Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly September 05-11: Authorities in HCMC Evict Monks, Demolish Ancient Pagoda for Urban Project

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly| September 11, 2016

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On September 8, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City demolished Lien Tri Pagoda after evicting the monks out of the old pagoda to clear the site for a property development project.

Hundreds of police officers were sent to the areas on the day to prevent resistance of the pagoda’s monks and followers. Venerable Thich Khong Tanh was taken out of the pagoda by an ambulance and placed in a local hospital while other monks were taken to and detained at Cat Lai, a remote area where the local authorities designated as a resettlement site for the pagoda.

Amnesty International France on September 6 issued a statement calling on President Francois Hollande to raise concern about police torture in Vietnam during his ongoing visit to the Southeast Asian nation.

Police power abuse is rampant in Vietnam and accountability is rare in the country so President Hollande should speak out and remind the Vietnamese authorities that there is no security without human rights, the organization said.

Authorities in Hanoi have decided to try land right activist Can Thi Theu, who was released from prison last year, on September 20 on charge of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code. If found guilty, Theu may face imprisonment of up to two years. The activist was arrested on July 10 by Hanoi police who said she was detained due to her public order-disturbing activities during a peaceful demonstration in Dong Da district on April 8.

Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam), a prominent blogger in Vietnam, and his assistant Mrs. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy will have an appeal hearing on Sept 22. Six months ago, the People’s Court of Hanoi sentenced Mr. Vinh, founder of the well-known Anh Ba Sam news website, to five years in prison and Mrs. Thuy to three years for operating the website that provides links to news and commentaries on social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural issues in Vietnam.

Police in Vietnam’s central coastal province of Quang Binh on September 6 detained Mai Van Tam, a member of the pro-democracy group Brotherhood of Democracy, and interrogated him for nine hours before releasing him in late afternoon. The detention was made two months after Tam and seven other members of Brotherhood of Democracy from Quang Binh were robbed and beaten by plainclothes agents when they went to Nghe An province to attend the wedding of a local fellow activist.

And other important news

===== September 5 =====

Two Indigenous Activists Jailed with Heavy Sentences

Defend the Defenders: On August 30, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Gia Lai sentenced Ksor Phit and Siu Dik, two activists from the Ede ethnic minority, to respectively eleven and eight years in prison on charges of “undermining national unity policy” under Article 87 of the country’s Penal Code.

According to the indictments, the two had incited other indigenous people from early 2014 to form a group with the aim to establish an independent country named Dega. They were arrested on March 11 this year.

Previously, Ksor Phit served eight-year imprisonment and Siu Dik spent seven months in jail for the same charge.

Many  people, including Protestant pastors, have been tried and sentenced to heavy imprisonments on allegations of “undermining national unity policy” under Article 87 of the Penal Code.

Since the beginning of this year, at least 17 Vietnamese activists have been imprisoned under provision of national security, according to the statistics of Defend the Defenders.

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===== September 6 =====

French President Urged to Raise Concerns about Torture in Vietnam

Defend the Defenders: Amnesty International France has issued a statement calling on French President Francois Hollande to raise concern about police torture in Vietnam during his ongoing visit to the Southeast Asian nation.

Particularly, the human rights organization calls on the French president to raise the case of Ngo Thanh Kieu, a young man who died in police custody in Vietnam’s central province of Phu Yen in 2012.

Hollande should speak up to support Kieu’s sister Ngo Thi Tuyet and her family, who have bravely sought justice for his death despite constant persecutions of the local authorities and thugs likely hired by perpetrators.

“Human rights must not be sacrificed to trade and security deals. President Hollande must use his visit to call on the Vietnamese authorities to meet their human rights obligations under international law,” said Camille Blanc, Chair of Amnesty International France.

On August 24, Amnesty International France wrote to President Hollande, calling on him to raise the issue of the torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

“Police accountability is rare in Vietnam. But President Hollande can seize the opportunity to remind the Vietnamese authorities that there is no security without human rights. They must demonstrate that justice is done in the case of Ngo Thanh Kieu and other cases involving deaths at the hands of police,” said Camille Blanc.

Mr. Kieu was arrested in the middle of the night and taken into custody at the local police station in March 2012. The local police told his family that he died after refusing food and water, despite the fact that he had spent fewer than 24 hours in custody. The autopsy showed a number of severe injuries on his body and skull and internal organs’ damages.

To date, six police officers have been tried and convicted, but on charges that do not reflect the gravity of the crime – five were convicted of ‘corporal punishment,’ while the ranking officer was convicted of the lesser charge of ‘negligence’. The punishments they received varied from a one-year suspended sentence to eight years in prison. None of the sentences reflect the gravity of the crime, says Amnesty International France.

