HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese court sentenced 20 people to between two and 24 years in prison on terrorism charges on Tuesday over their involvement in a police station bombing two years ago, their lawyer and state media said.
The Ho Chi Minh City court found 17 of the defendants guilty of terrorism and convicted three for illegal use of explosives, over an attack in the same city that police said was funded by an exiled anti-government group.
The two-day trial was the latest in a series of high-profile cases in Vietnam that are being decided in the run-up to a five-yearly shakeup in January of the leadership of the ruling Communist Party.
Those include the jailing of a man for terrorism in April over a bomb at a tax office and last week's sentencing to death of two bothers for killing three policemen during a clash over land rights.
The defendants' lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, said all 20 had pleaded guilty and would be held under house arrest after they leave prison.
"The sentences given at the trial are too harsh," Mieng told Reuters.
Despite increasing openness and tolerance to social change, the party that has controlled Vietnam for nearly five decades tolerates little dissent and has recently stepped up a crackdown on its detractors.
The Ministry of Public Security said ahead of this week's trial that the defendants had received money from an exiled organisation, Trieu Dai Viet, to buy explosives and detonators for "terrorism activities to overthrow the state of Vietnam."
The ministry said they detonated two bombs at a police station. Police said the explosions injured three people..
Canada-based Trieu Dai Viet, or Viet Dynasty, also had plans to bomb state targets elsewhere, according to police, which said the group's motto was "fire all", "kill all", "destroy all", "steal all".
Reuters could not reach Trieu Dai Viet for comment.
The public security ministry said the group was founded by a Ngo Van Hoang Hung, who it says broke out of prison in 1982 and fled to Canada.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by Martin Petty)