Grave Concerns about the Arrest and Detention of Human Rights Lawyer Le Quoc Quan

Grave Concerns about the Arrest and Detention of Human Rights Lawyer Le Quoc Quan

The Law Society of Upper Canada is gravely concerned about the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan in Vietnam.
Reliable reports indicate that on December 27, 2012, Le Quoc Quan, human rights lawyer and blogger, was arrested by the police while dropping off his daughter at school. The police advised the family that he would be charged under Article 161 of the Criminal Code, which relates to tax evasion.  If he is convicted, he risks three years in prison and a heavy fine.
Le Quoc Quan, one of Vietnam’s better-known dissidents and a leading blogger, works at his office in Hanoi, Vietnam on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. The Internet has become the principal staging ground for dissent in Vietnam, and its Communist rulers are trying to clamp down with new laws, stepped up arrests, intimidation and longer prison sentences. But so far, it’s a battle they are losing. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)
Reliable reports indicate that on December 27, 2012, Le Quoc Quan was arrested while dropping his daughter off at school.   The police advised the family that he would be charged under Article 161 of the Criminal Code, which relates to tax evasion.  If he is convicted, he risks three years in prison and a heavy fine.
Le Quoc Quan writes a popular blog about human rights abuses.  The Law Society’s understanding is that he has been subject to arbitrary arrests and ongoing surveillance and harassment as a result of his human rights work.  According to reports, Le Quoc Quan was disabarred following his return to Vietnam from the United States in 2007.
The Law Society is deeply concerned about situations where lawyers who work for the protection and respect of human rights are themselves targeted for exercising their freedoms and rights under international law. Article 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states that ‘governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely; and shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.’
Therefore, the Law Society of Upper Canada calls on the Vietnamese authorities to,
  1. immediately release Le Quoc Quan and guarantee in all circumstances his physical and psychological integrity;
  2. put an end to all acts of harassment Le Quoc Quan and other human rights defenders in Vietnam;
  3. ensure that all lawyers can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of physical violence or other human rights violations; and
  4. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.
The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for some 44,700 lawyers and 4,900 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada and the Treasurer is the head of the Law Society.  The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.
The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in Vietnam in their effort to advance the respect of human rights and to promote the rule of law.

Rights group urges Vietnam to probe dissident beating

HANOI — Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on Vietnam to investigate a violent attack on a prominent dissident lawyer involved in a string of anti-China demonstrations.
Le Quoc Quan, who blogs on a range of sensitive topics including civil rights, political pluralism and religious freedom, told AFP he was struck with a steel baton near his Hanoi home on Sunday.
“I was hit three times on my knee, my thigh and my back… I think the police are behind the attack,” he said, adding that he believed the incident was meant to discourage his activism in the one-party communist state.
“It will have a counter-effect,” Quan said. “I do nothing wrong. What I am working for is good. Why should I not keep working?”
There was no immediate comment from the Vietnamese authorities.
Quan, a Catholic in the majority Buddhist nation, was jailed for three months in 2007 for participating in “activities to overthrow the people’s government” but was released following protests from the United States.
In addition to his blogs, he was heavily involved in a string of anti-China demonstrations last year over Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Vietnamese lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said Quan was being targeted for his work.
“Le Quoc Quan has continuously sought to use his legal skills to represent those being persecuted for asserting their rights, and now he’s become a target,” HRW deputy director Phil Robertson told AFP.
“Top-level leaders in Hanoi need to ensure that the authorities conduct a credible and transparent investigation into this violent attack and hold accountable anyone they find responsible.”

