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Vietnamese human rights defender Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu short listed for 2012 Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk
Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2011 following an unfair trial on charges of “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
He had been arrested on 4 November 2010 and held incommunicado following his involvement in a number of high profile legal cases including two cases against the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung in relation to bauxite mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands as well as a case relating to the arrest of a number of Catholic church members who were participating in a funeral procession on disputed land. Both lawsuits against the Prime Minister were posted on the Bauxite Vietnam website and reposted on several others.
Vietnamese human rights defenders are subject to intimidation, threats, interrogation, harassment, arrest, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture. According to the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, “Defenders in Viet Nam include, amongst others, journalists, writers, religious leaders, farmers and peasants working on issues such as economic and social rights, democracy and human rights, labour rights, freedom of religion, land rights and minority rights”. The Vietnamese Government commonly refuses to acknowledge them as human rights defenders and falsely accuses them of being criminal offenders. The Government has also arrested a number of human rights lawyers who defended those human rights defenders.
Dr Vu obtained his doctorate in law from France. He is the most prominent constitutional scholar and legal activist in Vietnam. He has written many essays about the rights of Vietnamese citizens protected by the constitution but routinely violated by the Government. Dr. Vu comes from a prominent family that includes high-ranking members of the Vietnamese Communist Party, revolutionary heroes, famous poets, and high-level government officials.
Dr Vu's trial lasted less than six hours. The court expelled a defense lawyer for continuing to request the documents on which the prosecution’s case was based. The remaining defense lawyers ultimately walked out in protest. While Dr Vu’s trial was “public,” his wife was the only member of his family allowed in the courtroom. Press agencies and diplomats were allowed to watch the trial on a monitor, and to listen through a loudspeaker that was conveniently switched off at sensitive times. A number of people who attempted to attend the trial were beaten by the police, and their cameras and phones confiscated simply because they stood near the court. Dr Vu is currently in ill health due to a congenital heart condition.
Dr Vu's family has waged a vigorous fight for his freedom, especially his wife, lawyer Nguyen Thi Duong Ha, and his sister, Cu Thi Xuan Bich. His case has generated unprecedented popular support within Vietnam and continues to grow online mobilising diverse sectors of Vietnamese society, including Catholic parishioners from Hanoi and Nam Dinh; urban bloggers, academics, writers, journalists, and dissidents; senior Vietnamese Communist Party members; technocrats, land rights petitioners, and ordinary citizens such as teachers, small business owners, workers, farmers, and taxi drivers.
Human Right Watch wrote that “(t)he unusual diversity of Cu Huy Ha Vu’s supporters is clearly a function of the wide assortment of legal campaigns that he has championed during the most recent phase of his career. But it also owes something to the rapid spread of information about the case on the internet, spearheaded by a barely visible army of bloggers, citizen-journalists, and Facebook devotees. Indeed, the ground swell of energy created by the case must be understood as an important byproduct of the gradual development in Vietnam in recent years of a nascent legal culture independent of the communist state, and the spontaneous, uncoordinated growth of a dynamic online civil society.
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