One of Vietnam’s most prominent human rights lawyers has been expelled from his local bar association in what an opposition group claims was retribution for arguing several high-profile political cases.
The Bar Association of Dac Lac province made the decision to remove Huynh Van Dong, 33, on Aug. 12 in response to a June request by a provincial court to disbar the lawyer for “disrespecting the law,” according to court documents.
In May, Dong had represented democracy activists Tran Thi Thuy and Pham Van Thong in their preliminary trial in southern Ben Tre province.
Thuy, Thong, and five other men were later convicted of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration” for having allegedly left the country to receive training and funding from Viet Tan before returning home to “operate.”
The U.S.-based Viet Tan is banned in Vietnam and is considered by the ruling communist party as a terrorist group.
In the request to the Dac Lac Bar Association, the Ben Tre People’s Court said that during the trial, Dong had exhibited “behaviors that violated Attorney’s Laws and took advantage of freedom and democracy rights to infringe upon the interests of the state, ” according to court documents, copies of which were obtained by Viet Tan and provided to the media.
The People’s Court specifically mentioned Dong’s “attitude opposing the trial” and his attempt to “transform the trial into a public forum, degrade the credibility and [offend] the Communist Party and the Government of Vietnam,” the documents said.
The court alleged that prior to the trial, Dong had coached his clients to deny their wrongdoing and protest their innocence.
It also accused him of protecting Viet Tan and exhibiting a “disrespectful” attitude toward court officials, particularly by engaging in “disorderly conduct” in the courtroom by slamming his fist on the table before he was eventually asked to leave the premises by the presiding judge.
In a letter dated Aug. 10, the Malaysia-based Media Defence Southeast Asia group expressed its strong concern to the Dac Lac Bar Association over its decision to pursue Dong’s disbarment.
“Not only is it contrary to the principle of separation of powers and judicial independence, a court of law, under international laws and norms, simply does not allege one of its officers. Its job is to interpret the law, not to implement it regardless of what the law may be. That is the job of the state.”
Dong has faced repeated harassment from the Vietnamese authorities throughout his career and been summoned several times for questioning by the police.
A 2001 graduate of the Ho Chi Minh University of Law who was admitted to the Dac Lac Bar Association in 2003, Dong is known for insisting that authorities adhere to the Vietnamese criminal procedure code and has often argued his clients’ innocence instead of merely asking for clemency.
His other notable cases include the representation of the Thai Ha and Con Dau parishioners at their appeals trials in March 2009 and January 2011, respectively. In both cases, the parishioners had been accused of causing public disorder when they protested the government confiscation of church property.
In October 2009 and January 2010, Dong represented democracy activists Pham Van Troi and Tran Duc Thach, both of whom were later imprisoned for displaying banners in public calling for multi-party democracy and Vietnamese sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
In an essay dated July 16, 2011, Dong wrote that freedom speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of political parties had become “demands that are ‘luxury’ in nature in Vietnam.”
Reported by Joshua Lipes.