Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly September 26-October 02: Defend the Defenders’s Chief Barred from Travelling to Paris to Attend RSF Conference

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | October 02, 2016

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On September 26, security forces in Hanoi blocked Chief Executive Officer of Defend the Defenders Vu Quoc Ngu from taking an international flight to Paris where he is invited to attend a conference on freedom of the press organized by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF).

Security officers at the Noi Bai International Airport told him that he cannot leave the country due to national security according to the government’s Decree 136.

Prisoners of conscience held in An Phuoc prison in the southern province of Binh Duong are facing life-threatening risks as the prison authorities are allegedly supplying them with food mixed with tiny glass particles and copper wire while the drinking water is allegedly contaminated with toxic substances, imprisoned Christian pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh told his wife when she visited him on Friday.

In addition, the prison authorities have used criminal prisoners to assault and suppress prisoners of conscience, said pastor Chinh, who is serving his 11-year sentence in the prison.

One day after the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi upheld the sentences of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office Bärbel Kofler released her statement saying she is very upset about the court’s decision. She called on Vietnam to release the duo immediately and unconditionally and abide by the country’s international commitments regarding human rights.

The U.S. Department of State also said the sentences of Mr. Vinh and Ms. Thuy as well as the imprisonment of land right activist Can Thi Theu are a concern for Washington. Spokesman Mark Toner said “The use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalize individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression … is … troubling.”

There has been a series of incidents of police power abuse in many localities and their victims include a reporter of the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper. Despite solid evidences of the police assault against the reporter, Hanoi police department merely issued an administrative warning to the perpetrators while the victim was fined with a big sum.

And other important news

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===== September 26 =====

Hanoi-based Human Rights Defender Blocked from Attending RSF’s Meeting in Paris

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on September 26 barred a local human rights defender from going to Paris where he is invited to attend a meeting of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF).

Mr. Vu Quoc Ngu, chief executive officer of non-profit Defend the Defenders, said he was stopped by security officers at the Noi Bai International Airport on his way to Bangkok enroute to the French capital city.

The blockage was based on national security reason according to Decree 136 of the government, the security officers at the border gate said.

This is the second time Mr. Ngu was blocked from international travel within the past two years. In July 2015, Mr. Ngu, who is co-president of the Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON), was also not allowed to go to Bangkok where he was invited to attend a train course on cyber security organized by RSF.

Recently, Mr. Ngu has been blocked from meeting with a number of foreign diplomats. In mid-May, together with many members of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), he was not permitted to participate in a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski, who visited the communist nation to prepare for the visit of President Barack Obama to Vietnam on May 23-25.

Ngu, who attended many anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi in the 2011-2016 period, was also under de facto house arrest during past weekends when activists in Hanoi gathered in the city’s center to protest the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group which illegally discharged a huge volume of toxic industrial waste from its steel plant in Ha Tinh which caused the environmental catastrophe in the central coastal region killing hundreds of tons of fish there.

Defend the Defenders is a leading local human rights organization striving to report key human rights violations in Vietnam while VICSON is a young organization fighting for freedom of assembly in the Southeast Asian nation.

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 their passports confiscated.

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Imprisonments of Two Vietnamese Bloggers Upset German Human Rights Commissioner

Defend the Defenders: One day after the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected appeals of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, the founder and owner of Anh Ba Sam news website, and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, on September 23, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office Bärbel Kofler released her statement on the case:

“I was very upset about the news that the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi upheld the five-year and three-year imprisonments of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Minh Thuy, respectively. It is regrettable that in Vietnam many people have been jailed just because they exercise the right of freedom of expression while the rights of freedom of expression and press are enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.”

“I am calling on Vietnam to drop all charges against Mr. Vinh and his assistant. The arrests, imprisonment and suppression should not be the state’s tools used against bloggers and journalists with critical views. Similarly to human rights issues, Vietnam must effectively implement its Constitution and its international commitments.”

Tuyên bố của Đặc ủy Nhân quyền về án tù đối với blogger Nguyễn Hữu Vinh

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Vietnamese Fishermen Swamp Court with Lawsuits in Formosa Pollution Case

Radio of Free Asia: Hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen swamped a court in the central coastal province of Ha Tinh on September 26 with lawsuits demanding compensation from a Taiwanese Formosa steel plant whose discharged huge amount of industrial toxic waste polluted coastal waters and killed hundreds of tons of marine life, leaving thousands out of work.

Police were mobilized in the morning to block buses carrying the mostly Catholic petitioners from Phu Yen parish to Ky Anh town, but 199 cases were received by the court by the evening, with one protest organizer predicting more would be filed next day.

“More people may join us tomorrow because not only people from Dong Yen parish but also from other parishes who hear about this may come,” activist Paul Tran Minh Nhat, who along with parish priest Anton Dan Huu Nam helped parishioners file their claims, was quoted as saying.

“We have already submitted 199 cases, and there are another 340 cases to go,” he said.

