Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly March 28-April 03: Vietnam Continues Crackdown, Imprisoning Six Political Dissidents within Last Eight Days of March amid Country’s Leadership Transition

Defenders’ Weekly  | Apr 03, 2016

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Vietnam’s communist government has continued its intensified crackdown against local dissidents, jailing six bloggers and activists within the last eight days of March while the country’s political power transition is held.

One week after sentencing prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to respectively five and three years in prison on the charge of “abusing democracy freedom” on March 23, the communist government sentenced blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia or Nguyen Dinh Ngoc to four years in jail and three years under house arrest for posting articles defaming state leaders.

Also on March 30, the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced three female land petitioners for calling for political change and bringing home-made flags of the Saigon regime to the U.S. General Consulate in 2014. Accordingly, Ngo Thi Minh Phuoc was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment with an additional three years under house arrest, whereas Nguyen Thi Tri and Nguyen Thi Be Hai received three-year prison sentences and two years’ house arrest.

International human rights bodies, such as the London-based Amnesty and the Paris-based Committee to Protect Journalists have issued separate statements condemning Vietnam’s imprisonments of local bloggers, and urge Hanoi to unconditionally and immediately release all political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

On April 1, Nguyen Cong Thu, a staff of Defend the Defenders, was severely beaten by numerous police officers and plainclothes in his home province of An Giang. The attackers have threatened to kill him if he continues his human rights activities, including those that promote the right of religious freedom and beliefs. In response to the assault, Defend the Defenders strongly condemns the brutal acts of security forces in the province, particularly in Cho Moi district, and says they are responsible for the safety of Mr. Thu and his family.

The attack took place one day prior to the 79th anniversary of the death of late leader Huynh Phu So of the Hoa Hao Buddhist sect who was assassinated by communists in 1947. Authorities in the Mekong Delta have tightened security during early April, barring many Hoa Hao followers from gathering to pray for their late leader.

And many other important news

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============ March 28========

Vietnamese Activists Face Arrest While Trying to Attend Political Trials

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese activists are facing detention if they try to attend political trials as well as hearings of other cases relating to other sensitive cases, according to Circular 13 of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security.

In its Circular 13, which became effective on March 24, the Ministry of Public Security empowers its security forces to suppress those people gathering in and outside of the court areas and to ensure order in the courtroom.

Security forces are allowed to arrest those who are considered agitating others to cause public disorders in the court building or surrounding areas, the circular states.

The arrested individuals face up to seven years in prison if convicted, according to Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code.

The circular aims to prevent local activists from coming to political trials to support the defendants, said local human rights defenders, adding the document violates the freedom of assembly enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.

Vietnam’s communist government has treated all peaceful gatherings of local activists illegal and often deploys security forces to disperse.

On March 23, one day before the circular becoming effective, Hanoi’s security forces violently dispersed local political dissidents, social activists, human rights defenders and land petitioners who tried to monitor the trial against prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. Police kidnapped prominent economist Dr. Nguyen Quang A and social activist Nguyen Dinh Ha near the court building and later interrogated them in police station for hours. Both A and Ha are self-nominees for the upcoming general election for the country’s parliament in May.

Many other activists complained that they were barred by local security forces from going to watch the open trial against the two bloggers who were charged of posting articles which “distort the lines and policies of the party and law of the state, and vilify individuals.”

Vietnamese communists who have ruled the country for decades are vowing to keep the nation under a one-party regime. Their government is using controversial articles 79, 88, 245 and 258 to silence government critics.

In response, the Paris-based Vietnam Committee for Human Rights (VCHR) said the circular is anti-constitutional. Minister of Public Security General Tran Dai Quang, who was elected as the country’s president on April 2, is “overstepping his powers and trampling on the rights enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution,” said VCHR’s President Vo Van Ai.

New restrictions on the right to demonstrate in Vietnam is overstepping his powers and trampling on the rights enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution, said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

Vietnam’s 2013 amended Constitution guarantees the rights of all citizens “to enjoy the right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the press, to have access to information, assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations” (Article 25).

Vietnam has no law on demonstrations. A draft law before the National Assembly has been delayed because of disagreement on the text. Current regulations in force are the government’s Decree 38 and the ministry’s Circular 09 which prohibit gatherings of more than five people outside public buildings without permission from the State.

