International Reactions to Lawyer Le Cong Dinh’s Arrest US calls for release of arrested Vietnam activist

International Reactions to Lawyer Le Cong Dinh’s Arrest
US calls for release of arrested Vietnam activist  
The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 16, 2009; 8:03 AM
HANOI, Vietnam — The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam expressed deep concern Tuesday about the arrest of a prominent lawyer known for his pro-democracy writings and defense of human rights activists.
Le Cong Dinh, 41, was arrested Saturday at his home in Ho Chi Minh City and accused of violating Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code, which prohibits distributing information harmful to the government. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement calling for Dinh’s immediate release.
“No individual should be arrested for expressing the right to free speech, and no lawyer should be punished because of the individuals they choose to counsel,” the statement said.
According to accounts in Communist Vietnam’s state-controlled media, authorities believe Dinh “colluded with domestic and foreign reactionaries” bent on “sabotaging” the state and overthrowing the government.
Dinh, one of Vietnam’s most high-profile attorneys, came to prominence several years ago when he defended Vietnamese catfish farmers in a trade dispute with U.S. fishermen. He also represented two human rights attorneys, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, who were jailed by the government in 2007 for allegedly spreading anti-government propaganda.
In his defense of Dai and Nhan, he made a strikingly direct plea for free expression, highly unusual in a country where the government tightly controls public speech. Dinh has argued it is wrong to accuse those who promote free speech of undermining the state.
The Communist Party newspaper Nhan Dan said Dinh used the trial to “take advantage” of his work as a defense lawyer and “propagandize against the regime and distort Vietnam’s constitution and laws.”
Authorities also accused Dinh of exploiting a national debate over an expansion of bauxite mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands to “incite people against the Communist Party and the government,” according to the official Vietnam News Agency.
Dinh opposed the expansion, which includes a processing plant being built by a Chinese company. The plans have stirred an unusual level of debate in Vietnam, where government policies are rarely challenged.
Opponents of the plans say they would cause grave environmental damage. They also say Vietnam should not allow a Chinese company into the Central Highlands because of its strategic location among the border with Cambodia.
Suspicions of China are deep in Vietnam, which has fought several wars against its northern neighbor, most recently in 1979.
The Central Highlands are home to many of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups.
Dinh studied law at Tulane University in New Orleans for two years on a Fulbright scholarship.
His arrest came just days after Vietnam hosted the 17th Congress of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, a United-Nations affiliated group which supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
USCIRF Condemns Arrest of Human Rights and Religious Freedom Lawyer Le Cong Dinh
June 18, 2009
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today condemned Saturday’s arrest of Le Cong Dinh, a prominent lawyer who defended clients in high profile human rights cases, including prominent religious freedom defenders Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan.

“The arrest of Le Cong Dinh demonstrates a disturbing but familiar pattern,” said Michael Cromartie, USCIRF vice chair, who recently led a USCIRF delegation to Vietnam. “Peaceful advocates for religious freedom and related human rights are intimidated, harassed, and jailed. Le Cong Dinh’s arrest demonstrates that no human rights, including the freedom of religion, are secure in Vietnam.”

A USCIRF delegation visited Vietnam in May, meeting with government officials, prominent religious leaders, religious freedom advocates, and prisoners, including Fr. Nguyen Van Ly and Nguyen Van Dai. The latter was defended by Le Cong Dinh. The USCIRF delegation was able to confirm the conclusions found in its May 1, 2009 Annual Report, including continued imprisonment of individuals for peaceful religious activity or religious freedom advocacy, systematic intimidation and discrimination targeting new converts and independent religious activity, and harassment of lawyers and individuals seeking to expand religious freedom.  

Le Cong Dinh was arrested under Article 88 of the Vietnamese criminal code for “conducting propaganda” against the state. He is one of a growing number of peaceful human rights defenders who are challenging Vietnam’s vague national security laws and other laws inconsistent with the Vietnamese Constitution and international covenants and human right treaties to which Vietnam is a signatory.

In its Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be re-designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) for severe and egregious restrictions on the freedom of religion. Recently, the House of Representatives passed HR 2410, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which includes language urging the State Department to designate Vietnam as a CPC. However, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam recently reiterated the State Department’s longstanding position that Vietnam does not meet the criteria to be designated a CPC.    

USCIRF’s annual report detailed the imprisonment of Le Cong Dinh, Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan, Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, and dozens of other Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Catholic, and Montagnard Protestants currently jailed in Vietnam. It urged the State Department and the international community to press for their immediate and unconditional release.

