HANOI—A coalition of 14 human rights NGOs and networks strongly condemns the decision this week by an appeal court upholding a 30-month prison sentence for Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan. Mr. Quan has been detained since December 2012.

The coaliton believes Mr. Quan’s detention is politically motivated and a reaction to his blog, where he frequently exposes human rights violations by the Vietnamese government. Mr. Quan is a victim of a coordinated government crackdown on bloggers, citizen journalists, and pro-democracy activists.

The coalition includes ARTICLE 19, Reporters Without Borders, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Freedom House, Avocats-sans-Frontières, Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada, English PEN, PEN American Center, the National Endowment for Democracy, PEN International, Media Defence Southeast Asia, Front Line Defenders, and the World Movement for Democracy

“The Vietnamese authorities arrested and convicted Mr. Quan for exposing human rights abuses, the wrongdoing that the country’s state-controlled media ignore,” states Robert Herman, head of regional programs for Freedom House.

On February 18, an appeal court upheld Mr. Quan’s October 2, 2013 conviction for trumped up charges of tax evasion, and his sentence of 30 months in prison and a fine of 59,000 USD. This appeal decision comes just months after Vietnam joined the United Nations Human Rights Council  (UN HRC) in November 2013.

“Vietnam’s continued persecution of its human rights defenders raises troubling questions about its membership on the UN HRC,” says Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “Being a member of the international human rights community imposes obligations to respect and protect human rights. Vietnam will be judged on how it treats its people. Mr. Quan’s case clearly demonstrates the Vietnamese authorities are currently failing to ensure protection for fundamental rights, including freedom of expression.”

The appeal judgment also follows the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s (UN WGAD) condemnation of Mr. Quan’s detention.

“Vietnam’s decision to uphold the unjust conviction of Mr. Quan is a clear violation of Vietnam’s obligations under international law,” says Nani Jansen, senior legal counsel of Media Legal Defence Initiative. “By disregarding the clear findings of the UN WGAD that his imprisonment was in violation of his right to free expression and right to a fair trial, and turning a deaf ear to their call for his immediate release, Vietnam has failed to live up to its international obligation to ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.'”

In an opinion published on November 29, 2013, the WGAD rejected the legitimacy of the conviction and the legality of the detention. The opinion concluded that Vietnam had failed to observe fair trial standards and that the breaches were of such gravity as to render Mr. Quan’s detention arbitrary and contrary to law.

“Governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation or improper interference. The government of Vietnam is doing the exact opposite. Le Quoc Quan must be released from prison immediately,” says Adrie van de Streek, director of Lawyers for Lawyers.

All four of Mr. Quan’s lawyers, as well as his wife and his mother, were present during the four-hour trial on Monday, February 18, as hundreds of demonstrators stood outside the court, wearing t-shirts to show support for the jailed activist. A delegation of representatives from the European Union, the United States, and Canada were also present to observe the trial, together with a small group of journalists. It has been reported that many of those observing the trial were kept in a separate room in poor conditions.

“The ongoing support Le Quoc Quan has received from his family, friends, and the international community remains hugely important. In a recent letter to supporters, Quan wrote how he was ‘deeply moved to know that many of you still care, follow and support my case,'”says Cat Lucas, English PEN Writers at Risk Program Manager.

Vietnam’s human rights record was reviewed at the United Nations on February 5, 2014, during the Universal Periodic Review. Many states, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Australia called for Vietnam to cease its crackdown on free speech on and off-line. However, less than a week later, eight bloggers and activists were beaten by plainclothes police officers and arrested in the southern province of Dong Thap.

“Le Quoc Quan is nothing short of a Vietnamese patriot, a man most concerned about improving the lives of his fellow citizens, a person who cares deeply for his country and who is optimistic about its future. We salute his courage and urge the Government of Vietnam to respect his fundamental right to freedom of expression and association,” says Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The coalition calls for the Vietnamese government to release Le Quoc Quan, as well as the many human rights defenders, bloggers, and activists currently detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

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For media interviews or more information, please contact:

Judy Taing, ARTICLE 19 Programme Officer for Asia, at judy@article19.org or +1 (646) 725 1444
Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager, English PEN at cat@englishpen.org or +44 207 324 2535
Gail Davidson, Executive Director, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, at lrwc@portal.ca or +1 604 738 0338
Nani Jansen, Senior Legal Counsel, Media Legal Defence Initiative, at nani.jansen@mediadefence.org or  +44 780 540 4089
Adrie van de Streek, Executive Director, Lawyers for Lawyers at info@lawyersforlawyers.nl or +31 626 274 390
Benjamin Ismail, Head Asia-Pacific Desk, Reporters Without Borders at asia@rsf.org or +33 1 44 83 84 84
Nathalie Muller Sarallier, Avocats Sans Frontières Network at coordination@asf-network.com or +33 5 34 31 78 50
Sally Blair, Senior Director, Fellowship Programs, National Endowment for Democracy at sallyb@ned.org or 202-378-9700;
Art Kaufman, Senior Director, World Movement for Democracy at artk@ned.org or 202-378-9700
Rhonda Mays, Program Officer, Freedom House, at Mays@FreedomHouse.org or +1 202.480.8055
Sarah Hoffman, Freedom to Write Program Coordinator, PEN American Center, at sarah@pen.org or 212.334.1660 ext. 111
Cathy McCann, Asia/Middle East Researcher, PEN International at cathy.mccann@pen-international.org or +44 (0)20 7405 0338
HR Dipendra, Executive Director, Media Defence Southeast Asia at dipendra3000@gmail.com or +6013 366 1222
Mary Lawlor, Executive Director, Front Line Defenders at mary@frontlinedefenders.org