imprisonment or even the death sentence.

They said he would be accused of preparing the establishment of an organisation identified as the “National Force to Raise the Democracy Flag”.

The police alleged they found documents related to the organisation in Mr Kim’s laptop. They also said he had conducted interviews with the foreign media.

Mr. Kim began his military career in 1966, at the height of the war with the United States and South Vietnam.

By the late 1980’s he had become a senior officer in Thai Binh province.

He was dismissed in 1991 when a military court sentenced him to two years imprisonment for  “deliberately acting against the State’s regulations on economic management.”

After his release from prison, he became more engaged in activities supporting democracy. In 2006 he became a member of the outlawed Democratic Party and developed a reputation as one of the most determined political dissidents in Vietnam.

Three years later, he was sentenced to five years and six months of imprisonment under Article 79. In that same year, lawyer Le Cong Dinh, the chairman of the Democratic Party, was also arrested along with his colleagues, Le Thang Long, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Nguyen Tien Trung.

Mr Kim was suffering severe ill health on his release in January this year and was kept under house arrest in the months that followed. He refused, however, to remain silent.

One of his colleagues, Le Thanh Tung,  said Mr Kim was planning to announce  the establishment of his organization at 9pm on September 21, the day on which he was arrested.