According to Human Rights Watch, police torture is systemic in Vietnam. Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security reported 226 deaths in police custody between October 2011 and September 2014. Police said illness and suicides were the main reasons for their deaths while their families and human rights defenders blamed police torture and ill-treatment for causing their deaths.

Last week, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) sent their joint letter to the French president, asking him to address human rights issues in talks with local leaders during his visit to Vietnam on September 5-7.

Viet Nam: President Hollande must back one woman’s fight for justice

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Vietnamese Police Evict Hundreds of Families from Village near Hanoi

RFA: On September 6, authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi sent around 300 police officers to evict Duong Noi villagers out of their land in a village on the outskirts of the city.

The village is known for its longstanding land disputes.

Directed by members of the Ha Dong district People’s Committee, police forcibly removed hundreds of farm families from their homes, including those who regularly go to Hanoi to air their grievances outside government offices about a previous land grab, said local land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong.

“Their crops were destroyed, and they [police] erected a fence around the destroyed areas,” Phuong told the Radio of Free Asia (RFA). “Not many farmers came to the site because the police blocked them from entering it. The police were very aggressive, so the farmers decided to withdraw.”

There have been no reports of clashes or detentions arising from the evictions, and the more than 300 families affected have vowed to remain and refuse any compensation from the government for forcibly removing them, Phuong said.

The government began taking land in Duong Noi, located about 14 kilometers southwest of Hanoi, several years ago after farmers there refused to transfer their land rights to the Nam Cuong Group, a Vietnamese company developing the area for a complex of residential and office buildings, hotels, and schools.

In 2011, local government authorities decided to hand over part of Duong Noi’s farmland to the company supposedly to build roads, though villagers suspected that the firm intended to sell the land to housing developers, Phuong said.

The villagers refused the compensation they were offered because they believed the amounts were not enough for them to settle someplace else, he said.

Some villagers, including farmer and land activist Can Thi Theu, were imprisoned for protesting, he said.

Local government officials in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia often use their authority to confiscate land and sell it to developers.

In many cases, local villagers say they receive little compensation or amounts much less than what authorities have promised, and are forced to move to less-productive parcels of land far from their previous homes.

Vietnamese citizens frequently gather outside various government offices in an effort to talk to, or submit petitions to, officials about homes or farmland that local authorities have taken from them.

Vietnamese Police Evict Hundreds of Families From Village Near Hanoi

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Vietnam Pro-democracy Activist Detained, Interrogated by Police Two Months after Being Kidnapped and Beaten by Plainclothes Agents

Defend the Defenders: Police in Vietnam’s central coastal province of Quang Binh on September 6 detained Mai Van Tam, a member of the pro-democracy group Brotherhood of Democracy, and interrogated him for nine hours before releasing in late afternoon.

Tam said in the morning of September 6, he came to Ba Don town’s police station to obtain an identification card. Instead of servicing Tam, the local police detained and questioned him about his activities promoting multi-party democracy and human rights as well as protecting the environment.

Two months ago, Tam and seven other members of Brotherhood of Democracy from Quang Binh went to Nghe An province to attend the wedding of a local fellow. After their arrival in the province, the group was kidnapped by a group of plainclothes agents who brought the activists to a remote area where they robbed and beat the visitors.

After taking all their wallets, including money and personal documents and cell phones, the attackers left the scene. Tam and Nguyen Trung Truc suffered the most, with numerous severe injuries on their bodies. The assaulted activists were rescued by a local priest who provided them with first medical aid.

In early April, Tam represented the unsanctioned Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON) to attend the Asian People Forum conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Upon his return to Vietnam, he was detained and interrogated by Hanoi security agents who beat him and confiscated his passport.

Tam is one of active members of Brotherhood of Democracy which was established by prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested in late 2015 and charged with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.

Tam has also actively covered news on the environmental disaster in the central coastal region due to the illegal discharge of very toxic industrial waste by the Taiwanese Hung Nghiep Formosa steel plant located in the central province of Ha Tinh.

Due to his peaceful activities, Tam has been under close surveillance of the local authorities.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/07/vietnam-pro-democracy-activist-detained-interrogated-by-police-two-months-after-being-kidnapped-and-beaten-by-plainclothes-agents/

===== September 7 =====

France Requests Vietnam to Free Jailed Dissidents

AFP: France asked Vietnam to release four jailed dissidents during the visit of President Francois Hollande to the authoritarian country, AFP reported, citing a French source.

On his two-day tour of communist Vietnam, Hollande hailed economic ties with the former French colony but sidestepped talking about rights issues publicly.

The four are a Catholic dissident, a blogger, a land rights defender and an activist who tried to form an opposition movement, according to the source travelling with the president.

Their names were passed to Vietnamese authorities on orders from Hollande.

