Vietnamese authorities abruptly postponed the trial of prominent dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan on Monday, saying the judge scheduled to hear the case is ill, while lawyers and relatives said the hearing was put off to avoid publicity and international attention.
The Hanoi People’s Court announced the delay less than 24 hours before Quan’s scheduled trial Tuesday on tax evasion charges that international rights groups contend are part of a political vendetta against the government critic.
In a notice sent to his lawyers on Monday, the court said the trial for Quan, who is also an outspoken blogger and rights advocate, was pushed back to an undetermined date after the judge in charge was hospitalized that morning.
“On the morning of July 8, 2013, Judge Le Thi Hop … fell sick suddenly and had to be hospitalized,” the notice said, according to a copy obtained by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “Due to this reason, Le Quoc Quan’s trial scheduled for July 9 will be postponed to another day.”
According to Quan’s relatives and fellow dissidents, hundreds of supporters—including Catholics—had planned to gather outside the court at the trial, which comes amid a wave of jailings in recent weeks of bloggers and activists speaking critically of Vietnam’s one-party government.
Quan, 41, who was disbarred in 2007 and held over the tax evasion charges since December 2012, vowed in a letter penned from prison last week to defend himself to the hilt at Tuesday’s trial, saying he was “totally innocent.”
Concerns outside the courtroom
Nguyen Van Dai, a fellow dissident lawyer informed Monday by Quan’s lawyers about the postponement, said he thought authorities had delayed the trial out of security concerns of protests outside the court.
“I think the Vietnamese police were afraid that they would not be able to control the situation if the trial happened tomorrow, and that’s why [the authorities] postponed it in such an abrupt manner,” he said.
“I think this trial has drawn a lot of attention from Vietnamese inside and outside Vietnam, as well as the international community,” he added.
Quan’s brother Le Quoc Quyet said other supporters had similar suspicions about the reason behind the sudden delay.
“According to the analysis by friends and lawyers, they postponed the trial due to the fact that too many people will attend and they didn’t know what would happen with that,” he told RFA.
He said hundreds of supporters—including some from the family’s home province of Nghe An— had traveled to the family’s house in Hanoi and that many more had planned to attend the trial.
“Many friends and relatives came here from the countryside, not to mention more people from the Thai Ha Church here in Hanoi,” he said, referring to a Catholic church in the city.
Catholic churches in the country, which face strict government regulation, have in recent weeks held special prayers for Quan--who is himself a Catholic--including a mass in Hanoi on Sunday attended by several well-known political activists. Some churches had made plans to send followers to the trial.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Le Quoc Quan's age.