The organisation Human Rights Watch is calling on the Vietnamese government to release four Catholic social activists accused of spreading propaganda against the state.
A People’s Court will hear the cases against the four activists on Thursday.
Human Rights Watch says the Vietnam government often uses Article 88 of the penal code to arbitrarily imprison critics of the state.
Article 88 – under which the four are charged – calls for punishment from three to 12 years in prison.
Authorities arrested them for allegedly distributing pro-democracy leaflets in Nghe An province.
The deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, Phil Robertson, has blasted the charge against the activists as “absolutely shameful”.
“Prosecuting these four activists shows the contempt Vietnam has for freedom of religion and expression.”
Robertson told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific it is unclear what was in the leaflets.
“That is one of the mysteries, exactly what they were saying that set the government off,” he said.
“They have been active on various different charitable projects and also encouraging policies in line with the Catholic Church’s teachings, but we don’t know exactly what they were saying in those pro-democracy leaflets.”
At least 12 Catholic activists and bloggers are currently in detention, pending investigation or awaiting trial.
Robertson says they will likely be sentenced to prison if found guilty.
“Often we find in pre-detention in Vietnam that the authorities do employ torture.
“If these individuals admitted remorse, they may get lighter sentences. However, if they have resisted, they may get heavier sentences.
“I would expect that we may see sentences anywhere in the three to eight year range, but it’s very, very opaque. The sentencing processes in Vietnam courts are determined largely by the local officials and the party.”