“The court did not want to receive these cases at first, but we understand the law and told them that this is the beginning of the process and that they only have to acknowledge receipt.”

As villagers came forward to file their suits, others who had gathered in and around the court building prayed and sang songs in support, Nhat said.

“At the beginning, the police were very aggressive, but they could not control the situation. Everyone has been very peaceful,” he said.

Despite heavy monitoring of the crowd by local police, there were no immediate reports of injuries or detentions.

In late June, Formosa agreed to pay a compensation of $500 million to support central fishermen who were affected by its toxic waste dumping. The money was transferred to the Vietnamese side but the government has yet to pay for affected fishermen.

It is unclear how Vietnam will support other people, including salt farmers, seafood traders and other people involving in tourism activities.

Fishermen are concerned about how they can earn for living since the government plans to provide financial assistance for six months.
Vietnamese Fishermen Swamp Court with Lawsuits in Pollution Case

===== September 27 =====

Vietnamese court decisions against bloggers, activist troubling: U.S.

Reuters: Two decisions by Vietnamese courts sentencing a land rights activist to jail and upholding prison terms for two political bloggers are a concern for the United States, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.

“The use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalize individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression … is … troubling,” spokesman Mark Toner said at a daily news briefing.

Well-known Vietnamese political blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, 60, and his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, 36, lost their appeal on Thursday when a higher court upheld their jail terms and reaffirmed they had abused their freedom and hurt the state’s interests.

The five-year term for Vinh and the three-year term for Thuy were handed down in March and human rights and press freedom advocates have called for their release.

On Tuesday, a district court in Hanoi sentenced Can Thi Theu to 20 months in jail for causing public disorder, her lawyer said, jailing the land rights activist for a second time over a similar offense in a case a top human rights group said should have been dropped.

Theu, 54, was found guilty at a half-day trial three months after she was arrested for leading protests outside government offices against what she called illegal land seizures.

“We call on the government to release these three individuals as well as other prisoners of conscience and allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their political views and to assemble peacefully without fear of retribution,” Toner said.

Quy���t định của tòa án Việt Nam đối với người hoạt động rất đáng lo ngại: Hoa Kỳ

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Hanoi Vows to Strictly Punish Policemen Who Assaulted Reporter

Major General Doan Duy Khuong, director of Hanoi’s Police Department, has affirmed in a statement that they will investigate a case in which local police officers allegedly assaulted a reporter on Nhat Tan Bridge on September 23.

Reporter Tran Quang The, who is working for the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper, was beaten and left bleeding by a group of 10 people who are believed to be plain-clothed policemen when he was taking pictures of a deadly traffic accident that took place on September 23.

A video clip taken by other reporters showed that a police officer in plain clothes kicked Mr. The and broke his camera when the reporter attempted to get information about the death of a taxi driver.

Local police said that the taxi driver committed suicide, however, a number of evidences suggested it might be a murder case. The assault of the reporter has led to speculation that Dong Anh police are trying to conceal from the public the truth behind the driver’s death.

Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that Mr. The was covering news at a site that was not restricted by the police.

Head of criminal police in Dong Anh district came to apologize to Mr. The and the Tuoi Tre newspaper and admitted that those who beat Mr. The were plainclothes police.

Le Nhu Tien, former deputy head of the National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children, said that apology is not enough and does not mean that the case would not be investigated to find out who is responsible for the assault.

In the same week, reporter Do Thanh Hai from the VTC News was also assaulted and had his camera taken away when covering news on land confiscation in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.

The former lawmaker said that the authorities should prosecute people who attack reporters as they are harming the reporters’ health, dignity, and life.

Assaults against reporters have been documented in many localities across the single party-ruled Vietnam.

===== September 29 =====

After Being Beaten by Hanoi Police, Vietnamese Reporter Fined with Big Sum

Tran Quang The, a reporter of the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper, who was beaten by police officers from Dong Anh district, has been fined VND14.5 million ($650) while his perpetrators received warning from the police authorities in the capital city of Hanoi, according to the state media.

At a press conference in Hanoi on September 29, Colonel Nguyen Duy Ngoc, deputy head of Hanoi’s Police Department said reporter The committed a number of wrongdoings for which he has to pay administrative fines.

Accordingly, The was accused of not obeying instructions of police who protected the scene where a taxi driver was said to have committed suicide. Police said Ngoc was not eligible to enter the scene and illegally parked his motorbike on the bridge where the dead driver left his taxi car.

Ngoc also rejected the attack of the two police officers, saying one officer accidentally touched The’s face by hands while the others moved their feet up high but did not cause harm to the reporter.

Meanwhile, The claimed that he did nothing wrong except for parking his motorbike on the bridge.

The administrative fines were set by the police of Bac Tu Liem district. Bac Tu Liem and Dong Anh districts are connected to each other by the Nhat Tan Bridge.

A number of video clips taken other reporters showed that The was attacked by the two police officers with their hands and feet.

