Prominent Vietnamese lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan completed his thirty month prison sentence on June 27th. He was reunited with his family in the province of Quang Nam, and stated that he will now resume his work in defense of human rights: ‘’I will go ahead, because I believe it is good for the people of Vietnam.’’
Le Quoc Quan is a prominent lawyer, blogger and human rights defender who was convicted on the trumped up charge of tax evasion in 2013. Prior to his imprisonment, Le Quoc Quan ran a blog where he wrote about various issues including civil rights, political pluralism and religious freedom. As a lawyer, he represented many victims of human rights violations, before being disbarred in 2007 on the fabricated suspicion of engaging in “activities to overthrow the regime.”
Quan, 43, was arrested in December 2012, on allegations of tax evasion. He was held incommunicado for the next two months and spent fifteen days on hunger strike. On October 2nd 2013, over nine months after his arrest, he was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment, and his company ordered to pay a fine of $59,000 USD. In February 2014, the Hanoi Court of Appeal upheld Quan’s conviction despite international calls for his release. He was on hunger strike five times during prison, his most recent strike ending June 24th.
International organizations have long asserted that the charges against Quan were politically motivated in response to his daring exercise of the right to freedom of expression and religion on his blog, despite Vietnam’s history of crackdowns on journalists and writers. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention labeled Quan’s jailing as “a deprivation of liberty result[ing] from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by… the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”—and thus arbitrary—in June 2013.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said prior to Quan’s release that ‘’we are pleased to anticipate Quan’s imminent release from prison on June 27, though we are sad to note that Quan owes his release not to a change of heart on the part of the Vietnamese government, but the fact that he has served the full term of his 30-month prison sentence related to politically-motivated charges of tax evasion.’’
The Vietnamese government has a long history of persecuting Quan for his human rights work. In 2007, after representing numerous victims of human rights violations, he was disbarred from practicing as a lawyer on suspicion of engaging in “activities to overthrow the regime.” He has been arrested several times for continuing his human rights work. Following an attack by unknown assailants in August 2012, he was hospitalized and the attack was never investigated by the police. On December 27th 2012, Quan was arbitrarily arrested and detained while taking his daughter to school. In 2011, he was arrested while protesting outside the trial of fellow human rights defender Mr Cu Huy Ha Vu and detained for a week. In 2007, Le Quoc Quan was detained for three months and charged with taking part in “activities to overthrow the people’s government”. He was later released following international protests.
PEN American Center welcomed his release. “The jailing of Le Quoc Quan was a brazen attempt to suppress his works that were critical of Hanoi,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN. “PEN has followed Quan’s case through the years and noticed a pattern of legal harassment by the government against him and other writers and journalists in Vietnam. With at least 16 journalists remaining in jail there, PEN American Center calls on the government of Vietnam to cease their harsh crackdown on individuals who simply exercise their human right to free expression.”
Quan told Article 19 the day after his release that the eighteen months of his imprisonment were very difficult: ‘’The conditions were harsh. I was in a prison cell of 60 square meters with about 50 other persons. Among them were killers, robbers, people with severe diseases.’’
He also said that the process against him is ‘’a miscarriage of justice’’, stating that his sentence is ‘’based on false accusations of tax evasion.’’ He continued: ‘’The fine of USD 59,000 is still outstanding. I do not want to pay, as I am innocent. The big question for me is what will happen if I do not pay. We don’t have enough money to pay anyway. I was afraid to be arrested again as soon as I was released. But they let me go. I am at home now. There were many supporters waiting for me at the airport, even people I never met before. Many people come to visit me at my home now.’’
When asked whether he would continue blogging about human rights issues, he answered: ‘’Of course! I will continue with doing what I believe is good for the Nation. I will be working for a better Vietnam. Progress for our Nation is my goal. Yes, I am afraid that I will be arrested again. I try to overcome the fear. I will go ahead, because I believe it is good for the people of Vietnam. I will not go abroad, I prefer to stay in Vietnam. It is worth it, even if I devote my life.’’
A coalition of NGOs including EFF, Amnesty International, PEN and Frontline Defenders urges the Vietnamese government to respect and protect Quan’s rights in the wake of his release as he resumes his legitimate human rights activities. Specifically, they call on the government to refrain from any further persecution or harassment and/or unlawful arrest, reinstate his license to work as a lawyer and undo his disbarment, and grant him reparations for the arbitrary detention he has suffered.