September 26, 2016
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly September 19-25: Vietnam Upholds Jail Terms for Two Bloggers, Sentences Land Right Activist to 20 Months in Jail
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | September 25, 2016
On September 22, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected the appeal of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, sending them back to prison. The two bloggers were sentenced to three years and two years in prison by the People’s Court of Hanoi on March 23 on charges of “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interest of the state” under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.
The appeal hearing was unfair, said Tran Vu Hai, one of the defendants’ lawyers who was expelled by the judge when he protested the judge’s decision not to allow lawyers to present their defense statement and pose questions to the Procuracy’s representatives.
Two days earlier, the People’s Court of Dong Da district, Hanoi, sentenced land rights activist Can Thi Theu to 20 months in prison on charge of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code in a trumped-up case.
Responding to the harsh sentence given to Mrs. Theu, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch Brad Adams said “When the Communist Party of Vietnam needed farmers’ support, it advocated that farmers must have land, but now it puts those who make the same point in prison.”
In both cases, authorities in Hanoi deployed a large number of police officers and militia to the court areas to prevent activists from gathering to show their solidarity for the defendants. Police detained tens of activists and beat many of them during the detention and in police custody.
The violent wave against Vietnamese political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders continue this week, with many activists being brutally beaten by police officers and plainclothes agents. Victims include former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife, Trinh Ba Tu, land right activist Theu’s son, No-U member La Viet Dung, and bloggers Nam Phuong and Phung The Dung.
On September 24, security forces in Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi blocked activist Phan Cam Huong and her son from taking an international flight to Singapore. Police said the blockage was based on national security reasons according to Decree 136 of the government regulating citizens’ exit and entry.
And other important news
===== September 19 =====
Vietnam Security Forces Brutally Attack Human Rights Couple, Detain Pro-democracy Activist
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have assaulted a couple of human rights defenders in Ho Chi Minh City and arbitrarily detained a pro-democracy activist in the central province of Nghe An, the victims told Defend the Defenders.
Nguyen Bac Truyen, human rights activist and former political prisoner, said he and his wife were attacked on the Sunday evening when they returned home from Ky Dong Redemptory Church in HCMC.
The attackers were very aggressive, inflicting severe injuries on the couple, the victim said in an email to Defend the Defenders, adding they also beat other people who came to help the victims.
Mr. Truyen, a lawyer by profession, asserted that the attack was related to his human rights advocacy.
This is the second attack against the couple in the past few years. In 2014, they were also assaulted by plainclothes agents in Hanoi when they were on their way to the Australian Embassy in the capital city.
Mr. Truyen was a prisoner of conscience. He was arrested in 2007 and charged with anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code. Later, he was sentenced to four years in prison.
After being released in 2010, he has actively participated in human rights advocacy works and pro-democracy campaign.
His family has been harassed and intimidated by plainclothes agents many times.
Meanwhile, Nghe An-based former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Quoc Oai was arbitrarily detained by police in Hoang Mai town and brought to a police station in Quynh Luu district after he attended a candle praying for peace in Trai Gao Church on Tuesday. The police held him for several hours, saying he broke the rules set for former prisoners under probationary house arrest.
Oai was one of 17 Catholic youths who were accused of carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. He was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison and additional four years under house arrest.
Oai completed his four-year imprisonment last year but is still under house arrest.
In addition to handing down harsh sentences on political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, Vietnam’s communist government has deployed uniformed police and plainclothes agents to assault them in order to discourage them from their works.
Many foreign governments and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on Vietnam to stop assaulting political dissidents and human rights advocates, asking the Southeast Asian nation to respect international laws and ensure security and peaceful environment for human rights defenders.
===== September 20 =====
Defend the Defenders: On September 20, the People’s Court of Dong Da district in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi sentenced land rights activist Can Thi Theu to 20 months in prison on charges of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code.
The trial, which failed to meet international standards for fair trial according to the defendant’s lawyers, was carried out in maximum security as authorities in Hanoi deployed hundreds of police officers and militia to the areas near the courtroom.
Many activists, land petitioners and relatives of Mrs. Theu, including her two sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, were barred from entering the courtroom. Police also took around 50 of them into custody and detained them at Ha Dong district about 15 kilometers from the court. Many of them, including Mr. Tu and Mr. Phung The Dung (known by his Facebook nickname Dung The Phung) were severely beaten by police officers and plainclothes agents in police station.
This is the second sentence for the 54-year-old land rights activist and human rights defender. In April 2014, she and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem were arrested while filming the land seizure conducted by Hanoi’s authorities. In September 2014, the couple was convicted of resisting on-duty state officials under Article 257 of the Penal Code. She was sentenced to 15 months in prison and her husband to 18 months which was later reduced to 14 months.
