Vietnam jails its "extremists"

General May 15, 2007

From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

On Friday 11 May, the Hanoi People's Court sentenced Christian religious
liberty advocate and human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai (38) to five
years imprisonment to be followed by four years of house arrest. Dai's
colleague, lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan (28), was sentenced to four years
imprisonment to be followed by three years of house arrest.

Both lawyers were arrested on 6 March and charged with propagandising
against the state of Vietnam. According to official Vietnamese media,
the court found Dai and Nhan guilty of using Dai's Thien An law office
since 2006 for the purpose of spreading libellous propaganda against the
state of Vietnam in violation of Article 88 of the Criminal Code. (Link
1, includes photos)

Ben Stocking (in Hanoi for Associated Press) reports that Dai denied he
had broken any laws, saying he had merely exercised his right to free
expression and association.

Indeed, Chapter Five, Article 69 of the Constitution of Vietnam states:
"The citizen shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the
press, the right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form
associations and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions
of the law." (See Link 2 for the Constitution of Vietnam.)

As this trial demonstrates however, the law, specifically Article 88 of
the Criminal Code which makes it illegal to 'conduct propaganda against
the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam', can be wielded to severely restrict
these Constitutional rights, rendering them illusory.

According to Stocking, when the trial was over Western diplomats decried
the outcome.

As Stocking notes: "Before their March 6 arrests, Dai and Nhan provided
human rights training to Vietnamese students. Dai also represented
ethnic minorities who were members of Protestant faiths." (Link 3)

DEMONISATION

The Vietnamese regime has done a thorough job of demonising religious
liberty advocate and human rights lawyer Nguyen van Dai. The day before
Lawyer Dai's trial, a press release was issued from "Le Quoc Minh,
deputy chief of Vietnam News Agency's News for Foreign Service
Department", that condemned Dai as an extremist, a radical, and an
associate of terrorists, whose "slanderous and libellous information"
[that Vietnam is violating its religious liberty obligations] threatened
Vietnam's socio-economic progress and development. Further to that, the
day after the trial the authorities published condemnations of Dai
procured from local Vietnamese Christian leaders.

PRE-TRIAL OFFICIAL CONDEMNATION

A 10 May press release from the deputy chief of Vietnam News Agency's
News for Foreign Service Department, Le Quoc Minh, opens with the words:
"Foreign investors have been flocking to Viet Nam en masse armed with
big ideas on how to tap into Southeast Asia's fastest growing economy."
He comments that it is Vietnam's "social and political stability that
allows investments to mature in a low risk environment", and adds that
it is Vietnam's domestic unity has enabled it to overcome its great
challenges. (Link 4)

Upon this foundation Le Quoc Minh then decries: "Viet Nam, although by
and large a peaceful country, has fallen victim to a group of radicals
that seem driven to fracture the unity we commonly share and revive
painful divisions long since healed. [This doubtless refers to Vietnam
and US relations.]

"This group has allegedly conspired with criminals and even terrorist
organisations responsible for kidnappings, bombings and assassinations
to undo much of the progress the country has made in building a strong,
secure and democratic society.

"Apart from notorious opponents of the government, there recently
emerged Nguyen Van Dai, Tran Khai Thanh Thuy and Le Thi Cong Nhan, all
of whom have allegedly shown themselves to be the loudest of extreme
elements in the nation."

>From here Le Quoc Minh launches into a lengthy attack on the integrity
and work of lawyer Nguyen van Dai. He says, "[Dai is] alleged to have
abused the right to freedom of speech by posting information on the
internet and giving interviews to overseas Vietnamese-owned radio
stations where he painted a biased and distorted picture of the country
and its internal affairs."

The press release details Dai's advocacy work and adds: "Authorities
said Dai also had an ongoing relationship with an outlawed terrorist
group, the Viet Nam Reform Party [see link 5]. They said he was found to
be active in establishing training courses using his Thien An Law Office
in Ha Noi as a base."

After commenting that Dai is alleged to have receive funds from
"reactionary organisations in the US", the press release goes on to
allege that "the money, in large part, was used to fund a scam where the
'Viet Nam Committee for Human Rights' group offered law school students
scholarships to study in Bangkok, Thailand. There, they attended
'education' workshops run by anti-Government elements operating inside
the country."

