Vietnamese authorities have released two high-profile dissidents who were detained more than a week ago as they waited outside of a court in Hanoi during the trial of a fellow pro-democracy activist, according to a family member of one of the men.
Lawyer Le Quoc Quan and Doctor Pham Hong Son were released by police late Wednesday evening, Quan’s sister told RFA by telephone.
“He just called the family a moment ago. His brother answered the phone. Quan told us that he was at Detention Center No. 1 and was waiting for us to pick him up,” she said.
“Hien, his wife, and his [other] sister went to collect him. They are not home yet. Quan told us to send someone over there to pick him and Pham Hong Son up.”
Witnesses said Le Quoc Quan and Pham Hong Son were roughed up and detained on April 4 outside the courtroom where Cu Huy Ha Vu, 53, was sentenced to seven years in prison for distributing anti-state propaganda leaflets.
Vu, who was also convicted of calling for an end to one-party communist rule in Vietnam, was charged after previously bringing two lawsuits against Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
Duy Hoang, spokesman for the U.S.-based opposition group Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), said the release of the two dissidents was long overdue.
“The release today highlights the fact that Le Quoc Quan and Pham Hong Son were wrongfully detained in the first place,” he said.
“This should serve as a precedent that Vietnamese have the right to peaceful assembly, including outside political trials.”
Le Quoc Quan, who Duy Hoang called “one of Vietnam's foremost human rights lawyers and civil society experts,” was jailed for three months in 2007—four days after his return from a six-month fellowship at the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy.
He was accused by Vietnamese authorities of taking part in "activities to overthrow the people's government," but was never formally charged. He was eventually released following protests from the United States.
Pham Hong Son was arrested in 2002, shortly after translating and republishing an article taken from the U.S. State Department website entitled "What is democracy?"
He spent more than four years in jail and a further three years under house arrest.
The two dissidents were showing their support for pro-democracy activist Cu Huy Ha Vu during his trial when they were arrested by police amidst tight security outside the Hanoi courtroom.
Arrest and trial
The authorities raided a hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City on Nov. 5 and arrested Vu shortly after he filed a follow-up lawsuit against the prime minister for allegedly violating laws on environmental protection, national security, and cultural heritage by approving Chinese-built bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.
Vu was accused of distributing propaganda documents against the one-party communist state and of calling for a multiparty system and "maligning and defaming" the Communist Party and government leaders, state media reported.
The son of a Vietnamese revolutionary hero, Vu was also accused of having ties with government critics inside the country and unspecified "hostile forces" from outside.
During the proceedings, one lawyer representing Vu was expelled and two others walked out in protest of the court’s refusal to make public 10 documents mentioned as evidence against their client in the indictment against him.
The documents in question were 10 news interviews Vu was accused of conducting with foreign media, including an interview with Radio Free Asia, which were used as key evidence against him.
The day after Vu was sentenced to seven years in prison, his lawyers petitioned the court, calling the decision to withhold the documents a violation of Vietnamese law that prevented them from arguing on his behalf.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Hanh Seide. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.