Dear brother and sister Christians, journalists and all those of good will

Sydney- May 7, 2000 – The Federation of Vietnamese Catholic Mass Media strongly denounces the continual harassments against the lawyer representing Thai Ha Catholic defendants who were charged and tried last December for participating in a protest against the illegal requisition of their parish’s property by the local government.

Dear friends,

Le Tran Luat, an experienced and devoted attorney who was committed to defending the 8 Thai Ha defendants against the governmental charges of “damaging state property and disturbing public order” has become well-known and admired among Vietnamese people at home and overseas. However, the more fame and admiration he received from the Vietnamese Catholics and Non Catholics alike for his devotion and expertise, the more scrutiny his personal and professional life had been put under because what his clients and he himself were aiming for was in conflict with the interest of the dictatorial government. Luat has been repeatedly harassed by police after his decision to represent the Catholics at the court of appeal on March 27 of this year in Hanoi.

The level of harassment became more severe just before the appellate court hearing on March 27. Luat was repeatedly told by police that he had not understood the state policies and guidelines on religious freedom promulgated by the government of Socialist Republic of Vietnam. They then asked him to deny his own viewpoints and admit that the arguments he gave in the previous trial and in press interviews were shallow and hotheaded. His refusal to comply with government's coercion has resulted in a series of harsh treatments and eventually his house arrest as reported on May 1 of this year.

His movement has since been severely restricted and constantly monitored by the police. On March 12 while trying to board a flight to Hanoi for trial preparation, Luat was apprehended and detained at the police station for questioning. On March 15, he was arrested again and had to keep coming to the so-called "working sessions" by police's order. The ordeal did not end there for him and those who were related to him both personally and professionally. His entire staff has been harassed to this date, his personal equipments seized, his reputation distorted and tarnished by state media, his family as well as Luat himself received threatening phone calls, and his clients have been contacted and coerced to either cancel their contracts with his law firm or given false, distorted information about his personal and professional conducts so that they felt pressured to change their mind about detaining him.

Dear friends,

His arrest on April 29 was followed a long smear campaign against him by state-run media. Luat was reportedly released the next day after a 17 hour police interrogation. Ms. Ta Phong Tan, his assistant, shared the same fate.

While the lawyer was being interrogated at the police headquarter, his house was raided from 6 PM - pass midnight April 30. Documents relating to Lake Ba Giang, the plot of land which is still in dispute between Hanoi Redemptorist Monastery and the local government of Dong Da district were confiscated.

Taken away by police, along with Ba Giang documents and his lap-top and desk-top computers, were legal documents he has been diligently compiling for the law suits related to well-known dissidents such as Pham Thanh Nghien, Truong Minh Duc, Pham Ba Hai, and Prof. Tran Khue, also his proposal for establishing a website and an online forum for lawyers.

Dear friends,

His legal assistant Ta Phong Tan has released appeals to the public, calling the government tactics as "evil" and “gross violation of human rights in Vietnam". She is calling for international media and human rights organizations” to help expose “the truth the Vietnamese tyrannical regime is trying to hide".

As detailed in the latest report from the USCIRF, Le Tran Luat and his staff have been a casualty of a faulty, murky state's land and property policy that had caused so much pain and outrage among millions of Vietnamese citizens. This policy at its core seems to be creating deep social rifts among the rich and the poor, and people's mistrust toward the government, thus resulting in countless number of lawsuits and protests such as the ones from Thai Ha. Even the Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops in its 2008 statement had to cry out: “the land laws though modified numerous times yet still outdated and inconsistent, thus unable to catch up with the speed of social transformation process, especially the right to own private property has not been taken into consideration. Furthermore, the national corruption and bribery calamities have worsened the situation".

Dear friends,

As an integral part of Vietnamese Catholic community which has been defended by Le Tran Luat, the Federation of Vietnamese Mass Media definitely owe heroes like himself a chance to tell his side of the story and report of the abuse against his family, his law firm and his business since many of more than 600 state owned media outlets are working feverishly to tarnish his reputation, destroying his peace of mind as punishment for defending clients whose interest is conflicting with that of the government.

We once again are asking you to help us conveying this urgent message to readers of the international community, those with the same interest as attorney Luat's: to be able to live in freedom and be protected by the law and constitution in a place we call home country.