BANGKOK—Five democracy activists facing trial in Vietnam in an ongoing crackdown on dissent are unlikely to face a “severe” outcome, the former People’s Supreme Court judge asked by the men's families to defend them said, insisting they are patriotic citizens.
“They have different ideas of ideology and consciousness, but they have no malicious motives, ” Tran Lam said in an interview.
“They are against [the government], but they are patriots,” he added.
Asked what the trial’s likely outcome would be, he replied, “I predict that it will not be as severe as previous ones.”
The five men facing trial—Le Cong Dinh, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Anh Kim, Le Thang Long, and Nguyen Tien Trung—have been charged with offenses connected mainly to sending e-mails and writing articles online criticizing government policies.
Vietnam's official news agency reported Aug. 20 that the Investigation Security Agency of the Ministry of Public Security was working with prosecutors "to quickly bring to trial" what it called "an extremely serious case related to infringing upon national security."
It said the defendants had "acted in an organized way in an attempt to undermine and overthrow the Vietnamese State. They had linkages with exile reactionary organizations and received support from hostile, anti-Vietnamese forces."
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was arrested while “using the Internet to link up with reactionary elements,” according to an official Vietnamese media report.
Le Cong Dinh, a lawyer and the husband of a former Miss Vietnam, is accused of joining an “exiled reactionary organization”—the Vietnam Democratic Party—in 2008.
The U.S. State Department has called for Dinh’s release, saying “No individual should be arrested for expressing the right to free speech.”
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has also called on Vietnam to release Dinh.
“After intimidating journalists working for the liberal press and the Catholics, the government is now attacking lawyers,” the press freedoms monitoring group said.
No date for trial has been set, but Tran Lam described the men’s case as “very complicated, very complex” and predicted, “This kind of trial will go very slowly.”
“This regime controls cases very tightly, and sometimes the trials are held in secret. But to say that lawyers are completely without hope in these cases—that [the trials] are only a show—I disagree completely.”
Vietnam still follows Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong’s definition of law, that “law reflects the wishes of the authorities,” Lam said.
“But internationally, the definition of democracy always includes freedom of ideas and freedom of speech,” he said.
“Therefore, we must follow the international agreements we have signed.”
Vietnamese authorities have meanwhile detained two well-known bloggers who have criticized the government.
Thanh Hieu, who writes his blog under the pen name "Nguoi Buon Gio" or "Wind Trader," was taken into police custody in Hanoi on Thursday, associates said.
Police seized three laptops and documents from his home in Hanoi and also searched his parents' house.
Days earlier, one of Vietnam's most popular and boldest bloggers, Huy Duc, was fired by the Saigon Thiep Thi newspaper after the Communist Party complained about writings on his blog "Osin."
Original reporting by Tra My for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive Producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.