HANOI- One of Vietnam's best known dissidents was jailed for two and a half years Wednesday as hundreds of supporters protested in the capital against the communist state's crackdown on dissent.
Scores of police formed a ring around the Hanoi People's Court, where lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan was convicted of tax evasion charges denounced by international rights campaigners as politically motivated.
The 42-year-old was also given a $59,000 fine, court president Le Thi Hop announced after a half-day trial in Hanoi.
"I am the victim of political acts," Le Quoc Quan told the court, denying the charges.
"I will continue my fight against corruption, attacking bureaucracy and stagnancy that are undermining our country," he added.
When the verdict was announced, Le Quoc Quan shouted "I object" before the television feed into the observation room where an AFP correspondent was sitting was cut off.
Le Quoc Quan, who blogged on a range of sensitive topics including civil rights, political pluralism and religious freedom, has been in detention since last December.
His lawyer, Ha Huy Son told AFP that there were "no grounds to prosecute" the popular blogger over tax evasion.
Rights groups estimate hundreds of activists are locked up in Vietnam for speaking out against authoritarian communist rule, including at least 46 jailed this year.
"The Vietnamese government appears to be so nervous about its position in society that it is reflexively finding ways to silence and imprison dissident after dissident," said Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Shouting "Free Le Quoc Quan" and waving signs calling for the Catholic lawyer's release, several hundred people blocked a key intersection in the capital as his trial got under way, causing rush-hour traffic chaos.
The scale of the protest was unusual in Vietnam, where authorities keep a tight lid on dissent.