The authorities mobilised some 200 residents in the Hanoi district of Bach Khoa on 8 February to act as a “popular court” to try pro-democracy lawyer Nguyen Van Dai on a charge of “betraying his country.”
Dai was not allowed to speak during the two and a half hours that the “trial” last. The “popular court” finally demanded the withdrawal of his licence to practice law and the closure of his law office.
This kind of popular justice is used to publicly humiliate government opponents. District representatives controlled by the police take turns before the court to condemn the dissident’s activities. There is nothing official about the trial or verdict, which serve only to discourage opponents from continuing their activities.
Despite threats and pressure, Dai refused to sign the minutes of the trial drawn up by the court.
Dai and five other dissidents were arrested and questioned by police on 3 and 4 February. Dai regularly posts pro-democracy essays on websites based abroad, and defends imprisoned cyber-dissidents.
Free expression advocate Nguyen Van Dai detained and harassed
Reporters Without Borders today called on the Vietnamese authorities to stop harassing a group of democrats after Nguyen Van Dai, a pro-democracy lawyer who defends imprisoned cyber-dissidents, was detained and questioned by police on 3-4 February at the same time as five other activists.
“The government slightly relaxed its control of the media and the Internet to facilitate Vietnam’s entry into the WTO and to improve its image before last November’s APEC summit, but now that the international pressure has eased, it is trying to stifle the fragile pro-democracy movement,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is vital to support Nguyen Van Dai and his fight for free expression.”
Dai, 38, was arrested at his Hanoi law office along with five other people, including fellow lawyer Le Thi Cong Nha and Bach Ngoc Duong, an engineer. They were all released later the same day or the next day, but the police told them they would be summoned for further interrogation. The authorities accuse the group of forming “an organisation aimed at overthrowing the government.”
Dai regularly posts pro-democracy essays on websites based abroad. Last June, shortly after the 10th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, he wrote an article on the “right to found a party in Vietnam” for the BBC’s Vietnamese-language website. This immediately led to a summons from the police.
Dai was one of the first signatories of the founding document of Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy movement that emerged last April. He is a member of the editorial board of the independent newspaper Tu Do Dân chu (Freedom and Democracy), which was launched last August and which is distributed in the larger cities. He recently spoke out in defence of American cyber-dissident Thanh Cong Do (Nam Tran), who was detained for several days in September.
The authorities are currently harassing all known political dissidents, including Dr. Pham Hong Son, who has been under police surveillance since his release from prison on 30 August.
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