After being released last year, Mrs. Theu has continued to advocate on land and environmental issues. She participated in protests calling for the release of prominent rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, urging the government to repeal Article 88 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes peaceful criticism. She joined protests against police violence and carried out a hunger strike in support of political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc.
Theu also participated in peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues, particularly against the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in Vietnam’s central province of Ha Tinh which illegally discharged a huge volume of toxic industrial waste causing environmental catastrophe in the central coastal region and killed hundreds of tons of fish in April-May.
She is among the 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International has called on Vietnam’s government to release unconditionally and immediately.
Theu is the 18th activist being sentenced so far this year, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.
Response to Theu’s second imprisonment, Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division of Human Rights Watch said “People like Can Thi Theu don’t originally choose to become land rights activists, but when they are facing loss of land and livelihood, there is no choice. If there were any justice in Vietnam, Thi Theu would be working on her farm in peace, instead of heading to prison after an unjust trial.”
“Can Thi Theu is yet another victim of Vietnam’s kangaroo courts, where guilt and prison sentences are determined by the ruling communist party, and there is no respect for fair trial standards or justice. The real measure of the Vietnam government’s dictatorial practices in its systematic denial of the right of peaceful protest. This 20 month sentence is an affront to Vietnam’s international obligations to respect human rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly,” Mr. Robertson said.
“Conflicts between farmers and the government over land confiscation have become a serious problem in Vietnam in the last few years,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should reform its land law and compensation system instead of punishing people who protest the loss of their land.”
“When the Communist Party of Vietnam needed farmers’ support, it advocated that farmers must have land,” said Adams. “But now it puts those who make the same point in prison.”
On the same day, the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders issued a statement strongly condemning the sentencing of Mrs. Theu as it is solely related to her peaceful and legitimate work for the promotion and protection of land rights in Vietnam.
The London-based Amnesty International on September 20 issued a public statement calling on Vietnam to “quash the ruling and to cease their continuing intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and activists. The authorities should immediately end the misuse of the legal and criminal justice system to prevent the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the country.”
Human Rights Watch Urges Vietnam to Free Two Bloggers ahead of Appeal Hearing
Defend the Defenders: On September 20, two days ahead of the appeal hearing of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy who ran a website critical of the Vietnamese government, Human Rights Watch called on the Vietnamese government to quash the politically motivated convictions of two bloggers and free them.
The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi will carry out the appeal hearing for Mr. Vinh and Ms. Thuy who were sentenced to five and three years, respectively, by the Hanoi People’s Court on March 23 on charge of “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interest of the state” under Article 258 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
“Vietnamese authorities have decided it is a crime to provide independent information to the Vietnamese public,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The appeals court now has an important opportunity to uphold the right to free speech in Vietnam.”
Vietnam has intensified crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, said Human Rights Watch, adding local courts have convicted and sentenced to prison terms at least 18 bloggers and activists for violating a series of articles in the Penal Code that criminalize freedom of speech and religion.
“Vietnamese leaders should know that locking up these bloggers and journalists will not stop them from informing the Vietnamese people about the state of their country. International donors and trade partners should publicly press Vietnam to stop persecuting its citizens for peacefully exercising their rights” Adams said.
===== September 21 =====
Violent Wave against Vietnamese Activists Continues amid Increasing Social Dissatisfaction
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist government has continued its violent wave against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders while the country is facing serious challenges in many fields.
In the past few days, many activists have been attacked and suppressed, sustaining many severe injuries, the victims said.
On the evening of September 19, former prisoner of conscience and human rights defender Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife, Mrs. Kim Phuong, were assaulted by a group of six men who beat the couple with their fists and motorcycle helmets. Passers-by who went to aid the couple were also reportedly beaten by the six assailants. Mr. Truyen, who was arrested in 2006 and was sentenced to four years on charge of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code, said he believes the attack was related to his human rights activities and the assailants were sent by the local police.
On September 20, a number of activists in Hanoi were beaten by the local police when the People’s Court of Dong Da district held a trial against land rights activist Can Thi Theu, who was charged with causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code. Security forces detained around 50 activists and relatives of Mrs. Theu to a police station in Ha Dong district about 10 km away from the courtroom when they tried to attend the open trial. Mr. Trinh Ba Tu, the younger son of Mrs. Theu and bloggers Phung The Dung and Nam Phuong were brutally beaten by police officers in the police station.
Female teacher Tran Thi Thao from Hanoi said she was blocked and beaten by local policemen when she was on her way to attend the open trial against former prisoner of conscience Theu.
