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American Lawyer Advocates for People’s Court to Prosecute Corrupt Vietnamese Officials, Says Radio Free Asia

Lawyer and activist Vo An Don is calling for the establishment of an Overseas Vietnamese Bar Association and a People’s Trial to take on cases of corrupt Communist Party officials in his home country.

Don left Vietnam with his family at the end of October to seek political asylum in the United States.

The 46-year-old became widely known after seeking justice for detainee Ngo Thanh Minh.

Don told Radio Free Asia in 2018 that Minh was beaten to death by five police officers at a detention center in Ninh Thuan province on Sept. 8, 2017.

After speaking to local media about Vietnam’s legal issues, authorities revoked his legal license.

On Nov. 3, Don wrote on his Facebook page calling on lawyers seeking asylum in the United States to establish an overseas legal association to provide free legal advice to people and publicize human rights abuses.

“The need for legal aid in the country is very large because people really need help from lawyers, especially in cases of land grabbing and disputes. There are many disputes, complaints and denunciations,” Don told RFA Vietnamese on Nov. 8.

He said the court system in Vietnam is a tool of the ruling Communist Party which judges the people while ignoring the wrongdoing of officials who get away with crimes or receive light sentences.

He cited the “Rescue Flight” case, in which many officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security partnered with businesses and local governments to repatriate Vietnamese people from overseas at inflated prices. Returnees were put into quarantine and forced to pay expensive accommodation bills.

“In the Rescue Flight case, the people’s losses were huge but [the accused officials] were treated very lightly. The law clearly stipulates very heavy sanctions, but in reality the sentences were very light and people were not compensated for their losses according to the law,” he said.

“I have the idea of establishing a People’s Trial with other lawyers, a true trial of the people, not like domestic people’s courts that use Vietnamese law to try Vietnamese officials. Just like the international court that recently tried Putin.”

The court panel would be made up of lawyers with a jury consisting of people from Vietnam and abroad, he said.

The evidence would be based on investigations by Vietnamese police, the indictment of the Procuracy, additional information from the media and direct investigations from people involved in the case.

To avoid injustice, the People’s Court would only operate when there was clear evidence.

“We have no state, no army, no police, no prisons, so enforcing the sentence would be very difficult,” Don said.

“But this sentence represents the law, uses Vietnamese law and the will and aspirations of the Vietnamese people, so it would have a great deterrent effect.”

Don said lawyers in Vietnam may not be able to participate immediately, but they could contribute anonymously.

He said he had shared his ideas with many lawyers and received agreement and encouragement from them.

Lawyers’ reaction

Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, who defended many people in Vietnam and was forced to seek refuge in the United States earlier this year, said the “People’s Trial” is a new, creative way of fighting and also a way to show solidarity with those who are committed to fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights for Vietnam.

“When I heard lawyer Don share this idea, I greatly appreciated and agreed immediately,” he told RFA.

“In a situation where it is not yet possible to officially establish a court to try the Communist regime’s crimes, ‘People’s Trials,’ conducted in accordance with civilized legal standards, would have a positive meaning.

“It helps the public take a view on the crimes of the Communist regime from a legal perspective, not just general, emotional criticism.

“The defendants and domestic criminals brought to trial in the ‘People’s Trial’ would know how to face crimes and what the punishment is for them.”

Hanoi-based lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan, who has defended many activists, said the idea was good but naive in terms of both Vietnamese and international law.

“The possibility of implementation is difficult because it has not received the consensus of people with legal knowledge,” he said

“Lawyers who are practicing legally in Vietnam are almost 100% certain that no one will participate if they do not want to be stopped from practicing, or even arrested immediately.

“I am an upright and stubborn person, but I would not act in such a reckless and naive way.”

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn and Elaine Chan.


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