October 24, 2011
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has written twice to the Vietnamese authorities requesting the establishment of an inquiry, by an impartial and independent body, into the disbarment of human rights lawyer Huynh Van Dong. The IBAHRI awaits a response from the Vietnamese authorities.
Mr Dong, disbarred from the Dak Lak Bar Association on 12 August 2011, has been accused of being a threat to national security after endeavouring to defend pro-democracy activist clients accused of attempting to overthrow the current regime, based on their peaceful political activities.
The People’s Court of Ben Tre Province alleged that Mr Dong failed to meet his professional duties and was in breach of Attorney Laws and requested that the Dak Lak Bar Association disbar him. Specifically, Mr Dong is accused of ‘advocating for the behaviours of the accused individuals’, by stating that they are ‘not guilty for joining and receiving assignments from the [Viet Tan] organisation’. By doing so, the Vietnamese authorities allege that he took advantage of his ‘freedom and democracy rights to infringe upon the interests of the state’.
Mr Dong was expelled from the Ben Tre Province court, mid-trial, on 30 May 2011. He states that the Defence Counsel was refused access to vital legal documents and custody files, as required by law and the defendants were left without representation for the remainder of the trial.
Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair said, ‘There is serious concern that Mr Dong is being targeted for his legitimate work as a lawyer. Acting in the best interest of his clients cannot be interpreted as infringing upon the interests of the state. This is in contravention to Vietnam’s obligations under domestic and international law, particularly Article 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which states clearly that governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and that they shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economics or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.’
Mr Moyo also noted, ‘The recent crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists in Vietnam is a worrying trend. The disbarment and imprisonment of several human rights lawyers and defenders, such as Mr Dong, raises serious concerns over the independence of the Judiciary in Vietnam.’
Mr Dong’s case is exemplary of the Vietnam Government’s recent crackdown on human rights and freedom of expression lawyers and defenders. Articles 79 and 88 of the National Security Act are routinely used to imprison opposition and human rights activists and bloggers.
On 12 September Mr Dong was scheduled to speak at a conference in Dublin, however, the police issued orders to airports in Vietnam to prevent him leaving the country. Mr Dong filed an appeal against his disbarment and the revoking of his licence, but the Dak Lak Bar Association returned his appeal, stating that they do not accept appeals.
Mr Dong has also been accused of failing to pay the Dak Lak Bar Association’s monthly membership fees for 2011, and of refusing to represent a client assigned to him by the Association. Mr Dong states that he has always paid his membership as an annual fee at the end of each year and that the case in question had been assigned to him shortly before the hearing, while he was out of town.
Mr Moyo commented, ‘The first and foremost commitment of a bar association is to protect its member lawyers and to provide them with the necessary support and conditions to attend to their professional duties. The IBAHRI encourages the Dak Lak Bar Association to support an independent investigation and to allow Mr Dong to continue his legitimate work as a lawyer.’