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“I am the victim of a political conspiracy” – Le Quoc Quan

Le Quoc Quan speaks to court during his appeal (Pic. courtesy CPJ)


Hanoi‘s Peoples’ Court of Appeals rejected Monday the appeal of blogger and dissident Le Quoc Quan, 41, against a 30-month jail sentence imposed in October. The sentence for tax evasion also includes a hefty fine of 1.2 billion dong (US$57,000).

Quan who has been on hunger strike protesting prison conditions for the past 17 days briefly fainted during the proceedings, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF). However Quan’s Ha Hui Son lawyer told Voice of America that he had become very tired but did not faint.
The appeals court said after a half-day session that no new evidence had been presented to overturn the lower court’s decision. “The defendant did not show regret and took a disrespectful attitude towards the court,” said court president Nguyen Van Son, confirming the jail term and a fine of around US$ 57000,” said Agence France Presse (AFP).
AFP quoted Quan saying “I am the victim of a political conspiracy. I object to this trial.”
Although he was tried for tax evasion there is widespread conviction that Quan has been imprisoned as punishment for his outspoken blog focusing on official corruption and human rights abuses including religious freedom.
“Today’s appeal court ruling against blogger Le Quoc Quan underscores the severe constraints on judicial independence in Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “It is clear that Quan was imprisoned for his expression of dissenting opinions, not a faulty tax disclosure. We call on Vietnamese authorities to release all imprisoned journalists immediately and unconditionally.”
While Hanoi’s Court of Appeals upholding the 30-month sentence is cause for outrage, of equal concern are prison conditions under which Quan is held as well as his health. On February 2, Quan, who is a devout Catholic, began a hunger strike protesting that he was not given access to legal documents, a copy of the Bible and a Catholic priest. 
 
“We also sound the alarm about Quan’s state of health. He has been on hunger strike for the past 17 days in protest against the treatment he is receiving, and he briefly lost consciousness during today’s hearing. So we call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” said Benjamin Ismail head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
RSF has also drawn attention to the lack of process in the way the appeal was conducted. The organisation said in a statement, “We condemn the way the hearing was conducted. Hundreds of people who had come to support Quan were kept away from the courthouse and only his mother and wife were allowed to attend.”
RSF went on to say that journalists watching proceedings on CCTV in another room could not see Quan’s reaction to the judge’s ruling as the feed was cut off immediately after the order.
Quan was arrested on December 27, 2012 after the BBC published his article criticising a constitutional provision that accorded the Communist Party of Vietnam a preeminent position in the country. Prior to that Quan was arrested in March 2007 when he returned to China after completing a stint as Reagan Fascell Fellow at Washington DC’s National Endowment for Democracy. He was released without charges after being detained for 100 days. He was arrested again in 2011 and released without charges. In August 2012 he was severely injured in an assault.  
Following the failure of the appeal RSF promised, “In the coming days, we will do everything possible to ensure that this blogger’s voice can be heard more easily. We are going to start translating and circulating his articles so that more people can read his criticism of Vietnam’s human rights violations – criticism that the authorities did not want to hear.”

Vietnam Blogger Quan Jailed For 30 Months

Public protests against jailing of Le Quoc Quan (Pic BBC/AFP)


Vietnam’s dissident and blogger Le Quoc Quan, 41, whose most recent brush with the law came when he criticised the preeminent position enjoyed by the Communist Party under the country’s constitution, was jailed for 30 months and imposed an a fine of US$59,000, the BBC reported today. He has vehemently protests his innocence.

