HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court sentenced a U.S-trained lawyer and well-known dissident to 30 months in jail on Wednesday after finding him guilty on tax evasion charges widely considered to be politically motivated.
The case against Le Quoc Quan had been followed closely by the U.S. government, which is pressing Vietnam’s Communist leaders to loosen their restrictions on those advocating democracy and human rights.
Quan, in his early 40s, maintained his innocence throughout the one-day trial in the capital of Hanoi.
“I have long been denouncing and fighting against corruption, bureaucracy and the stagnation that is doing harm to this country … I’m the victim of political acts,” Quan said after the sentence was handed down.
Quan carried on speaking, but the audio feed into a side-room where a small number of reporters and diplomats were allowed to listen to proceedings was then cut off.
Presiding Judge Le Thi Hop said Quan was found guilty of evading corporate income tax of $30,000 in relation to a consultancy he had headed. Quan was arrested last December in Hanoi.
Trials in Vietnam do not meet international standards for fairness, according to human rights groups.
Many hundreds of police and other security officers were stationed in the streets around the court preventing people from getting close. Around 100 of Quan’s supporters rallied at a church and in streets elsewhere in the city, shouting, “Justice for innocent people.”
Quan was detained in 2007 for three months on his return from a U.S. government-funded fellowship in Washington. He is one of Vietnam’s better-known dissidents and maintained a popular blog that highlighted human rights abuses and other issues off-limits to the state media.
Vietnam converted to a market economy in the late 1980s and wants to integrate with the world, but maintains strict controls on freedom of speech and political expression. Bloggers, activists and others are routinely arrested and imprisoned. Foreign media representatives are allowed to live in Vietnam but are subject to restrictions on where they can travel and what they can report.
The Internet has emerged as a vital organizing tool for dissidents in recent years, and there has been a surge of blogs and Facebook pages highlighting criticism of the government. The rise of the Internet, combined with an economic slowdown, has left the ruling elite feeling vulnerable.