Reporters Without Borders calls on the Vietnamese authorities to stop manipulating the legal proceedings against blogger and human rights activist Nguyen Hoang Hai, better known by the blogging name of Dieu Cay, who is serving a 30-month jail sentence on a charge of tax fraud.
Foreign journalists will not be admitted into the Ho Chi Minh City courtroom when his appeal against his 10 September conviction is heard tomorrow.
“The refusal to let foreign journalists cover the hearing, which is supposed to be public, is indicative of the way these proceedings have been conducted,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The appeal court has also violated the right of defence by giving his lawyers less than two weeks to prepare for the appeal hearing. All this shows that the authorities are trying to hide the fact that Dieu Cay was convicted on a trumped-up charge.”
Dieu Cay’s lawyers and family, including his ex-wife, were notified on 25 November that the appeal was to be heard in nine days’ time. This violated article 242 of the Vietnamese code of criminal procedure, which says the defence must be notified 15 days in advance to allow it time to prepare. The code has been in force since July 2004.
His lawyers requested a postponement of the hearing but the appeal court’s judge refused and told one of the lawyers that “even if the defendants and their lawyers are not in the room, we will examine the case.”
Dieu Cay’s tax fraud conviction was based on the allegation that he had not paid any taxes for the past ten years on premises he owned, when in fact he rents the premises from the Hanoi Eyewear Co. under an arrangement allowed by the law in which the company assumes responsibility for paying the taxes.
“The authorities are trying to silence this blogger,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Dieu Cay should be freed at once and the charges against him and his ex-wife should be dropped. We call on the foreign embassies in Vietnam to defend free expression by urging the Vietnamese government to release him.”
Dieu Cay was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on 19 April and was charged with tax fraud five days later. According to his son, he had been under close police surveillance since taking part in demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of the year in protest against China=s claim to sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The police are harassing his family, his property has been seized and close colleagues have been threatened and arrested.
A founder member of a group of bloggers known as the Free Vietnamese Journalists Club, Dieu Cay is one of the country’s best known activists. The US-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNHRN) awarded him a prize on 29 October for his commitment to free expression.
Vietnam is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet” and its Internet censorship practices are almost as thorough as those of its Chinese big sister. Deputy information minister Do Quy Doan told the local press on 2 December he intended to “issue guidelines on the distribution of information in blogs.”
The Thanh Nien daily newspaper meanwhile reported that the information ministry planned to “contact Google and Yahoo! about cooperating in the creation of the healthiest and best possible environment for bloggers.”