Diplomats show concern over death penalty case

The diplomats met family members and concerned lawyers. Photo by Hoang Thanh.

The diplomats met family members and concerned lawyers. Photo by Hoang Thanh.

Diplomats from 13 Western countries have met the family and supporters of a condemned man whose case has highlighted concerns about the fairness of Vietnam’s legal system and its use of the death penalty.

Shortly before he was due to die at the end of October, Le Van Manh received a stay of execution following desperate appeals by lawyers and his family members.

The EU representative said they intended to raise the issue of wrongful convictions during their next human rights dialogue with the Vietnamese government in mid-December.

Manh had been convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to die even though he had previously been twice acquitted on appeal on the same charges.

Representatives from the embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, France and Australia took part in the meeting with concerned lawyers and Manh’s relatives.

“The case was full of due process violations, involving extortion, torture, fake evidence, and interrogation of children without legal guardian,” said Manh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Viet, who was accompanied to the meeting by human

Manh's mother led the campaign that led to a last minute stay of execution

Manh’s mother led the campaign that led to a last minute stay of execution

rights activists.

Manh’s younger sister, Le Thi Le, was only a child of nine when she was questioned by the police about the murder that Manh was accused of committing. She said that the police had come to her school, interrogated her, and asked her to give her signature to confirm her testimony.

Tran Vu Hai, one of the lawyers who had petitioned President Truong Tan Sang for a reprieve, said the authorities had yet to hand over more than half of the paperwork necessary for him to take up the case.

“Lawyer Nguyen Ha Luan has asked for more access, but his request has not received any reply from the authorities,” he said.

Mr Hai said that in one of the trials the case had continued even though Mr Manh had rejected his court appointed lawyer and so was unrepresented.

The political officer from the US Embassy, David Muehlke, asked about Le Van Manh’s current legal status and who had made the decision to delay the execution.

Mr Hai said that no-one had taken responsibility for issuing the execution order and no-one would say who was responsible for ordering the delay either.

The blogger, Trinh Anh Tuan, who is also known as Gio Lang Thang or Wandering Wind, said police brutality has become increasingly worrying. “In three recent years, there have been 226 people killed in police custody,” he said.

“Also, earlier this year, the Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly listed for consideration 18 death penalty case where there was a wrongful conviction…but there has been no official report on these cases and they could drag on for years,” he said.

Tuan said he had been assaulted in front of his house by plainclothes thugs on October 30 when he had been trying to attend a seminar on law and justice. He had been very active in protecting Manh’s family from police harassment during their stay in Hanoi.

Another activist, Mai Phuong Thao, was given a fine by local police, who accused her of “inciting public disorder” by organizing demonstrations against wrongful conviction.

Delphine Malard, the representative of the EU delegation in Vietnam, recalled that the delegation and its ambassador had been very active as soon as they heard about Manh’s imminent execution on October 22.

“During the weekend of the 24th and 25th of October, we were mobilized here to make relevant contacts with the authorities and different ministries to push for a stay of execution. It’s something that has been monitored very closely, the case has been taken up at a high level, in particular during the visit last week of the EU Parliament.”

She added that the forthcoming human rights dialogue in mid-December would be a useful forum for them to raise the case and others like it.