Hundreds flood courtroom in support of Vietnamese activist Ly Tong – The Mercury News

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Activist Ly Tong was arrested Sunday night for allegedly posing as a woman and pepper-spraying a Vietnamese singer during a concert at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Dam Vinh Hung, the Vietnamese singer who Ly Tong is accused of dousing in the face with pepper spray.

43278 San Jose, Calif Seven days without water and 26 without food is taking a toll on Vietnamese protester and war hero Ly Tong. "I'm so completely exhausted at night," he said."I'm so numb I cannot sleep. Either democracy has to be restored here, or I must die." Ly ,who has been on a hunger strike since Feb. 15, recently gave up drinking fluids, sharpening his protest with the SJ City Council. He's protesting the Council's refusal to name a Vietnamese business district "Little Saigon." Tong's condition is of concern to the City and those around him. He's camping in front of City Hall on East Santa Clara St in a tent. Len Vaughn-Lahman/Mercury News

Wednesday’s first court appearance for “freedom fighter” Ly Tong — accused of dressing like an old woman so he could pepper-spray a Vietnamese pop star during a concert last weekend in Santa Clara — lasted barely a few minutes.
But it was enough of a display to bring out hundreds of Tong’s supporters, who spilled from a San Jose courtroom into the hallways and later to a rally outside. The crowd briefly turned a routine afternoon parade of criminal defendants into a tense spectacle that’s drawing interest from around the world.
The lucky dozens who made it inside saw the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office formally charge Tong, 61, with four felony counts, including burglary and the unauthorized use of a tear gas, and one misdemeanor — resisting arrest in connection with Sunday’s attack.
His bail also was increased from $52,000 to $100,000, with a hearing on whether to lower that amount set for Friday morning. Tong faces as many as five years in prison if convicted of all charges, or he could receive a penalty as light as probation.
Given the crowds that poured in nearly two hours before Tong’s brief appearance, extra deputies were on hand to quell any outbursts in the courtroom, said Amy Cornell, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. Not that they were necessarily needed.
“Everybody was very quiet and respectful,” Cornell said.
Tong, a devout anti-communist who once hijacked a passenger jet to drop leaflets over Vietnam, is seen by some in his community as a folk hero for his jousts with that country’s leaders. Locally, he earned fame for a 2008 hunger strike that helped spur San Jose officials into letting a retail district be called “Little Saigon.”
On Sunday night, Santa Clara police say, Tong showed up in a dress and wig to see Dam Vinh Hung sing. Near the end of the concert, Tong approached the stage with a flower for Hung, only to fire pepper spray at him instead. The attack, which left no one seriously injured, was captured on video.
Hung, touring North America, is among Vietnam’s most popular artists, but he’s also a divisive figure among those who see him as a front for his communist government. Hung’s concerts have attracted hundreds of protesters, many of whom are now rallying in support of Tong.
Tam Nguyen, one of Tong’s attorneys, said supporters are hoping to bail him out by Friday so he can attend protests outside Hung’s next show, scheduled for Saturday in Anaheim. Nguyen said Tong is proud that he ambushed Hung and that the choice of pepper-spray — typically used in self-defense — was purposeful.
“We are being attacked by an invasion of communist propaganda,” Nguyen said. And Tong “felt threatened.”
Contact Denis C. Theriault at 916-441-4651.
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