Five of the defendants including Dai maintained they were innocent because what they did was right, Mieng said. One defendant confessed to the crime and got the most lenient sentence, he added.
"The purpose of the group is to change the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, build a multi-party system," the official Vietnam News Agency quoted the verdict as saying. "The defendants' act is not fight for democracy, but acts that aim at overthrowing the people's administration."
"The defendants' act is especially serious because it directly impacts the survival of the people's administration," it said.
Prosecutors identified Dai as the mastermind of the group who recruited members and sought financing from foreign organizations and individuals, which totaled more than USD 80,000, VNA reported earlier.
Dai and four others had previously been jailed for violating national security laws, and Dai's license to practice law was revoked.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States was deeply troubled by the harsh sentences under a "vague charge" and called for the release of all "prisoners of conscience" immediately.
"Individuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, both online and offline," she said in a statement.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government's efforts to restrict these rights, through a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences of peaceful activists."
Speaking to reporters at a regular briefing yesterday, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said there are no "prisoners of conscience" in Vietnam and no one has been arrested for freedom of expression.
"In Vietnam, like other countries in the world, all acts that violate the laws are seriously dealt with in accordance with law," she said.
Amnesty International says 97 people are serving jail sentences for violating national security laws in Vietnam, while Human Rights Watch counts 119.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)