Thursday, February 20, 2014

“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.”

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