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Vietnam: Prominent Rights Lawyer Sentenced to Seven Years’ Imprisonment

(Apr. 13, 2011) Lawyer-activist Cu Huy Ha Vu was convicted by the people's court of Hanoi on April 1, 2011, in a one-day trial, of spreading propaganda against and defaming the state in violation of article 88 of the country's Penal Code. The sentence is seven years' imprisonment plus three years of house arrest. The 53-year-old lawyer had called for an end to Vietnamese Communist Party leadership and the country's one-party system. During the brief proceedings, the judge had one of Cu Huy Ha Vu's defense attorneys ejected from the courtroom; after the other three defense lawyers walked out in protest, Vu had to defend himself. (Sara Paulsworth, Vietnam Rights Lawyer Jailed After Calling for Government Reform, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Apr. 4, 2011); Vietnamese Rights Lawyer Jailed over Call for Democracy, THE GUARDIAN (Apr. 4, 2011); Vietnam: Release Prominent Legal Activist, Human Rights Watch website (Apr. 2, 2011).)

The son of Cu Huy Can, the well-respected poet and a leader under the Ho Chi Minh regime, Cu Huy Ha Vu was imprisoned in November 2010, as a result of interviews he gave to foreign journalists in which he advocated various democratic reforms in Vietnam and the abolition of one-party rule. He had also sued Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in 2009 on grounds of contravening four laws in connection with a plan to develop a bauxite mine with China in Vietnam's Central Highlands; subsequently, he sued Nguyen again to challenge the legality of a decree that bans class-action petitions. (Paulsworth, supra; Vietnamese Premier Sued over Bauxite Projects, VIET TAN (June 12, 2009); Amnesty International (AI), Prominent Vietnamese Activist Jailed over Democracy Calls (Apr. 5, 2011), AI website.)

International human rights groups have criticized the detention of the human rights and environment defender; Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for Cu Huy Ha Vu's immediate release. HRW Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson stated: “[t]he government makes a mockery of its international human rights obligations when it persecutes activists like Dr. Vu who try to use the legal system to demand official accountability and rule of law.” (Vietnam: Release Prominent Legal Activist, supra.) According to Donna Guest, Deputy Director of Amnesty International for the Asia-Pacific region, “[t]his was a sham trial, with the presumption of innocence and right to a defence completely ignored. … Cu Huy Va Vu is a prisoner of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released.” (AI, supra.)

In marking the fifth anniversary on April 8 of Vietnam's Block 8406 democracy movement (named for the date of its inception), HRW noted that the Vietnamese authorities “have arrested and detained at least 24 dissidents, house church activists, and bloggers, many of whom have been held incommunicado for many months without access to legal counsel or to their families” since June 2010. (Vietnam: Free Political and Religious Detainees (Apr. 7, 2011), HRW website.)

The Vietnamese authorities have responded to Block 8406's online petitions calling for freedom of religion and political association and other rights by harassing the arresting the nonviolent protesters. In addition to Cu Huy Ha Vu, thus far in March and April of 2011 alone, Vietnamese courts have upheld harsh sentences for three young labor activists; sentenced a land rights activist to two years in prison; and were poised to try two detainees on April 8 for broadcasting information about the Falun Gong religion from an illicit house-based radio station, but that trial has been postponed. (Id.; Falun Gong Trial in Vietnam Postponed, Practitioners Remain in Custody, BUFFALOHAIR GAZETTE INTERNATIONAL (Apr. 8, 2011).)