Pro-democracy Campaigner, Environmentalist Le Dinh Luong Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

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

Defend the Defenders, August 16, 2018

 

On August 16, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi shocked everyone by imposing 20 years of imprisonment for pro-democracy campaigner and environmentalist Le Dinh Luong in the short trial against him on allegation of subversion.

In the first-instance hearing which lasted only several hours in Thursday’s morning, the court found the 53-year-old activist guilty of “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code. The People’s Procuracy proposed a punishment of 17 years of jail, however, after a long dispute with the defendants’ lawyers, judge Tran Ngoc Son decided to give him 20 years in prison and five years under house arrest, the most severe imprisonment given to a political prisoner in the past several years.

Lawyers Ha Huy Son and Dang Dinh Manh provied that their client is innocent as his activities are in line with the Vietnamese law and international human rights law while the defendant affirmed that he acted to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereingty, protect the environment against Formosa, and object wrongdoings of local corrupted officials and he is proud of them.

Only Mr. Luong’s wife and younger brother were permitted to enter the courtroom while others were forced to stay away from the court’s areas, his daughter-in-law Nguyen Xoan told Defend the Defenders. No foreign diplomats were allowed to attend the trial open for public, she added.

Mr. Luong, who was arrested in late July last year, has been the 14th activists convicted on subversion since 2017. He was given the most severe jail term while others were sentenced to between seven and 16 years in prison and up to five years of house arrest.

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

Mr. Luong, a veteran in the war against China’s invasion of Vietnam’s northern region in 1980s, was arrested on July 24, 2017. 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.

In late July, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to drop all politically-motivated charges against Mr. Luong and release him immediately and unconditionally.

“Vietnamese authorities frequently employ fabricated political charges to punish activists for being affiliated with non-communist groups or parties critical of the government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Le Dinh Luong is facing prison for protesting the dumping of toxic waste and other environmental disasters that the government should be doing something about,” he noted.

“Vietnamese police routinely deprive detained rights activists and bloggers of access to lawyers and family members for months, and then only give their lawyers a very short time to prepare the case before trial,” Robertson said, adding “Fundamental change is needed in Vietnam’s justice system, but for the needed reform there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”

On August 15, one day ahead of his trial, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Operations  Clare Algar said in the organization’ statment that “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.”