The postponement, for the second time in six months, of the trial of two Vietnamese broadcasters who had been arrested at the prompting of the Chinese Embassy was announced on Thursday morning in Hanoi. International attention focused on a case that involves both freedom of conscience and freedom of the press may have led to this second postponement.
Vu Duc Trung, a 30-year-old tech executive, and Le Van Thanh, his 35-year-old brother-in-law, had, prior to their arrest in June 2010, broadcast by short wave into China programming critical of the Chinese regime and supportive of the spiritual practice of Falun Gong.
They were originally due to stand trial on April 8 for the charge of “transmitting information illegally onto the telecommunications network,” but that trial was postponed without notice. About 10 days ago the court announced they would be tried on Oct. 6.
The lawyer for Mr. Trung, Mr. Tran Dinh Trien, said that as parties involved in the case arrived at the courthouse Thursday morning they were told the trial had been postponed. No date was given for resuming the trial and Trung and Thanh were not present.
In response to Trien’s question as to the reason for the postponement, the court said it had decided the day before to postpone the trial due to a request made in a memo from the Bureau of Radio Frequency Management.
Trien said the court’s reason for the postponement didn’t make sense to him. The reason also, according to the lawyer, doesn’t conform to the criminal law, which allows a trial to go ahead even in the absence of witnesses or a lawyer. What role the Bureau plays in the case is not clear from the indictment, Trien said, and why the possible absence of a representative of the Bureau at the trial would lead to a postponement was not clear.
Trien believes the charges brought against Trung and Thanh don’t apply to their case. He explained to The Epoch Times in April that he believes that at most the two are guilty of the administrative offense of broadcasting without a license, the penalty for which would be confiscation of equipment and a fine.
While Trung and Thanh are being tried for violation of Vietnam’s regulations regarding broadcasting, their actual offence in the eyes of Vietnamese authorities was to have annoyed the Chinese regime by broadcasting programming downloaded from the Sound of Hope Radio (SOH) network. A copy of the official indictment obtained by The Epoch Times made clear that Trung and Thanh were being charged in response to the demands of the Chinese regime.
SOH’s broadcasts into mainland China help break the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) jealously guarded monopoly on news and information. SOH’s programming regularly discusses the CCP’s history of violence and mass murder in China, human rights abuses, official corruption, protests against the regime, and Falun Gong and its ongoing persecution in China.
Falun Gong involves performing meditative exercises and living according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Fear of its rapidly growing popularity in China and that the Chinese people might prefer its beliefs to CCP doctrine led the then-paramount leader of China in July 1999 to order a campaign to “eradicate” the practice.
Trung and Thang are both Falun Gong practitioners and Vietnam’s prosecution of them raises issues of both freedom of conscience and freedom of the press. Their plight has attracted international attention.
Early Thursday morning the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi confirmed that it had been monitoring this case and that someone from the embassy had gone to attend the trial.
On Wednesday, Freedom House issued an alert that condemned “China’s use of diplomatic pressure to engage in further crackdowns on religious minorities and to restrict freedom of expression outside of its borders” and called upon Vietnam to drop the charges against Trung and Thanh and to release them.
Also on Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders published an article that condemned “the decision by the Vietnamese judicial authorities to press ahead with the trial” of Trung and Thanh.
Protests supporting the pair were held this past week in the United States in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston and also in Australia, with letters often being delivered to Vietnamese consular officials.
A source in Hanoi knowledgeable about the trial speculated that the postponement was motivated by the upcoming visit sometime in October to China of a high-ranking Vietnamese official. The Vietnamese government, according to this source, does not want to have a trial and a conviction at this time, because people around the world will protest at the same time the Vietnamese official is meeting with Chinese officials.
Trien complained that Trung and Thanh have been held in pre-trial detention for over 15 months. During that time Trien has seen his client a total of 3 or 4 times, most recently a few months ago.
Trien says that at that time Trung was physically in good health and also in good spirits. According to Trien, Trung believes in what he and Thanh were doing: that the broadcasts into China were undertaken for the good of the Chinese people and violated no Vietnamese law.
Trung also told Trien that he believes that Falun Gong is good and pointed out that Vietnam has no law banning Falun Gong.
Falun Gong is legal in Vietnam, as it is almost everywhere in the world other than China. But Falun Gong has come under increasing pressure from the Vietnamese authorities. An official Vietnamese government document published in April by The Epoch Times makes clear they are acting in response to pressure from the Chinese regime.
As The Epoch Times reported last week, that pressure has recently taken the form of incidents of torture, according to Vietnamese practitioners. For some time, practitioners who practice Falun Gong’s exercises in public have on occasion been subjected to harassment, including beatings.On Thursday, approximately 30 Falun Gong practitioners meditated outside the Chinese consulate in Ho Chi Minh City as a form of peaceful protest supporting Trung and Thanh. All present were detained by Vietnamese police, along with 5 practitioners who were meditating in a city park. At press time, nothing further was known of the arrested practitioners’ situation.
With reporting by Thanh Le