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January 29, 2003

Woman Who Tried to Burn Herself Sentenced

By David Kravets

SAN FRANCISCO (The Associated Press) A woman who tried to light herself on fire in front of a Vietnamese official to protest her native country's government was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison for arson and assault.

At the hearing, Ngoc Hanh Dang Nguyen denounced the Communist regime she fled in 1989. The mostly Vietnamese crowd applauded when she ended by raising her fists and saying, "Freedom for Vietnam. Human rights for Vietnam."

Supporters applauded again when U.S. marshals whisked the French resident and mother of four from the courtroom.

"She's a heroine. She's my heroine," said Nguyen Viet Nu of Sacramento.

Ngoc Hanh, 46, reeked of gasoline Dec. 13, 2001, when she entered a San Francisco hotel ballroom where Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung was addressing business leaders. Federal agents subdued her as she struggled to light gas-soaked torches, according to testimony.

Self immolation is a traditional Vietnamese form of protest that gained international attention in 1963, when a famous photograph was taken of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in what was then Saigon.

At Ngoc Hanh's trial, prosecutors told jurors she intended to harm the Vietnamese official, not self immolate allegations Ngoc Hanh has denied. In October, the jury convicted her of arson and assaulting U.S. officials but cleared her of attempted terrorism and attempting violence on a foreign government official.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said she was "sympathetic" to Ngoc Hanh's cause but added, "I have no ability to give you a sentence of less than five years."
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