Vietnamese activist pleads not guilty

The 61-year-old San Jose resident and prominent Vietnamese anti-communist crusader Ly Tong, who is free on bail, once again drew a sizable crowd outside the San Jose courthouse. More than 100 people from the Vietnamese community attended the previous two hearings.

The crowd was smaller today with not more than 50 people present, but the attendees brought camcorders and flags and even assembled for a photo with Tong following the plea entry hearing.

When Tong addressed the crowd in an olive green fighter pilot uniform, they cheered and clapped, and one man in the crowd called Tong his hero.

Tong was arrested July 18 at the Santa Clara Convention Center for allegedly attacking musician Dam Vinh Hung with pepper spray while dressed as a woman, according to police.

Police believe the assault was politically motivated.

Tong has been charged with five felony counts - unauthorized use of tear gas, altering the label of tear gas, willful employment of tear gas in public, second-degree burglary, and assault with a deadly weapon - and one misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

At a hearing on July 23, Judge Gilbert Brown reduced Tong's bail from $100,000 to $75,000 and signed a protective order prohibiting Tong from having any personal, written or electronic contact with Hung.

The order, which is effective for one year, bans Tong from coming within 300 feet of the singer.

Outside the courtroom immediately following the hearing this afternoon, Tong said the act was self-defense.

"I defended myself, I defended my community and I defended America," Tong said while standing next to his attorney, Tam Nguyen. "If we don't stop them from the beginning, they'll control our community in America."

Tong will return to court Oct. 14 for a preliminary hearing.

If convicted of all charges, he could face six years and eight months in prison, Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Amy Cornell said.

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