The one-party state is routinely criticized for its intolerance of dissent, with regime critics regularly arrested or jailed and all newspapers and television channels government-run.

Among those currently in custody are businessman Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving 16 years on charges of trying to overthrow the state, and blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, known by his pseudonym Anh Ba Sam, jailed for five years for posting anti-government articles online.

On September 6, Amnesty International called on Hollande to make sure these deals did not overshadow rights issues.

“Human rights must not be sacrificed to trade and security deals. President Hollande must use his visit to call on the Vietnamese authorities to meet their human rights obligations under international law,” Camille Blanc, chair of Amnesty International France, said in a statement.

France is one of Vietnam’s leading European trading partners and the second largest aid donor to the country after Japan. The two countries elevated their ties to strategic partnership in 2013.

France presses Vietnam to release jailed dissidents

===== September 8 =====

HCMC Authorities Seize Lien Tri Pagoda, Evicting Monks despite Strong Protest

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in Vietnam, on September 8 seized Lien Tri Pagoda, evicting all monks despite their strong objection, social networks reported Thursday.

In the early morning of Thursday, the local authorities deployed hundreds of police officers and militia to An Khanh ward, District 2 to evict all the monks of the pagoda. They blocked all the roads leading to the Buddhist facility, not allowing a single individual to enter the areas.

Local authorities entered the pagoda and demanded its leadership to move to another place and when Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, head of the pagoda and other monks rejected, they detained them.

Ven. Tanh and some monks were taken out of the pagoda by medical ambulances while other monks were forced into a car which brought them to a resettlement site in Cat Lai, a remote area on the outskirt of the city.

After detaining the monks, workers with tractors came to demolish the pagoda which still hosts the remains of 500 deceased followers.

Due to the police brutality, Ven. Tanh was reported to have fallen ill. Currently, he is under medical treatment in a hospital in District 2.

Many activists in the city have complained that they are placed under de facto house arrest on the day as the local authorities deployed a large number of police officers to station near their private residences, not allowing them to go to the pagoda to support the monks.

Lien Tri Pagoda, built nearly 70 years ago, belongs to the unregistered Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Church. It has faced isolation and crackdowns for many years.

Authorities in District 2 want to take the land on which the pagoda is located for building the Thu Thiem urban project, and ordered the pagoda’s leadership to voluntarily move to Cat Lai with a compensation of VND5.4 billion ($274,000). However, Ven. Tanh and other monks are unwilling to move to the new place which is not convenient for worship.

Months ago, the city’s authorities had blocked the pagoda, not allowing followers to come for worship or pay tributes to their relatives whose remains are placed in the pagoda. Thousands of followers had been forced to move the remains of their relatives to other places.

Several weeks ago, diplomats from the U.S., the UK, Australia and Canada visited Lien Tri Pagoda to show their support for its monks. They also urged Vietnam’s authorities to settle the dispute peacefully and respect religious freedom which is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.

In communist Vietnam, all land belongs to the state and people and religious groups only have the right to use it. Local authorities can seize land for socio-economic development, and in reality, they have seized land belonging to families and organizations and sold them to developers of industrial and property projects at prices much higher than the compensation prices they offered.

Among victims of land seizure are thousands of Vietnamese families and religious groups, including Buddhist pagodas and Catholic churches across the nation.

Authorities in HCMC have so far forcibly removed 24 religious facilities in Thu Thiem for the new urban project.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/08/hcmc-authorities-seize-lien-tri-pagoda-evicting-monks-despite-strong-protest/

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Appeal Hearing for Vietnam Prominent Bloggers Set on Sept 22

Defend the Defenders: Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam), a prominent blogger in Vietnam, and his assistant Mrs. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy will have an appeal hearing on September 22, his lawyer Ha Huy Son.

On September 7, lawyer Son received a notice from the Vietnam Supreme People’s Court which informed him that the second hearing will be held in the Hanoi-based Supreme People’s Court in Yen Hoa ward, Cau Giay district, six months after the trial against the duo on March 23, also in Hanoi.

On March 23, the People’s Court of Hanoi sentenced Mr. Vinh, founder of the well-known Anh Ba Sam news website, to five years in prison and Mrs. Thuy to three years for operating the website that provides links to social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural issues in Vietnam.

Vinh and Thuy, arrested in May 2014, were charged with “abusing rights to democracy and freedom to infringe upon the interests of the State” under article 258 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

The trial was supposed to be open and thousands of activists coming from different parts of the country tried to attend the trial. However, they were kept far away from the courtroom. A number of them were detained and released after the trial ended.

Some foreign diplomats were allowed to watch the trial in another room via a video feed but there was no sound for most of the time. German lawmaker Martin Patzelt came to the Southeast Asian nation to attend the trial, however, he was also not permitted to enter the courtroom but stayed in a street near the court’s building.

