Le Cong Dinh is a prominent Vietnamese attorney who defended several bloggers and free-expression activists and was close to several of the dissidents who formed a pro-democracy movement in 2006 known as Bloc 8406. Critical of bauxite mining in the central highlands, Le Cong Dinh was arrested by Vietnamese authorities on June 13, 2009. Convicted in 2010 with a ‘plot to overthrow the government,’ he served three years of a five year prison sentence in prison, before going on probation. After finishing his probation earlier this month he talked to Hoa Ai, a reporter with RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
RFA: first of all, we would like to congratulate you on finishing your probation and becoming a free citizen again. Can you tell us what difficulties you had during your three-year probation?
Le Cong Dinh: I had many difficulties, especially with travel. They limited my travels to the commune area. I could not visit my friends who were sick. They [the authorities] think that such visits were not legitimate reasons to travel. I could not see anybody for the past three years.
RFA: Were there problems with the local government? If you had some important meetings that you had to go to, did they let you?
Le Cong Dinh: I was fined 3 times. The first time was a warning. The two other times I had to pay the fines. I was in hurry, and I did not have enough time to inform them prior to my travels. They watched me and decided to fine me.
RFA: How did this affect you personally?
Le Cong Dinh: One time I had to go to a relative’s engagement party. They did not let me go, but they let me go to the wedding. I understand that going to engagement parties and weddings are legitimate reasons, but it still depends on a government decision. I think that it is very inconvenient and the biggest obstacle for me.
RFA: I know many prisoners of conscience who have to serve probation time just like you. They have many difficulties traveling out of their area for medical treatment or looking for jobs. Was it like this for you?
Le Cong Dinh: First of all, all prisoners who have probation time face obstacles in their lives. Take my case as an example, I could not leave my resident area to look for work or just live somewhere else. This adversely affected my income, and I had to accept it just like many others.
RFA: While on probation, Catholic activist Tran Minh Nhat’s family was harassed. His house was burned. He was attacked and his life is in danger. That doesn’t seem right.
Le Cong Dinh: I think that is a serious violation of law. Nobody is entitled to damage other people’s assets and lives, including those of prisoners of conscience. Obviously the government does not admit that they did that. They do it in a way that nobody knows for sure who is behind all the law violations,
They should have done some investigation but they chose to be quiet in those cases. So we can suspect that the government is behind attacks against prisoners of conscience. To answer your question, my answer is: Those acts are violations of law and need to be tried and condemned.
RFA: Do you want to practice law now?
Le Cong Dinh: I think about going back to practicing law because that is my profession. That is the only way I make my living. As you know, my law license was withdrawn about seven years ago. According to the law, it is very difficult for me to get back my license. However, some government authorities that I talked to promised me that they would help me to get the license back, but it depends on my attitude toward the government in the future.
RFA: You have said that you will never give up on your efforts to put Vietnam on a path toward a reformed country; building a rule of law nation and promoting a civil society. Do you think that you will face a lot of hardship?
Le Cong Dinh: My cause will never change because that is the cause that I believe in. That is the cause has driven me since I was a teenager. I have pursued it for the past 30 years, even when the society was more closed, and I understand all the risks that I would have.
RFA: Why should the average Vietnamese person care?
Le Cong Dinh: A rule-of-law democracy is necessary for the development of our country, and it will bring about benefits to people. I think the government understands this, but they want to hold on to their power so their approach is focused more on how they will keep their power than on carrying out some reforms.
A government that does not receive any feedback and protests from the people, that government can’t be strong and operate normally. They will become more authoritative. Unfortunately the government does not see this as a way to address people’s demands and wishes. Instead, they use the crackdown and create more difficulties, harass people.
Vietnam is in the integration process to the world economically and Vietnam is gradually applying the modern standards of the world. Vietnam should have respected such modern standards. However, the government thinks about protecting their power and interests more than people.
RFA: One last question. In the beginning, it seemed like your fight as a lawyer was quite lonely, but after some time, more lawyers who joined the cause. Do you see that as a bright future for attorneys as lawyers who are now more willing to participate to change our society towards a rule of law and civil society?
Le Cong Dinh: A good question because at the time when I began to care more about society, the country and started to follow my path, there were not many people like me. There were some people before me, but they had to pay with their lives, but they never gave up. Neither will I.
Yes. We were lonely then. After I finished my prison sentence, society had already changed. I’m glad that there are more young people, more people, lawyers and others, including entrepreneurs, who understand the situation. They have joined the fight for democratization, and worked toward a rule of law nation. I believe with the solidarity of the whole society we will have more remarkable results. I believe the government will realize this and accept stronger changes.
Translated by Viet Ha.