Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly October 10-16, 2016: Vietnam Arrests Prominent Human Rights Defenders on Allegation of Anti-state Propaganda
By Defend the Defenders, October 16, 2016
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On October 10, security forces in the central province of Khanh Hoa arrested prominent blogger and human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, saying they will hold her for the next four months to investigate charges of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.
After Quynh’s arrest, many democratic governments such as the U.S., the UK, and Germany and the EU as well as many international human rights organizations such as the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders, the London-based Amnesty International, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders have condemned the arrest and urged Hanoi to release her unconditional and immediately.
On October 14, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed his concern about a growing crackdown by the Vietnam government on human rights defenders, including the arrest of Ms. Quynh, a popular blogger and government critic.
He also said “Article 88 effectively makes it a crime for any Vietnamese citizen to enjoy the fundamental freedom to express an opinion, to discuss or to question the Government and its policies,” and “The overly broad, ill-defined scope of this law makes it all too easy to quash any kind of dissenting views and to arbitrarily detain individuals who dare to criticize government policies.”
He urges Vietnam’s government to abide by its obligations under human rights law, to drop these charges against Ms. Quynh and to release her immediately.
The Brotherhood of Democracy said its member Hoang Van Giang from the central province of Thanh Hoa was sentenced to three years in prison on charge of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 in a secret trial in August. His family was not informed about the trial.
A medical doctor, Giang was arrested on October 14 last year and initially charge with drug possession.
And other important news
===== October 10 =====
Vietnam Arrests Human Rights Defender on Allegation of Anti-state Propaganda
On October 10, security forces in Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa arrested prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and charged her with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.
Local activists reported that Ms. Quynh was detained at around 10AM when she was assisting Ms. Nguyen Thi Nay in contacting with her son Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy, who was sentenced to three years in prison in August, also under Article 88.
Police arrested her when the two females went to a detention facility where Duy is held. Later, the police brought Quynh to her private residence and conducted search for documents until 3PM.
Police announced that they will detain her for four months to investigate her activities. Her mother reportedly asked to see the arrest warrant but the police refused to show it.
The arrest was based on her 400 articles about police torture posted on her Facebook account. Accordingly, the articles documented 31 cases in which suspects died during detention in police custody. The documentation, based on state media, has distorted the police forces, state media said, citing information from police.
If found guilty, Quynh may face imprisonment up to 20 years in prison according to the Penal Code.
Authorities in Nha Trang deployed a large number of police officers to block the areas around her private residence in Nha Trang city. Some local activists tried to come to collect information on the case but they were kept away from the scene.
Ms. Quynh is a well-known blogger writing under the penname Me Nam (Mother Mushroom). She is also known for activities promoting human rights. She is one of the leading figures of the unsanctioned Vietnam Blogger Network which fights for freedom of press in the country.
In 2015, she was honored with Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award by the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders.
She has been subjected to constant persecution at the hands of Vietnam’s police for years, including being banned from international travel.
Vietnam has intensified its crackdown on local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. In addition to sentencing 18 activists so far this year, the communist government has launched a wave to violent assaults against many others.
In the most recent case, police in the southern city of Vung Tau on October 8 detained over two dozens of activists who attended a workshop on civil society. Police confiscated their cell phones and cameras and interrogated them. During questioning, they brutally beat many activists, including Ms. Nguyen Thuy Quynh and Mr. Le Cong Dinh.
Vietnam has used controversial articles such as 79, 88 and 258 in the Penal Code to silence local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. So far this year, it has imprisoned 18 activists on allegation of anti-state activities.
Last month, Amnesty International has urged Vietnam to release 82 prisoners of conscience, including human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested on December 16 last year and charged with anti-state propaganda under Article 88.
According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam holds around 130 political prisoners.
Police torture is systemic in Vietnam. According to the Ministry of Public Security, there were 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. State media has also reported dozens of criminal suspects dying in police stations in 2015-2016.
U.S. Says Viet Tan not Terrorist Group as Vietnam Labels
Defend the Defenders: The U.S. Department of State has said the California-based Vietnam Reform Party (Vietnam Canh Tan Cach Mang Dang or Viet Tan) is not a terrorist entity under the U.S. law.