Meanwhile, police in Phu Ly city, Ha Nam province attacked human rights defender Tran Thuy Nga and kidnapped her four-year-old child when she tried to take a bus to go to Hanoi where she will take a flight to HCMC to attend to family affairs. Nga, who is a labor and land rights activist, said a group of around 20 local policemen blocked her way, knocked down her on the ground and beat her. They forced her to go back to her private residence in the city and returned her child an hour later.
Several months ago, the local police also attacked her wand her two children with a dirty mess made of decaying fish sauce, causing serious injuries to her little boys.
In addition to arrests and imprisonments, Vietnam’s government has deployed police officers and plainclothes agents to attack local activists. Dozens of activists have been assaulted so far this year, and the victims included La Viet Dung, Nguyen Trung Truc, Mai Van Tam, To Oanh, Nguyen Van Thanh, and Truong Van Dung.
Many foreign governments and international human rights organizations have called on Vietnam to stop violent acts against local activists, launch thorough investigation to bring perpetrators to justice, and ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders and political activists.
Meanwhile, Vietnam is facing a number of challenges, including systemic corruption, huge public debts, severe environmental pollution caused by unsustainable development projects, moral degradation and China’s threat in the East Sea (South China Sea). More and more people have disagreed with government’s policies in socio-economic development and expressed their dissatisfaction on social networks.
Vietnam’s communist government, which has ruled the country for decades, vows to keep the country under an one-party regime. They have requested the security forces to suppress government critics to prevent the formation of opposition party and criminalize all activities which aim to enhance human rights and promote multi-party democracy.
===== September 22 =====
Vietnam Court Upholds Sentences for Prominent Blogger, His Assistant
Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court of Vietnam on September 22 upheld the imprisonment sentences for Nguyen Huu Vinh the founder and owner of well-known independent news website Anh Ba Sam, and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy in an open appeal hearing in which the judge expelled their lawyer.
In March 23, the Hanoi People’s Court sentenced Mr. Vinh to five years in prison and Ms. Thuy three years in jail on charge of “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interest of the state” under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.
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. Over the six years it was in operation until the arrests of the duo in 2014, the blog had attracted several million readers in Vietnam and abroad.
According to the indictments given by the trial in March, the blog had posted 24 articles with “distorted information” about the ruling communist party and its government.
Since their arrest in May 2014, many democratic governments and international human rights organizations have urged Vietnam’s government to release them 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.
Two days prior to the appeal hearing, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam to quash the politically motivated convictions of two bloggers and release them from prison.
The appeal hearing was supposed to be open but some foreign diplomats were only allowed to watch the trial in another room via a video feed. Hundreds of activists coming from different parts of the country tried to attend the court. However, authorities in Hanoi deployed around a thousand police officers and militia to block the areas where the court building is located and prevented activists from approaching the courtroom. Many activists, including blogger Pham Doan Trang, JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, and Trinh Ba Tu were detained and released after the trial ended.
La Viet Dung, a member of the patriotic group No-U (meaning Say No to China’s U-shaped line claim in the East Sea or South China Sea) was beaten by four plainclothes agents near the court building. Dung suffered serious injuries in the second attack against him within three months and needs urgent emergency.
Vietnam’s government has ruled the country for decades and has shown no desire to conduct political reforms toward multi-party democracy. The 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 18 activists have been sentenced to prison this year, including land right activist Can Thi Theu on September 20.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding at least 130 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always insists that only law violators are imprisoned and denies imprisoning any prisoner of conscience.
Last week, Amnesty International urged Hanoi to release 82 prisoners of conscience, including Mr. Vinh, Ms. Thuy and Mrs. Theu.
One More Vietnamese Activist Beaten While Trying to Attend Open Appeal Hearing of Prominent Blogger
Defend the Defenders: On September 22, on the day of the appeal hearing of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, security forces in Hanoi attacked activist La Viet Dung when he approached the court building.
Mr. Dung, member of patriotic group No-U (say no to China’s U-shaped line claim in the East Sea) was stopped by police at a place about one kilometer from the court building where the appeal hearing of Mr. Vinh and Ms. Thuy was being held. Later, police knocked down him from his motorbike and four police officers assaulted him, causing severe injuries on his head and body.
Dung, who was also brutally beaten by plainclothes agents on July 10, was brought to a hospital for urgent treatment as he had multiple bleeding wounds.
He is among many activists beaten by police this week.
On September 19, plainclothes agents assaulted human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Ba Truyen and his wife Kim Phuong in Ho Chi Minh City.
