Bangkok, October 4, 2013--Vietnamese blogger Le Quoc Quan was sentenced to prison on Wednesday for tax evasion, a charge that government authorities frequently use to stifle critical voices. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the appellate court to reverse the politically motivated ruling and urges Vietnamese authorities to end state persecution of Vietnam's independent bloggers.
The People's Court in Hanoi ruled in a one-day trial that Quan had failed to pay income tax at a consulting company he ran and established. He was handed a 30-month prison sentence and fine of 1.2 billion dong (US$60,000), and was ordered to pay 600 million dong in back taxes, according to news reports. Convictions on tax evasion carry a maximum of seven years in prison under Vietnamese law.
At the hearing, Quan denied the charges against him and said he was the victim of "political acts," news reports said. His lawyer, Ha Huy Son, said that the presiding judge would not allow any arguments from the defense and that there were many "inaccuracies" in the prosecution's evidence, according to the reports. The lawyer said Quan will appeal the conviction.
Quan wrote a popular blog in which he reported and commented on issues of government corruption, religious freedom, political pluralism, and human rights abuses. He was first detained on December 27, 2012, in Hanoi, days after he wrote an article published on the BBC's website that criticized the Communist Party-dominated government's constitutional reform drive. His blog has remained inactive since his arrest.
"The politically motivated ruling against Le Quoc Quan points to a lack of judicial independence and rising government intolerance for free expression over the Internet," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We condemn the conviction and call for Quan to be released on appeal."
In August 2012, assailants beat Quan outside his home with an iron bar, according to the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, a local advocacy group. Quan said at the time that he believed the assailants were state agents.
Officials used similar trumped-up tax evasion charges to initially detain and later sentence prominent blogger Nguyen Van Hai in 2008. After serving his two-and-a-half-year prison sentence, Hai was charged with anti-state crimes in September 2012 and handed a 12-year prison sentence to be followed by five years' house arrest. Hai will be honored with CPJ's International Press Freedom Award on November 26.
Quan's sentencing comes amid an intensifying crackdown on Vietnam's independent bloggers. In an authoritarian country like Vietnam, where many issues are not covered by the mainstream media, the only avenue open to critical and independent reporters and writers is blogging. At least three bloggers have been detained so far this year on arbitrary anti-state charges.
- For more data and analysis, visit CPJ's Vietnam page.