Vietnam’s communist authorities have stirred up a storm of discontent by jailing again an ailing dissident priest and upholding the seven-year jail sentence against another prominent dissident.

My brother is innocent, the placard says
Candlelight Vigil at Thai Ha parish
Hundreds gathered in front of Vietnam's Supreme People's Court in Hanoi on Tuesday despite heavy rainstorm to show their support for one of the country's most prominent dissidents. Cu Huy Ha Vu, 53, has been in prison since November, charged with anti-state propaganda for posting critical articles on the Web and giving interviews “maligning party and state institutions and policies,” according to the government.

At 7:00 pm, after a gruelling appeal hearing which started from 8.30 a.m., Nguyen Son, the chairman of the all communist party member court, announced the decision to uphold the previous seven-year jail saying there was no basis on which to overturn the original verdict.

The case led to an "unprecedented outpouring of popular support" across diverse sectors of society, much of it online, US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report. Though he is not registered to practice law in Vietnam, the law firm Mr. Vu runs with his wife has taken on controversial issues. A year ago, although he is not Catholic himself, he took on a high-profile stance in defending of Roman Catholic parishioners who were arrested for taking part in a funeral at a cemetery located on land claimed by the government.

The case has set an enormous, unprecedented attention from the public. The uphold of Vu's sentence had frustrated many communist party members who are calling for an acquittal to save the government from being labelled as unconstitutional and undemocratic when arresting Vu without concrete evidence. The police responded to this negative reaction from the disgruntled public by arresting a dozen of supporters. Majority of them are from Thai Ha and Vinh Catholic congregations.

Just few days prior to this historic hearing, on Friday, July 25, police surrounded the Archbishopric of Hue to re-arrest Father Nguyen Van Ly. The ailing priest at the age of 64 was transported by an ambulance back to prison where he is to serve the rest of his sentence. Many believe he is not going to make it back to freedom alive, his fragile health and his vow to refuse treatment if provided by prison personnel

Since 1977, Father Ly has spent some 17 years in prison for calling on Vietnamese authorities to respect freedom of expression and other human rights. He spent a year in prison from 1977 to 1978, and an additional nine years from May 1983 to July 1992 for "opposing the revolution and destroying the people's unity." On May 17, 2001, he was arrested at his parish at An Truyen. Later, he was temporarily released on February 2004 at the request of his family and parishioners citing medical necessity.

On February 19, 2007, security police raided the Archbishopric of Hue to ransack the office, confiscate computers and arrested him. A month later, the priest was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest

After most of the time living amid harsh conditions and often in solitary confinement, he suffered a stroke in November 2009. He did not receive a proper diagnosis or adequate medical treatment and was only transferred to a prison hospital in Ha Noi some two weeks later. Despite being partially paralysed, he was returned to his prison cell on 11 December 2009. He was only released temporarily on March 15 last year to seek medical treatment for a brain tumour.

Local Catholic source reported that the priest was still in very poor health. Authorities claim he was returned to prison for distributing anti-government leaflets during his parole.

The incident prompted a Candlelight vigil at Hanoi Redemptorist Monastery which drew more than 2500 Catholics and non-Catholics.

Facing the risk of an uprising following anti-Chinese and anti-government demonstrations that have been staged every Sunday across Vietnam for 8 straight weeks, the communist authorities seem to resort to more severe crackdowns against dissidents to silence rather than to listen to their opinion, party members or ordinary citizens alike.