New restrictions on the right to demonstrate in Vietnam

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226 Vietnamese Non-Communists Rally for General Election in May

Defend the Defenders: As many as 226 Vietnamese who are not members of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam have registered as candidates for the upcoming General Election which is scheduled on May 22 for the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly (NA) for the 2016-2021 term, state media has reported.

Their number accounts for 19.72% of the total candidates for 500 seats in the country’s parliament, the VnEconomy newswire reported, adding the total number of the candidates is 1,146, including 420 female contenders. The number of candidates who are ethnic minorities is 240, or 20.94%.

The number of self-nominees is 162, many of them are social activists, including prominent economist Dr. Nguyen Quang A from Hanoi, human rights lawyer Vo An Don from the central coastal province of Binh Thuan and Hanoi-based blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam which fights for freedom of press in Vietnam.

After the second conference organized by the communist-controlled Vietnam Fatherland Front, 1,146 people have been included in the preliminary list, including 154 self-nominees.

As many as 197 officials have been included in the list, 12 of them came from the party’s apparatuses, five from the Presidency and judicial agencies, 113 from the parliament’s agencies, and 17 from the government.

As many as 15 army officials and three police officials are included in the list.

The Election Council has received 24 denunciations, 22 of which are related to the candidates and the election processes. One of the denunciation is about a candidate who is a senior official under the supervision of the party’s Politburo and Secretariat, the newspaper said without giving more detail.

Earlier this year, senior officials of the party said the number of non-communist legislators may rise from four in the 2011-2016 term to 50 in the 2016-2021 tenure.

Vietnam’s parliament is considered a rubber-stamp by local and foreign observers. Its main duty is to approve policies and decisions of the ruling communist party.

============ March 30==========

Vietnam Imprisons Third Blogger within Eight Days as New Leadership Elected

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam has jailed the third blogger within the last eight days of March as the country elects key state positions for the next five years, state media has reported.

After imprisoning prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to respectively five years and three years on March 23, the communist government on March 30 sentenced dissident blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia (or Nguyen Dinh Ngoc) to four years in prison and three years under house arrest on charges of disseminating “propaganda against the state.”

On Wednesday, the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City found blogger Gia guilty of propagandizing against state under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code. Prosecutors claimed that 22 of his articles, 14 of which were published online, were defamatory of Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV)’s leaders and state officials.

Blogger Gia was arrested in December 2014 and held for 15 months in pre-trial detention.

“The conviction of blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia underscores the extraordinary lengths Vietnam’s leaders will take to suppress any criticism of their rule,” said Shawn Crispin, senior representative of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in Southeast Asia. “Rather than imprisoning journalists on trumped up charges, Vietnam should instead strive to abolish the various laws that are habitually used to suppress free speech and independent journalism,” he said.

His conviction comes amid an intensifying clampdown on dissent. One week earlier, the People’s Court in the capital city of Hanoi jailed bloggers Vinh and Thuy on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 258 of the Penal Code. The convictions against the duo met strong global condemnation, including from the U.S., the EU and international bodies such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Civil Rights Defenders.

Also on March 30, the People’s Court in HCMC sentenced three women to between three and four years in prison on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda as they held up the flags of the defeated U.S.-backed South Vietnam and chanted anti-state slogans during peaceful demonstration outside the American General Consulate in the city in 2014. According to state media, Ngo Thi Minh Uoc, 57, got four years, and Nguyen Thi Tri and Nguyen Thi Be Hai, both 58, were given three years in prison. The three were also given two years of house arrest after serving their sentences.

In a statement released March 23, the U.S.’s Embassy in Vietnam said the U.S. is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government’s conviction and sentencing of the bloggers, noting that “the use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalize individuals peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression is disturbing.”

Washington calls on the government of Vietnam to release unconditionally these two individuals, as well as all other prisoners of conscience, and allow all Vietnamese to express their views peacefully, without fear of retribution.

Vietnam held at least six reporters behind bars, including bloggers Gia, Vinh and Thuy, when CPJ conducted its annual global census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2015.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s highest legislative body National Assembly is relieving President Truong Tan Sang, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and top legislator Nguyen Sinh Hung and formally electing Tran Dai Quang, Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan to replace them, respectively, nearly two months ahead of the general election scheduled on May 22. Ngan, who was vice chairwoman of the parliament, is now the country’s first female top legislator after the one-candidate-ballot on Thursday while Minister of Public Security General Quang and Deputy PM Phuc will take up their higher posts on the same mechanism of voting.