Pham Doan Trang, the co-author of one of the articles cited in the indictment, sought to attend the trial as a concerned witness, but police detained her in the morning of the trial and only released her after the verdict was issued.

Vinh, a former police officer and member of the ruling communist party, started the blog Anh Ba Sam in 2007, publishing articles and commentaries on Vietnamese political, social, economic, and cultural issues.

Since his arrest in 2014, many democratic governments and international human rights organizations have urged Vietnam’s government to release him unconditionally and immediately, saying the use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalize individuals who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression is disturbing.

After the trial this year, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam issued a statement saying Washington is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government’s conviction and sentencing of the bloggers. These convictions appear to be inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press provided for in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution, and with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international commitments.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and have no plan to conduct political reforms toward multi-party democracy. Their government has used many controversial articles such as 79, 88, 245 and 258 in the Penal Code to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

At least 14 activists have been sentenced to prison this year, including eight in March.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding at least 130 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always insists that only law violaters are imprisoned and denies imprisoning any prisoner of conscience.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/07/vietnam-prominent-blog-to-go-to-appeal-on-sept-22/

===== September 09 ======

Vietnam to Try Land Right Activist amid Increasing Political Crackdown

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist government will try Hanoi-based land rights activist Can Thi Theu on charge of “causing public disorders” under Clause 1, Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code on September 20, said her lawyer Ha Huy Son.

If found guilty, Mrs. Theu will face imprisonment of up to two years, according to the current Penal Code.

Theu, who is a former prisoner of conscience, was arrested on June 10 in her private residence in the northern province of Hoa Binh by Hanoi police who said they arrested her for disturbing public order in Hanoi’s Dong Da district on April 8.

This is a trumped-up allegation against his mother, said her son Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong, who is also an activist for land rights and human rights. On April 8, Mrs. Theu and many other activists planned to hold a peaceful meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406 and demand for the unconditional release of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was detained on December 16 last year on allegation of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

On that day, Hanoi security forces violently suppressed the meeting and detained eight participants, including Theu. All detainees were released on the same day. (You can read about the event and the violent suppression of the Hanoi police here: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/04/09/seven-vietnamese-activists-brutally-beaten-detained-while-talking-about-human-rights-democracy/)

Mrs. Theu is a former prisoner of conscience. On April 25, 2014, she was arrested while filming Hanoi’s land seizure in her village in Duong Noi commune in Ha Dong district. The city’s authorities took large areas of land from Duong Noi farmers, including Theu’s family, with very low compensation prices and gave the land to private investors for property development.

The land grabbing of Hanoi’s authorities has left hundreds of farmers in Theu’s village without production tools.

Two years ago, Theu was severely beaten by police upon the arrest. Later, the local authorities charged her with “resisting on-duty state officials” under Article 257 of the Penal Code and sentenced her to 15 months in prison. Her husband, Mr. Trinh Ba Tu, was also imprisoned for 15 months for the same charge.

After being released in July last year, she has actively participated in peaceful demonstrations to demand for land return, or in peaceful protests on environmental issues and against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). She was detained many times by Hanoi’s police, and sometimes severely beaten by police officers.

Some observers said her arrest is the start of a new wave of government suppression as the ruling communists assert their power under the new leadership.

Vietnam’s government has little tolerance for criticism and considers unregistered civil organizations as “reactionary groups.” The police forces have violently suppressed all spontaneous demonstrations which may challenge the government.

Vietnam has prioritized high growth rate of gross domestic products (GDP), giving many incentives for industrial and property developers. The government has seized large areas of land nationwide from local residents for industrial and property projects without paying adequate compensation.

Due to the government’s land grabbing policy, thousands of farmers have lost their cultivation land and houses. Many of them have come to government agencies in Hanoi to protest land seizure but their voices are hardly heard.

Land petitioners, who live in misery, have been subject to police torture.

In Vietnam, all land belongs to the state and local residents only have the right to use it, so the state can seize land for socio-economic development. In many cases, local authorities have abused the land policy, causing great dissatisfaction among local residents.

Last week, Amnesty International France, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) urged French President Francois Hollande to address human rights issues in talks with local leaders during his visit to Vietnam on September 5-7.

During his meetings with Vietnamese leaders, President Hollande was said to have asked Vietnam to release four jailed dissidents, according to AFP. The four are a Catholic dissident, a blogger, a land rights defender and an activist who tried to form an opposition movement, according to the source traveling with the president, the news agency said.

At least 130 prisoners of conscience are held in Vietnam’s prisons, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Since the beginning of this year, Vietnam has imprisoned 17, including prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyen Ngoc Gia, according to the statistics of Defend the Defenders.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/08/vietnam-to-try-land-right-activist-amid-increasing-political-crackdown/

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