- Posted October 6, 2013 by
FREE LE QUOC QUAN NOW
Thousands of people came from all over Vietnam to attend the trial of the famous Human Rights Lawyer Le Quoc Quan, who was illegally arrested on December 27, 2012 and detained for alleged tax evasion, a charge which carries a maximum of seven years imprisonment and a severe fine if found guilty.
The trial was supposed to be held at the People's Court of Hanoi on July 09 2013, but it was cancelled the day before because the judge who was presiding over the trial was not feeling well. According to Vietnamese law, a postponed trial has to be held within 30 days after the postponed date and could only be extended as long as 45 days in some cases. However, due to the tremendous pressure of the outside world, Le Quoc Quan’s trial was not rescheduled until now, well past its legal due date.
The trial was held on Tuesday October 2, 2013. Some people came a day earlier and stayed overnight at the Thai Ha Catholic church then attended an early morning mass before the trial. Le Quoc Quan is a devout Catholic, so he has been receiving much support from the church. Many supporters arrived early in the morning in their white T-shirts with the logo “Freedom for lawyer Le Quoc Quan.”
Mr. Le Quoc Quyet, the younger brother of Le Quoc Quan stated that this was supposed to be a public trial but friends and family were not allowed to attend. The police joined hands and made a wall to stop people from being close to the court house. A photo of Le Quoc Quan’s mother was sitting on the sidewalk because she was not allowed to attend the trial. It is a heartbreaking image for a lot of people; it shows how cruel and cold hearted the Vietnamese government is. Many people were stopped from getting close to the court house by the police but that did not stop them from singing and chanting their support for Le Quoc Quan. A few interesting key points from this trial that are different from other previous trials were they allowed Le Quoc Quan’s wife to be inside, five representatives from different embassies and a few reporters also were allowed to observe the trial, and there was no news of police abuse or brutality against the people and no arrest was made.
Lawyer Le Quoc Quan is a democratic activist and a blogger. As a lawyer, he represented many victims of human rights violations, but was disbarred in 2007 on suspicion of engaging in “activities to overthrow the regime.” He has been arrested several times in the past. He was arrested on March 8, 2007, after he returned to Vietnam from a fellowship with the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy. He was released 3 months later after Mr. John McCain and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrote to the Vietnamese government in protest. He was arrested again on April 05, 2011 and was later released. He had been harassed, threatened and beat up by the police many times until the last arrest on December 27, 2012.
Many influential people in the U.S. have taken notice of the trial of this U.S-trained lawyer. Brad Adams, New York-based Human Rights Watch Asia director, has described the charges as "politically motivated" and called for his immediate release. On September 25, 2013, ten Members of the U.S. Congress, led by Representative Ed Royce, called on the government of Vietnam to release Le Quoc Quan, including Christopher H. Smith, Eliot L. Engel, Zoe Lofgren, Frank R. Wolf, Loretta Sanchez, Jack Kingston, Susan A. Davis, Rob Woodall and James P. Moran.
On October 02, 2013, after a short trial lasting only a few hours, Le Quoc Quan was sentenced to 30 months in jail, a tax debt collection of 600 millions VND and a tax penalty (fine) of 1.2 billions VND – approximately $30,000 USD and $60,000 USD respectively. As reported by Chris Brummitt of Associated Press, who was present during the trial, Le Quoc Quan stated before the court:
"I'm the victim of political acts. I have long been denouncing and fighting against corruption, bureaucracy and the stagnation that is doing harm to this country. To be frank, I was prosecuted because I love this country."
Family and supporters expressed their frustrations and anger as soon as the verdict was read. Many people peacefully protested and chanted in front of the court house.
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi quickly issued a statement following Mr. Quan's conviction “The use of tax laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is disturbing. We call on the government to release prisoners of conscience and allow all Vietnamese to peacefully express their political views."
“Le Quoc Quan’s apparent crime is to be an effective public critic of the Vietnamese government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “When will the Vietnamese government accept that freedom of expression includes the freedom to peacefully express opinions that differ from those of ruling party?”“
The Vietnamese government appears to be so nervous about its position in society that it is reflexively finding ways to silence and imprison dissident after dissident,” Adams said. “Hanoi should realize that government critics reflect a large and growing body of opinion in the country that it is time for Vietnam to become a genuine multi-party democracy in which free speech is tolerated. These voices will not be silenced by such heavy-handed tactics.” (http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/30/vietnam-drop-politically-motivated-charges-against-critics)
The Vietnamese government is trying to get a seat in the UN Human Rights Council. However, Vietnam has been and is still being criticized for its lack of human rights. Over forty bloggers and human rights activists have been arrested and jailed with heavy sentences between 2012 and 2013. Vietnam is a one party system led by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Vietnamese courts remain under the firm control of the government and the Vietnam Communist party, and lack independence and impartiality. Political and religious dissidents are often tried without the assistance of legal counsel in proceedings that fail to meet international fair trial standards. Defense lawyers who take on politically sensitive cases are intimidated, harassed, debarred, and imprisoned.
In my opinion, Le Quoc Quan’s sentence was politically motivated and excessive; in fact, it is not even in line with other sentencing for similar crimes. For example, in 2012, a businessman, Nguyen Thac Thanh, in Bac Ninh city, Hanoi, was found guilty of tax evasion charge of over 11 billions VND – many times greater than what Le Quoc Quan was accused of. His sentence was only 36 months of house arrest. Did lawyer Le Quoc Quan have his day in court? Was his trial fair? Has justice been served in his case? You be the judge.