Vietnam - A Vietnamese court sentenced soldier-turned-democracy campaigner Tran Anh Kim to five-and-a-half years in prison on Monday for subversion, the first in a new spurt of dissident trials in the Communist state.

Kim, 60, was a leader of the banned democracy group Bloc 8406 with responsibility for northern part of Vietnam, and deputy secretary of the Democratic Party of Vietnam, state media said.

He was arrested in July on charges of conducting propaganda against the state. Kim had compiled and published online 85 articles that opposed the state, Vietnamese media said.

Later, he was charged with the more serious crime of conducting activities to overthrow the people's administration under article 79 of the penal code, which carries a maximum penalty of death and a minimum of five years in jail.

Amid tight security, a handful of journalists watched the trial on closed circuit television at the courthouse in the coastal province of Thai Binh, a two-and-a-half hour drive southeast of Hanoi.

Prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of five to seven years, followed by three years of probation, which he was given.

A defence lawyer for Kim asked the court for leniency in consideration of his contributions as a war veteran and noted that Kim had been wounded in action and was not in good health.

Kim did not plead guilty or innocent in his final statement, but rather questioned why the authorities had taken so long to arrest and bring him to trial.

The five-and-a-half-year sentence included time served.

Four other democracy proponents -- U.S.-trained lawyer Le Cong Dinh, Nguyen Tien Trung, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Thang Long -- are due to stand trial in the coming weeks.
Analysts say these trials, plus the jailing earlier this year of nine democracy advocates, appear organised to discourage dissent in the run-up to the next Communist Party Congress scheduled for early 2011.

The Congress will chart the direction of policy in Vietnam in the coming five years and anoint several new leaders.

(Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Ron Popeski)