The ICJ said the conviction today of Le Quoc Quan, a lawyer and human rights defender in Vietnam, violated international standards governing the right to a fair trial.
Judge Le Thi Hop of the People’s Court of Hanoi convicted and sentenced Le Quoc Quan to 30 months imprisonment with time served since late December 2012 to be taken into account.
His company was ordered to pay the unpaid tax amount of 645 million VND (approximately USD 30,000) and fine of 1.3 billion VND (approximately USD 60,000) for the offence of tax evasion under section 161 of the Vietnamese Penal Code.
One of Le Quoc Quan’s accountants, Phuong, was sentenced to eight months imprisonment.
Edmund Bon, a prominent Malaysian attorney and the ICJ’s appointed trial observer, was denied entry into court.
Police barricaded the courthouse to keep out hundreds of demonstrators protesting the perceived harassment of Le Quoc Quan.
“The court did not dispel the widespread belief that this case is political in nature and intended to silence a government critic,” Edmund Bon said. “The verdict was delivered after a 30-minute deliberation and the judge took about an hour to read the written grounds of judgment.”
The hearing was originally scheduled for 9 July 2013, but was postponed at the very last minute due to the judge’s illness.
On 17 September 2013, the court issued a notification informing that the trial had been rescheduled to 2 October 2013 and that the trial would be a public one.
Nevertheless, on the day of trial, only a handful of foreign diplomats who had obtained an invitation and pass from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were allowed to enter a room to observe the proceedings through a television screen.
Le Quoc Quan’s wife was the only family member who was permitted to observe the trial.
No independent journalists were allowed to enter the courtroom except for a reporter with the police and government media personnel.
The trial before a judge and two jurors started at 8.00am and ended at 2.30pm with a 15-minute recess in between. Six witnesses gave evidence. Counsel for the prosecution and defence took approximately one hour to make legal submissions.
“Le Quoc Quan’s trial and verdict raise serious questions regarding Vietnam’s commitment to ensure fair criminal trials that are to be open to public scrutiny, as it required to do as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Edmund Bon.
The ICJ also notes that the court had breached Le Quoc Quan’s right to a speedy trial.
Section 194 of the Vietnamese Criminal Procedure Code specifically provides that, upon a postponement, courts that hear first-instance trials have to set a new hearing date within 30 days.
Here, the court took almost two months to do so.
“The court’s failure to reschedule the case within a timely manner is a clear violation of Le Quoc Quan’s rights to be tried within a reasonable time and without undue delay, as stipulated under articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR respectively,” Bon added.
Since his arrest on 27 December last year, Le Quoc Quan has already spent a total of more than nine months in prison, awaiting trial.
“Le Quoc Quan should have instead been granted bail when his wife had filed an application for his release as there was no reason to believe that he would have had absconded the country,” said Edmund Bon.
The lawyers of Le Quoc Quan are expected to appeal the court’s decision within 15 days.