02/10/2014, 00.00
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Imprisoned Catholic lawyer on hunger strike. Human Rights groups pressure Hanoi

by HT
Le Quoc Quan is protesting against authority’s refusal to grant him access to legal and religious texts, including the Bible. Since December 2012, he has not been allowed visits from a priest. On His appeal begins February 18, he will defend himself. Vice - Minister of Vietnam: Hanoi respects human rights. International Community calls for release of political prisoners.

Hanoi ( AsiaNews) - The Catholic lawyer and dissident Le Quoc Quan is on hunger ahead of his appeal scheduled for February 18, and to protest prison authorities refusal to provide him with legal texts and religious books including the Bible. According to his brother Le Quoc Quyet, whom he met on 7 February in Hoa Lo Prison No. 1 in Hanoi, he has decided to refuse food until the hearing. "Quan told me that he had begun a hunger strike February 2 - confirmed his brother - after asking for some textbooks to study his defense for the appeal, he is representing himself, a Bible to read and the chance to meet a priest".  A devoted Catholic, since the beginning of his detention in December 2012 he has never been allowed to meet a priest and prison directors have recently clamped down even further by denying him writing materials.

Human rights activists have repeatedly stressed that this prison sentence is an excuse used by the Vietnamese Communist leaders to silence one of the most authoritative voices of dissent, as well as a passionate Catholic who fights for religious freedom. He has published an open letter from his cell in which he claims to nourish a "strong faith" in the future of the Vietnamese people and is grateful for the support that he has received.

Among the most important and well-known Catholic activists in Vietnam , repeatedly detained and released after short periods, Le Quoc Quan was detained again by Vietnamese government officials December 27, 2012 , with false and trumped-up charges of " tax evasion" an act strongly condemned by many pro - human rights associations around the world . The sentence of 30 months in prison and a hefty fine (56 thousand dollars) arrived on October 2, at the end of a lightning trial that lasted a mere two hours. International organizations, groups of Catholic activists and representatives of the main religions in Vietnam have come to the defense of the dissident, who had fasted and prayed for a long time ahead of the trial.

Le Quoc Quan's case, like that of Cu Huy Ha Vu, and dozens of other bloggers and activists in prison, testifies to the Communist leaders total repression of any form of internal dissent, although the government speaks of an improvement in the in terms of rights and freedoms. In recent days, senior officials from the Asian nation travelled to Geneva, Switzerland, to take part in the Universal Periodic Examination sponsored UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC) . Delegates from Hanoi claimed improvements "in the protection and promotion of human rights" as "required" by the previous report. The deputy foreign minister also added that Vietnam has "always respected" human rights, such as "freedom of thought, of the press, of information, of religion" with rights "of prisoners" and the "socio- economic" freedom of citizens.

However, in spite of the proclamations, there are many voices - including activists , humanitarian organizations and foreign governments - critical of the Communist leadership in Hanoi. "This is what they say - says a legal expert of the statements of the Vietnamese representative - but it is certainly not what they do". Hence the decision of the Working Group within the UNHRC to provide the Government of Vietnam 227 suggestions and recommendations in five different areas, for a real improvement in human rights. Among other points, the "unconditional release" of all political prisoners . The government will then provide concrete answers before the next meeting of the group, which is scheduled for next June on the occasion of the 26th Session of the Council.


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