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Activists in Europe hold vigils for Christian lawyer imprisoned in Vietnam

(Reuters/Kham)Policemen keep guard as inmates wait before being released from Hoang Tien prison in Vietnam, August 30, 2013.

Activists in different parts of Europe held vigils on Monday to protest the imprisonment of Vietnamese human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who has spent more than 18 months in jail without trial.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Protesters in London drew 600 lines in chalk on the path leading to the Vietnamese embassy to mark 600 days of Dai's detention, along with the hashtag #FreeNguyenVanDai. Vigils for Dai were also conducted by members of Van Lang in Prague and Front Line Defenders in Dublin.

Dai, a Christian, was arrested in December 2015, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha. They were both charged with "spreading propaganda against the state," and have been held in prison without trial and with limited contact with the outside world.

CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers expressed concern for Dai because little is known about his current condition in prison.

"Mr. Dai has been a vocal champion for religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam who has dedicated his life to securing justice and freedom for all. Rather than being branded a criminal, the government should recognise the positive role he has played in supporting and defending the most vulnerable in society," said Rogers.

"We call for his immediate release and urge the Vietnamese government to respect and protect the right to freedom of religion or belief and other human rights in Vietnam," he added.

CSW noted that the charges against Dai and Ha were recently changed to "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration," which carries the possible penalties of 12–20 years imprisonment, a life sentence or capital punishment.

On July 30, the Vietnamese authorities arrested four activists at their homes on the same charge leveled against Dai and Ha. The four men detained by the police were identified as Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, engineer Pham Van Troi, journalist Truong Minh Duc, and lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen.

The four activists, who had served prior jail sentences for "anti-state activities," were all members of the online group Brotherhood for Democracy, which Dai helped to found in 2013.

Following their arrests, the Brotherhood for Democracy issued a statement denouncing the "suppression, detention, and prosecution" of its members, as well as the arrest and imprisonment of other activists amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Vietnam.

The group demanded the unconditional release of its arrested members in a "transparent manner," in addition to the country's other jailed activists and prisoners of conscience. It also urged the Vietnamese people, human rights groups and the international community to pressure the government over "suppressed cases" in the country.

CSW expressed concern that the four activists may be subject to a lengthy detention without trial as no trial date has been announced as of yet.

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