Responding to a question on the issue by Reuters’s reporter at a press conference on Oct 7, Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the department’s East Asia Bureau, said “We would refer you to the Vietnamese government for more information on its designation.”
Last week, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security released its announcement on its website and state media, declaring Viet Tan a terrorist organization and warning that any Vietnamese found to be involved with the group would be regarded as co-conspirators and punished.
The ministry said Viet Tan had recruited and trained operatives to use weapons and explosives. Vietnam’s police accuse Viet Tan of training its members in militant activities, kidnaps and murders and arranged for operatives to sneak in to Vietnam to organize protests and instigate violence.
Vietnam, ruled by communists for decades, has long been sensitive to the activities of Viet Tan, calling the group “reactionaries” but the announcement carried on state television was the first time it had designated it a terrorist organization.
Some observers said the move by the Vietnamese police aims to suppress increasing social dissatisfaction regarding the government’s dealing with the environmental disaster in the central coastal region caused by the discharge of huge volume of very toxic industrial waste of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant into sea.
Tens of thousands of Formosa-affected people have rallied on streets near Formosa steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh to demand the Taiwanese company compensate for their losses and withdraw from the country.
Vietnam believed the protests were incited by Viet Tan, and tried to suppress the campaign.
Viet Tan was formed from Vietnamese people who fled to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. Currently, around three million Vietnamese live in the U.S., concentrating in California.
===== October 12 =====
Driven by Environmental Protests, Vietnam Tightens Civil Liberties
Radio Free Asia: There are growing signs that the Vietnamese government is moving to smother dissent, as the one-party regime in recent days has labeled a pro-democracy group a terrorist organization, imprisoned a blogger critical of the government and blockaded a group of activists trying to conduct a civil society workshop.
It is unclear why the Vietnamese government decided to make the moves at this time, but the ruling troika of President Tran Dai Quang, Communist Party Secretary-general Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc appear to be sending a message that they will tolerate little criticism.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement that Viet Tan, or the Vietnam Reform Party, has been carrying out terrorist activities to end communist rule in Vietnam and warned that anyone who might contact the organization will be dealt with harshly.
“Viet Tan is a terrorist organization, therefore, anyone who joins, propagandizes, instigates others to join, sponsors, receives sponsorship from Viet Tan, participates in training courses arranged by Viet Tan, operates under instructions of Viet Tan will be an accomplice in terrorism … and will be dealt with in accordance with Vietnamese law,” the statement said.
The Viet Tan is not listed as a terrorist entity under U.S. law and the U.N. has described the Viet Tan as “a peaceful organization advocating for democratic reform.”
Viet Tan was founded by exiles from the Saigon government that was deposed in 1982 and says as its mission to “overcome dictatorship and build the foundation for a sustainable democracy.”
While the organization has been outlawed in Vietnam for years, the move is the first time the government has declared it a terrorist organization.
The organization dismissed Vietnam’s claims, accusing Hanoi of using “scare tactics” by “regurgitating baseless propaganda that they have routinely used against peaceful voices.”
“To justify its human rights abuses, Hanoi has often portrayed critics as engaging in terrorism, subversion and social unrest,” Viet Tan wrote in a statement. The group pointed out that three of its members are “currently serving long prison terms for their blogging and community organizing.”
Mother Mushroom arrested
In a separate move, Hanoi appeared to underscore the government’s intention to throttle dissent as it arrested a popular blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who writes under the pen name Mother Mushroom on Tuesday.
Quynh co-founded the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, one of the few independent writers’ associations in a country where the news media and publishing industry are tightly controlled by the governing Communist Party.
The network defended Quynh, writing in a statement that she is an “activist who has advocated for human rights, improved living conditions for people, and sovereignty for many years.”
She blogged extensively about the Formosa Plastics Group steel plant chemical spill in April that killed tons of marine life and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four provinces.
In June, the company acknowledged it was responsible for the pollution that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate those affected by it.