“The Commission has consistently found that systematic and egregious abuses of religious freedom continue in Vietnam,” said Felice Gaer, USCIRF chair.  “The CPC designation is an important and flexible diplomatic tool, used previously to bring about some tangible results in Vietnam without hindering other bilateral interests.  We urge the Obama Administration to establish clear policies and use all available diplomatic tools to support the hopes and aspirations of the Vietnamese people for both greater freedom and prosperity.” 
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at
Human Rights Watch
Vietnam: Free Prominent Rights Lawyer Le Cong Dinh
Rights Defenders Face Ongoing Harassment and Arrest
June 16, 2009
(New York) – The Vietnamese government should immediately free respected human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh and repeal national security laws that criminalize peaceful expression and association, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 13, 2009, police from the Ministry of Public Security’s Investigation Security Agency arrested Dinh on national security charges and raided his Ho Chi Minh City law office. Police charged him under article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code, “conducting propaganda against the government,” which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. The arrest came just days after President Nguyen Minh Triet addressed the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, on June 6, 2009 at their annual congress in Hanoi. In his speech, Triet affirmed Vietnam’s respect and support for progressive lawyers and vowed to criticize those who “trample democracy and human rights.”
“This arrest makes a mockery of the president’s lofty words,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It tells other lawyers and human rights defenders just what they can expect if they dare to speak out.”
Government authorities accuse Dinh of using his work as a defense lawyer for high-profile democracy and religious freedom activists to “propagandize against the regime and distort Vietnam’s constitution and laws,” as reported in Nhan Dan (The People), the Vietnamese Communist Party’s official daily newspaper. 
Dinh, 41, is the former vice president of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association and a managing partner of DC Law, a prominent private law firm in Ho Chi Minh City. Clients listed on the firm’s webpage include Yahoo!, Sun Wah International, Nestlé, and Toyota. After studying law at Hanoi Law School and Saigon University, Dinh received a Fulbright scholarship to study at Tulane University in the United States, where he received a master of law degree in 2000.
Dinh is best known for his defense of Vietnamese bloggers, human rights defenders, and democracy and labor rights activists such as Nguyen Van Dai, Le Chi Cong Nhan, and Nguyen Hong Hai (known as Dieu Cay). During his defense of democracy activists Dai and Nhan at their appeals court trial in 2007, Dinh said: “Talking about democracy and human rights cannot be seen as anti-government unless the government itself is against democracy.”
The outspoken lawyer is also known for his public criticism of controversial bauxite mines in Vietnam’s Central Highlands and of China’s claims to disputed offshore islands in the South China Sea. In interviews with the BBC and Radio Free Asia, Dinh has called for political pluralism to accompany economic pluralism in Vietnam, currently a one-party state controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party.
In articles in the Vietnamese state media, authorities accuse Dinh of providing “distorted information” about Vietnam’s government and its leaders to international press agencies and websites, “colluding” with domestic and foreign “reactionaries” to sabotage the government, and calling for multi-party reforms in published documents, articles posted on the internet, and interviews with foreign media.
Most political and religious prisoners in Vietnam do not have access to independent legal counsel during their trials.
Other lawyers seeking to defend Vietnamese human rights defenders and religious freedom activists have faced threats and harassment. They include Bui Kim Thanh, who was involuntarily committed to a mental institution in 2008 and 2006 because of her defense of farmers seeking redress for confiscation of their land, and Le Tran Luat, who is defending Catholic parishioners from Thai Ha parish in Hanoi calling for return of government-confiscated church properties.
During 2009, police have raided Luat’s law office in Ho Chi Minh City several times, confiscating computers, documents and files. Authorities also prevented him from traveling to Hanoi in March to meet with his clients, detained and interrogated him on several occasions, and pressured him to drop the Thai Ha case. In addition, the state-controlled press has run articles accusing Luat of fraud, and his local bar association in Ninh Thuan has opened an investigation into his activities.
“Le Cong Dinh’s arrest is part of an ongoing pattern of harassment by the Vietnamese government of human rights and democracy activists – and lawyers seeking to defend their rights to free speech,” said Pearson. “Lawyers – like all citizens – have the right to exercise free speech and peacefully express their views.”
Amnesty International

Prominent human rights lawyer arrested in Viet Nam

16 June 2009
Public security police arrested a prominent human rights lawyer in Viet Nam on Saturday for “colluding with domestic and foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese state.”  Le Cong Dinh was arrested at his home in Ho Chi Minh City.

He is charged with breaching Article 88 of the national security section of the Penal Code, which outlaws “conducting propaganda” against the state, an offence punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The authorities accused him of communicating with the BBC and Radio Free Asia and of having links with overseas Vietnamese activists.  