With the promotion of the public security minister to the presidency and of many police generals in the party’s Politburo and Central Committee in the party’s 12th National Congress in late January, Vietnam is expected to continue its hardline policy and intensify crackdown against political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, foreign and local observers said.

================ Match 31===================

Blogger sentenced amid clampdown in Vietnam

Committee to Protect Journalists- Bangkok, March 31, 2016 – In a mounting clampdown on dissent, Vietnam sentenced a prominent blogger on Wednesday to four years in prison on charges of disseminating “propaganda against the state,” according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentence and calls for the immediate release of all journalists wrongfully held behind bars in Vietnam.

The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court sentenced blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia, also known as Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, to four years in prison and three years of probation under article 88 of the Penal Code, which carries maximum penalties of 20 years in prison for the ill-defined offense of “propagandizing” against the state, according to news reports. Prosecutors claimed that 22 of Gia’s articles, 14 of which were published online, were defamatory of Communist Party leaders and the state, reports said.

Gia was held for 15 months in pre-trial detention. It was not immediately clear if that time served would count against his four year sentence.

“The conviction of blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia underscores the extraordinary lengths Vietnam’s leaders will take to suppress any criticism of their rule,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Rather than imprisoning journalists on trumped up charges, Vietnam should instead strive to abolish the various laws that are habitually used to suppress free speech and independent journalism.”

Gia was first arrested in December 2014 at his home in southern Ho Chi Minh City. He was a frequent contributor to the independent blogs Lam Bao Dan (People’s Newspaper) and Dan Luan (People’s Opinion), according to news reports at the time of his arrest. Gia was also a frequent contributor to Radio Free Asia, reports said. The reports said he had published blog posts and commented on air to Radio Free Asia on the cases of three bloggers who were then detained on anti-state charges before his arrest.

Gia’s conviction comes amid an intensifying clampdown on dissent. On March 23, bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy were sentenced to five and three years, respectively, under article 258 of the Penal Code, which provides for maximum penalties of seven years in jail for “abusing democratic freedoms,” according to CPJ research.

Vietnam held at least six reporters behind bars, including Gia, Vinh and Thuy, when CPJ conducted its annual global census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2015.

CPJ: Blogger sentenced amid clampdown in Vietnam

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Vietnam Urged to Drop Charges under Article 88 against Bloggers, Land Petitioners

The unsanctioned Vietnamese Former Prisoners of Conscience (VFPoC) has called on Vietnam’s communist government to drop all charges against local bloggers and land petitioners under the country’s Penal Code.

In its statement released on March 31, the VFPoC rejected the recent sentences against blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam), Nguyen Thu Minh Thuy and Nguyen Ngoc Gia (or Nguyen Dinh Ngoc) as well as imprisonment against three female land petitioner Ngo Thi Minh Uoc, Nguyen Thi Tri and Nguyen Thi Be Hai.

Articles of bloggers Vinh, Thuy and Gia posted on websites as well as activities of the three land petitioners are in line with the international human rights standards under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Vietnam must unconditionally and immediately release the six bloggers and land petitioners since they are innocent, the VFPoC said.

HỘI CTNLT: HÃY XÓA BỎ CÁC BẢN ÁN THEO ĐIỀU 88 ĐỐI VỚI BLOGGER VÀ CÁC NHÀ HOẠT ĐỘNG ĐẤT ĐAI

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Independent rejected amid uproar

Vietnam Rights Now: Self nominated candidates aiming for seats in upcoming legislative elections never expected their path to be easy, and so it proved when the first of the independents underwent a mandatory vetting session.

His candidature was overwhelmingly rejected at a “public meeting” organised by the authorities, while his supporters were pelted with bomblets of malodorous shrimp sauce.

Hoang Van Dung, 37, a human rights activist in Ho Chi Minh City and member of the Vietnam Path Movement, was invited by the Fatherland Front to a “meeting with constituents” at 7pm on Monday evening.

The Fatherland Front, a Communist party proxy, is responsible for the various stages of vetting that must be undergone by prospective candidates for the National Assembly elections in May.

