Bangkok, February 18, 2014–A Vietnamese court today rejected the appeal of blogger and human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan, who was sentenced in October to 30 months in prison on tax evasion charges, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ruling and calls for the blogger’s immediate and unconditional release.
The Hanoi People’s Court of Appeals ruled in a half-day trial that Quan’s appeal failed to present new evidence and that the lower court’s verdict was valid, according to news reports. In announcing the verdict, court president Nguyen Van Son said that Quan “did not show regret and took a disrespectful attitude towards the court,” Agence France-Presse reported.
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, nine days after he published an article on the BBC’s website that criticized the Communist Party-dominated government’s constitutional reform drive.
In October, Quan was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a 1.2 billion dong (US$57,000) fine on charges that he had failed to pay income tax at a company he ran and established. Vietnamese authorities often use tax evasion charges to stifle critical voices, according to CPJ research. The blogger maintained his innocence during today’s appeal hearing, according to news reports quoting his lawyer.
“Today’s appeal court ruling against blogger Le Quoc Quan underscores the severe constraints on judicial independence in Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “It is clear that Quan was imprisoned for his expression of dissenting opinions, not a faulty tax disclosure. We call on Vietnamese authorities to release all imprisoned journalists immediately and unconditionally.”
On February 2, Quan launched a hunger strike to protest against prison authorities’ refusal to provide him legal documents, religious books, and access to a Catholic priest ahead of his appeal, according to news reports.
With 18 reporters behind bars, Vietnam is the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world, according to CPJ’s annual prison census conducted on December 1.