Lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan are scheduled to be tried on May 11 in a case that appears to have fallen short even of Vietnam’s limited requirements for due process.
As of Friday (April 20), a full six weeks after Dai’s arrest, authorities had not provided his wife, Khanh, with any legal paper, which by law she should have received a copy of the arrest order at his March 6 arrest citing the reasons for his “temporary detention.”
Calling Khanh in to police quarters on Friday afternoon, authorities told her that the investigation was completed but refused to give her a copy of the investigation report. They again denied her access to her husband, though previously they had told her she could visit him after the investigation was completed. Khanh and Dai’s lawyer, 80-year-old Tran Lam, will try to get some information from the People’s Court of Investigation today.
Khanh has written several polite letters to Vietnam’s prime minister and other high officials asking permission to visit her husband and expressing concern that she was denied permission to take to him a Bible and his medication for a liver ailment. She has received no acknowledgements of her pleas.
Dai’s wife said that police officials told her that the “exceptional treatment” of her husband’s case was necessary because it involves “state secrets.” She replied that since the government media have published a number of newspaper articles defaming and slandering her husband, the matter can hardly be called a “state secret.”
The Vietnam legal system allows for an accused person to have contact with a lawyer during the investigation period. Dai has been denied any contact with his attorney.
The Vietnamese system requires that, following the investigation period, police must submit an “investigation summary report” to the People’s Court of Investigation. If that body finds reason to proceed, it must prepare an “indictment” and present it the People’s Court.
This court then sets a trial date if it deems the case appropriate to prosecute. In Dai’s case, the trial date was announced even before the investigation was complete, another violation of Vietnam’s own legal code.
Quoting a judicial source who referred to a senior Communist Party official, Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday (April 19) that lawyers Dai and Nhan are scheduled to be tried on May 11 for defaming the communist state of Vietnam. (See Compass Direct News, “Christian Lawyers in Vietnam Could Get Harsh Sentences,” April 18).
Vietnam’s legal code says that at minimum a copy of the “indictment” must be provided to the accused’s next of kin and to a defense lawyer 10 working days before the court date. With only 12 working days until the announced trial date (April 30 and May 1 are national holidays), authorities will have to provide the indictment papers to Dai’s wife and lawyer by April 25.
Official press reports accuse Dai of stealing US$80,000 from the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North), or ECVN(N). Both the church’s president and the general secretary have affirmed that the church had no such money. Dai’s wife several times has asked clergy to state this fact in writing, but representatives of the church’s executive committee, which met last week, said it will not be able to issue a letter until later in May.
By that time the trial likely will be over, leading some observers to question whether authorities are putting pressure on the ECVN(N) church of which Lawyer Dai is a member.
US House Reacts
The stakes in the trial have been raised as the US House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee is proposing House Resolution 243, calling on Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Dai and his colleague Nhan, as well as Father Nguyen Van Ly, sentenced to eight-years in prison on March 29 for similar charges.
The proposed resolution threatens consequences in US-Vietnam relations if Vietnam does not alter its behaviour towards peaceful political expression by its citizens.
A Compass source said Vietnam feels little need to abide by its own rules when prosecuting those who challenge it on human rights grounds.
“But then the state hides behind its laws to deny medicine, Bible and a visit from his wife to a man who peacefully advocates for religious freedom while they investigate him,” he said. “This ought to give pause to those who prematurely concluded recently that Vietnam had made significant progress in extending freedom to its citizens.”