Public security police arrested a prominent human rights lawyer in Viet Nam on Saturday for “colluding with domestic and foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese state.” Le Cong Dinh was arrested at his home in Ho Chi Minh City.
He is charged with breaching Article 88 of the national security section of the Penal Code, which outlaws “conducting propaganda” against the state, an offence punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The authorities accused him of communicating with the BBC and Radio Free Asia and of having links with overseas Vietnamese activists.
“The arrest appears to be yet another indication of Viet Nam’s determination to stifle freedom of expression, and silence anyone who criticizes the government or holds different views,” said Donna Guest from Amnesty International. “Le Cong Dinh should be immediately released and the charges against him dropped.”
At least 30 dissidents have been sentenced to long prison terms since 2006 – most of them under Article 88 – for discussing politics and human rights issues. These include prisoners of conscience and human rights lawyers Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai, whom Le Cong Dinh represented at the appeal court hearing of their case in November 2007.
He and their other lawyers courageously argued that Article 88 is unconstitutional and does not conform to international human rights treaties that Viet Nam has ratified.
Amnesty International has long called for either the repeal or amendment of Article 88 and other “national security” offences in the Penal Code.
“These offences are so vaguely worded that they criminalize peaceful political dissent,” said Donna Guest. “In May, when Viet Nam was considered under the Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council, it rejected the recommendations of other states to permit freedom of expression and reform national security laws that limit freedom of expression, amongst others.”