01/05/2013, 00.00
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Vietnam, arrested Catholic activist on hunger strike

Le Quoc Quan, well known lawyer and blogger has refused food for four days. His state of health unknown. Family and lawyers not allowed to see him. He is accused of tax evasion, the lastest government "ploy” to silence the voices of dissent in the country.

Hanoi (AsiaNews / RFA) - Le Quoc Quan (see photo), known Catholic lawyer, blogger and human rights activist is on a hunger strike for four days. The news was reported by a Redemptorist priest from Ho Chi Min City. In jail since Dec. 27, Quan began fasting three days after his arrest, but the news was released only yesterday evening. At the moment, his state of health is unknown: according to Fr. Dinh Huu Thoai, Vietnamese priest who works with Radio Free Asia (RFA), the activist refuses all food and water, including that sent to him by relatives. For Human Rights Watch, the arrest for tax evasion Quan is a clear "political vendetta" perpetrated by the Vietnamese authorities.

Quan is located at Hoa Lo Prison No.1, and neither his lawyer nor his family can visit him. The police arrested him in Hanoi, while he was bringing his children to school. The charge against him is tax evasion (Article 161 of the Vietnamese Penal Code): "Another ploy - explain some activists - often used by the Communist Party to imprison and silence detractors." If convicted, the lawyer risks three years in prison and a heavy fine.

Le Quoc Quan, 41, can no longer practice as a lawyer because he was expelled from the order, and devotes himself to defending human rights through his actions and his blog. A Catholic in a Buddhist-majority country, he had already been in prison in 2007 for taking part in "activities aimed at subverting the government of the people" ("subversion", Art. 79 of the Criminal Code). Following protests from the United States, he was released.

For the same crime of subversion, in late December, 14 Catholics were arrested: they risk the death penalty.

Quan's arrest is part of a campaign launched last September by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to stop bloggers and persons who disseminate news and criticism of the corruption of the members of the party and the government, and their accumulation of wealth during the financial crisis. According to HRW, in Vietnam in 2012 at least 40 bloggers, dissidents and activists were convicted. Among them, at least 18 have been accused of "conducting propaganda against the state", in breach of Article 88 of the code of penal law.


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