BANGKOK—The wife of a Vietnamese lawyer arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government said Wednesday that his relatives are shocked and surprised that the authorities would move against him.
"To tell the truth, I have to say that so far our family is so surprised, so shocked at what has happened," Le Cong Dinh’s wife, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Khanh, 33, said in a telephone interview from Ho Chi Minh City.
"We are sure Dinh is a good husband, a good son, and a responsible man. Our only hope now is that he will be released to reunite with his family," she said.
We are just waiting and hoping."
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Khanh
Dinh, 41, who runs his own law firm, was arrested June 13 under Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code, which bans the distribution of propaganda against the state.
He 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 was "colluding with domestic and foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese State," the state-run Voice of Vietnam reported.
Khanh, a former Miss Vietnam, said she respected her husband’s work but knew little about it. "We are just waiting and hoping," she said.
Khanh said relatives have requested permission to contact Dinh but haven’t received a reply.
Calls from abroad
On Monday, the United States voiced deep concern at Dinh’s arrest and called 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.
Reporters Without Borders also called on Hanoi to immediately release Dinh, saying, "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."
The official 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.
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 was quoted as saying 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.
Original reporting by Tra Mi for RFA's Vietnamese service. Translated by Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han