Vietnam Arrests Lawyer

A young lawyer who defended dissidents and activists faces up to 20 years in jail.
2009-06-15
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Lawyer Le Cong Dinh, shown in front, at the assembly of Ho Chi Minh City’s Union of Lawyers, Jan 1, 2008.
Lawyer Le Cong Dinh, shown in front, at the assembly of Ho Chi Minh City’s Union of Lawyers, Jan 1, 2008.
Photo courtesy of blog LS Nguyễn Đăng Trừng
WASHINGTON—The United States on Monday voiced deep concern at Vietnam's arrest of lawyer Le Cong Dinh, saying it contradicted Hanoi's commitment to human rights and calling for his immediate release.

"Vietnamese officials have stated that Dinh was arrested because of his defense of pro-democracy activists and his use of the Internet to express his views," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement.

"Mr. Dinh is a well-respected member of the Vietnamese and international legal communities, and a former Fulbright scholar.

"No individual should be arrested for expressing the right to free speech, and no lawyer should be punished because of the individuals they choose to counsel," Kelly said.

"Vietnam’s arrest of Mr. Dinh contradicts the government’s own commitment to internationally accepted standards of human rights and to the rule of law. We urge the government of Vietnam to release Mr. Dinh immediately and unconditionally, as well as all other prisoners in detention for peacefully expressing their views."

Reporters Without Borders called earlier on Vietnam to immediately release Dinh, arrested over the weekend for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Vietnamese government.

"In a state which applies the rule of law, a lawyer defending his clients has the right to make facts public before a court and in the press. We fear that this arrest is aimed at punishing a respected man who promotes the cause of the rule of law in Vietnam," the press freedom watchdog said in a statement.

"After intimidating journalists working for the liberal press and the Catholics, the government is now attacking lawyers, the final bulwark in the defense of freedoms," it said.
That such a moderate political activist was arrested means that every political activist in Vietnam could be arrested."

Dissident Nguyen Sy Binh

The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, expressed concern over Dinh's arrest on Sunday.

Dinh, 41, who runs his own law firm, has defended several bloggers and free-expression activists and was close to several of the dissidents who formed a pro-democracy movement in 2006 known as Bloc 8406. Dinh is married to former Miss Vietnam Nguyen Thi Ngoc Khanh, 33.

'Colluding with reactionaries'

Dinh was "colluding with domestic and foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese State," the state-run Voice of Vietnam reported.

The General Department of Security was quoted as saying the Ho Chi Minh City-based lawyer was arrested June 13 under article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code, which bans the distribution of propaganda against the state.

The newspaper Thanh Nien said Dinh had written and published on foreign Web sites articles aimed at distorting and damaging Vietnamese socioeconomic policies and libeling key leaders, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Thanh Nien
also said Dinh "was a key member of a U.S.-based subversive group led by Nguyen Sy Binh."

Binh, who founded an opposition party in 1991 that was dissolved 18 months later, said he was surprised by Dinh's arrest.

"He’s a moderate and law-abiding citizen," Binh, who spent 14 months in jail but was never charged, said in an interview.

"His concern is seeing a better society with a system of laws ... so the country could develop faster. That such a moderate political activist was arrested means that every political activist in Vietnam could be arrested," he added.

Accused of subversion

The official Viet Nam News on Monday quoted Vu Hai Trieu, deputy head of the General Department of Security, as saying Dinh had "recruited for a domestic anti-state organization" and written "articles defaming leaders of the Party and the State, with a focus on the Prime Minister."

Trieu said Dinh had used the issues of Chinese-run bauxite mines in Vietnam's Central Highlands and territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea to "stir up thoughts against the Party and the state."

Both issues have sparked widespread nationalist feeling in Vietnam in recent months.

In Vietnam, suspects can be held for between four and 16 months without trial. According to the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Dinh faces three to 20 years in jail if he is convicted.

Dinh had defended lawyers and bloggers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan and the well-known blogger Dieu Cay.

Dai and Nhan had advocated a multiparty system and given legal advice to people who said authorities prevented them from practicing their religion.

The government said they were convicted only of breaking the law and were not sentenced for their politics.

Original reporting by RFA's Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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