HANOI- A Vietnamese court convicted a dissident writer of assault on Friday, bringing to 16 the number of people imprisoned since October in an unusually harsh crackdown on dissent in the one-party state.

Prosecutors in Hanoi accused Tran Khai Thanh Thuy and her husband, school teacher Do Ba Tan, of attacking and injuring two people outside their home last October after a complaint about the way a motorbike was parked.

A pro-democracy campaigner, novelist and blogger, Thuy received the Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett award honouring writers who have been victims of political persecution in 2007.

Thuy and Tan testified that, in fact, they were the ones who had been attacked. Thuy admitted to hurling a brick in self defence but said it had not hit anyone, one diplomat who attended the trial said.

The court sentenced her to 43 months in prison, including time served since October. Tan was also convicted but given a suspended sentence, another foreign diplomat who followed the trial said.

The Vietnamese Communist Party's usual paranoia about the threat to its power posed by people with opposing political views appears to have deepened in recent months, and some analysts say that stems from tensions between competing Party factions ahead of a leadership reshuffle scheduled for early next year.

From early October until Friday, Vietnam had convicted at least 15 people on charges of spreading propaganda against the state or subversion and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from two to 16 years in trials rights groups say were rigged.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said this week the rash of cases would have an effect on relations between the two countries, which mark 15 years of diplomatic ties this year.

We have a very broad and deep relationship with Vietnam and when you have issues in any one of those areas, it does tend to have an effect on others, he told reporters on Wednesday.
A U.S. embassy spokesman said on Friday the United States was very disturbed by the convictions and called for the release of Thuy, Tan and other prisoners of conscience.

The United States was the biggest single foreign investor in Vietnam last year, and also its largest export market.

(Editing by Sugita Katyal)