07/01/2015, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Released from prison, Vietnamese Catholic lawyer to continue human rights fight

Le Quoc Quân, a 45-year-old activist, was released from prison last Friday, after serving his term in full. He had been convicted for tax fraud on trumpeted up charges he had always denied. In the last few days before his release, he had gone on a hunger strike against mistreatment in jail. His ideals remain the same even after his imprisonment, he said.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/EDA) – Vietnam’s Catholics and international media have welcomed with joy the release last Friday of Le Quoc Quân, a human rights lawyer convicted in 2013 on tax fraud.

For human rights associations and foreign governments, the conviction of the 45-year-old Catholic activist was “politically motivated”.

In the past, he fought for democracy and human rights in the Asian country, and opposed China’s "imperialist" policy in the South China Sea.

After several arrests and short stints in jail, the Catholic lawyer and blogger was arrested by Vietnamese government officials on 27 December 2012 on baseless and false accusations of "tax fraud".

On 2 October 2013, after a trial that lasted only two hours, the court handed down a 30-month prison sentence and hefty fine (US$ 57,000).

International NGOs, Catholic activists and representatives of Vietnam’s main religions came to the dissident’s defence. The latter fasted and prayed for a long time before his first trial.

Le Quoc Quân was released from prison after serving fully his sentence. During his first days of freedom, he had several interviews with local media and international agencies involved in the defence of human rights.

He reiterated that his arrest on charges of tax evasion and his conviction were groundless and unjustified, adding that the prison "did not make me change my mind" and that his ideals "remain the same".

The Catholic lawyer and activist said that he does not plan to leave the country, that he will remain in Vietnam, his homeland, the land where his family lives.

Finally, he said that towards the end of his prison sentence he went on a hunger strike to protest mistreatment in jail, and that he would continue the fight for the right to practice law.

Le Quoc Quan’s story, like those of Cu Huy Ha Vu and dozens of other jailed bloggers and activists, are evidence of Hanoi’s iron fist policy against internal dissent.

The authorities have even targeted religious leaders, including Buddhist and Catholic clerics, as well as entire communities like the diocese of Vinh, where last year the media and government engaged in a smear campaign and targeted attacks against the local bishop and believers.

Repression also affects ordinary individuals, guilty of claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for the civil rights of citizens.

Recently, Vietnamese authorities also freed 46-year-old Le Thanh Tung, a writer linked to Bloc 8406, an outlawed movement fighting for democracy and reform in the Communist country.

He was released five months before his four-year sentence was completed. He had been convicted for "anti-government activities".

According to experts and activists, the release could be linked to the upcoming visit to the United States of Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary (and main leader) of Vietnam’s Communist Party.

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