Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly November 14-20, 2016: Three Vietnamese Honored by U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network

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Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | November 20, 2016

The U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network has decided to honor three activists and an independent civil society organization in the country with its Vietnam Human Rights Awards 2016. The winners of the prestigious prizes are human rights lawyer Vo An Don and land right activists Can Thi Theu and Tran Ngoc Anh as individuals as well as the unsanctioned Vietnam Blogger Network as an organization.

The decision was made after careful consideration and review of their contributions to fight for human rights enhancement in Vietnam, the Standing Committee of the organization said in a recent press conference held in Little Saigon in California. The prizes ceremony will be held in Boston on December 10 on the occasion of the 68th International Human Rights Day.

Activists Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do, who were detained by police in Ho Chi Minh City, have been officially charged with carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code. They will be held for investigation for four months at least, and face long-term sentences, even capital punishment, under domestic law.

Vu Dat Phong, an activist in Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa, has claimed that he was tortured by police officers during an eight-hour detention by the local police on November 15. Police said they detained him because he had signed a joint petition demanding unconditional and immediate release of prominent human rights activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who was arrested on October 10 and charged with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code, and that he has tattoo with the Human Rights emblem on his body.

Meanwhile, Hanoi-based imprisoned land right and human rights activist Can Thi Theu informed public from a local detention facility that the city’s police have tortured other detainees held in the facility. Due to torture, the victims have suffered severe injuries, she told his lawyer Ha Huy Son at a recent meeting.

After the news spread on social network, the prison’s authorities retaliated against her by not allowing her family to send her some needed medicines, her son Trinh Ba Phuong told the Defend the Defenders.

And other news

===== November 14 =====

U.S.-based Human Rights Network Awards Three Activists, Vietnam Blogger Network
Defend the Defenders: The U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network, a group of human rights defenders, has decided to honor three activists and an independent civil society organization in the country with its Vietnam Human Rights Awards 2016.

Human rights lawyer Vo An Don and land right activists Can Thi Theu and Tran Ngoc Anh as well as the unsanctioned Vietnam Blogger Network are winner of the prizes this year, the Standing Committee of Vietnam Human Rights Network announced in a recent press conference held in Little Saigon in California.

The three activists and Vietnam Blogger Network are outstanding individuals and organization contributing to the country’s human rights struggle in the year, the committee said.

Lawyer Don has participated in a number of trials, protecting his clients from state officials and agencies while Mrs. Theu and Mrs. Anh are leading hundreds of land petitioners to demand for proper compensation for their seized property.

Due to their activities, Anh and her husband were imprisoned for 15 months in 2014 on allegation of resisting on-duty state officials while peacefully protesting local authorities’ grabbing their land.

After being released in 2015, Theu continued to lead land petitioners in peaceful demonstration for land right as well as against police torture and on environmental issues.

On June 10, she was detained by Hanoi police and on September 20, she was sentenced to 20 months in prison on allegation of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code. Although the trial was supposed to be public, two of her sons and many land petitioners and activists were detained while trying to enter the court room, and brutally beaten by police officers.

One of the key figures of Vietnam Blogger Network, Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh or Mother Mushroom, was arrested on October 10 and charged with anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

Prominent human rights lawyers Le Quoc Quan, Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai were winners of the prize in the past. Mr. Dai was arrested on December 16 last year on allegation of anti-state propaganda under Article 88.

The prizes ceremony will be held in Boston on December 10 on the occasion of the 68th International Human Rights Day.

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Vietnam Accused of Jailing Asylum Seekers Returning from Australia
Defend the Defenders: A Melbourne-based Vietnamese advocacy group has said that some groups of Vietnamese who were returned to Vietnam under Australia’s boat turn-back policy have been punished with jail terms.

Voice Australia, a group that helps Vietnamese asylum seekers, has been in touch with a lawyer for two of the organizers of the ill-fated trip to Australia from Vietnam by boat, picked up in June.

Spokesman Trung Doan said a husband and wife who organized the trip but did not make a profit were facing respective minimum jail terms of one and seven years.

Mr. Doan has also been in touch with relatives of those who were returned to Vietnam last year, on two separate boats, each carrying 46 people.

He said five asylum seekers from those boats were either in jail or facing jail terms, under Vietnamese law that makes it illegal to organize a trip to flee Vietnam.

Mr Doan said while some of the asylum seekers were “economic refugees”, others had fled because they were farmers who had their land confiscated and were regularly interrogated by the authorities due to protests, the Australia-based ABC News reported Monday [Nov 14].

