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Viet Nam: Stop judicial harassment and sentencing of Buddhist leaders

December 17, 2011

H.E. Mr. Ha Hung Cuong,
Minister of Justice,
56-60 Tran Phu St., Ba Dinh District,
Hanoi, Vietnam;
Tel: 84-4-37336213
Fax: 84-4-38431431;
E-mail: botuphap@moj.gov.vn

Re: Viet Nam: Stop judicial harassment and sentencing of Buddhist leaders


Dear Minister of Justice,

I request your urgent intervention in the following situation in Viet Nam.

I have been informed by reliable sources about the continuing judicial harassment and sentencing to prison of Messrs. Nguyen Van Lia and Tran Hoai An, practitioners of an unofficial religious sect who advocate for the respect of the right to religious freedom.

According to the information received, on December 12, 2011, Messrs. Nguyen Van Lia and Tran Hoai An were found guilty of the charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Criminal Code by the People's Court of Cho Moi District in southern An Giang province. They were respectively sentenced to five and three years of prison.

Messrs. Nguyen Van Lia and Tran Hoai An are practitioners of an independent Hoa Hao Buddhist group, which is not recognised by the Government and has been subjected to severe repression since the creation of a State-sponsored Hoa Hao organisation in 1999.

Messrs. Lia and An both have briefed foreign diplomats regarding restrictions and violations of freedom of religion in Viet Nam. In December 2010, Messrs. Lia and An were among four Hoa Hao activists who met with officials of the US Department of State at the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, where in May 2009 Mr. Lia, along with other Hoa Hao followers, also attended a meeting with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. In April 2011, Mr. Lia was arrested with his wife following the discovery by the police of, according to State media, books, CDs, DVDs and documents accusing the Vietnamese authorities of human rights violations, including religious persecution. Mr. An reportedly was arrested by the police on July 2, 2011 in Dong Trap province on his way back from visiting fellow Hoa Hao followers in prison. Since his arrest in April 2011, Mr. Lia's health has reportedly deteriorated considerably. Mr. Lia, who is 71, suffers from high blood pressure and broken ribs from old injuries.

I consider that the charges against Messrs. Lia and An aim at sanctioning their activities in exposing violations of the right to freedom of religion, which is guaranteed under both the Vietnamese Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and urges the authorities to stop the routine repression of those who advocate for freedom of religion in Viet Nam in violation of the country's international human rights obligations.

I request you to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Nguyen Van Lia and Tran Hoai An as well as of all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

I also urge you to that please ensure Mr. Lia receives immediate and adequate medical treatment for his health conditions;

I highly suggest you to release Messrs. Nguyen Van Lia and Tran Hoai An immediately and unconditionally as their detention is arbitrary, as it seems to merely sanction their human rights activities;

I urge you to Put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Nguyen Van Lia and Tran Hoai An as well as against all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

I request you to comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular:

- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

- as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

At the end I will request you to ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Viet Nam.

I respectfully thank your Excellency for your attention in this matter and express my sincere hope that your Excellency will take these considerations into account.

Yours sincerely,
William Nicholas Gomes
William's Desk
www.williamgomes.org