HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese court found 14 democracy activists guilty of subversion and sentenced them Wednesday to jail terms ranging from three to 13 years, drawing immediate criticism from the United States.
The long prison terms suggest that the Communist government is intent on stepping up its ongoing crackdown on people who publicly challenge its authoritarian, one-party rule. In recent years, the Internet has emerged as a powerful tool for dissidents, alarming many in the ruling elite at a time of economic uncertainty.
The defendants are linked to Viet Tan, a Vietnamese dissident group based in the United States. Vietnam's government has labeled it a terrorist group, but the U.S. government has said it has seen no evidence that it advocates violence.
The People's Court in central Nghe An province sentenced three defendants to 13 years during the two-day trial, defense lawyer Nguyen Thi Hue said. She said 11 others received jail terms ranging from three to eight years. One of the three-year terms was suspended.
The defendants, including 12 Catholics, were arrested in late 2011.
In Washington, the State Department said it was "deeply troubled" by Wednesday's verdicts and was raising these and other cases with the Vietnamese government.
"These convictions along with recent other detentions of a human rights lawyer and other bloggers since Dec. 27 are part of a very disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi called for immediate release of the 14 activists and all other prisoners of conscience.