So far, Australian Operation Sovereign Borders has turned back 29 boats of Vietnamese people who were intercepted en route to Australia for a new life.

Australia is one of the destinations where Vietnamese people fled to after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Statistics by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship show that the illegal Vietnamese immigrants in the country is rising over the past years since the first boat carrying Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived on Australia’s northern shores in 1976.

Asylum seekers who came on boats to Australia jailed in Vietnam, advocacy group says

===== November 15 =====

Vietnam Activist Says He Was Tortured in Eight Hours in Police Station
Defend the Defenders: Vu Dat Phong, an activist in Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa, has claimed that he was tortured by police officers during a recent eight-hour detention by the local police.

At around 3PM on November 15, a group of five police officers and two plainclothes agents detained Phong when he was sitting at a local cafeteria in Cam Ranh city, Mr. Phong said. They took him to Cam Ranh city’s police station and started to beat him for eight consecutive hours.

“They [police officers] beat me on my head and breast, throttling my throat until I collapsed. One replaces others to torture me over eight hours and released me at mid-night.”

Phong said he recognized some of perpetrators were security officers of Cam Ranh City with whom he met before.

Police said they detained Phong because he had signed a joint petition demanding unconditional and immediate release of prominent human rights activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who was arrested on September 10 and charged with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

They also said his tattoo with the Human Rights emblem is a reactionary sign.

Police requested Phong to withdraw his name from the petition campaign as well as erase the Human Rights emblem on his body.

However, Phong refused, saying his activities are legal according to domestic law.

Phong said he feels very sad due to severe attacks on his head and body.

Vietnam’s communist government has intensified its crackdown on local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. In addition to arresting a number of activists including bloggers Quynh and Ho Van Hai and pro-democracy campaigners Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do and charging them with anti-state allegations under controversial articles 79 and 88 of the Penal Code, it has also deployed police officers and plainclothes agents to beat activists in police stations and assault them on the street.

Many activists, including La Viet Dung, Nguyen Trung Truc, Mai Van Tam, and Nguyen Chi Tuyen have been brutally beaten by plainclothes agents recently.

===== November 16 =====

Hanoi Police Torture Detainees, Says Vietnam Imprisoned Activist
Defend the Defenders: Hanoi-based well-known land right activist Can Thi Theu has informed the public from a local detention facility that the city’s police have tortured other detainees held in the facility, said her lawyer Ha Huy Son.

During a meeting with her lawyer on November 15 in preparation for her appeal hearing scheduled on November 30, Mrs. Theu told him that a group of detained suspects in a criminal case has been brutally beaten by police investigators during interrogation in the Hanoi Detention Facility No. 1.

Due to torture, the victims have suffered severe injuries, she claimed.

After Mrs. Theu’s information has been spread pn social networks, including Facebook, the authorities of the detention facility have not allowed her family to send her medicines for treatment of a number of diseases, said her son Trinh Ba Phuong.

Theu, who was sentenced to 20 months in prison by the People’s Court of Dong Da district on September 20 in a trumped-up case of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code, will have her appeal heard on November 30. (For more information on Mrs. Theu case, please go to: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/category/can-thi-theu/ )

Last week, Mrs. Theu, together with land right activist Tran Ngoc Anh and, human rights lawyer Vo An Don received the human rights prizes given by the U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network for 2016. Vietnam Blogger Network was also honored with the same prize as a group.

Theu is among 82 prisoners of conscience Amnesty International has urged Vietnam to release unconditionally and immediately.

Meanwhile, torture and police power abuse are systemic in Vietnam but few perpetrators have been punished adequately, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

According to Vietnam’s 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 these deaths while families and human rights defenders blamed police torture and ill-treatment.

Dozens of people have been killed and tortured in police stations nationwide since the beginning of 2015.  Many people have been brutally beaten by police for minor infractions.

State media has reported a number of victims of miscarriage of justice whose sentences were based on coercion as result of police torture. These victims included Mr. Huynh Van Nen from the central province of Binh Thuan, Luong Ngoc Phi from the northern province of Thai Binh, and Nguyen Thanh Chan from the northern province of Bac Giang.

Mr. Nen and Mr. Chan were wrongly convicted in murder cases. They were freed after spending over ten years in prison, and received respective compensations of billions of dong. They said they were tortured by police investigators in the two murder cases in which the real killers confessed and turned themselves in after years of hiding.

