A group of Vietnamese lawyers defending Le Thu Van, a member of the Peng Lei Buddhist House Church, have sent a petition to the authorities of Long An province asking them to suspend their investigation due to her poor health.
In the written request to the provincial People's Procuracy and the Investigation Security Agency of Long An Police Department on Tuesday, the group of five lawyers suggested the agencies reconsider their decision to investigate her.
Van was charged with "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals" according to Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
In June, the Investigation Security Agency of Long An province’s Police Department separated Van's case from those of six other church members because of her absence, although the 65-year-old handed herself in to police the following month.
In July the other six members of the Peng Lei Buddhist House were sentenced to a combined 23 years and six months in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
The lawyer’s petition for leniency in Van’s case said "Mrs. Le Thu Van's cancer is in the final stage and her life is only counted in days."
Lawyer Dao Kim Lan, one of a group of five licensed lawyers to defend Ms. Van, told RFA Van’s cancer has spread and she is very weak.
“So our team of lawyers requested [investigators] temporarily suspend the investigation and terminate the case according to the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Criminal Code: Those people suffering from a fatal disease will be entitled to temporary suspension of investigation during the investigation phase, temporary suspension of prosecution during the prosecution phase, temporary suspension of trial during the trial phase and temporary suspension of serving prison term after being convicted,” Lan said.
One of the points in clauses of Article 29 of the 2015 Criminal Code on “Basis for exemption from criminal responsibility” states that “A criminal offender might be exempt from criminal responsibility [if] the offender has a fatal disease during the process of investigation, prosecution, or trial and no longer poses a threat to society.”
Cancer is defined as a serious disease that can affect the patient's life according to the definition in a government decree in 2014.
Le Thu Van surrendered to the authorities on the morning of July 28 after going to treatment for rectal cancer. Long An police allowed her to return to Peng Lei Buddhist House Church but banned her from going out.
At a morning meeting on Aug. 16 while Van was being fingerprinted and interrogated, investigator Nguyen Xuan Du made note that the written request had been received and asked the lawyers to provide her medical records, which they handed over the next day.
Talking about the possibility of Long An province authorities suspending the investigation and terminate the case against her, lawyer Dao Kim Lan said:
“The authorities of Long An province will decide what to do depending on their subjective will. They know about Le Thu Van's health condition because the medical records have been in the case file for a long time."
The group of lawyers said that the local police had issued a summons to request their client to be present at 8:00 a.m. on Aug. 16 at the Duc Hoa District Police headquarters. However, she did not have the strength to leave the house to work with the police, the lawyers said in the written request.
State-controlled media quoted police as saying Van used many offensive words, inciting the crowd in front of the Duc Hoa district police station. She was angry that the police were helping the family of a girl called Diem My who left home to join the church against her parents’ wishes in 2019. Police summoned the girl for working illegally and handed her over to the police.
Police accused Van of shouting “Duc Hoa district police abduct people and do not release them!” They also said Van's behavior included trouble-making, illegally filming at police headquarters, using slanderous words, insulting the reputation of the Duc Hoa district police and making video clips to post on social media.