“The arrest appears to be yet another indication of Viet Nam’s determination to stifle freedom of expression, and silence anyone who criticizes the government or holds different views,” said Donna Guest from Amnesty International. “Le Cong Dinh should be immediately released and the charges against him dropped.”

At least 30 dissidents have been sentenced to long prison terms since 2006 – most of them under Article 88 – for discussing politics and human rights issues. These include prisoners of conscience and human rights lawyers Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai, whom Le Cong Dinh represented at the appeal court hearing of their case in November 2007.

He and their other lawyers courageously argued that Article 88 is unconstitutional and does not conform to international human rights treaties that Viet Nam has ratified.  

Amnesty International has long called for either the repeal or amendment of Article 88 and other “national security” offences in the Penal Code.

“These offences are so vaguely worded that they criminalize peaceful political dissent,” said Donna Guest. “In May, when Viet Nam was considered under the Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council, it rejected the recommendations of other states to permit freedom of expression and reform national security laws that limit freedom of expression, amongst others.” 

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance
SEAPA calls for immediate release of arrested Vietnamese lawyer-writer Le Cong Dinh

BANGKOK, 16 June 2009 — The Southeast Asian Press Alliance expresses deep concern over the Vietnamese authorities’ arrest on 13 June 2009 of Le Cong Dinh, an established lawyer, writer, and defender of free expression and human rights.

The charges brought against Mr. Dinh, including allegations that he was distributing “anti-state propaganda” could carry the penalty of life imprisonment. Given his reputation and experience as a defender of other writers and advocates of human rights and democracy in Vietnam, Mr. Dinh’s arrest is a simutaneous attack on two sectors vital to democratic reform in Vietnam or any society. It sends a chilling message not only to other writers and citizens who peacefully advocate for change, but also to those in the legal community who would defend the Vietnamese people’s right to free expression.

SEAPA, representing media and journalist organizations throughout Southeast Asia, thus calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Le Cong Dinh. We urge the Vietnamese government to assure and ensure transparency and fairness in the consideration of the charges brought against Mr. Dinh, by giving him access to his lawyers, and allowing independent media access to any and all future proceedings. We would also ask that the international legal community to which Mr. Dinh belongs, and within which he is a respected and recognized champion of democracy and human rights, be allowed to monitor all proceedings against Mr. Dinh, so as to hopefully attest to the transparency and fairness he and the Vietnamese people deserve.

Roby Alampay
Executive Director
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Unit 3B, Thakolsuk Place, #115 Tetdumri Road
Dusit, Bangkok 10300 Thailand

Tel. (662)2435579
Fax (662)2448749
Mobile (+6681)5501120
SEAPA is a coalition of journalist and press freedom advocacy groups from around Southeast Asia. Its founding members are the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia), the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (Philippines), the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information, ISAI (Indonesia), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), and the Thai Journalists Association. SEAPA also has as non-member partners: the Center for Independent Journalism (Malaysia), (exiled, Burma), the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, and the Timor Lorosae Journalists Association. SEAPA is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia.

Reporters Without Borders

Call for release of lawyer who defended bloggers and free expression activists

Published on 15 June 2009
Reporters Without Borders today called on Vietnam to immediately release the lawyer Le Cong Dinh, author of many pro-democracy articles and a known human rights activist, who was arrested two days ago.
The 41-year-old lawyer, who has defended several bloggers and free expression activists, is facing a long prison sentence for his articles and commentaries in the Vietnamese press and online.
He was arrested on 13 June 2009 for allegedly “plotting to overthrow the government”, according to Vietnamese journalists who spoke to Reporters Without Borders. Le has no political affiliation but writes regularly about human rights.
The police told the press that he would be charged under Article 88 of the criminal law that punishes the distribution of news and information hostile to the state. The lawyer is charged with using the trials of some of his clients to damage the state and to have “colluded with foreign-based and internal reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese state”.
Deputy director general of the public security department, Vu Hai Trieu, said he had collected “a lot documents and evidence showing attempts to overthrow the Vietnamese state”.
Several sources said his arrest could be linked to a complaint laid by several Vietnamese lawyers against the head of government Nguyen Tan Dung about the granting of a bauxite mine concession to a Chinese company, a case which has caused an outcry in Vietnam.
“In a state which applies the rule of law, a lawyer defending his clients has the right to make facts public before a court and in the press. We fear that this arrest is aimed at punishing a respected man who promotes the cause of the rule of law in Vietnam”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“After intimidating journalists working for the liberal press and the Catholics, the government is now attacking lawyers, the final bulwark in the defence of freedoms,” it said.
Le Cong Dinh has defended lawyers and bloggers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, and the renowned blogger Dieu Cay.

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