Paris lawyer asks to defend Hanoi dissident

26th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

HANOI, April 25 (AFP) - A Paris-based lawyer has asked Vietnamese authorities for permission to defend elderly cyber-dissident and democracy advocate Pham Que Duong who was arrested in December 2002.

HANOI, April 25 (AFP) - A Paris-based lawyer has asked Vietnamese authorities for permission to defend elderly cyber-dissident and democracy advocate Pham Que Duong who was arrested in December 2002.

If his request is accepted, Frenchman Jean-Louis Malterre would be the first foreigner ever to defend a Vietnamese dissident.

No date has been given yet for the trial.Malterre, who is registered at the Paris bar, told AFP he had sought to defend Duong after being contacted by some of the dissident's relatives living in the French capital.

"What they want is to end the silence and know the charges against him," he said.

He said he had written to Vietnam's ambassador in Paris asking for a visa to defend Duong.

The 72-year-old Duong, a long-term democracy advocate and critic of the endemic corruption within the Communist Party, was originally charged with espionage, which is punishable by 12 years to life imprisonment.Malterre said though the charges might have been modified.

"I don't know the charges nor the date of the trial. It is difficult for me to prepare the trial," he admitted.

Extremely sensitive to criticism of its human rights record, the government rarely announces the trial dates of dissidents, but Western diplomats said this year they believed it could take place soon.

Duong is notably accused of having links to reactionary organisations abroad, using the Internet to receive and distribute documents hostile to the communist regime, and of being the correspondent of a Canadian magazine, according to Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Duong was arrested on December 28, 2002, after a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City with fellow cyber-dissident and academic Tran Khue, who was arrested the following day.

Khue has also yet to be brought to trial.In February, the French organisation said Duong, a decorated veteran of Vietnam's revolutionary struggle, and his lawyers had been given no opportunity to prepare their defence properly.

It expressed fears that his trial would be a "complete travesty, as is usually the case with political dissidents in Vietnam.

"International human rights groups have long charged Vietnam with smothering all political dissent and routinely jailing democracy activists or critics of the regime.

Nguyen Vu Binh, another journalist and pro-democracy advocate imprisoned on espionage charges on New Year's Eve, will appeal his seven-year sentence on May 5, according to diplomatic and human rights sources.

© AFP

                                         Subject: French news

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