Authorities in Vietnam
arrested a prominent lawyer and advocate for human rights on charges that he
distributed information harmful to the government. Le Cong Dinh is a
well-respected attorney whose clients in Vietnam have included Fortune 500
companies, as well as prominent dissidents. His arrest is a step backwards at a
time when Vietnam's relations with the rest of the world, including the U.S.,
have been improving steadily.
Vietnamese officials say Mr. Dinh was taken into custody because of his defense of other pro-democracy activists and his use of the Internet to express his views. This is a violation of the section in Vietnam's criminal code that prohibits distributing information considered harmful to the government.
The arrest calls to mind the prosecution of two journalists last year who helped expose state corruption. Despite the strides the nation has made, the urge persists in some quarters to use the legal system to intimidate critics and suppress universal rights such as free speech, rather than to promote justice and accountability.
No individual should be arrested for expressing the right of free speech and no lawyer should be punished because of the clients he chooses to represent. Vietnam's arrest of Mr. Dinh contradicts the government's own commitment to internationally accepted standards of human rights and the rule of law.
The United States urges authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Dinh, as well as all other prisoners who have been detained for peacefully expressing their views.