The prosecution of a prominent Vietnamese blogger and lawyer is the “latest incident in a years-long campaign of political intimidation, harassment, and detention,” says the head of a leading democracy assistance group.
The December 27 arrest of blogger and lawyer Le Quoc Quan (second from right) on charges of tax evasion has raised “very serious concerns” in the US government, Congress, and the non-governmental sector, wrote Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, in a letter to Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
“In the absence of a prompt and fair trial on this charge, it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that this is just the latest incident in a years-long campaign of political intimidation, harassment, and detention imposed upon Quan and his family,” wrote NED President Carl Gershman in the letter sent Jan. 4, 2013, to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
“The facts speak for themselves: two months ago Quan’s brother, Le Dinh Quan, was arrested for tax evasion; his cousin, Nguyen Than Oanh, was arrested just last month. In March 2007, Quan himself was held for nearly four months, and he was detained again in April 2011.”
Expressing concern about Quan’s detention and the authorities’ harassment of his family, Gershman questioned the integrity of Vietnam’s judicial process.
“We are concerned about the security and whether the trial is fair or not. The crime attributed to him appears to be the way of conviction when the Vietnamese authorities want to send someone to jail; we have not seen any guilty actions of Quan,” he told the RFA Vietnamese Service.
Quan’s detention is “just the latest in a rash of dissident arrests,” writes Joel Brinkley, a Stanford University professor of journalism, and Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times:
“Last fall the government sentenced three bloggers to between four and 12 years in prison for spreading what prosecutors called ‘anti-government propaganda,’” he notes. “That’s a relatively new phenomenon here.”
While South-East Asia has largely escaped the pro-democracy ferment that has emerged in the Arab world, Vietnam “may be setting a path for other Asian states,” Brinkley suggests:
In China, Cambodia and several other regional states, people stand up and stage loud, angry protests about land seizures, local-government corruption, illegal logging, pollution and other abuses that directly affect their lives. But nowhere in Asia recently have we seen large protests challenging the governments’ legitimacy……Regional experts offer a broad range of explanations for this anomaly — cultural, religious, economic … there doesn’t seem to be a single, consensus view.
The Obama administration was and would remain invested in the case, Gershman suggested.
“I know that the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi has expressed his deep concern with the Vietnamese government and has called on the diplomatic missions of other countries to voice their concern,” he said, expressing the belief that Sen. John Kerry, widely expected to be appointed U.S. Secretary of State, will monitor the case.
“The Secretary is always concerned about Vietnam and would like to have good relations with Vietnam, as we often desire.,” Gershman told RFA. “However, this case will certainly cause a lot of difficulties.”
“During his fellowship at NED in 2006, Quân pursued independent research on civil society,” Gershman wrote to Vietnam’s Premier He impressed all who met him with his integrity, passion for assisting the poor, and commitment to assisting Vietnam’s growth and development. Throughout his fellowship, Quân was an outstanding representative of Vietnam and its people, winning many friends and bringing great credit to his country.”
The US is now “one of Vietnam’s new best friends — mostly as a counterweight to its historical and current-day enemy, China,” notes Brinkley.
Rights activists will hope and expect that means Washington can more effectively prevail upon Hanoi to stop the persecution of pro-democracy advocates and other dissenting voices.