A Vietnamese appellate court rejected an appeal by prominent dissident lawyer, human rights activist and blogger Feb. 18.
Le Quoc Quan, 41, was sentenced in October 2013 to 30 months in prison and 1.2 billion dong (US $57,000) fine for tax evasion.
Quan’s initial arrest was in Dec. 2012. Nine days earlier, Quan had published a story on the BBC’s website critical of an article of Vietnam’s constitution that gives the Communist Party the lead role in managing the country’s government. The timing has led many to conclude the charges against Quan are politically motivated, a tactic the government has used in the past, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Quan, a devout Catholic, began a hunger strike on Feb. 2. He is protesting the Vietnamese authorities’ refusal of his requests for access to counsel, religious and legal books and a priest for spiritual guidance.
Press groups including CPJ, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Advocats Sans Frontières, have condemned the decision by the Vietnamese People’s Court of Appeals.
“Although charged with tax evasion, it was clear that the real reason for his arrest was his blogging and his calls for political pluralism, religious freedom and civil rights,” a statement from RSF said.
The United Nations Rights Tribunal issued a statement Dec. 2, 2013 calling for Quan’s immediate release. The tribunal stated there is significant evidence that, “The real purpose of the detention and prosecution might eventually be to punish [Quan] for exercising his right [to freedom of expression] and to deter others from doing so.”
The tax evasion charges are not Quan’s first run-in with Vietnamese authorities. In 2007, four days after returning from a fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington D.C., Quan was arrested on charges of subversion . He was released after objections from the international community and Vietnamese supporters.
Currently 18 journalists are in jail in Vietnam, which ranks 174th out of 180 countries on RSF’s Press Freedom Index.