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Rights groups call for release of Christian lawyer in Vietnam

Propaganda against state charge carries possible 20-year prison term

ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh City

ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh City

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Rights groups call for release of Christian lawyer in Vietnam

Vietnamese dissident lawyer Nguyen Van Dai with police at the Hanoi People's Court in this 2007 file photo. (Photo by Frank Zeller/AFP)

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International human rights and pro-democracy groups have appealed to Vietnam to release a Christian lawyer and his colleague as pressure on the Communist-ruled government increases before its national congress.

Nguyen Van Dai, a Christian lawyer based in Hanoi, was arrested outside his home Dec. 16 as he attempted to join a meeting with European Union diplomats, who had completed an annual human rights dialogue with the Vietnamese government.

Dai's colleague, Le Thu Ha, was arrested in her office in the capital the same day.

Both were accused of conducting propaganda against the state, which can carry a prison term of three to 20 years.

"We appeal to the Vietnamese government to honor its international and domestic obligations and to release Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le immediately and unconditionally," said the statement signed Jan. 6 by 26 human rights groups based in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States and Europe.

"Mr. Nguyen is a well-known peaceful campaigner for a multiparty democracy and the protection of human rights in Vietnam. He has devoted his life to providing legal assistance to the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society," said the statement.

The statement said that Dai had suffered repeated persecution for his work, including a four-year jail term followed by four years of house arrest imposed in 2007. He was still recovering from injuries sustained in a vicious assault by masked assailants on Dec. 6.

Fellow activists believe the attack and his subsequent arrest was triggered by his work teaching students about the fundamentals of a free society and the rule of law.

Dai said in November that he accepts sufferings and persecution to provide human rights and democracy values for people, especially young people, so that they can change society.

He also offers them his own practical experiences in arguing democratic values with police and authorities.  

In their statement, the activists groups called on the international community "to act and put pressure on the Vietnamese government regarding these cases, which have a severe chilling effect on freedom of expression in Vietnam."

A democracy observer in Ho Chi Minh City said the arrests of the two human rights activists occurring a month before the Communist Party congress scheduled for Jan. 20-28 in Hanoi are security measures the government takes to silence dissidents and human rights activists.

Vice Minister of Information and Communication Truong Minh Tuan ordered security officials to search for those he said spread on the Internet bad and false information against the party and government officials.

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