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  • » 03/26/2009, 00.00

    VIETNAM

    Thai Ha defendants’ appeal opens tomorrow as their attorney is harassed again and again

    J.B. An Dang

    The authorities are conducting a campaign of persecution against the lawyer, including detention, searches, interrogation, phone threats, banning him from travelling to Hanoi where the trial is slated to take place, as well as taking away from him his licence to practice. Against all this state media is carrying out a smear campaign against him as a person and a law professional.
    Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The period leading up to the trial of eight Thai Ha parishioners, which opens tomorrow, has been marked by a crescendo of harassment and intimidation by Vietnamese authorities against Le Tran Luat, the attorney representing the defendants.

    The lawyer, who also represents others unfairly deprived of their property or victims of abuse, is in charge of the appeal made by the Thai Ha parishioners convicted of causing “damages to state property” and “disorderly conduct”. These charges were originally laid because the eight people involved had taken part in prayer vigils in favour of justice and the return of land taken from their parish and had sued state media for false reporting on their trial when they were wrongly quoted as admitting their guilt when in fact they had instead proclaimed their innocence loud and clear.

    As a result of his involvement in the case Mr Luat has had to endure months of harassment. The latest episode occurred last Tuesday in Ho Chi Minh City when he had his licence to practice taken whilst a smear campaign by the press continued to raise doubts about his honesty and professional competence.

    However, this was but one incident in a series. On 24 February for example, an article appeared in Ho Chi Minh City’s Police newspaper, Bao Công An Thanh Phô Hô Chi Minh, claiming that several of Luat’s clients had complained about him, and accused him of making money fraudulently.

    The next day police raided his Ho Chi Minh City offices, seizing computers and documents without any explanation.

    On 4 March, one of Mr Luat’s aides, Ta Phong Tan, was detained by plainclothes policemen and taken to an office where she was subjected to hours of questioning.

    On 12 March Luat himself was detained and interrogated just as he was getting ready to fly to Hanoi to appear in court on behalf of the eight Thai Ha defendants. Three days later he was detained again and forced to attend a ‘work session’.

    Throughout this period, as the press attacked him, Mr Luat, his family and aides had to endure threatening phone calls.

    Even his clients have been pressured to withdraw their cases from his care.

    Last week Hanoi court officials contacted the defendants to inform them that Mr Luat might not be able to act as their legal counsel because the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department was preventing him from travelling to Hanoi.

    “Recently we have learned that our attorney, Mr Le Tran Luat, was prevented by Ho Chi Minh City's police from flying to Hanoi to provide us with legal counsel,” the defendants said.

    “We turned to the Hanoi People's Court, the Department of Public Security, and Ho Chi Minh City's Police Department to provide him assistance, making it possible for him to arrive in Hanoi to provide us counsel in our appeal hearing on Mar 27, 2009, thus securing our right to legal representation in accordance with due process.”

    Last Monday five of the defendants went to court in person, insisting on their right to have Mr Luat as their legal counsel, which includes two other lawyers.

    Another defendant said that Mr Luat is his only defence attorney.

    The authorities’ campaign of intimidation and abuse has had one unexpected consequence for Catholics. The number of people flocking to prayer vigils held on behalf of the defendants and their lawyers in Hanoi, Vinh, Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces has increased.

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    See also

    28/11/2008 VIETNAM
    Hanoi authorities want no one to attend Thai Ha Catholics trial
    Anyone who wants to attend the proceedings must submit a written request. The trial itself will not be held in a courthouse but on the 4th floor of the People’s Committee building. On the same day that the trial starts the capital’s auxiliary bishop is consecrated.

    09/03/2009 VIETNAM
    Campaign of intimidation against lawyer representing Thai Ha parishioners continues
    Le Tran Luât, legal counsel for people who filed charges against state media for false reporting of their trial, has been detained by police. His office had been raided previously. His Bar Association has threatened to suspend his licence, and an aide has been detained and interrogated.

    15/09/2008 VIETNAM
    Hanoi authorities’ unkept promises over Thai Ha
    In a letter Redemptorist superior describes his attempts to solve by dialogue the dispute over land seized from the parish. Nine Vietnamese bishops have come to express their solidarity to the faithful who demand justice and non-discrimination for Catholics.

    18/09/2008 VIETNAM
    The dead speak to Hanoi media to discredit Thai Ha Catholics
    The anti-demonstrators campaign continues. After presenting fake priests, a TV station pays a nameless beggar to claim to be Christian. A Catholic who died years ago is interviewed whilst false statements are attributed to a judge and a priest.

    27/03/2009 VIETNAM
    Sentence against faithful of Thai Ha upheld. Catholics protest injustice
    The appeals court has reconfirmed the sentence against the 8 who were calling for the return of land belonging to the parish. This morning, 5,000 Catholics marched for 12 kilometers to the site of the trial, and were stopped by 1,000 police officers in riot gear with guard dogs. The state television channel accuses the Redemptorists, and recommends that they be arrested. In Saigon, 5,000 Catholics and non-Catholics - together with local political authorities - took part in a prayer vigil. The eight defendants are "like Jesus."



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