===== November 17 =====

Majority of Legislators Unwilling to Approve Draft Laws on Association, Penal Code
Defend the Defenders: A majority of Vietnamese legislators are unwilling to approve the draft law on Association and the draft law on amended and supplemented Penal Code, saying the two bills need further perfection, state media has reported.

On November 17, during a working session of the ongoing second session of Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly, 443 out of the participating 460 lawmakers said the bill on Association is not suitable for the current actual activities of associations and limits citizens’ rights.

The draft law on Association aims to enhance government control over associations so the Ministry of Home Affairs needs to perfect it before submitting to the parliament in its next session.

As many as 448 lawmakers disagreed to approve the draft law on amended and supplemented Penal Code submitted by the Ministry of Justice due to many technical errors, the Thoi Bao Kinh Te Viet Nam newspaper said. They also said some new crimes should be added in the bill which will be returned to the Ministry of Justice for perfection.

Vietnam’s parliament in the 13th tenure approved the Penal Code 2015 last year. However, one month prior to its effectiveness on July 1, 2016, Vietnam found a number of errors in the approved bill and the parliament decided to suspend its implementation for adjustment.

In mid-October, prior to the beginning of this parliament’s session, many international human rights organizations and domestic independent civil societies signed a joint petition urging the lawmaking body not to approve the two bills, saying the draft laws were designed to limit the rights of Vietnamese people.

On October 18, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s parliament to respect rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion of its people as the legislature will consider revision of the Penal Code during its second session in October-November.

According to the New York-based human rights organization, many articles related to national security in Vietnam’s laws are vaguely defined and often used arbitrarily to punish critics, activists, and bloggers. Therefore, the Vietnamese parliament should take this opportunity to outline clearer rules to be in line with international standards.

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Vietnam Cop Reportedly Blamed for Causing One Death
Defend the Defenders: One Vietnamese citizen died and another sustained severe injuries in the southern province of Dong Nai on the evening of November 16, after local mobile police officers allegedly chased and kicked their motorbike, the Phap Luat Viet Nam newspaper reported Thursday.

When Vu Duc Tien and his friend rode their motorbike on the Nguyen Ai Quoc street, a specialized police motor chased them and one of officers kicked their motor, the newspaper said, citing a witness.

After falling on the ground, Tien died while his friend survived. The reason for the attack was unknown.

After the attack, the police officers tried to escape from the scene. However, local residents blocked them, the newspaper said, adding angry people destroyed and burned the police vehicle.

Some sources in social networks reported that an angry mob also beat the cops.

Local authorities in Bien Hoa city deployed a large number of police officers to rescue the two cops and ensured orders.

Tien is among numerous victims of police abuse in the past few years, according to the state-run media. Many of them died while other suffered severe injuries after being chased or attacked by traffic police and mobile police as well as police in communal level.

Traffic police is among the most-corrupted groups in Vietnam.

===== November 18 =====

Two Vietnamese Activists Officially Charged with Subversion
Defend the Defenders: Police in Vietnam’s southern economic hub Ho Chi Minh City have officially charged two local activists Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do with carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code.

The two activists, detained by the city’s security forces on November 6, are being investigated for their roles in the newly-established Coalition of Self-determined Vietnamese People which strives to fight for multi-party democracy and human rights enhancement, said the city’s Department of Public Security in its letter to their families.

Mr. Vinh and Mr. Do will be held for investigation for at least four months. They may face punishment of five years in prison to life imprisonment, even capital punishment, according to the Penal Code.

Vinh was beaten and detained in his private residence in the city during the lunch on November 6 while Do was arrested after visiting Vinh’s house earlier on the same day. Police also detained between nearly ten others related in the same case on the same day but released them after torturing and interrogating them for several days, the victims said after being released.

The arrests were said to be linked to the Coalition for Self-determined Vietnamese People. Mr. Vinh founded the coalition in mid-July and became the president of the organization which aims to end the communists’ political monopoly. All major issues of the country should be decided by the people via referendums, according to its founding statement.

However, Vinh was reported to have left the coalition and was planning to set up another organization to fight for multi-party democracy and enhance human rights in the nation.

Vinh, 49, participated in many peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi and HCMC to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the company Formosa’s discharge of huge amount of toxic industrial waste into sea waters in the central province of Ha Tinh which caused massive death of fisheries in four central coastal provinces.

He had been detained many times, including the three-day arrest in May after he took part in a peaceful demonstration on environmental issue.

The arrests of Vinh and other activists are part of Vietnam’s intensifying crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders amid increasing public awareness about the country’s socio-economic problems, including systemic corruption and widespread environmental pollution.

