Hanoi: Catholics held Candlelight Vigil for defense lawyer
J.B. An Dang3/8/2009
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Facing a police intimidation campaign against one of their lawyers, thousands of Catholics in Vietnam attended a series of Candlelight vigils to pray for justice and for the safety of their lawyers.

Thousands praying at Hanoi Redemptorist Monastery
Catholics lighted up candles praying for their lawyers
Hanoi Redemptorists led a Candlelight vigil on Saturday evening March 7 to pray for Mr. Le Tran Luat, the lawyer of Thai Ha’s defendants, and his associates, after a series of harassment directed at him and his law firm by police. A huge crowd had joined in the vigils. Similar ones have also been held in other Redemptorists' monasteries in Saigon and other provinces.

In the last episode of the campaign of intimidation against him, lawyer Le Tran Luat was arrested at Tan Son Nhat airport on last Tuesday morning when he was boarding a flight from Saigon to Hanoi in order to prepare for a lawsuit by Catholic defendants who have accused the state media of false reporting on their trial. Police took him in custody for the rest of the day without any explanation. This was understood as a police tactic to hinder his legal council to Catholics at Thai Ha, and ultimately force Catholics to withdraw their claim against the monopolistic media outlets of the regime.

The campaign of intimidation and harassment started on Feb. 10 when his Attorney's Association threatened to suspend his licence. The Attorney's Association of Ninh Thuan, a province in the Central of Vietnam where he had registered his licence, summoned him to be informed and possibly reprimanded for certain violations he was alleged of committing while practicing law, based on accusations from the police and the magistrate of the province.

A fortnight later, on Feb. 24, the newspaper Security of Ho Chi Minh City published an article claiming it had received a great number of complaints against the lawyer, all accusing him of fraudulent income. The article was obviously an ample signal that Vietnam government was testing the public opinion before launching vicious measures against the attorney.

On the same day, Mr. Luat himself alleged that in the morning, someone called him on his cell phone to forewarn him about a press campaign was being prepared against him. The anonymous caller then and asked him outright to stop providing legal assistance to Thai Ha’s defendants.

The next day, authorities had launched a larger scale campaign of harassment against him and his staff by a police raid at his office in Saigon. The lawyer was not there as he was in Hanoi for the lawsuit of the faithful of Thai Ha. His office was ransacked. Computers and other personal equipments belonging to the lawyer were confiscated. Eyewitnesses protested, but received no explanation. Some of them were taken away by police.

Staff in the attorney’s office has also been targets of harsh harassment. On March 4, Ms. Ta Phong Tan, the attorney’s assistant was kidnapped by a group of undercover police officers. From her account, only the main officer has worn name tag while interrogating her, others remain anonymous and none agreed to reveal their identities to her. After an intense hours-long interrogation, she was released with an official order from police summoning her the next day for more interrogations.

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