A Vietnamese activist from a minority Buddhist sect was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday in a case denounced as religious persecution by a leading human rights group.
Nguyen Van Lia, a 71-year-old Hoa Hao Buddhist, was jailed following a trial in the southwestern province of An Giang for "abusing democratic freedom to undermine the state interest", a local judicial source told AFP.
Under the Vietnamese criminal code, the charge can lead to a maximum of seven years in jail.
"This kind of harsh sentence is outrageous and unacceptable against an elderly activist who was peacefully professing and defending his faith," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The sentence "flies in the face of Vietnam's commitments to uphold international human rights treaties... that the government of Vietnam has ratified," he added.
The Hoa Hao sect is officially recognised by Vietnam's communist regime but a section of its membership has broken away and opposes government control over religion.
HRW said at least 13 other Hoa Hao members are serving lengthy sentences in Vietnam's jails.
The rights group, which called for Lia's release ahead of his trial so that he could seek proper medical treatment, said his family had "publicly raised serious concerns about the deterioration of his health".
He is said to have high blood pressure, very poor hearing and several broken ribs from past injuries.
Lia was also sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2003 for commemorating the anniversary of the death of a Hoa Hao Buddhist founder, HRW said.