On October 10, Vietnam arrested prominent blogger and human rights activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and, three weeks later, well-known blogger Ho Van Hai. The two bloggers were accused of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

Vietnam has imprisoned around twenty activists and detained nearly ten others so far this year. In addition, hundreds of activists have been brutally tortured by police officers and assaulted by plainclothes agents.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and strive to hold the country under a one-party regime. The security forces have been requested to prevent the establishment of opposition parties.

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Vietnam Lawmakers Pass Draft Law on Religion
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s National Assembly (NA), the country’s top legislature, last weekend ratified a draft law on religion with an 84.58% vote, state media reported.

According to the Vietnam Television (VTV), the country’s national station, the law focuses mostly on issues that a religious sect is not allowed to do.

The top and foremost ban is that religious practices must be within law without threats to the national sovereignty, national defense and security, environment, and individuals.

Religious practices must have no sign that may harm the solidarity, belief of other followers, and non-religious followers.

It stipulates that an organization is eligible to be recognized a religious sect after minimum five years of operation.

According to the law, making no religious practice to take profit.

The 93-million population country of Vietnam has dozens of unsanctioned religions, including the two recognized biggest ones namely Buddhism with more than 10 million followers and Christianity with nearly seven million.

Bui Thanh Ha, deputy head of the government’s Committee for Religious Affairs said that Vietnam is home to 24 million followers of 14 religions, accounting for 27% of the country’s total population.

Vietnam has boasted its programs encouraging free religious practices but the country has been criticized by foreign rights groups for its crackdowns on religious freedom.

The Vietnamese side reiterated the consistent and practical improvement of the legal framework and policies on the promotion and protection of people’s freedom of belief and religion.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that Vietnam still has a long way to go before it fully respects religious freedom though it has made progress after the U.S. Department of State removed the country from the designation of a “country of particular concern” (CPC) ten years ago.

The Holy See has attempted to promote relationships with Vietnam but it has yet allowed Vatican to appoint residential papal representative in the country so far.

===== November 18 =====

U.N. Working Group Seeks Release of Vietnamese Photographer Jailed in 2013

Radio Free Asia, November 19, 2016

The mother of jailed photo-journalist Nguyen Dang Minh Man expressed hope that the Vietnamese government will soon release her daughter, but she also expressed doubts that Hanoi will let her stay in the country.

“I hope that Minh Man will be released unconditionally, but I think even if she is released unconditionally, she still can’t come home,” her mother Dang Thi Ngoc Minh told RFA’s Vietnamese service.

“They will expel her from Vietnam,” Dang Thi Ngoc Minh added. “Our family wishes that Minh Man could return and continue her fight with her family, but if the government does not allow her to return home, then it is out of our control.”

Minh Man was one of 14 bloggers, writers and political and social activists who were convicted in 2013 of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 13 years in what human rights groups said was the largest subversion case to be brought in the country in years.

According to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OCHCR) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Minh Man was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years house arrest because she photographed “HS.TS.VN” graffiti and anti-China protests in Ho Chi Minh City over territorial disputes.

“HS.TS.VN” means “Hoang Sa, Truong Sa, Viet Nam,” a slogan that translates to: “The Paracel and Spratly Islands belong to Vietnam.” It’s a statement that reflects the Vietnamese government’s official position on the South China Sea islands, which have been a flash point as Beijing has expanded its presence in waters near Vietnam.

‘Her arrest and detention was not because of any threat to national security’

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Hanoi to release her because “it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty” for Minh Man. While the decision was dated Sept. 20, 2016 it was announced on the working group’s website this month.

“In absence of any information indicating that Ms. Minh Man had engaged in violent activity, or that her work directly resulted in violence, the Working Group concludes that her arrest and detention was not because of any threat to national security,” the group wrote in its finding. “Rather, she was detained in order to restrict the dissemination of material that was critical of the Government and which drew attention to issues of current interest.”

While Minh Man was convicted for her activities as a photographer, she was also associated with the Viet Tan pro-democracy group. The U.S.-based group was labeled as a terrorist organization by Hanoi in October.

The group was formed in 1982 by a vice admiral in the former U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government. Viet Tan says it is committed to nonviolent struggle to end Communist rule, and the U.S. government has said it has seen no evidence that the group is engaged in terrorism.

In a statement the Viet Tan said it welcomed the called the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s decision a “victory for freedom of association in Vietnam.”

“We urge the United Nations to task a special rapporteur to examine the cases of all Vietnamese citizens arbitrarily detained for exercising their fundamental rights,” the organization wrote in its release.