Catholic lawyer accused of treasonous acts

BANGKOK: A Catholic lawyer has been arrested in Vietnam, charged with working with foreigners to overthrow the government.

Paul Le Cong Dinh was arrested on June 13 for creating "propaganda against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," state-run media reported on June 14.

Security officials searched Dinh's office and house in Ho Chi Minh City and confiscated "anti-government" documents, the reports said. The lawyer reportedly "compiled papers distorting the government's economic and social policies, slandering high-ranking officials, and causing division among people." He also sent his papers to websites based in foreign countries, media reported.

Authorities also charge Dinh, 41, with working with "reactionary forces" in foreign countries to overthrow the regime.

Dinh studied in France before obtaining a master's degree in law from Tulane University in Louisiana in the United States. He then returned to Ho Chi Minh City where he has been working as a prominent lawyer specializing in international commercial law.

Some local Church observers said Dinh's arrest was a clear sign that the communist government wanted to warn those who oppose the regime and its economic and social policies.

Some Church people have run afoul of the authorities in recent months.

Several Redemptorists in Ha Noi, who launched a campaign against two controversial bauxite-mining projects in the central highlands in late April, were questioned by the police last week and had their computer confiscated.

Many academics, scientists and former high-ranking military officials inside and outside the country had petitioned the government to stop the two mining projects. They fear the projects could badly damage the environment and the well being of local people.

Earlier this month, a Catholic teacher from Quang Ngai province was dismissed after being accused of providing her students with the addresses of anti-government websites.

Le Tran Luat, the lawyer who defended eight Catholics from Ha Noi's Thai Ha parish accused of causing social disturbance and damaging public property, has been continuously questioned by police.

They have also closed down his office.

The defendants were among hundreds of Catholics who occupied a plot of former Church land near the Redemptorist-run Thai Ha church on Aug. 15. They placed crosses and Marian statues on the plot, which the government confiscated in early 1960s.

Luat represented the eight in court on Dec. 8 when seven of them were handed suspended prison sentences ranging from 12 to 17 months. One was let off with a warning.