Xuan Dieu, one of Dung’ supporters, kept smiling after getting doused with shrimp sauce.

Despite claims that the process is impartial, some 50 of Dung’s supporters were denied entry to the meeting, which was held at a school near his home.

They were physically barred at the entrance by dozens of police officers backed by “Dan Phong” or civil order defenders. Even his wife was refused entry.

Dung, meanwhile, was subjected to a public haranguing by constituents selected by the Fatherland Front.

As tension built up outside the school, a group of young men drove by on motorcycles and rained down bags of the oozy and pungent shrimp sauce on the crowd of Dung’s supporters.

The crowd appealed to the police present but they declined to act, or comment on the assault.

Public denunciation

Before the meeting Dung had put out an appeal to constituents, outlining a platform would focus on human rights, allowing freedom of assembly and providing free primary school education.

However, after a two hour meeting, Dung won only 4 out of 57 votes.

He said the meeting amounted to a public denunciation where many of the attendants were strangers to him. He said he was labelled as an anti-state activist unsuitable for public office and was given no opportunity to speak.

His overwhelming rejection in such a forum bodes ill for the other 100 independent candidates, who are seeking to challenge the party’s monopoly on power.

Few hold out much chance of winning a seat, but they say they want to draw attention to the party’s manipulation of what is claimed to be a democratic process.

It’s not the first time that democracy advocates in Vietnam have been subjected to ordeal by shrimp sauce.

On December 10, 2013, suspected plainclothes police threw bags of the stuff at members of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers while they were gathering in a central park in Ho Chi Minh City to celebrate human rights day.

The tactic has also been used against activists in the north of the country.

Independent rejected amid uproar

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Viet Nam: Spike in judicial repression with six convictions in eight days

Viet Nam must end judicial repression, and immediately and unconditionally release six activists convicted in the past eight days, Amnesty International said.

Amnesty International: On 30 March 2016, four activists were convicted under Article 88, “spreading propaganda against the state”, in two separate trials. In one case, three women – Ngô Thị Minh Ước, Nguyễn Thị Trí, and Nguyễn Thị Bé Hai – were convicted by the Hồ Chí Minh People’s Court. Ngô Thị Minh Ước was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment with an additional three years under house arrest, whereas Nguyễn Thị Trí, and Nguyễn Thị Bé Hai received three year prison sentences and two years’ house arrest. State media has reported that Ngô Thị Minh Ước received an additional three month sentence from the People’s Court of southern Bình Phước without specifying the charge or explaining the circumstances surrounding this additional conviction.

Little information has been made public about the three women. State media has reported that they had admitted to participating in an organization named ‘Phong Trào Cách Mạng Dân Oan Phục Quốc Cứu Nước’ (‘Revolutionary Campaign of Victims of Injustice Wanting to Save the Country’). It has been reported elsewhere that they are the victims of land grabbing and that they had brought home made flags of the former South Viet Nam to the US embassy in July 2014 where they are said to have called for a change in government.

In a separate trial, blogger Nguyễn Ngọc Già, whose real name is Nguyễn Đình Ngọc, was sentenced to four years in prison followed by three years’ house arrest in a trial that lasted two hours. Già, who has been held in pre-trial detention since 27 December 2014, is a prolific blogger who posted articles on independent websites such as Dân Làm Báo and Dân Luận, including articles concerning the criminal convictions of high profile human rights defenders in Viet Nam. Shortly before his arrest, Già gave an interview to Radio Free Asia in which he condemned the torture of prisoners of conscience.

The four convictions on 30 March come a week after the convictions of Nguyễn Hữu Vinh, founder of the popular blogsite Anh Ba Sàm, and his assistant Nguyễn Thị Minh Thúy, under Article 258, “abusing democratic freedoms”. The pair received prison sentences of three and five years respectively after spending nearly two years in pre-trial detention.

The spike in criminal convictions for legitimate expression follows two months after Viet Nam announced changes in the country’s senior leadership. They also coincide with the issuance by the Ministry of Public Security of new regulations for policing demonstrations relating to court hearings. Under Article 14 of Circular 13/2016/TT-BCA, following a verbal warning, police may “deploy forces to prevent the disturbance of public order, isolate and arrest opposition elements, instigators and leaders of the disturbance”. The Circular was issued by the outgoing Ministry for Public Security General Trần Đại Quang who is set to become the country’s new President in the coming weeks.

