Vietnam accuses lawyers defending Buddhist group of ‘abusing democratic freedoms’

Vietnamese police have summoned two attorneys defending members of a Buddhist house church in Long An province, accusing them of violating a law that is widely used to imprison dissidents.
Attorneys Dang Dinh Manh and Dao Kim Lan, two of five defense lawyers working on a case involving the Peng Lei Buddhist Church are accused of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Vietnamese authorities routinely use the statute to attack those speaking out in defense of human rights.
Freedom of religion is technically enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution, but it also allows authorities to override rights, including religious freedom, for purposes of national security, social order, social morality and community well-being. Authorities have been aggressive in crushing various religious groups.
The one-party Vietnamese government also is notorious for violations of human rights, including the prosecuting of rights attorneys and other defenders, and ignoring international obligations to promote and protect them. 
According to the notices, police summoned the lawyers after the Department of Cybersecurity and High-Tech Crime Prevention under Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security issued an advisory that some of the defense attorneys involved in the case showed signs of violating Article 331. 
The summons for Dang Dinh Manh, dated March 6, instructed him to meet with police investigators on March 21, 2023, while the summons for Dao Kim Lan, dated March 8, told him to meet with them on March 15. 
Many state-media outlets, including Tien Phong, or The Pioneers, and Phap Luat TPHCM, or the Ho Chi Minh City Law Newspaper, reported that police were investigating the two lawyers.
In February, three lawyers — Dang Dinh Manh, Dao Kim Lan and Ngo Thi Hoang Anh — were notified by Long An police that they had “carried out activities of disseminating videos, images, statements and stories with signs of abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to violate the state’s interests and legitimate rights and interests of individuals and organizations,” according to state media reports.
RFA could not reach Ngo Thi Hoang Anh to confirm that she had received a summons. Dang Dinh Manh and Dao Kim Lan refused to comment. 
‘Abusing democratic freedoms’
The three lawyers and two others — Nguyen Van Mieng and Trinh Vinh Phuc — have been providing legal support for six members of the house church, who in July 2022 were sentenced to a combined 23 years and six months in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331.
Duc Hoa district police and Venerable Thich Nhat Tu, a Buddhist monk, were the plaintiffs in the case. 
Before the first-instance trial, lawyers sent an 11-page petition to Vietnam’s president and the heads of the National Assembly, Ministry of Public Security, and People’s Supreme Procuracy, highlighting indications of the violation of criminal procedures and judicial activities. 
The lawyers also raised concern about the objectivity of the investigation because Duc Hoa district police, a plaintiff, was part of the probe. 
The petition also indicated that police forced a Peng Lei nun to submit to a gynecological examination, offending her honor and dignity because the action was unrelated to the case. 
Even though the lawyers’ complaints had not been addressed, the Duc Hoa People’s Court moved ahead, putting the six church members on trial and sentencing them each to three to five years in prison. 
Police investigator Huynh Hung, who is in charge of the case against the lawyers, declined to answer Radio Free Asia’s questions about the case. 
Attorney Nguyen Van Dai, who now lives in Germany, told RFA on Monday that the responsible agencies should have quickly responded to the petition filed by the church’s lawyers instead of launching an investigation against them. 
“This was a serious violation of freedom of speech and press freedom of lawyers in general and citizens in general,” he said. “They [the authorities] used available tools, including the police and the procuracy, to dismiss the lawyers from their profession. This was an act of vindictiveness by the authorities towards human rights lawyers.”  
Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


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