An official lawyer’s organization in central Vietnam’s Phu Yen province has threatened to “discipline” an attorney known for representing defendants in political cases after he suggested that most members of his profession use bribery to influence trials.
Vo An Don, a Phu Yen-based lawyer who has defended hundreds of members of underrepresented communities on a pro-bono basis, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday that he received a letter from the Phu Yen Lawyer’s Association on Aug. 18 informing him he would “face discipline” for posting a comment on Facebook which said lawyers in Vietnam regularly use payoffs to win cases for their clients.
“I have served as a lawyer in cases for poor people and political cases, and I always tell the truth,” he said.
“That’s why the authorities really hate me—because I have said things that no other lawyer dares to say. Therefore, they are trying to take revenge on me.”
According to Don, the central Vietnam Lawyer’s Association recently sent a letter to lawyer groups at the provincial level, banning their members from posting “lies” on social media.
“But nobody tells the truth—they only lie,” he said.
“The truth is so ugly, they are afraid of having it revealed.”
Don said that Vietnam’s Ministry of Justice recently issued a decree that bans lawyers from making comments they deem to be “untrue,” and which grants permission to lawyer’s associations at the provincial level to revoke law licenses—a measure that previously could only be taken with the approval of the Vietnam Lawyer’s Association.
He said that while the Phu Yen Lawyer’s Association had not provided details of how he would be punished, he expected to be made an example of.
“They didn’t say exactly what they’re going to do to discipline me, but they said the reason was because I ‘spoke ill of other lawyers on Facebook’ and ‘provided foreign media with untrue information,’” he said.
“I think that the punishment for me is going to be very harsh, because … they’re trying to ban lawyers from posting things on the internet and they will make an example of me.”
Don said he has been able to practice law with no restrictions since receiving the letter and would continue his work until he was prevented from doing so.
“I will follow whatever discipline they give me because what I have done and said is true and is in line with the professional code of ethics,” he said.
“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of with my colleagues,” he added.
“Many lawyers have raised their voices against me, while others scolded me because they think I accused them. But I think nobody will dare to stand up and protect me, even if they want to.”
Don has represented prominent activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June for “spreading propaganda against the state” through her Facebook posts and interviews with U.S. news services.
Quynh was arrested on Oct. 10, 2016, for openly voicing her opinions on the deaths of people in police custody, Vietnam’s sovereignty over the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, and the government’s handling of a toxic waste spill off the country’s central coast in April of last year.
He also defended retired Lt. Colonel Tran Anh Kim and ex-soldier Le Thanh Tung, who were sentenced to 13-year and 12-year prison terms, respectively, in December 2016 for “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”
Other cases he has taken on include that of four defendants who were jailed in December after sailing to Australia in search of work and the wife of a criminal suspect who was beaten to death in police custody in 2012.
Don has reported regular harassment by the authorities, including audits of his law practice, and says he has received several death threats from both police and “hired thugs.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.