Vietnam frees high-profile anti-China lawyer
One of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents vowed to continue his anti-Communist China activism after being released from prison on Saturday after serving two and a half years on tax evasion charges.
Le Quoc Quan, a Catholic blogger and lawyer from the communist nation, was freed from jail early Saturday in central Quang Nam province and met by family members who had long campaigned for his release.
“I am very happy,” he told AFP in his first interview since being freed, saying he would head straight to a hospital for a health check before spending time with his loved ones.
The 43-year-old had been on hunger strike five times in prison with the most recent stint of 14-days ending on June 24.
In a characteristically defiant mood, Quan promised to continue the anti- Beijing activism that first attracted the ire of authorities.
“I have become very concerned again about invasions of China on Vietnamese sovereignty regarding the island,” he told AFP in English, referring to construction and land reclamation by Beijing in the South China Sea.
“I pray every day for Vietnam’s sovereignty ( to be respected),” said the lawyer, adding he looked forward to reading up on the news after being cut off from the world while in prison.
Quan, who blogged on a range of sensitive topics including civil rights, political pluralism and religious freedom, had been in detention since December 2012.
His October 2013 conviction on the tax evasion charges was sharply condemned by the United States and denounced by rights campaigners as bogus and politically motivated.
The activist was also heavily involved in a string of anti-Communist China demonstrations in 2011 over Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Vietnam has struggled to balance intense domestic criticism of its handling of mainland China’s growing assertiveness in the region against traditionally friendly ties to fellow communists leaders in Beijing.
Anti-Communist China protests in the capital Hanoi have sometimes been allowed to go ahead as a means, analysts say, of sending Beijing a message. But authorities have also broken up demonstrations violently, arresting participants.
‘Miscarriage of justice’
A photo posted on Facebook by Quan’s brother Le Quoc Quyet Sat- urday showed a thin but healthy looking Quan smiling and hugging his wife. It attracted more than 1,500 likes in two hours.
He told AFP Saturday that his imprisonment was “a miscarriage of justice” and that he aimed to help others in similar positions who were “still suffering in jail.”
The blogger has always denied the charges against him.
Vietnam, a one-party state, is routinely denounced by rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations of freedom of religion.
But as Hanoi seeks closer diplomatic and trade ties with former wartime foe America to counter Beijing’s increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea, it appears to have toned down persecution of domestic critics.
Last year, after Beijing moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Hanoi, anti- Communist China demonstrations rapidly morphed into violent protests, with foreignowned factories set ablaze. At least two Chinese workers were killed.
A handout photo taken and released on Saturday, June 27 shows Catholic dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan, left, posing with his wife Nguyen Thi Hien after he was freed from a prison in the central province of Quang Nam.