Nearly 60 lawyers in Vietnam have now applied to represent a lawyer charged with tax evasion after he agreed to defend a dissident blogger and RFA contributor who was abducted in Thailand in January and brought back to Vietnam by force.
Attorney Tran Vu Hai, who offered to defend blogger Truong Duy Nhat, and whose office was raided in July by police who seized key documents in the case, is now scheduled to stand trial on Nov. 13 in Khanh Hoa province’s Nha Trang city.
Nhat, a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, disappeared in Bangkok in late January amid fears he was abducted by Vietnamese agents, and two months later was revealed to be in a Hanoi jail, in what legal experts have called a violation of Vietnam’s criminal procedure laws by the country’s police.
Jailed in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015 for his writings criticizing Vietnam’s government, Nhat now faces charges of “abusing his position” for his alleged involvement in a land-fraud case while serving as bureau chief at a newspaper in Danang city in the 1990s.
State authorities have now approved around half of the nearly 60 lawyers who have applied to represent Hai at trial, attorney Trinh Vinh Phuc told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Nov. 8, calling the high number of applications an example of Vietnamese lawyers’ solidarity in opposing an unjust case.
“This also demonstrates their care for a colleague’s unjustifiable suffering,” he said.
“We [lawyers] are also waiting to hear the court’s verdict on Nov. 13. We can’t predict what it will be,” he said.
“But we feel the court should keep an open attitude, be objective, and base their decisions on the evidence and the law.”
RFA contributor Nhat’s case has meanwhile not yet been brought to trial.
Call to dismiss charges
Separately, international rights group Human Rights Watch called on Friday for the charges against three Vietnamese men—one of them an Australian citizen—accused of membership in a terrorist group to be thrown out, and the men immediately freed.
Chau Van Kham, Nguyen Van Vien, and Tran Van Quyen were arrested in January and initially charged with “activities attempting to overthrow the state,” charges that were later changed to involvement in “terrorism that aims to oppose the people’s administration,” HRW said on Nov. 8.
The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City is scheduled to hear their case on Nov. 11, HRW said, adding, “So far, the government has not produced any evidence of violent intent or activities by the three men.”
Chau Van Kam, a resident of Sydney, Australia, and member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party, and Nguyen Van Vien, a member of the banned online advocacy group Brotherhood for Democracy, were taken into custody on Jan. 13 in Ho Chi Minh City.
Born in 1971 in central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, Vien had been active in environmental protection work following a massive spill in 2016 of toxic waste by the Taiwan-owned Formosa firm, the Brotherhood for Democracy said in a Jan. 25 statement.
The environmental disaster destroyed livelihoods across Vietnam’s central coast and led to widespread protests and arrests in affected provinces.
Tran Van Quyen, a social activist who also took part in the Formosa protests, was taken into custody ten days later in southeastern Vietnam’s Binh Duong province.
“The Communist Party of Vietnam has kept a tight control on power for more than 40 years and will not tolerate any political opposition,” HRW Australia director Elaine Pearson aid.
“Vietnamese authorities arrest and imprison anyone they deem a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, and these three men are just the latest victims,” Pearson said.
According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam’s one-party communist government currently holds an estimated 138 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security.
It also controls all media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.