Vietnam struggles to crack down on activist blogs

HANOI, Vietnam – (AP) — The 7-iron resting against the wall in Le Quoc Quan’s office is for self-defense, not sport. The human-rights lawyer and blogger has not left home without the golf club since being beaten last month by iron-bar-wielding men he suspects were sent by the police.
If the assault was meant to silence him, it failed. Within days he was back online, and reporting about the incident.
The Internet has become the principal staging ground for dissent in Vietnam, and its Communist rulers are trying to clamp down with new laws, stepped up arrests, intimidation and longer prison sentences. But so far, it’s a battle they are losing.
Facebook and other social networking sites are blocked here, but the state firewall is so flimsy that even schoolchildren know how to fiddle with computer settings to get around it. The government has announced bans on websites, only to see traffic to them skyrocket. Three bloggers were sentenced to prison this week — one for 12 years — but many others continue to pursue their causes.
Vietnamese activists on the Internet highlight high-level corruption and feuding within the economic and Communist Party elite, as they demand freedom of expression, religion and political activity. They receive cautious moral support from the United States and other Western countries, which are pressing for reform in Hanoi even as they seek closer economic ties with it.
“The growth of the Internet is endangering the government,” Quan told The Associated Press in an interview in his office in the capital, Hanoi. “People can actually read news now. There is a thirst for democracy in our country.”
Experts say Hanoi lacks the money and know-how to comprehensively censor content like its neighbor China, which has a solid firewall and big tech companies that operate their own popular social media products that Beijing can easily control.
Vietnam is also undergoing a sharp economic downturn, and the more it restricts the Internet, the more it diminishes an engine of growth that sustains small businesses, connects exporters to markets and encourages innovation.
Cracking down also risks international censure, but allowing bloggers to go unchallenged goes against years of suppression from the government, which main concern is eliminating any threat to its grip on power.
Quan is one of Vietnam’s better-known dissidents and a leading blogger. In 2007, he was detained for three months on his return from a U.S.-government funded fellowship in Washington. He needed hospital treatment after last month’s attack outside his home.
His post about the beating drew words of support and defiance.
“(Because) of these brutal individuals, the Communist Party of Vietnam must perform penitence or otherwise they will be brought to justice by the people in this decade,” wrote one anonymous commentator after his post. “Perhaps, it’s time for the people to stand up to throw them into a cesspit.”
Quan told The AP he suspects local police in the assault, perhaps out of frustration because they couldn’t find grounds to arrest him. In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said Quan’s allegations were “groundless.”
The Internet is crucial for Vietnamese dissidents for organizing dissent and networking among themselves quickly and securely. Activists in Vietnam post not only their opinions online, but also video of protests and even details of their arrests.
“There will be more arrests, more protests, but that is OK,” Quan said. “It will bring change.”
Land seizures by party officials are an increasingly common online complaint, and the issue is seen by many as one of government’s most vulnerable spots. Protests of seizures are often organized online and blogged about afterward.
Such efforts are getting easier as more Vietnamese get online. About 30 percent of them have Internet access, which in Vietnam is growing at one of the fastest rates in Asia. A survey by McKinsey and Co. in April found that the Internet sector currently contributes 1 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product.
“The government is somehow scrambling to put the genie in the bottle, but you have a much more assertive citizen that has been empowered by new information technology,” said Phil Robertson fromHuman Rights Watch. “The organizing ability of the new social media allows people with disparate agendas to link up more closely.”
The government signaled its intent to take a more aggressive line this month when the prime minister ordered police to arrest people behind three popular news blogs that had been reporting on alleged tensions between him and the president. Traffic to the sites shot up in the hours after the announcement.
The government’s website then published several quotes on the dangers of blogs from what it described as “ordinary people.”
“I think the information on these bad web sites is like wild grass and poisonous mushrooms,” said one of those quoted. “These web sites aim to sow division among the top leaders of the party and state. I’m wondering why these websites with such ill intentions have been allowed to exist for so long.”
On Monday, three prominent citizen journalists — including one whose case was mentioned byPresident Barack Obama – were sentenced to between 4 and 12 years in power for “spreading anti-government” propaganda. The sentences were longer than others previously handed down for online activism.
The government is currently drafting three decrees that would make it easier to prosecute bloggers and place strict controls on foreign Web companies. The U.S. government has privately and publicly registered its concerns with parts of the proposed laws.
In its original wording, the legislation required companies like Google and Facebook to have servers in Vietnam and filter content for the government. Those requirements have been dropped from more recent drafts, but prohibitions on freedom of speech remain.
Google and the Asia Internet Coalition, a lobbying group for Web companies, declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of their discussions with the government.
Asked to comment on criticism by the U.S. and others, Nghi, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Vietnam has the right to “manage the use and exploitation” of the Internet to “prevent negative impacts on the society and community.”
Meanwhile, people who have been challenging the government for years are discovering how the Internet can make their activism more effective.
Nguyen Van Dai was released from prison last year after serving 4 years for organizing human rights workshops. Last month, he began blogging on human rights after some friends showed him how.
“There are many bloggers who every day reach millions of people, who can then start a group against the government,” Dai said. “The government worries about the Internet, but they can’t stop it.”

Vietnam: A dark week for freedom of expression

In an unrelenting campaign against freedom of expression, six social activists were dealt severe prison terms this week following hurried trials. Three dissident bloggers and three Catholic activists were convicted under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code, a vague and overly broad provision that is often abused by the authorities to prevent ‘propaganda against the state’ and suppress freedom of expression.
On Monday, 24 September, bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay), Ta Phong Tan, and Phan Thanh Hai were arrested and subsequently convicted in a trial that lasted only a few hours in Ho Chi Minh City. The three, who are leaders of the Club of Free Journalists, were sentenced under Article 88 for their online writings on corruption, injustice, and foreign policy. Sentences ranged from 4 to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Shortly thereafter, on Wednesday, 26 September, at the People’s Court of Nghe An, Catholic youth activists Dau Van Duong and Tran Huu Duc had their appeals rejected, and Chu Manh Son had his initial sentence reduced only by six months. They were convicted for distributing pamphlets that encouraged citizens to avoid parliamentary elections. Their sentences now range from 2.5 to 3.5 years in prison.
 “This has been a dark week for Vietnam and the right to freedom of expression within the country. The Vietnamese authorities are pushing forth a merciless agenda to black out all forms of dissent, and their one tactic is to shroud legitimate exercises of free speech under the guise of ‘anti-state propaganda’. It is clear that Hanoi is afraid of what the people have to say, and that they are willing to silence the people at great costs,” said Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
Human rights defenders, activists, writers and bloggers are predominately charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which is vaguely defined and prohibits ‘psychological warfare’ and the spread of ‘fabricated news.’ It also makes illegal the ‘making, storing and/or circulating’ of documents ‘with contents against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.’
The families and friends of those convicted have also been met with aggression by the State. Several family members were arrested, and subsequently released, in order to stop them from attending the trial. In a tragic act of desperation, Ta Phong Tan’s mother had set herself on fire on 30 July 2012 to protest her daughter’s detention and trial, and later died from injuries sustained during the protest. According to Ta Phong Tan’s sister, their family was under constant state surveillance.
The Internet has increasingly become the space for Vietnamese civil society to expose corruption and voice their concerns, given that the press is strictly controlled by the State. The government’s crackdown picked up in 2009, with many human rights and pro-democracy bloggers being persecuted for their online activism.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Vietnamese government to cease its use of heavy-handed intimidation tactics and vague legislation to silence freedom of expression and political opposition. Furthermore, ARTICLE 19 calls for the government to drop all charges against the arrested activists and for their immediate release, and to stop all forms of intimidation and harassment against their families.

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