Vietnamese Court Upholds 20-year Imprisonment of Democracy Campaigner Le Dinh Luong in His Appeal

Activist Le Dinh Luong at the trial against him on Aug 16, 2018

Defend the Defenders, October 18,, 2018


On October 18, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected the appeal of human rights defender and environmentalist Le Dinh Luong, upholding the sentence of 20 years in prison and five years of probation given by a lower court.

In the appeal hearing which lasted less than four hours of Thursday’s morning, the judge said that there is no new evidence which can be used for sentence reduction. On August 16, the People’s Court of Nghe An province convicted Mr. Luong on allegation of “conducting activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

The sentence against Mr. Luong is the most severe in political cases in the past five years, observers said.

Like in the first-instance hearing, two lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Ha Huy Son presented statements which firmly proved that their client is innocent and had no activities which can be considered to overthrow the people’s administration but for protecting human rights, environment and the country’s sovereignty. However, the judge ignored their defense.

Mr. Luong’s wife, son and daughter-in-law were allowed to enter the courtroom to observe his appeal. However, authorities in Nghe An province deployed large number of police and militia the court areas and to block all the road leading to the province’s court. Police were also sent to My Khanh parish to prevent local residents to gather near the court’s areas to support him. The parish got huge assistance from him to overcome consequences from the environmental disaster caused by chemical spill of the China-invested Formosa in April 2016.

Two days ahead of his appeal, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to drop all charges against Mr. Luong.

“Vietnam should reverse the draconian sentence imposed on a veteran environment and democracy activist, Le Dinh Luong, and release him,” the New York-based rights group said.

His 20-year sentence is one of the harshest in the government’s crackdown on peaceful activists, said said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director.

Mr. Luong, who was arrested onJuly 24last year, is among 21 activists convicted on subversion in2017-2018. He was given the most severe jail term while 20others were sentenced to between seven and 16years in prison and up to five years of probation for the same charge.

He has been held incommunicado since being arrested until late July thisyear when his lawyers got approval from the People’s Procuracy to meet with him to prepare for his defense.

Mr. Luongis a veteran in the war against China’s invasion of Vietnam’s northern region in 1980s. State media reported that Mr. Luong is an extremely dangerous element belonging to the U.S.-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) which is labeled by Vietnamese authorities as a terrorist organization.

According to the Nghe An police, Mr. Luong once called for boycotting the elections of the parliament and local People’s Councils while capitalizing on the environmental disasters caused by Formosa to cause social disorders and instigate demonstrations.

Mr. Luong himself was attacked by under-covered policemen in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong in August 2015 when he visited Tran Minh Nhat, who then completed his sentence on alleged subversion. Many other activists were also beaten in that incident.After his detention, his relatives were also brutally beaten by police forces twice.

Luong’s conviction met strong international condemnation. The US Department of State expressed its deep concern about the case, saying that the trend of increased arrests and harsh sentences for peaceful activists in Vietnam is troubling. It has called onHanoito release all prisoners of conscience immediately and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.

The US also urges the Vietnamese government to ensure its actions and laws, including the Penal Code, are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution and its international obligations and commitments.

Freedom of expression and the right to be represented by counsel are guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a party, said Human Rights Watch, adding Vietnam should immediately release Luong and other activists who have been wrongly imprisoned and allow them to peacefully express their views.

“For peacefully campaigning on behalf of fishermen affected by an environmental disaster, Le Dinh Luong could face a life sentence or even the death penalty. This is a patently unjust and politically-motivated case that should be dropped and Le Dinh Luong must be released immediately and unconditionally,”said Amnesty International’s Director of Global Operations Clare Algar ina statement prior to his first-instance hearing.

Luong’s arrest and conviction are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent which started in late 2015. The crackdown got its pick this year, with the arrests of 26 activists and convictions of 39 human rights defenders and democracy campaigners with a total 294.5 years in prison and 66 years of probation.

More arrests are expected in coming months as the Cyber Security will become effective on January 1 next year. The law, passed by the communist-dominated National Assembly on June 12 this year, is considered as an effective tool of the communist government to silence online criticism.