A Vietnamese-American man from Orange County has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after a court found him guilty of “attempting to overthrow the state,” according to news reports from Vietnam.
Michael Nguyen, 55, pleaded guilty at his trial, which lasted about four hours, and asked that his sentence be reduced so he could reunite with his family, said attorney Nguyen Van Mieng.
Nguyen, whose full name is Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, will be deported after he serves his sentence, the Orange County Register reported.
His wife, Helen Nguyen, called the sentence “a slap to the United States.”
“No matter how much I reached out to the United States government and Congress, the Vietnamese government is saying, `What are you going to do about it?”’ said Helen Nguyen, who learned of the sentence from social media early Monday, after midnight.
Her youngest child, one of the couple’s four daughters, was awake when her mother learned the news.
“All she did was cry out, `why, why, why.”’
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, harshly criticized the trial.
“The Vietnamese government has never hesitated to violate the human rights of its own citizens, all with the aid of a complicit and abetting Vietnamese judicial system,” Lowenthal said. “It is alarming that they now have turned that corrupt system on visiting American citizens.”
Lowenthal accused the Vietnamese government of convicting Nguyen “in the hope it would deter other Vietnamese-Americans from visiting Vietnam and exposing the Vietnamese people to `radical’ ideas like democracy, freedom and human rights. Michael Nguyen is innocent and the Vietnamese government’s lack of any kind of substantial evidence that Michael committed a crime proves it.”
Lowenthal called on Vietnam “to withdraw this farcical conviction, and immediately and unconditionally release Michael so he can return to the U.S. and his family.”
Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, said she was “disappointed with this outcome, and my heart aches for the Nguyen family and for our Orange County community. I remain committed to supporting Helen and her daughters at this difficult time.”
Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, added that he was “deeply disheartened and disappointed” by the trial and its result.
“Michael is a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record in the United States,” Correa said. “He has been in prison for nearly a year and due to a farce trial will be taken from his family for years to come.”
Correa characterized Nguyen as a “devoted husband and father, a small business owner, and an active member of his community and church.”
The congressman said, “My heart and prayers go to his wife, Mrs. Helen, and their four daughters. I will continue to support them throughout this difficult time.”
Nguyen, an American citizen who lives in Orange, was arrested July 7, 2018, pulled off a bus with three other people in the city of Da Nang. His family said he was there to visit relatives and friends and denied he was involved with any political activities. Nguyen had the support of more than two dozen members of Congress, and Porter sought to draw more attention to the case when she invited Helen Nguyen as her guest to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last February.
The Vietnamese government investigated Michael Nguyen for violating Article 109 of the criminal code, for activities to overthrow the government, but kept him imprisoned without official charges or allowing him to see family members or contact his own attorney.
Two others arrested with him, Huyn Duc Thanh Binh, 23, and Tran Long Phi, 21, were sentenced for the same offense to 10 and eight years, respectively, according to the Tuoi Tre newspaper in Vietnam. They face three years of house arrests after their jail terms. A fourth defendant, Binh’s father, was sentenced to one year of imprisonment for failing to report the others.
The American citizen and other defendants had a plan to “incite 100 people to join a protest accompanied by a staged traffic jam, to buy weapons to resist government agencies, and to prepare foods and shelters for their long-term fights,” according to an indictment, the Vietnamese newspaper reported.
Michael Nguyen allegedly confessed that he first arrived in Vietnam in 2004 to meet with an activist to create an organization that would occupy public offices in Vietnamese cities. The defendants founded groups that prepared leaflets, created Molotov cocktails and slingshots to attack police and government buildings, looking to topple the Vietnamese government, the Tuoi Tre paper reported. The defendants, along with others “used Facebook and email accounts to discuss Vietnam’s social and political affairs with some people in foreign countries,” the newspaper wrote.
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