Background

Viet Nam is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is constitutionally obligated to uphold the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly yet vaguely worded articles of the country’s Penal Code, including Articles 88 and 258, are routinely used to imprison men and women for the legitimate exercise of these rights. Other activists, namely prominent human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài and his colleague Lê Thu Hà, await trial on charges arising from legitimate human rights work. US President Barack Obama is set to visit make his first visit to Viet Nam in May or June this year.

Amnesty International has documented torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam, including during pre-trial detention when it is used for the purposes of obtaining a confession.

South Viet Nam, officially the Republic of Viet Nam, was the state governing the southern half of Viet Nam between 1955 and its reunification with North Viet Nam, officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in 1975 following the US-Viet Nam War.

=========== April 1=========

Human Rights Defender Severely Beaten by Plainclothes Agents in Mekong Delta Province of An Giang

Defend the Defenders: Nguyen Cong Thu, a Vietnamese human rights activist and staff of Defend the Defenders (DTD), has been brutally assaulted by plainclothes agents in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, the victim said.

Thu, 23, was beaten by a group of dozens of attackers on April 1 when he rode his motorbike to visit his fiancée’s family in Long Dien A commune, Cho Moi district. Traffic police stopped him for administrative checking mid way and the attackers, allegedly including the police chief of Long Dien A commune, started to beat him and threw him down on the road. They insulted him and threatened to kill him, the victim told DTD.

Thu, who is also a Hoa Hao Buddhist follower, fell unconscious due to the attacks. He woke up about 15 minutes later and ran away from the scene. Policemen continued to chase him and beat him until he managed to return his private house in My An commune.

Informed of the attack, his father and other family members came to support him. The attackers, one of them is recognized as a police officer in Cho Moi police department, ran away and left two motorbikes near the victim’s house. The family took the two motorbikes to use as evidence of the assault against Thu.

Later, dozens of police officers and plainclothes agents came to the house to take the two motorbikes despite strong protest of the family.

Police and thugs continue to gather around Thu’s house, blocking the road and barring the family from taking him to hospital for treatment of the serious injuries on his body, including those on his head, face and feet.

Thu is working for Defend the Defender, an independent human rights organization. His mother, Nguyen Thi Ha, is a former prisoner of conscience. She was imprisoned for three years for peaceful activities to promote religious freedom.

In April, authorities in Mekong Delta have tightened control as local Hoa Hao followers are marking the death of the sect’s late leader Huynh Phu So, who was killed by communist 79 years ago. They have blocked roads and suppressed the followers, not allowing them to gather to pray for their late leader.

=== April 2====

Statement of Defend the Defender about Recent Attack against Its Staff

On April 1, Nguyen Cong Thu, religious activist and staff of Defend the Defenders, was severely beaten by numerous police officers and plainclothes agents in Long Dien A commune in Cho Moi district, An Giang province when he was on his way to visit his fiancée’s family.

Thu, a follower of Hoa Hao Buddhist sect, received severe injuries after being attacked by police officers and thugs. Thu recognized the police chief in Long Dien A commune and a police officer from the Cho Moi district police among the attackers, who threatened to kill him if he continues his human rights activities.

Dozens of police and plainclothes gathered around his house after the attacks, not allowing the family to take him to local medical facilities for urgent treatment.

Defend the Defenders strongly condemns the brutal acts of the police Cho Moi district and Long Dien A commune, and consider the attacks serious violations of human rights.

Defend the Defenders demands the Ministry of Public Security and the Police Department in An Giang province to thoroughly investigate the case and bring the perpetrators to court.

The police in An Giang province, particularly Cho Moi district, are responsible for the health conditions of Mr. Thu and the safety of him and his family members.

Thu is not the only staff of Defend the Defenders who have been suppressed by Vietnam’s security forces in recent years. In March last year, Mr. Vu Quoc Ngu, executive officer of the non-profit independent human rights body, was also attacked by plainclothes agents of Thanh Tri district, Hanoi.

Along with beating, Vietnam’s security forces have also harassed other staff of Defend the Defenders, including its founder Pham Ba Hai.

Both Hai and Ngu have been banned from international travel.