In advance of his upcoming trial, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is calling for urgent intervention on behalf of Le Quoc Quan, a human rights lawyer and blogger, who is arbitrarily detained in Vietnam. He is a prominent blogger who wrote about various subjects including religious freedom and democracy. His detention is part of a an on-going crackdown on dissent and free expression in Vietnam.
According to the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), on December 27th 2012, Le Quoc Quan was arrested by the police in Hanoi while dropping off his daughter off at school. The police also searched his office and home and confiscated some documents. They apparently read out a warrant, but did not give it to Le Quoc Quan’s family. The police told his family that he would be charged under Article 161 of the Criminal Code, which relates to tax evasion. If convicted, he risks a prison sentence and a heavy fine.
Le Quoc Quan began a hunger strike on December 28th and is currently detained incommunicado in Hoa Lo Prison Number 1. Neither his lawyer nor his family have been able to visit him. His arrest follows a recent order by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung that authorities renew the fight against anyone using the Internet to “defame and spread propaganda against the State”.
Le Quoc Quan has been harassed constantly since 2007 by the Vietnamese authorities because of his human rights activities. On October 3rd 2012, some 50 security police and plain-clothed militia forced entry into the head office of Vietnam Credit in Hanoi and its branch office in Saigon. The firm belongs to Le Quoc Quan and his two brothers. Police seized files and documents belonging to the firm, assaulted the staff and detained the brothers for interrogation. On October 30, they returned and arrested Le Dinh Quan, the brother of Le Quoc Quan, also for alleged “tax evasion”. Le Dinh Quan is currently detained in Hoa Lo Prison No. 3. On August 18th 2012, Le Quoc Quan was brutally beaten by two unidentified men with iron bars outside his home in Hanoi.
The Observatory, based in Geneva, strongly condemns Le Quoc Quan’s detention. The organization claims that the aim of his detention seems aimed at sanctioning his legitimate human rights activities and is contrary to national and international law. Allegations of tax evasion have previously been used against other human rights defenders.
Blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who writes under the pen name Dieu Cay, is the founding member of the Club of Free Journalists. He was initially jailed for tax evasion but then sentenced in September 2012 to 12 years in jail for spreading anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Criminal Code, along with two other bloggers and members of the Club of Free Journalists, Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai. On December 28th 2012, an appeals court upheld the 12-year prison sentence for Dieu Cay, the 10-year sentence for Ta Phong Tan and reduced to three-years that against Phan Thanh Hai.
The Observatory is asking the authorities in Vietnam to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Le Quoc Quan, Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan, as well as of all human rights defenders in Viet Nam; to release them immediately and unconditionally; and to put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against them.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9th 1998, states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”.
It also provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”