Global lawyers' group brands Vietnam arrest 'arbitrary'

A global association of lawyers says Vietnam’s “arbitrary” arrest of a human rights lawyer contravenes international legal standards and the country’s own Constitution.

The International Bar Association’s (IBA’s) Human Rights Institute made the comments in a letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, dated Wednesday and received by Agence France-Presse late on Thursday.

It expressed concern that the arrest of Le Cong Dinh (40) “is directly linked to his work as a lawyer who has defended pro-democracy activists” and who was involved in a complaint over controversial bauxite mining.

“Furthermore, we are concerned that the arrest could be linked to the fact that Mr Le Cong Dinh has expressed critical views on the Vietnamese government,” said the letter signed by the rights institute’s co-chairmen, South African Justice Richard Goldstone and Martin Solc of the Czech Republic.

The rights institute is a division of the London-based IBA which represents 30 000 lawyers around the world.

The IBA letter noted that Vietnam’s Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Vietnam is a signatory to the Covenant, which also provides protection from arbitrary arrest, the IBA said.

“Therefore, we are concerned that this arrest is in contravention of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as well as international legal standards,” the letter said.

State media said Dinh was arrested last Saturday under Article 88 of the penal code, which bans “propaganda” against the state.

The government alleges that over the past four years Dinh “drafted tens of documents published on overseas radio, newspapers and websites” with hostile content and calling for the replacement of the communist regime.

The government’s website showed a handwritten statement which it alleged was Dinh’s admission that he violated Article 88. State television on Thursday night also showed him allegedly reading a confession.

The “orchestrated press campaign” against Dinh signals the seriousness with which the regime views the case, said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam specialist with the Australian Defence Force Academy.

He added there must have been high-level approval for the arrest.

“They’ve tried to treat him with a higher profile,” Thayer said.

But exactly why is unclear.

“There’s always a random factor” in why people are arrested, Thayer said.
But he noted Dinh’s case coincides with heightened tensions with China, and said the lawyer had in the past been active on the issues of corruption and the bauxite mining.

Government plans for mining in the country’s Central Highlands have sparked widespread opposition among scientists, intellectuals and former soldiers.

The government said Dinh confessed to participation in a training course in non-violent struggle held in Thailand by the US-based Viet Tan. Also known as the Vietnam Reform Party, the group says it wants peaceful democratic change but Vietnam calls it a “terrorist group”.

Thayer said the thought of an organised campaign of civil disobedience would be disturbing to Vietnam’s security authorities.

Global human rights watchdogs, press freedom groups, and the United States government have also expressed concern over the lawyer’s case.

Responding to criticism of Dinh’s arrest, Vietnam said it guarantees freedom of speech and opinion.—AFP

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