06/28/2013, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Catholic lawyer in jail on false charges prays and fasts before his trial

Hunger strike is increasingly becoming a tool of civic protest against prison conditions and illegal arrests. Le Quoc Quan goes to court on 9 July on 'tax evasion' charges. For activists, this is a ploy the authorities used to imprison him. Barred from his profession, he has continued the fight for rights on his blog.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/EDA) - For Vietnam's political prisoners and its prisoners of conscience, hunger strike has become the most powerful tool in the fight against abuse in prison and unjust sentences imposed by Communist authorities.

After Cu Huy Ha Vu, an activist who has not touched food for 27 days, and Paul Tran Minh Nhât, a Catholic who stopped eating to protest prison conditions, another Catholic, a lawyer by profession, has decided not to eat for the next week. Le Quoc Quan's reasons for his extreme protest are different. His goal is to fast, pray and meditate in order to prepare himself for his trial on 9 July.

Le Quoc Quan, 42, is a Catholic lawyer and a political prisoner. He has decided to fast and pray in the next few days to prepare himself, body and mind, to meet tax evasion charges levied against him under Article 161 of Vietnam's Penal Code.

After he was arrested taking his children to school in Hanoi, Le Quoc was sent to Hoa Lo Prison No. 1.  For a long time, neither his lawyer nor his family were able to see him.

The charge against him is a ploy frequently used by the Communist Party to imprison or silence its detractors, activists said in recent weeks. If convicted, he could get up to "three years in prison, plus a hefty fine."

Le Quoc Quan has not been able to practice as a lawyer for some time, and has been expelled from the country's bar association. Since then, he has devoted all his time to defending human rights by action and on his blog.

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

In 2007, he was jailed for "Carrying out activities aimed at [. . .] subverting the government of the people" (Article 79 of the Criminal Code). Eventually, he was released following protests from the United States.

Quan's arrest is part of a campaign undertaken by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last September to stop online blogs and other sites from criticising and exposing widespread corruption among party members and government officials who got rich during the recent financial crisis.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 40 bloggers, dissidents and activists were convicted last year in Vietnam. They include at least 18 accused of "Conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam» in violation of Article 88 of the Criminal Code, an infamous legal tool used by the authorities to suppress activism and dissent.

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