July 8, 2013 Update
The trial of Le Quoc Quan, scheduled for July 9, was postponed in the afternoon of July 8. The trial has not been rescheduled.
(New York) – The Vietnamese government should drop politically motivated charges against Le Quoc Quan, one of Vietnam’s most prominent and respected human rights defenders. Vietnam’s donors should communicate serious concern about Hanoi’s recent crackdown on rights defenders and bloggers, and publicly call for the unconditional release of Le Quoc Quan and other peaceful critics.
Le Quoc Quan’s trial is the most recent in a wave of government prosecutions of bloggers and activists. It follows the May convictions and harsh sentences of Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha for circulating leaflets critical of the government and the arrests of popular bloggers Truong Duy Nhat and Pham Viet Dao in May and June.
Le Quoc Quan is scheduled to go on trial on July 9, 2013 at the People’s Court of Hanoi on charges of tax evasion. He is currently being held in a Hanoi prison in a room with dozens of other people.
“Le Quoc Quan is being put on trial because he is a prominent and effective critic,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of addressing popular dissatisfaction with Vietnam’s political system, economic failures, and dire human rights record, the government is simply throwing critics in prison.”
Le Quoc Quan, 41, is a lawyer and blogger advocating human rights and democracy. He was arrested on December 27, 2012, nine days after the British Broadcasting Corporation published his article entitled, “Constitution or a contract for electricity and water service?” The article commented on current discussions about amending Vietnam’s constitution. Le Quoc Quan’s piece criticized the retention of constitutional article 4, which makes the Communist Party preeminent in national life, as well as raising the meaning and importance of a good Constitution for a nation.
Police originally held Le Quoc Quan incommunicado at No. 1 Prison in Hanoi. The authorities have allowed him some visits by his lawyers, but not his family. Vietnamese courts lack independence and impartiality, and in cases like that of Le Quoc Quan, outcomes are generally determined by political considerations. The charges of “tax evasion” carry a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment and a significant fine. The Vietnamese government previously used tax evasion charges to discredit and deter prominent blogger Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay) in 2008.
Before his current detention, Le Quoc Quan wrote prolifically on his popular blog about human rights, civil rights, political pluralism, religious freedom, and other issues not covered by the state-controlled Vietnamese media. In particular, his blog documented human rights violations against him, his family and fellow activists. He has also been involved in a series of peaceful protests in Hanoi against claims by China to sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea which Vietnam says are within its maritime territory.
In 2006-2007, Le Quoc Quan spent five months in Washington, DC, as a fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the US Congress. He used the fellowship to do research on civil society in connection with his interest in an economic development path for Vietnam that would benefit the nation’s poorest. Le Quoc Quan decided in 2011 to run for a seat in the Vietnam National Assembly but was blocked by the authorities.
Le Quoc Quan was arrested in March 2007, four days after returning to Vietnam following completion of his National Endowment for Democracy fellowship, foralleged subversion under the vague provisions of article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code. Following domestic and international outcry, the authorities released him in June 2007, but he has remained ever since under constant police surveillance. In 2011, Le Quoc Quan was temporarily detained for “causing public disorder” when he attempted to observe the trial of Cu Huy Ha Vu, pursuant to the provision under article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that such hearings be public. On August 19, 2012, he was assaulted by two men, one of whom he recognized as a person who had been trailing him for months, and had to be treated in a hospital for his injuries. The police have not effectively investigated this crime.
Le Quoc Quan was the founder of the Quan and Brothers law firm, which provided legal aid to exploited workers and poor people, but was disbarred in 2007 for supposedactivities to overthrow the government. His law office was shut. He is among at least seven Vietnamese lawyers who, in violation of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, have been stripped of the right to practice law because of their political beliefs. Despite being disbarred, Le Quoc Quan continued to use his lawyering skills to comment critically on the persecution of dissidents, such as by publishing a defense brief on behalf of legal scholar Cu Huy Ha Vu before the 2011 trial in which Cu Huy Ha Vu was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for “propaganda against the state.” Le Quoc Quan also offered to provide pro-bono legal advice to participants in a politically independent online forum and was involved in a project to build mobile libraries for people in the countryside who would otherwise have no access to legal and other texts.
While in No. 1 Prison, Le Quoc Quan has continued to fight for just treatment, protesting what he maintains is the denial of the rights of pretrial detainees. He has also managed to smuggle out poetry he has written in detention, such as a verse entitled, “To My Cell-Mate.”
“Vietnam’s international donors should publicly support Le Quoc Quan and other Vietnamese activists by demanding their immediate and unconditional release,” Adams said. “But that’s not enough. They also need to tell them to end these spurious prosecutions.”
To My Cellmate
I write this poem to you, my cellmate
Of the time one party enshrouds the whole nation
Hoa Lo, Spring of the Year of Serpent.
Le Quoc Quan