The spill sparked large protests across Vietnam, where public demonstrations are rarely tolerated. Hanoi’s move looks to be aimed directly at criticism over the environmental disaster, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers wrote in their statement.
“Blogger Mother Mushroom has recently been focused on environmental protection, [criticizing] Formosa and other projects that have bad effects on the environment,” the network wrote. “These activities have led to her urgent arrest.”
Freelance journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the “Formosa situation has become more tense and people think that is the ‘death point’ of the regime.”
“There will be more protests in the future, and it will be more tense, and more people will join the protests,” he said. “That is why the government is looking for a way to clamp down on social activists.”
Freelance journalist Pham Chi Dung told RFA “this is a clamp-down campaign initiated with the recent announcement by the Ministry of Police about Viet Tan party. The crackdown will be harsher in the future.”
While Quynh’s arrest looks like a stern signal, blogger Pham Thanh Nghien, a co-founder of the network of Vietnamese Bloggers, told RFA that the activists were unbowed.
“This does not damage us in terms of worrying about being arrested or jailed,” she said. “We are fighting for basic freedoms for ourselves, even though those freedoms might be paid for by our imprisonment.”
While activists are prepared to go to jail, the recent activity may only be aimed partially at them, said blogger Truong Duy Nhat.
“It is possible that anybody can be arrested in the future,” he said. “The way they behave, making laws and implementing those laws, means that any citizen can be alternate prisoners. Anybody can become Mother Mushroom.”
‘Hearing me shouting, four or five security policemen beat me’
It’s not just bloggers who have been harassed by the government as security forces in Vietnam’s southern city of Vung Tau on Saturday detained a group of around 20 activists who attempted to conduct an informal workshop on civil society.
The local police interrogated and beat the activists who had hoped to talk to young Vietnamese about the development of civil society. Instead they ran into squads of police who broke up the meeting, attorney Le Cong Dinh told RFA.
“They shoved me into a car, and I shouted ‘police’ so others could hear, but they could not because many people were still inside a closed room while I was in the lobby at the time,” said the attorney, who served a prison term for “propaganda against the state.”
“Hearing me shouting, four or five security policemen beat me,” he added. “They grabbed my neck and twisted my arms. Four people took me to the car.”
The police drove him to the police station in Than Tam commune, where other activists had been rounded up, he said.
Le Cong Dinh told RFA that the meeting was designed to be an informal one where people could stand up and speak about a topic although some had prepared material for the talk. He was prepared to talk about legal matters related to civil society in Vietnam.
“We went to our meeting at Phan Chu Trinh Street,” he said. “Upon our arrival, we saw that there were many policemen, including traffic police, fast reaction troops and security policemen. They had cameras to film our arrival.”
The activists were blocked from their original meeting place, and when they tried to go to another, the police pounced and arrested them. They were eventually released.
“They drove all their victims out of Vung Tau,” he said. “And dropped them on deserted streets.”
===== October 13 =====
International Community Urges Vietnam to Release Prominent Human Rights Defender
Defend the Defenders: The U.S. and the EU and a number of international human rights organizations have called on Vietnam to release prominent human rights defender and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who was detained on October 10 on allegation of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.
In his statement released on October 12, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said he is deeply concerned about Vietnam’s recent acts against local human rights defenders and social activists, including the arrest of Ms. Quynh and the convictions of prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia) and land rights activist Can Thi Theu.
The ongoing suppression against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders threatens to overshadow Vietnam’s progress on human rights, said Ambassador Osius. Washington calls on Hanoi to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their political views online and offline without fear of retribution, he said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website.
The U.S. also urges Vietnam’s government to ensure its laws and actions are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution, and Vietnam’s international obligations and commitments, the statement said.
Meanwhile, one day earlier, Ambassador Bruno Angelet, head of the EU Delegation to Vietnam, said the arrest of Quynh goes against Vietnam’s international and domestic human rights obligations, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a party since 1982, and the country’s Constitution.
Reiterating that support for human rights defenders is a long-established element of the bloc’s human rights external relations policy, Ambassador Angelet calls on Vietnam’s authorities to release Ms. Quynh immediately.
