The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) condemned the decision by the Court of Appeal of the Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi today to uphold the conviction and sentencing of lawyer and human rights defender Le Quoc Quan to 30 months imprisonment, and called on Viet Nam authorities to release him immediately.
“The decision of the Court of Appeal is regrettable but not unexpected,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “The ICJ has repeatedly criticized the lack of independence of the courts in Viet Nam. This is a political case and the government of Viet Nam has again used the courts to punish a significant critical voice.”
Today’s appellate hearing lasted for four hours. Thirty minutes after the hearing ended, the court released its decision upholding Le Quoc Quan’s conviction.
Le Quoc Quan, a lawyer who was illegitimately barred from practice for challenging government human rights violations, was convicted on 2 October 2013 of tax evasion under section 161 of the Vietnamese Penal Code. The ICJ had criticized Le Quoc Quan’s conviction, pointing out that he did not receive a fair trial.
The Court of Appeal upheld Le Quoc Quon’s sentence with time served since his arrest on 27 December 2012 to be taken into account. The Court of Appeal also upheld the earlier order made by the People’s Court of Hanoi for Le Quoc Quan’s company to pay 645 million VND (approximately USD30,000) and a fine of 1.3 billion VND (approximately USD60,000), for alleged unpaid taxes.
Le Quoc Quan has been on a hunger strike protesting his conviction since 1 February 2014. He was so weak that it was difficult for him to stand up during the hearing.
“Le Quoc Quan’s faulty trial violated right to an independent, impartial tribunal, and the appeal process also fell short of international fair trial standards, including under the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, to which Vietnam is a party,” Zarifi said.
The public was barred from entering the courtroom during today’s hearing and only Le Quoc Quan’s wife, mother, and lawyers were allowed inside.
Le Quoc Quan was also not allowed to meet with his lawyers in the last few days leading up to the appeal hearing. His lawyers tried to visit him in prison at least twice last week, but they were barred from seeing him.
Le Quoc Quan’s lawyers also confirmed to ICJ that Le Quoc Quan was not allowed to meet and communicate with his lawyers immediately after his conviction by the People’s Court of Hanoi and had to file an appeal on his own.
In drafting his appeal, all legal documents and files pertaining to his case were withheld from him. The UN Human Rights Committee has emphasized that all convicted persons like Le Quoc Quan must be given copies of a duly reasoned, written judgment of the trial court, as well as other documents such as transcripts, so that they may be able to effectively enjoy their right to appeal.
Under Viet Nam’s laws, lawyers of convicted persons cannot file an appeal on behalf of their clients. It is only after the appeal has been filed and accepted by the appellate court that the convicted person may identify the lawyer of his choice. The chosen lawyers are recognized and allowed to participate in the case only after the court approves their application for a “defence counsel’s certificate” or “advocacy certificate”. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that no court shall refuse to recognize the right of a lawyer to appear before it on behalf of his client, unless the lawyer has been disqualified in accordance with domestic law.
“Viet Nam’s courts operate in violation of international standards that clarify that lawyers must be allowed to assist their clients in filing an appeal,” Zarifi said.
Le Quoc Quan cannot appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal under the article 248(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code of Vietnam, which states that decisions of the Court of Appeal are final and legally binding from the date of their pronouncement. The lawyers of Le Quoc Quan, however, are said to be considering filing a petition on procedural issues on this case.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +66 2 619 8477; email: firstname.lastname@example.org