On September 20, Hanoi police detained around 50 activists near the People’s Court of Dong Da district where land right activist Can Thi Theu was being tried and severely beat many of them, including Mrs. Theu’s son Trinh Ba Tu, blogger Phung The Dung and Nam Phuong. Police also detained and beat female teacher Tran Thi Thao when she tried to go to the court.
Land right and labor right activist Tran Thi Nga was also beaten by police officers in the northern city of Phu Ly when she was on her way to Ho Chi Minh City.
The attack against Dung on Thursday was the second within three months. On the evening of July 10, Dung was beaten by six plainclothes agents when he was heading home from a meeting with other local activists after a football match. The attackers used stones and bricks to beat him, causing severe injuries on his head and he needs months for recovery.
Nearly a hundred Vietnamese activists have been attacked so far this year, both by police officers in uniform and plainclothes agents.
Meanwhile, today, Hanoi’s authorities have deployed around a thousand police officers and militia to the areas near the court building where the appeal hearing of Mr. Vinh and Mrs. Thuy to prevent local activists from entering the areas. Only few members of their families were allowed to enter the courtroom.
Foreign diplomats were only permitted to attend the hearing in a separate room.
On the trial on March 23, Mr. Vinh was sentenced to five years in prison while Mrs. Thuy to three years in jail on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 258 of the Penal Code. The sentences are expected to remain the same in the appeal hearing.
===== September 23 =====
Vietnam Police Beat Two State Media Reporters, Breaking Their Cameras
Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese police forces have attacked two reporters of state-run newspapers, breaking their cameras in two separate cases within three days this week, according to state media.
In the first case, Do Thanh Hai, a Central Highlands-based reporter of VTC News, was attacked by policemen in Cu Kpo commune, Krong Puk district, Dak Lak province in a land seizure case on September 21.
Coming to the areas where local authorities were evicting people from their land for construction of communal cultural house, the reporter, before showing his press card, was beaten by policemen under the instruction of Nguyen Viet Mui, vice chairman of the communal executive body People’s Committee, who was in charge of the case.
Some policemen, led by communal police chief Le Tuan Anh, broke his camera and took his bag. Their acts were very rude, the victim said.
After reporter Hai reported his assault to the district police, Chairman Nguyen Van Hue of the communal People’s Committee apologized the victim but did not mention about compensation for injuries and the broken camera.
In the second case two days later, police officers in Dong Anh district, Hanoi brutally attacked reporter Tran Quang The from Tuoi Tre newspaper when the reporter tried to take pictures and gain information about the death of a taxi driver in Nhat Tan Bridge. The video taken by other reporters showed a police officer in plain clothes kicked the reporter and broke his camera.
Police said the taxi driver committed suicide, however, a number of evidences appear to suggest this could be a murder case. The attack of police officers against the reporter led to speculations that Dong Anh police might be trying to conceal certain facts from the public about the driver’s death.
Hanoi’s authorities admitted the attack of the police officer against the reporter and pledged to investigate thoroughly.
Recently, many reporters of state-run newspapers have been assaulted by police and thugs, according to state media. However, few perpetrators have been punished.
===== September 24 =====
Vietnam Activist Blocked to Leave to Singapore for Tourist Trip
Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on September 24 barred social activist Phan Cam Huong and her son from leaving the country to visit Singapore, local activists have said.
When Ms. Huong arrived at the security check point in Noi Bai International Airport, police officers told her that she is not permitted to take international flights. Later, they brought her to a room where they informed her that the blockage was based on national security according to the government’s Decree 136 on citizens’ exit and entry.
Ms. Huong and her son were kept in a police station in the airport for seven hours. When she used smart phones to contact other activists, security officers attacked her and confiscate the devices, she said. The assault left a number of scratches on her hands and bodies, she said, adding police officers also searched suitcases of her and her son.
While she was in police detention, dozens of activists in Hanoi came to the airport to show their solidarity, protesting the blockage and demanding her and her son’s release.
Ms. Huong is a Hanoi-based entrepreneur. She has been involved in a number of charity programs and often participated in anti-China demonstrations against Beijing’s aggression in the East Sea (South China Sea).
She has also participated in campaigns to promote multi-party democracy and environmental protection.
Her charity programs have provided valuable financial assistance for land petitioners and families of prisoners of conscience as well as victims of miscarriage of justice.
In addition to imprisonments, harassments and persecution against local activists, Vietnam has also barred them from international trips. Over a hundred of political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders have been stopped at border gates when they were on their ways to leave the country for international conferences, seminars or trips with tourism purposes.
Many other activists have had their application for passport refused or had passports confiscated.
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