A coalition of 14 human rights NGOs and networks strongly condemns the decision of the Appeal Court to uphold the 30-month prison sentence for Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan. Mr. Quan has been detained since December 2012 and is currently on hunger strike
The coalition believes Le Quoc Quan’s detention is politically motivated and a reaction to his blog, where he frequently exposes human rights violations by the Vietnamese government. Mr. Quan is a victim of a coordinated government crackdown on bloggers, citizen journalists and pro-democracy activists.
The coalition includes English PEN, our colleagues from PEN American Center and PEN International, ARTICLE 19, Reporters Without Borders, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Freedom House, Avocats-sans-Frontières, Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada, the National Endowment for Democracy, Media Defence Southeast Asia, Front Line Defenders, and the World Movement for Democracy.
‘The Vietnamese authorities arrested and convicted Mr. Quan for exposing human rights abuses, the wrong-doing that the country’s state-controlled media ignore,’ states Robert Herman, head of regional programs for Freedom House.
On 18 February, an appeal court upheld the 2 October 2013 conviction of Mr. Quan for trumped up charges of tax evasion and his sentence of 30 months in prison and a fine of 59,000 USD. This Appeal decision comes just months after Vietnam joined the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in November 2013.
‘Vietnam’s continued persecution of its human rights defenders raises troubling questions about its membership on the UN HRC,’ says Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. ‘Being a member of the international human rights community imposes obligations to respect and protect human rights. Vietnam will be judged on how it treats its people. Mr. Quan’s case clearly demonstrates the Vietnamese authorities are currently failing to ensure protection for fundamental rights, including freedom of expression.’
The Appeal judgment also follows the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s (UN WGAD) condemnation of Mr. Quan’s detention.
‘Viet Nam’s decision to uphold the unjust conviction of Mr Quan is a clear violation of Viet Nam’s obligations under international law,’ says Nani Jansen, Senior legal Counsel of Media Legal Defence Initiative. ‘By disregarding the clear findings of the UN WGAD that his imprisonment was in violation of his right to free expression and right to a fair trial, and turning a deaf ear to their call for his immediate release, Viet Nam has failed to live up to its international obligation to ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’.
In an Opinion published on 29 November 2013, the WGAD rejected the legitimacy of the conviction and the legality of the detention. The Opinion concluded that Viet Nam had failed to observe fair trial standards and that the breaches were of such gravity as to render Mr. Quan’s detention arbitrary and contrary to law.
‘Governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation or improper interference. The Government of Viet Nam is doing the exact opposite. Le Quoc Quan must be released from prison immediately,’ says Adrie van de Streek, Director of Lawyers for Lawyers.
All four of Mr. Quan’s lawyers, his wife and mother were present during the four-hour trial on Monday 18 February, as hundreds of demonstrators stood outside the court, wearing t-shirts to show support for the jailed activist. A delegation of representatives from the European Union, the United States and Canada were also present to observe the trial, together with a small group of journalists. It has been reported that many of those observing the trial were kept in a separate room in poor conditions.
‘The ongoing support Le Quoc Quan has received from his family, friends and the international community remains hugely important. In a recent letter to supporters, Quan wrote that he was “deeply moved to know that many of you still care, follow and support my case”. However, the fact that the Vietnamese government are prepared to keep Quan imprisoned in the face of such strong criticism from both the international community and the UNWGAD remains a great cause of concern for us all’ says Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager of English PEN.
Viet Nam’s human rights record was reviewed at the United Nations on 5 February 2014, during the Universal Periodic Review. Many states, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Australia called for Viet Nam to cease its crackdown on free speech on- and offline. However, less than a week later, eight bloggers and activists were beaten by plainclothes police officers and arrested in the southern province of Dong Thap.
‘Le Quoc Quan is nothing short of a Vietnamese patriot, a man most concerned about improving the lives of his fellow citizens, a person who cares deeply for his country and who is optimistic about its future. We salute his courage and urge the Government of Viet Nam to respect his fundamental right to freedom of expression and association,’ says Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy.
The coalition calls for the Vietnamese government to release Le Quoc Quan, as well as the many human rights defenders, bloggers and activists currently detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Please send renewed appeals:
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of blogger and human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan whose 30-month sentence and heavy fine for alleged tax evasion was upheld on appeal on 18 February;
- Stating that you believe the charges to be politically motivated and intended to prevent him continuing his legitimate human rights activities and from exercising his right to freedom of expression;
- Seeking assurances that, while he remains imprisoned, Le Quoc Quan receives adequate medical treatment.
His Excellency Truong Tan Sang
President of the Socialist Republic of
Hung Vuong street
Ba Dinh district
Mr Nguyen Tan Dung
1 Hoang Hoa Tham street
Ba Dinh district
Mr Phan Binh Minh
Minister of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam steet
Ba Dinh district
Fax: +844 3823 1872
You may also wish to ask the diplomatic representative for Viet Nam in the UK to forward your appeals.
Embassy of Vietnam
12-14 Victoria Road
It would also be advantageous to ask the UK’s diplomatic representatives in Viet Nam to intervene in the case.
His Excellency Dr Antony Stokes
British Embassy Hanoi
31 Hai Ba Trung
Fax (+84) (4)3936 0561