(File pix) People holding Christmas balloons gather in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, 24 December 2017. A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced 15 people to between five and 16 years in jail after they were convicted of planting petrol bombs at Tan Son Nhat international airport in the commercial southern hub, state-controlled Thanh Nien newspaper reported. EPA-EFE

HANOI: Vietnam jailed 15 people on Wednesday for a foiled terrorism plot to detonate petrol bombs at the country’s busiest airport ahead of a national holiday, state media reported.

Terrorism attacks are rare in Vietnam, though the conservative communist government routinely jails dissident bloggers and human rights lawyers who are critical of the state.

A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced 15 people to between five and 16 years in jail after they were convicted of planting petrol bombs at Tan Son Nhat international airport in the commercial southern hub, state-controlled Thanh Nien newspaper reported.

The defendants were accused of having online links to foreign groups who financed the foiled operation in April ahead of Liberation Day celebrations at the end of the month, the newspaper reported, without giving further details.

“Via social networks, the defendants cooperated with an overseas reactionary organisation... which financed the purchase of weapons and petrol bombs for terrorism,” read the verdict at the two-day trial, according to the newspaper.

State media and officials did not provide a reported motive for the plan, which did not cause any injuries or damage.

Terrorism convictions are punishable by death in Vietnam, a one-party state where independent media is banned and freedom of expression is tightly controlled.

The government on Tuesday unveiled a 10,000-strong brigade to fight cybercrimes and “wrongful views” on the internet, state media reported.

“As many forces and countries are talking about a real war in cyberspace, (Vietnam) should also stay ready to fight against wrongful views every second, minute and hour,” said Colonel General Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the army’s political department, quoted by state-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The unit, dubbed Force 47, is also tasked with fighting anti-state propaganda on the web.

More than half of Vietnam’s population of 93 million have access to the internet, and many dissidents use social media to criticise the government.

This year has been particularly harsh for activists in Vietnam, with at least 15 arrested and several others handed heavy jail terms. --AFP

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