The is among a number of reporters beaten by police while covering news in the past few years. None of the perpetrators have been punished strictly by Vietnam’s authorities.

===== September 30 =====

Appeal of Imprisoned Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia Set on October 5

The appeal hearing of imprisoned blogger Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia) will be on October 5, said his lawyer Ha Huy Son.

On March 30, the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Mr. Ngoc to four years in jail and additional three years under house arrest on the charge of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.

Mr. Ngoc was arrested in December 2014 for posting many online articles criticizing the communist party and its government. (for more information about the arrest, read: Vietnam Arrests Third Blogger, Intensifying Crackdown ahead of Party Plenum)

Vietnam has imprisoned 18 political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders so far this year. In addition, a number of activists, including prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and former political prisoner Tran Anh Kim, have been detained for months on allegation of anti-state activities under controversial national security provisions of the Penal Code.

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HCMC Police Officer Suspended after Beating Street Food Seller

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City on September 30 suspended police lieutenant Bui Xuan Hai who was filmed beating a local street food seller.

According to the video clips circulated on social networks, on the evening of September 29, police officer Bui Xuan Hai had a dispute with Nguyen Thi Thu Thao, who has a street food vendor in District 3. Later, Hai attacked the female, grabbing her hair and beating her with his hand. He also dragged her while holding her hair. Many people came to stop Hai’s brutality.

Due to Hai’s assault, Thao received a number of injuries on her head.

===== October 2 =====

Food for Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience Mixed with Glass, Copper Wire While Drink Contaminated with Toxic Substances: Pastor Chinh

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in An Phuoc prison in Vietnam’s southern province of Binh Duong have continued to apply inhumane policy to suppress prisoners of conscience being held there, imprisoned Christian pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh told his wife during their recent meeting in the prison.

Pastor Chinh, who is serving his 11-year sentence in the prison, said the prison authorities have supplied food mixed with tiny glass particles and copper wire for prisoners of conscience. The drinking water provided for prisoners of conscience has a strange smell so it may be intentionally contaminated with toxic chemical substances, the Protestant pastor told his wife Tran Thi Hong.
In addition, the prison authorities have encouraged and used criminal prisoners to beat prisoners of conscience who bravely speak out to protest inhumane treatment in the prison.

Pastor Chinh said he is very concerned about the health of prisoners of conscience here who are political dissidents or religious activists from ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands.

Many prisoners of conscience in the prison have died or suffered from serious illness due to food poisoning with chemicals, Mr. Chinh said, adding that late chemistry teacher Dinh Dang Dinh, who was held in the prison during the 2011-2014 period, suffered from stomach cancer after being poisoned with toxic substances. The political dissident died in April 2014, several weeks after receiving amnesty from former President Truong Tan Sang. Mr. Dinh, who had posted many online articles calling for multi-party democracy and human rights enhancement, was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to six years in prison on charges of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

Mrs. Hong, who is a member of the unsanctioned Vietnam Women for Human Rights and has also been under constant persecution of authorities in Gia Lai province, told Defend the Defenders that her husband’s health has worsened very much after the recent hunger strike.

Mr. Chinh and many other prisoners of conscience conducted the fasting from August 8 until August 28 to demand the prison’s authorities to respect human rights and their rights of receiving material supports from their families as well as contacting with the families. They stopped the hunger strike after the chief of Prisons Management Department under the Ministry of Public Security visited the An Phuoc prison and pledged to meet their requirements, Chinh told her wife. However, the inhumane treatment of the prison continues as the chief left the prison, Chinh said.

The pastor who fought for freedom of religion and beliefs of ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands said he and other prisoners of conscience plan to conduct another hunger strike to protest the prison’s inhumane treatment against them.

Pastor Chinh is a Gia Lai province-based Mennonite pastor who was arrested in April 2011. One year later, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail for “undermining the national unity policy” under Article 87 of the Penal Code. Since 2012, he has been held in An Phuoc prison in Phu Giao district in Binh Duong province, about 600 km from his family home and it takes 12 hours to reach.

Chinh, who was accused of giving interviews to foreign media and joining with other dissidents in criticizing the government, is among 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International urged Vietnam’s government to release immediately and unconditionally.

While he is in prison, his wife has been harassed by the police in Pleiku city. In April-May, she was summoned to the local police station where police officers beat and interrogated her about her meeting with U.S. diplomats led by Ambassador at Large on International Religious Freedom David Saperstein in late March.

According to a recent report titled “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam,” Amnesty International said the conditions in Vietnam’s prisons are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards.

Many prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods as a punishment and have been subjected to ill-treatment, including beatings by prison guards and by other prisoners with prison guards failing to intervene, the London-based human rights organization said in the report.

Some prisoners of conscience are frequently moved from one detention facility to another, often without their families being informed of the change in their whereabouts, it noted.
Vietnam ratified the Convention against Torture which came into effect in February 2015, however, the communist government has taken insufficient steps to bring the country into compliance with its obligations under that treaty, Amnesty International concluded.

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