The lawyer who wrote the bar association’s proclamation, asserting Vietnamese sovereignty over disputed islands off the country’s central coast, has been arrested by Vietnam’s government.
OK so this is not strictly a Vietnamese-American issue, but I felt compelled to speak out. This is, after all, my blog. (Note also that I’m not speaking in the third person.)
On Saturday, the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security, acting under what it called an “urgency,” arrested attorney Le Cong Dinh (Lê Công Định in Vietnamese spelling). The purported reason was for “acts against the State” and “libel of the Prime Minister and other comrades in the leadership of the Party and State.”
A closer reading of the news of his arrest, however, shows that the Vietnamese government could not even adequately allege, let alone prove, any of the charges. The same, almost identical “news story” appeared throughout the country’s media, all of which are owned directly or indirectly by the state. Here‘s one sample.
Educated in Ha Noi, Saigon, and at Tulane University – Columbia, the 39-year-old Dinh is highly successful and wealthy. He owns a house in the exclusive Saigon South new development, and has his solo practice in the high-rent District 1 area. (It’s the Vietnamese equivalent of living in Westchester and working in Manhattan.)
Dinh is married to one of the prettiest and smartest women of Vietnam, beauty queen Ngọc Khánh. (That’s Dinh and his wife in the photo above.) In a country where most positions of prominence go to older men and women over 50, Dinh was elected the Vice-President of the Bar Association of Ho Chi Minh City, the umbrella organization for all lawyers in the 9-million-people metropolis.
And yet, he’s taking risks that a wealth-maximizing rational being would not take. In the restrictive and risky environment that is communist Vietnam, Dinh has dared gone against the grain, representing clients that other lawyers would not touch, and speaking out on issues that many others, lawyers or not, would not speak.
These taboo issues include the assertion of Vietnamese sovereignty over the Spratlys and Paracels, and also issues of human rights and religious freedom.
Among clients represented by Dinh are his colleagues Nguyen Van Dai and (Ms.) Le Thi Cong Nhan. Both are attorneys based in Hanoi, and they were most prominent as lawyers specializing in human rights, representing Christians, mostly Protestants, seeking the right to practice their faith. In the picture is Dai in suit in front and Cong Nhan in red behind him.
The two were arrested and charged with acts against the State, and Dinh represented them. Dai was sentenced to 5 years and Cong Nhan to 4 years for their work on behalf of Christians. Yes, we know the actual charge was something like “acts against the State” – but what other “acts” were there, other than representing Christians?
That was in May 2007. Later that year, on news that China has formally annexed the Spratlys and Paracels, thousands of young Vietnamese took to the streets of Hanoi and Saigon in protest. (See, for example, AFP report here.) Police came out in force. No arrest or confrontation was made on the day of the protest, but they were taking names, and in the ensuing days, hundreds were called in for questioning.
Among those being harassed the most, by the Vietnamese government, for asserting Vietnamese sovereignty (if you understand how this works, please do elucidate) was my friend Điếu Cày. Read more about him in previous entries here, here, here, here.
Dieu Cay was eventually arrested and charged with tax evasion. (In restrospect, it may have been a short-lived experiment in charging dissident with something other than acts against the State.) In September of last year, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Representing Dieu Cay was none other than Le Cong Dinh.
The Bar Association’s proclamation
Long before Dieu Cay was arrested, though, there was an unwritten order, enforced by brute force at every level of government, to prohibit discussion of the Spratly and Paracel islands.
And yet, at a plenary meeting of the bar association, attended by the city’s top communist officials, the association’s president Nguyễn Đăng Trừng moved, and the assembled attorneys voted to approve, a proclamation asserting Vietnamese sovereignty over the islands.
The author of the proclamation was Dinh. That’s Dinh at the meeting in the photo to the right. Ironically, one of the few sources for the text of the proclamation and for this picture is Dieu Cay’s blog, here.
Arrested for criticizing the Prime Minister
In announcing Dinh’s arrest, the Ministry of Security specifically cited the Spratlys and Paracels issue, stating that Dinh has “taken advantage of the Spratlys and Paracels issue” to act against the State.
The announcement also claims that Dinh libeled (read: dared to criticize) “the Prime Minister, a few comrades in leadership position of the Party, the government.”
Even that allegation, however, is preposterous. The cited evidence was not that Dinh “libeled” anyone, but more like Dinh was “participating in discussion” of publications by someone else, and it was those other publications that were supposedly “libeling” the high-ranking comrades.