Catholic dissident on trial for tax evasion to defend himself
Facing false charges, Le Quoc Quan will not seek legal counsel. The authorities have hampered the defence and denied access to prosecution documents. He claims his innocence. For activists, the government is using specious accusations to clamp down on dissidents.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A detained Catholic Vietnamese dissident has vowed not to hire a lawyer and instead defend himself against tax evasion charges. After weeks of fasting and praying, Le Quoc Quan, 42, is scheduled to appear before a court tomorrow.

In a statement from prison, he said he was "totally innocent" of the tax evasion charges, which rights groups say are frequently used by the authorities to jail and silence government critics.

In fact, Quan has accused the Communist government of staging a campaign to victimise "critical" voices.

Behind bars since December 2012 pending his trial, Quan could get three years in prison and a heavy fine if convicted.

Addressing his note to "compatriots inside and outside Vietnam," Quan said, "I would like to affirm that I am totally innocent." In fact, "I love my country by doing concrete things as paying taxes," he said. "I'm just a victim of political decisions and actions," he said.

According to the allegations, the Catholic lawyer failed to pay the equivalent US$ 21,000 in taxes.

Quan's brother, Le Dinh Quan, was also arrested in October last year for tax evasion and is currently detained in Hoa Lo Prison No. 3.

Sources close to the family said that the authorities have hampered the defence, preventing the accused from consulting the evidence collected by of the prosecution. This got worse when the case was moved to the People's Court in Hanoi, last April.

Meanwhile, his family submitted several petitions, complaints and requests on Quan's behalf, but none of them have received an official response in writing.

As a Catholic lawyer and a political prisoner, Le Quoc Quan, 42, has decided not to eat until his trial begins in order to gather his thoughts through fasting and prayer.

He was arrested in Hanoi as he took his children to school, and is currently held in Hoa Lo Prison No.1. For a long time, his lawyer and family were not able to visit him.

Since he was expelled from the Bar association and lost his right to practice law, he has devoted all his time to defend human rights through actions and online.

A Catholic in a predominantly Buddhist country, he was repeatedly arrested and beaten by police and the authorities for his campaigns in defence of human rights and religious freedom.

In 2007, he was jailed for participating in "activities to overthrow the people's government" (Art. 79 Vietnam Criminal Code) but was later released following protests from the United States.

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