Le Quoc Minh also claims: "Dai had instructed staff from his Thien An
law office to travel to northwestern, Central Highlands and southern
provinces to contact Protestant clergymen and their followers who have
shown hatred towards the Government, according to the source.

"Together they compiled 'evidence of Viet Nam's suppression of the
Protestant religion' and gave it to the US-based Committee for Religious
Freedom in Viet Nam and to the US Embassy in Viet Nam. Officials said
their findings were doctored, distorted or fabricated to further the
aims of Dai and his organisation."

The pre-trial press release, issued specifically with regards to the 11
May trial of Dai and his colleagues Thuy and Nhan, ends with words of
assurance, words that demonstrate the trial was actually over before it
began: ". . .the law will not allow a tiny minority to harm the
interests of what the vast majority believe in as a nation and as a
people." (Link 4)

POST-TRIAL CHURCH CONDEMNATION

On the day after the trial, the government-run Vietnam News Agency was
doubtless delighted to report that various Christian leaders were
prepared to condemn religious liberty advocate and human rights lawyer
Nguyen van Dai.

"Priest Thien Cam from the Mai Khoi parish in Ho Chi Minh City called
the acts by Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan 'absurd acts of fake
intellectuals.' He affirmed that it is not difficult for local people to
recognise the true nature of the case, adding that persons like Dai and
Nhan will never have a place in the community because their acts run
counter to the community's interest. This will be an even 'heavier
sentence' imposed on them, he said.

"Priest Tran Tha, head of the Board for Catholic Solidarity in Di Linh
district, Central Highlands Lam Dong province, stressed that all
citizens must abide by the law. 'Therefore, it is unacceptable to
violate the law and regulations of the State of the Socialist Republic
of Vietnam inciting rebellion and violent change,' he said.

"According to Father Tha, all parishioners in the Di Linh parish closely
followed the trial and supported the strict punishment for law violation.

"A large number of people in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai
also strongly protested against the wrong action of Nguyen Van Dai and
Le Thi Cong Nhan.

"K'Leng, a Protestant follower in Yun commune in Mang Yang district,
said anybody who violates the law must be tried strictly regardless of
his or her religion or race. (VNA)" (Link 6)

**************************

Of course it is possible that the clergymen quoted above were approached
for their opinion, and that had they failed to condemn Dai upon request
they would have been detained and interrogated, stripped of
'privileges', put under surveillance and persecuted.

It must also be noted though, that hostile totalitarian regimes usually
have compliant clergy at their disposal, clergy they can rely on to
deliver the required pro-government propaganda in exchange for
privileges such as non-interference, protection and promotion.

Elizabeth Kendal
[email protected]

Links

1) Dai and Nhan jailed for anti-State activities. 12 May 2007
http://www.nhandan.com.vn/english/news/120507/domestic_d.htm
(includes a photo of Nguyen van Dai in the dock)
ALSO: Vietnam dissident lawyers jailed. BBC 11 May 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6645463.stm
(includes picture on Nhan in court, along with a call for reform from
former PM Vo Van Kiet.)

2) The Constitution of Vietnam
http://home.vnn.vn/english/government/constitution/

3)Vietnamese Court Sentences Dissidents
11 May 2007. By BEN STOCKING, Associated Press Writer
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6624953,00.html

4) 'Democracy movement' creates unrest. 10 May 2007
Le Quoc Minh, deputy chief of Vietnam News Agency's News for Foreign
Service Department
http://vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn/showarticle.php?num=02COM100507

5) Background Briefing: Viet Tan. 5 May 2007
http://johnib.wordpress.com/2007/05/05/background-briefing-viet-tan/
By Professor Carlyle A. Thayer
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
University College, The University of New South Wales
at the Australian Defence Force Academy,
Canberra, ACT 2600 Australia

(Thayer writes that while the Viet Tan (Viet Nam Reform Party) was
involved in armed actions through the 1980s, this era ended with the
death of its leader Hoang Co Minh in 1987. The group subsequently
renounced violence and now works through peaceful and political means
with the goal of helping the Vietnamese people break free from Communist
dictatorship, so that democracy and liberty might come to Vietnam.)

OFFICIAL WEB SITE
Viet Nam Reform Party
http://www.viettan.org
(link in English in top right-hand corner)

6) Public opinions support jail sentences on Dai and Nhan. 12 May 2007
http://www.nhandan.com.vn/english/news/120507/domestic_pu.htm

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