Lawyers for Vietnamese Buddhist group investigated by authorities
Police said that lawyers may have violated Vietnam’s penal code by providing legal assistance
RFA | 2023.02.27
Police in Vietnam said they are investigating lawyers for the Peng Lei Buddhist Church, accusing them of violating the country’s penal code as part of their representation for the religious group.
Officials from the Ministry of Public Security said the lawyers could be charged under Article 311, which criminalizes ‘abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the State’ and is often used by authorities to target dissidents and opponents in Vietnam.
On Feb. 22, police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested Vo Van Dien, a YouTuber who had posted videos supporting Nguyen Phuong Hang, another Vietnamese netizen who was charged by authorities. Vo Van Dien was accused of “disturbing public order” with their videos. Both YouTubers had spoken about the Peng Lei Buddhist Church case on their channels.
Police in Vietnam’s Long An province have sent a notice to several lawyers involved in the Peng Lei case saying that they could be charged for their work.
One of the lawyers, Dao Kim Lan, told RFA that the notice “had something to do with our comments and complaints against Long An province’s judicial agencies.”
“Perhaps, they targeted our comments on how they had covered up crimes and showed signs of fabricating evidence,” he added.
Lawyers for the church had submitted a complaint claiming violations of due process for their clients to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, but the ministry assigned the same police who were named in the complaint to investigate the allegations.
Dao Kim Lan also said that the lawyers were receiving threats, and were sent anonymous messages online saying they would be arrested.
“I am not sure whether it was an act of retaliation,” he added. The fact that the Long An police, who accused them of committing crimes, are investigating the case “makes us think that objectivity cannot be guaranteed.”
Lawyers are requesting that the ministry assign an independent entity to investigate, saying that the accused cannot investigate the accuser in a fair case.
Ngo Thi Hoang Anh, another one of the lawyers in the case, told RFA that at present, “ I cannot say anything as I need to do my best to protect my clients' interests.”
“For lawyers, being unable to best protect their clients is a shame, and I am very worried about having to quit or refuse to continue defending them. I hope everything will be clarified soon so I can keep practicing law.”
Another lawyer from Hanoi, speaking to RFA anonymously, said that charging the lawyers would send a chilling message to defense lawyers across the country.
Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Nawar Nemeh and Malcolm Foster.
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