Lawyer Nguyen Thanh Luong has defended several prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, including young activists Dinh Nguyen Kha and Nguyen Phuong Uyen, who in 2013 successfully appealed their jail sentences for distributing anti-government leaflets during a protest against China’s claims to islands in the South China Sea. However, the rights attorney recently left his practice to become a notary clerk. Mac Lam of RFA’s Vietnamese Service recently interviewed him about why he gave up his profession.
Q: Can you tell us why you decided to quit your law career? Was it your personal decision or did you receive some sort of official document forcing you to do so?
A: There was no official document, but I was under a lot of pressure and I had to quit. This was a choice of survival. This work suits my current situation. In reality, the situation was not so pressing that I had to quit immediately, but there are too many things to say about our society now.
Q: So there was no official document, but there was hidden pressure on you?
A: Yes, I can’t deny that. There are many reasons that I can’t explain to you at this point. However, to answer your question, I was a lawyer for more than 20 years and now I had to quit. Nothing is simple.
Q: You have defended many famous prisoners of conscience … You knew that such cases rarely win in Vietnam, but you defended them even though many people thought they were hopeless. Why did you pursue such cases?
A: First of all, [the defendants] were on their own. In Vietnam, such cases are related to national security and they are very sensitive—just like in political cases, which many [lawyers] hesitate to participate in. But I felt [the defendants] needed help and greater attention to seek justice in their cases. These cases serve as measuring sticks for the progress of civilization, politics and society, and they reveal things more clearly. In many of these cases, all hope was lost and the outcome did not meet my expectations.
Q: If legal reforms are introduced in Vietnam that result in trials being judged more fairly, would you be willing to return to your career as a lawyer?
A: Of course. That would be ideal. When there are specific changes—changes in collective management principles and the one-party communist system, as well as the introduction of checks and balances—they will promote the development of society, and the working conditions for lawyers will be much better.