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U.S. man Michael Nguyen jailed for "attempt to overthrow" Vietnam's government

U.S. citizen Michael Nguyen is escorted by policemen before his trial at a court in Ho Chi Minh city
U.S. citizen Michael Nguyen is escorted by policemen before his trial at a court in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam June 24, 2019. REUTERS

Hanoi, Vietnam -- A Vietnamese court has sentenced an American to 12 years in jail for what was described in court as an "attempt to overthrow" the Communist nation's government. State-owned Tuoi Tre newspaper reported Tuesday that 55-year-old Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen was also convicted of inciting people to participate in protests with the intent to attack government offices in the capital, Hanoi, and in southern Ho Chi Minh City.

Nguyen's lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, told the Reuters news agency that he had sought a reduced sentence.

"It's such a long sentence," Mieng told Reuters by phone. "Michael admitted guilt at the trial and asked the jury to reduce his sentence so that he could soon reunite with his family."

Nguyen's wife, Helen Nguyen, was quoted by the newspaper as saying the sentence was "a slap to the United States."

She said their youngest child, one of their four children, cried out "why, why, why" when she heard the news.

Two Vietnamese men, Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, 23, and Tran Long Phi, 21, were sentenced to 10 and 8 years in prison respectively on the same charges after a half-day trial Monday in Ho Chi Minh City.

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This picture from the Vietnam News Agency taken and released on June 24, 2019 shows US citizen Michael Nguyen (L) standing on trial in Ho Chi Minh City. Getty

They were arrested last July in Ho Chi Minh City after returning from Hue in central Vietnam, where they had traveled to recruit more anti-government protesters, according to the state media report.

The protests Nguyen is accused of planning did not occur.

Nguyen is from Orange County, California, and his wife was a guest of Rep. Katie Porter at President Donald Trump's State of the Union address earlier this year.

"I'm disappointed with this outcome, and my heart aches for the Nguyen family and for our Orange County community," Porter told the Orange County Register newspaper in an email.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said in a statement Tuesday that it was disappointed by the verdict and will "continue to raise our concerns regarding Mr. Nguyen's case, and his welfare, at all appropriate levels."

Protests are rare in Vietnam, where the Communist authorities do not tolerate criticism of the government. More than a dozen people were tried last year on charges of conducting anti-government propaganda.

Human Rights Watch ranks Vietnam among countries with the least freedom of expression.

Nguyen's sentencing comes about a year after another American man was convicted of participating in, but not planning, a demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City and deported.

U.S. citizen Will Nguyen is escorted by police before his trial at a court in Ho Chi Minh city
William Nguyen is seen being escorted by police before his trial at a court in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on July 20, 2018 STRINGER / REUTERS

William Nguyen, 32, from Houston, was arrested in June 2018 during protests against a proposed law on special economic zones that many say would benefit Chinese investors.

A court official said Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, admitted to the violation and showed remorse, which resulted in a lenient sentence. He had faced up to seven years in prison.