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Background Briefing: Le Cong Dinh Carlyle A. Thayer July 2, 2009

[client name deleted] About lawyer Le Cong Dinh case. since the arrest, we have seen a lot of details in the Vietnamese media and I would have been interested in getting your comments on the following points: Q1-Would you describe the whole case as unusually publicized ? ANSWER: The Le Cong Dinh case represents an unprecedented use of ‘information warfare’ by the communist regime. Le Cong Dinh’s arrest was announced by simultaneous press conferences in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and an orchestrated propaganda campaign in the state-controlled media including the press, radio and television. Details of his affidavit were termed a confession and released publicly. Le Cong Dinh has been effectively tried and convicted even before appearing in court. Q2-If yes, how do you explain this ? Could it be linked to increased criticism against the government in the bauxite case, in the country relation with China ? Do you think the Vietnamese authorities are trying to send a signal to people who have openly criticized them recently ? Could it also be linked to the approach of the next congress (2011 but they seem to have started preparing it already). ANSWER: There are a number of interrelated issues which explain the reaction of Vietnam’s one-party state with respect to Le Cong Dinh. First and foremost is that he made contact with overseas so-called reactionary organizations including the Viet Tan that planned political activities in Vietnam. In sum, the communist regime and its security apparatus clearly view Dinh as a subversive. Second, Le Cong Dinh has written numerous articles and blogs under various pseudonyms. He has commented on a wide number of issues. But it was his blogs relating to the PSI case involving misuse of Japanese ODA and alleged corruption in the award of the bauxite contract, which reportedly traced back to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, that landed him in hot water. This demonstrates that even so-called reformers or progressives in the establishment cannot countenance independent criticism. Third, up to now only General Vo Nguyen Giap has had the temerity to raise the question of China and national security in the bauxite case. Virtually all critics of bauxite mining used arguments that stressed environmental, economic and social impacts. They shied away from the China factor. Not so Le Cong Dinh. Relations with China are always a sensitive issue and from the point of view of the government, Dinh crossed a red line. The current party leadership is so sensitive to any criticism that questions their stewardship of national security and Vietnamese nationalism that their default position is to strike out and suppress such criticism. Fourth, the current party Central Committee plenum was planned long ago and is meeting according to an established schedule. It is now the mid-point between five yearly congresses and the party will begin making preparations for the eleventh congress. Over the next eighteen to twenty months internal party tensions over various policy issues will surface as sub-committees work on the party’s platform, long-term socio-economic development

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strategies, and most importantly, new leadership. The Le Cong Dinh case will most definitely cast a chill over party members who would like to see greater political liberalization. Q3-Would you say the way the Vietnamese authorities are handling this case since the lawyer was arrested reveals something special, more general, about Vietnam now, its political system, the human rights situation, the way the authorities are handling those issues ? ANSWER: The most important aspect of the Le Cong Dinh case is that it demonstrates the ruthless application of the government’s recently approved policy of using ‘information and propaganda’ to project its case in a more sophisticated and targeted manner by acting more proactively. Recall the case of Father Nguyen Van Ly which was broadcast on closed circuit television to foreign diplomats and observers. This attempt to manipulate his trial to serve the ends of the state backfired when Father Ly was physically muzzled and his photo was sent around the world. Vietnam, instead of retreating, has developed a new playbook to manipulate information to justify its actions. The Le Cong Dinh case illustrates several aspects about contemporary Vietnam. First, it demonstrates that the regime will repress any person who makes contacts with overseas prodemocracy parties, whom the regime brands as ‘terrorist’ and ‘reactionary’. Second, the Dinh case is aimed at intimidating and silencing domestic critics who might have become emboldened to become more politically active. As Vietnam moves to convene the eleventh party congress, the public will be invited to make comments on key policy documents. The response in 2006 was overwhelming. The communist regime is demonstrating that it will suppress any criticism that questions its legitimacy to rule. Third, the Dinh case may be viewed as a kind of shadow play directed by conservative forces within the party, mainly centred in the public security bloc and information ministry and departments, to demonstrate their strength as Vietnam enters the political season in the lead up to the eleventh national party congress. They want to preempt the discussion on the future nature and shape of political reforms in Vietnam.