Vietnamese authorities summon human rights lawyers again

Police say the lawyers broke the law by discussing their case on YouTube.
By RFA Vietnamese
Vietnamese authorities summon human rights lawyers again Attorneys Dao Kim Lan (2nd from L), Dang Dinh Manh (C) and other lawyers have been providing legal support for Peng Lei Buddhist Church members.
Manh Dang Facebook

Authorities in Vietnam have sent a second summons to at least two lawyers who defended a Buddhist organization in a case last year, asking the lawyers once again to appear for questioning regarding their public discussion of the case.

Dang Dinh Manh is one of five lawyers who defended six members of the Peng Lei Buddhist House, who were found guilty in July 2022 and sentenced to a combined 23 years and six months for incest and fraud, in violation of Article 331 of the country’s criminal code: abusing democratic freedoms.

While providing legal support to Peng Lei Buddhist Church's members, Manh and the other four lawyers, Ngo Thi Hoang Anh, Dao Kim Lan, Nguyen Van Mieng, and Trinh Vinh Phuc used the YouTube account Nhật ký Luật sư (Lawyer's Diary) to post information about the case, making it a common place for their statements. The account no longer has any video content.

The public discussion of the case could also be a violation of Article 331, so authorities in the southern province of Long An issued a summons to the five lawyers on March 6 that required them to report to the police for questioning on March 21. 

Only Trinh Vinh Phuc and Ngo Thi Hoang Anh attended the meeting as requested. So far, neither has disclosed the contents of their meeting.

On Friday, authorities sent a second summons to Manh. According to a copy of the second summons obtained by Radio Free Asia, Manh must report to police on Wednesday. 

At least one of the other lawyers was summoned a second time, one of the lawyers told RFA on condition of anonymity for safety reasons. The unnamed lawyer did not disclose who else had received a second summons. Phuc confirmed that he did not receive a second summons.

RFA attempted to contact the inspector in charge of the case, Hoang Hung, but he did not answer phone calls.

‘Stalinist double-speak’

Article 331 is a violation of international human rights standards, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Monday.

“Given how repressive the government has become, it’s not surprising the authorities are using this article to violate yet another right, which is the right to legal representation and a free and fair trial,” Robertson said. “Hanoi deserves global condemnation for going after the few remaining defense lawyers left in the country working on human rights cases, but really what this shows is what a total and absolute joke the Vietnam judiciary has become.”

He said the Vietnamese government is abusing the article for its own aims. 

“The idea that the exercise of ‘democratic freedoms’ should be used to criminalize defense lawyers like Dang Dinh Manh … shows the Stalinist double-speak that the Vietnam government and Communist Party are engaged in,” he said. “This kind of trial shows clearly that justice is dead in Vietnam under the current single-party, rights-repressing government.”

Player and Referee

On Feb. 8, Lan, one of the lawyers, sent a petition to Vietnam’s leaders and several agencies expressing his concerns over the decision to let the Long An provincial police participate in the probe of the case against the lawyers.

Before the first-instance trial for the six Peng Lei members, the lawyers had sent an 11-page report/petition to various agencies to denounce “signs of seriously violating criminal procedures and judicial activities” in the case.

Apart from his concern over the objectivity of the investigation, Lan also said that because he resides and works in Ho Chi Minh City – where he used Facebook and YouTube channels to post information about the Peng Lei case – Ho Chi Minh City’s police should be the authorized agency to investigate whether he had violated Article 331.

One week later, the Vietnam Bar Federation and the Ministry of Public Security responded to Lan’s petition. However, the Ministry of Public Security’s Inspectorate transferred these responses to Long An’s authorities to handle.

On condition of anonymity, one of the five defense lawyers said the fact that central-level agencies’ failure to timely respond to Lan’s petition showed their negligence to the wrongdoings of prosecuting agencies and the necessity to protect citizens’ legitimate interests.  

Another defense lawyer, who also wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, also raised questions about the objectivity of assigning Long An Provincial Police to handle the case as this would enable the police “to be both a player and the referee.” He said the Supreme People’s Procuracy should be the agency in charge of the case to ensure objectivity.

Ha Huy Son, a lawyer from the Hanoi Bar Association, however, told RFA that the Long An police were assigned the case against the lawyers in accordance with the law.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Matt Reed.


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