- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A court in Vietnam has upheld the conviction of a popular human rights lawyer and dissident on tax evasion charges, drawing a swift rebuke from the Obama administration.

The Hanoi Appeal Court on Tuesday upheld the conviction of Le Quoc Quan on what a human rights group said were “trumped up charges.”

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” by the verdict. “The use of tax laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is disturbing,” she said.

“This conviction appears to be inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression and Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and commitments reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she added.

On Monday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said the court must strike down Mr. Quan’s conviction.

“People in Vietnam and around the world are scrutinizing Vietnam’s human rights record like never before, looking for the signs of improvement the government itself has promised,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “A truly independent court would overturn Le Quoc Quan’s conviction, restore his full rights to practice as a lawyer, and allow him to resume his work as one of Vietnam’s most determined human rights defenders.” 

Mr. Quan founded the Quan and Brothers law firm, which provided legal aid to factory workers and the poor.

He was arrested in 2007 after he returned to Vietnam from the U.S., where he was a visiting fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. He was arrested again in December of 2012. In October, a court in Hanoi sentenced him to 30 months’ imprisonment after finding him guilty of tax evasion. 
Mr. Quan is serving his sentence in Hanoi’s Hoa Lo prison where he has been on hunger strike since Feb. 2 to protest the conditions of his detention.

“Le Quoc Quan’s arrest was justified by trumped up charges of tax evasion, an allegation the Vietnamese authorities have used to prosecute other dissidents,” said Human Rights Watch.

President Obama invited Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang to the White House in July amid an escalating crackdown on dissidents, bloggers and religious leaders in Vietnam

Human rights advocates criticized the White House invitation to the Vietnamese leader. Mr. Sang’s visit to the U.S. was only the second of its kind by a Vietnamese head of state since the U.S. resumed diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1995.

Mr. Obama said after the meeting that he had a “very candid conversation” on human rights with Mr. Sang. The leader of the Southeast Asian nation said the two “still have differences on the issue.”

Ms. Psaki on Tuesday said the Vietnamese government must release “prisoners of conscience and allow all Vietnamese to peacefully express their political views.”

 

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