Quan who was arrested in December in Hanoi, was not charged with political crimes, but with tax evasion. “Although charged with tax evasion, it was clear that the real reason for his arrest was his blogging and his calls for political pluralism, religious freedom and civil rights,” said the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF).
“This clearly politically-motivated sentence is designed to gag and punish a dissident and is part of a strategy orchestrated by the Communist Party to persecute all independent news and information providers in Vietnam,” continues the RSF statement.
RSF also said that Nguyen Van Hai, another blogger, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment on tax evasion charges, but an additional 12 year sentence was imposed on the eve of his release, this time for anti-government propaganda.
BBC reported following his sentence Quan had said, “I have long been denouncing and fighting against corruption, bureaucracy and the stagnation that is doing harm to this country… I’m the victim of political acts,” before the live feed was cut off.
Meanwhile, RSF that has documented press freedom issues in Vietnam – “Vietnam: Programmed death of Freedom of Information” – and spearheaded a petition campaign demanding the release of 35 bloggers and netizens jailed in the country, tried to meet Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during his visit to Paris in September, but was rebuffed.
“During the ongoing ‘France-Vietnam Year’ celebrations, dedicated above all to strengthening business ties, we think it is important to know about the deplorable state of freedom of information in Vietnam, where the authorities deal ruthlessly with anyone who calls for multiparty democracy, investigates Communist Party corruption or speaks out on environmental issues,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general, RSF.
 “Strengthening business ties” was also attributed to US President Barack Obama soft pedalling issues of human rights issues, including Quan, when meeting his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang at the Oval Office on July 26. Commentators said the US’s interest in building trade ties with Southeast Asian countries – Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could be one reason, while the others suggest military-strategic priorities to counter China’s emerging great power status in the region.
Prior to the meeting, human rights and media freedom watchdogs in a letter to Obama said, “Given the great importance of international attention to the effort to secure Mr Quan’s freedom, and to enable him to return to his indispensable human rights work, we hope you will seize the opportunity of President Sang’s upcoming visit to request the immediate release of Mr Quan.”
Before his detention from December last year Quan was arrested in March 2007 after completing a stint as Reagan Fascell Fellow at Washington DC’s National Endowment for Democracy. He was released without charges after being detained for 100 days. He was arrested again in 2011 and released without charges. In August 2012 he was severely injured in an assault. (Please see here)
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Vietnam that had nine journalists imprisoned in 2012, one of the worst records in any part of the world. According to the RSF Press Freedom Index, Vietnam ranks 172nd of 179 countries in 20012

Obama Goes Gently on Human Rights With Sang



According to the New York Times, US President Barrack Obama meeting his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang at the Oval Office on July 26 had “referred gently to the (human rights) abuses, saying: ‘All of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain.'”

It is the gentle, inoffensive remarks about human rights abuses in other parts of the world, whether in China, Russia, Turkey, and yesterday in Vietnam, which make human rights activists and most decent people bristle. Given US’s foreign policy initiatives in Asia such as its ‘pivot’ and deep suspicion of China’s expanding tentacles in the region, that verbal non-aggression is the best form of engaging Vietnam is perhaps what Obama’s foreign policy advisors told him.
Another reason for Obama going gently on human rights is because the US is building TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, with countries in the Southeast Asian region which would benefit immensely by the cheap labour in Vietnam.  
This was reflected in a report by Bloomberg (July 25): “The Obama administration, Bower said is seeking to balance human-rights concerns against signs of improvement and Vietnam’s role in the region.” “Ernest Bower, president of Fairfax, Virginia-based Bower Group Asia, which advises businesses on operating in Southeast Asia, said while there are legitimate concerns about human rights, U.S. labour unions also are, ‘threatened by the garment and textile industries’ in Vietnam. Bower said in the long run, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal being negotiated is more likely to boost total U.S. manufacturing,” reported Bloomberg.
Before the Obama-Sang meeting, number of rights organisations highlighted the attention of the US president to various shortcomings in Vietnam’s human rights regime. Of special concern to this blog is freedom of expression. Nineteen human rights monitors initialled a letter to Obama drawing attention to the detention of blogger and lawyer Le Quoc Quan. The letter said, “Given the great importance of international attention to the effort to secure Mr Quan’s freedom, and to enable him to return to his indispensable human rights work, we hope you will seize the opportunity of President Sang’s upcoming visit to request the immediate release of Mr Quan.” (The July 9 post on this blog details the trial of Le Quoc Quan)
Reporters without Borders (RSF) also circulated a public petition asking for the release of 35 bloggers are detained by the Vietnamese government including Le Quoc Quan.
“After the recent wave of arrests instigated by the Vietnamese Communist Party, we decided that our targeted support activities should be reinforced by a global support initiative, so that the fate of all these bloggers is not forgotten,” RSF said.
“We call for their immediate and unconditional release, the lifting of censorship and the repeal of the repressive laws that are used against bloggers and netizens, especially articles 88 and 79 of the criminal code.”
 Human Rights Watch’s statement prior to the meeting was stronger, “[t]he Obama administration should also be asking itself a more fundamental question: Should the United States continue to engage in business as usual with a government that criminalizes the act of calling for democracy, and shows no inclination toward reform?” it asked.
“It is clear that U.S. policy needs to change — the question is how. The United States needs to start linking its economic and other relations with Vietnam to specific human rights reforms. And the message on this should be clear and public,” said HRW.
   
Links:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/world/asia/obama-and-vietnams-leader-pledge-deeper-ties.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-25/obama-meets-vietnam-leader-as-human-rights-weigh-on-trade.html
http://en.rsf.org/vietnam-call-for-international-support-for-24-07-2013,44968.html
http://en.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/le_quoc_quan_joint_letter_to_president_obama_2_.pdf
https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/25/why-obama-meeting-president-vietnam