It is important to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and protect their rights to express their opinions peacefully, freely, without threats or impediments, in line with Vietnam’s international obligations, he noted.
The embassies of the UK and Germany also urged Vietnam to release Quynh.
Few days after Quynh’s detention, a number of international human rights organizations such as the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders and the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders urged Vietnam to release Ms. Quynh and other human rights defenders unconditionally and ensure safe environment for them to carry out their human rights advocacy activities.
On October 13, Amnesty International released a statement calling for urgent action for Ms. Quynh. It warned that she may be tortured or treated inhumanely in detention.
Foreign media has covered the arrest of Quynh, who has conducted numerous activities in human rights enhancement, environmental protection and the country’s sovereignty protection.
If found guilty, Quynh may face imprisonment of up to 20 years in prison, according to Vietnam’s current law.
Vietnam has been criticized by many foreign democratic governments and international human rights organizations for using a number of articles such as 79, 88 and 258 of the Penal Code to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.
According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding around 130 prisoners of conscience while Hanoi always denies the accusation and says it imprisons only law violators.
Recently, Amnesty International urged Vietnam to release 82 prisoners of conscience, including blogger Vinh and human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai.
===== October 14 =====
UN Human Rights Chief Urges Vietnam to Halt Crackdown on Bloggers and Rights Defenders
www.ohchr.org: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday expressed concern about a growing crackdown by the Viet Nam Government on human rights defenders, including the arrest this week of popular blogger and Government critic Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known online as Mother Mushroom.
Quynh was arrested on Monday in the central province of Khanh Hoa under Article 88 of the Penal Code, which prohibits “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.” The crime is deemed a national security offence and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in jail. Under the Vietnamese criminal procedural code dealing with the investigation of so-called national security offences, Quynh can be detained incommunicado for at least four months.
“Article 88 effectively makes it a crime for any Vietnamese citizen to enjoy the fundamental freedom to express an opinion, to discuss or to question the Government and its policies,” said Zeid. “The overly broad, ill-defined scope of this law makes it all too easy to quash any kind of dissenting views and to arbitrarily detain individuals who dare to criticize Government policies.”
Zeid said incommunicado detention for such an extended period of time – particularly without access to family members and to legal counsel – is conducive to torture and may amount to torture itself, in violation of the Convention against torture (CAT), which Viet Nam ratified in February 2015.
“I urge the Government of Viet Nam to abide by its obligations under human rights law, to drop these charges against Ms. Quynh and to release her immediately,” the High Commissioner added.
Other similar cases over the past year include the continued incommunicado detention of lawyer and human rights activist Mr. Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha, who were arrested in December 2015 under Article 88; the sentencing after almost two years of incommunicado detention of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh, also known as Anh Ba Sam and his assistant Ms Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, in March 2016 to five years and three years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” under article 258 of the Penal Code,; and the sentencing of Mr. Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An to three years and two years in prison respectively under Article 88 in August 2016.
High Commissioner Zeid expressed deep concern at this growing trend of arbitrary arrests and detentions, intimidation, harassment and attacks against human rights defenders. He urged the Government of Viet Nam to repeal Article 88, as well as other provisions that breach international human rights standards such as articles 79, 87, 245 and 258 of the Penal Code. He also called for the immediate release of all individuals detained in connection with these provisions.
Cao ủy LHQ về quyền con người kêu gọi Việt Nam ngưng đàn áp blogger và người bảo vệ nhân quyền
===== October 15 =====
Prodemocracy Activist Sentenced to 3 Years on Anti-state Propaganda
Vietnam’s authorities in August tried human rights activist and outspoken medical doctor Hoang Van Giang, sentencing him to three years in prison on allegation of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.
The family of Mr. Giang was not informed about the secret trial. Currently, he is held in a detention center in the central province of Thanh Hoa.
Mr. Giang, a member of the unsanctioned Brotherhood of Democracy, was arrested on October 14 last year and accused of illegal possession of drug. However, he was tried not because of the initial charge but for his peaceful political activities.
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