A Vietnamese lawyer working on the case of a young man who died in police custody and the related harassment of two attorneys representing the boy’s family said he was illegally detained Wednesday by authorities in Hanoi, as he planned to visit the city’s police chief.
Plainclothes police detained Tran Vu Hai as he prepared to go to Hanoi’s police headquarters and the city’s procuratorate office with other lawyers, including Le Van Luan and Tran Thu Nam, to discuss matters related to the case of Do Dang Du, a 17-year-old who died in police custody on Oct. 10 after more than a month in detention for allegedly stealing about 2,000,000 dong.
The lawyers also planned to discuss the harassment of two of their colleagues, Tran Thu Nam and Le Van Luan, who were brutally attacked by a group of thugs wearing masks in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Nov.3, as they were advising Du’s family.
After authorities picked Hai up in the morning, they took him to the Xuan La commune police station in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district from where he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he would begin a hunger strike if Gen. Nguyen Duc Chung, the city’s police chief, did not explain the reason for his illegal detention.
“I demand a report on this illegal detention,” he said.
Hai had planned to meet with Chung, who also serves as a delegate in Vietnam’s National Assembly, to discuss the matters related to Du’s case, although Chung had not responded to a previous written request for the meeting, he said.
He initially resisted the 10 officers who came to his home because they were not wearing uniforms, he said, and likewise did not go with plainclothes commune officers who arrived a short time later.
Hai’s son, who is a member of the bar in Massachusetts and New York, asked the officers for the arrest warrant, but they did not have one, he said.
“I also demanded that my son and the two lawyers [Luan and Nam] accompany me so that I would not be harmed in the event that the men were not real policemen,” he said.
“But they refused and dragged me like a dog or pig to the police station despite my protestations,” he said, adding that his son, wife and driver witnessed the incident.
“So, they obviously intended to prevent me from exercising my rights as a lawyer to protect my colleagues and my rights as a citizen who wanted to meet a National Assembly delegate, Nguyen Duc Chung,” he said. “We have a right to submit a petition asking for an investigation into this harassment.”
While Hai was at the police station, he and Nguyen Chien, vice chairman of the lawyer’s association, demanded that police write a report about Hai’s illegal detention, he said, while Tran Dinh Trien, another attorney from the association, assisted them.
“Nguyen Duc Chung needs to explain whether he issued a warrant to arrest me or not,” Hai said. “If they do not write the report, and Chung does not meet us to clarify this matter and other issues regarding the harassment of the two lawyers, I will go on hunger strike,” he said.
An officer at Xuan La commune police station told RFA that there were no lawyers named Tran Vu Hai, Nguyen Chien or Tran Dinh Trien there, although photos they posted on Facebook showed them at the station.
When Hai was released from police detention on Thursday, many people, including victims of injustice whom he had represented, gathered outside the station with banners welcoming him.
Hai was part of a larger group of lawyers who planned to Visit relevant government offices to submit a petition regarding the revised litigation law along with letters regarding the harassment of Nam and Luan.
About 200 attorneys signed the petition addressed to the National Assembly, requesting that a provision for lawyers to obtain authorities’ permission to represent their clients be removed from the country’s revised litigation law.
Representatives from the Hanoi police told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that Nam and Luan had been attacked by eight young villagers because their vehicle created too much dust as they drove to Dong Phuong Yen village in Chuong My district.
But the group of lawyers objected to this explanation and sent a letter to Chung, demanding a meeting with him and calling for the prosecution of the attackers.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.