Vietnam Human Rights Weekly December 12-18, 2016: Vietnam Court Jails Two Activists with Long Sentences

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | December 18, 2016

By Defend the Defenders, December 18, 2016

On December 16, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s northern province of Thai Binh convicted two pro-democracy activists, Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung, for activities allegedly aimed at “overthrowing” the state under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The two democracy fighters were sentenced to 13 years and 12 years in prison and to five and four years under house arrest, respectively.

The open trial was held in maximum security as relatives, friends and other activists were not allowed to enter the courtroom. One day ahead of the trial, authorities in many localities deployed large number of plainclothes police officers to block local activists from going out in a bid to prevent them from gathering in Thai Binh to support the two defendants.

One year ago, Vietnam detained human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha, accusing them of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. Mr. Dai, who founded the Vietnam Human Rights Center and the Brotherhood of Democracy, has been held in incommunicado since the arrest as he has not been allowed to meet with his lawyers while his wife was permitted to visit him once in the Hanoi detention facility.

In order to collect additional evidence to strengthen the case against Mr. Dai, Vietnam’s security forces have detained a number of activists for questioning about their relationship with him. Among those detained were former prisoners of conscience Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Tran Ngoc Thach.

On December 16, Amnesty International issued a public statement to condemn the detention of Mr. Dai and the sentences against Mr. Kim and Mr. Tung, saying they were detained solely for exercising their right of freedom of speech and association. The London-based organization urged Vietnam to unconditionally and immediately release them and other prisoners of conscience.

A coalition of seven international organizations including Lawyers for Lawyers, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, PEN International and Viet Tan submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) regarding Mr. Dai’s case. The petition requests the UNWGAD to render an opinion on whether the arrest and detention of Dai contravenes Vietnam’s international human rights law obligations and are arbitrary. It alleges that they are the result of the exercise of Dai’s rights and urges the UNWGAD to recommend that Dai be immediately and unconditionally released.

And other news

 

===== December 13 =====

Vietnam Jails People for Human Trafficking to New Zealand
Defend the Defenders: A court in Vietnam’s southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau handed down jail sentences to four Vietnamese citizens on charges of “human trafficking” as they attempted to bring dozens to New Zealand for migration, state media reported.

At the trial held on December 13, the four defendants, namely Nguyen Giao Thong, Nguyen Tuan Kiet, Nguyen Tuan Khanh, and Tran Thi My Van, were given prison sentences of 3 years and a half, two years and a half, 18 months under probation and 18 months, respectively.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the defendants attempted to sail to New Zealand on a ship with 21 people onboard. The Australian Navy arrested them in May 2016 and deported all of them back to Vietnam in June.

The RFA reported that all men on the boat were captured by the local police when they arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport after that. They were detained until the opening of the court proceedings.

The state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that the trial opened some days after Canberra and Hanoi signed an agreement on the return of Vietnamese nationals found to be in Australia illegally.

Canberra says the tough stance is crucial to deter people-smugglers and prevent deaths at sea.

Despite the threat of punishment from the Vietnamese government, many people have attempted to head toward Australia for a new life.

Since 2015, Australia has returned 113 Vietnamese nationals from three vessels intercepted at sea.

Statistics by Australian agencies showed that there are more than 230,000 Vietnamese people living in Australia, most of them came there from the end of the Vietnam War.

===== December 14 =====

Political Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia Tortured in Prison, His Health under Critical Situation
Defend the Defenders: Political blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia, also known as Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, who is serving his three-year imprisonment, has been tortured in Ho Chi Minh City’s Chi Hoa Prison and his health has severely worsened, the local Dan Lam Bao newswire has reported.

It is reported that Mr. Ngoc was fettered two times which lasted one week each. The first fettering was imposed against him on July 17-24 after he demanded the prison’s management to improve the conditions, and the second was carried out from August 9-16 as reprisals for his denunciation of violations committed by, and bribery of, prison staff, including Major Le Van Yen, Lieutenant Huynh Van Hoa and Senior Lieutenants Nguyen Van Em and Nguyen Quang Que.

During the punishment periods, Ngoc was held in a solitary cell on a dirty cement floor. The prison’s authorities fed him with very little rice twice every day. The fettering was all day and night so he was forced to urinate in a pot placed near him. He was not allowed to wash his teeth or to take a shower during the entire periods.

His family was also prevented from sending him food supplements for two months.

Colonel Nguyen Hoang Tuan, chief of Chi Hoa Prison, instead of launching an investigation into the conduct of his staff after Ngoc ‘s denunciation, submitted a fake report to the Supreme People’s Court saying the victim conducted activities against the state.

As the result of the prison’s inhumane treatments, Ngoc is suffering from a number of diseases, including dizziness, stunned limbs, knee pain, scabies and constipation.

Such degrading treatment is not rare in Vietnam’s prisons, especially against prisoners of conscience. In addition, prisoners have been forced to work without being paid and beaten by prison staff and criminal inmates.

Mr. Ngoc was sentenced to three years in prison and to an additional three years under house arrest by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court on October 5 on charges of “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code for his online writing. For more information about him, you can read our website: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/category/nguyen-dinh-ngoc-nguyen-ngoc-gia/

Conditions in Vietnam’s prisons are very harsh, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, especially for political prisoners. Prisoners are subjected to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment as well as forced labor, many former prisoners of conscience said.

Amnesty International also documented torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam in a report entitled “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam.” See: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/4187/2016/en/.

===== December 15 =====

Imprisoned Pastor Transferred to Another Prison and Under Solitary Punishment Since October 12, Family Uninformed about Moving

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has transferred imprisoner Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh to another prison without informing his family, said his wife Tran Thi Hong, who is a member of unsanctioned Vietnam Women for Human Rights.

On December 11, Mrs. Hong went to An Phuoc Prison in the southern province of Binh Phuoc to visit her husband, however, the prison’s authorities said he was transferred to another detention facility. They refused to tell her in which prison he was moved to.

After two days of seeking him in different prisons in the southern region, finally she found that he is held in a solitary cell in Xuan Loc Prison in Long Khanh district, Dong Nai province, further from their province of Gia Lai.

Authorities of Xuan Loc Prison told her that they did not inform her about his transfer because he refused to confess his activities by which he was sentenced as wrongdoings. For the same reason, he has not been allowed to make a telephone call to his family, as most prisoners can.

At a short meeting with Mrs. Hong, pastor Chinh said he has been placed in a solitary cell since October 12. The prison’s authorities have not allowed him to pray, he added.

Mrs. Hong said her husband’s health is critical as he has not received any medical treatment for a number of serious diseases, including high pressure and sinusitis. He is unlikely to survive for other six years in the prison, she said.

Authorities of Xuan Loc Prison have not allowed Hong to send clothes and medicine drugs for her husband, she said.

Pastor Chinh, who is serving his 11-year sentence in the prison, is constant subject to torture and degrading treatment of prisons under the Ministry of Public Security.

Earlier this year when he was held in An Phuoc Prison, he was supplied food which was mixed with tiny glass particles and copper wire while the drinking water provided for prisoners of conscience had a strange smell so it may be intentionally contaminated with toxic chemical substances.

In addition, the prison authorities encouraged and used criminal prisoners to beat prisoners of conscience who bravely speak out to protest inhumane treatment in the prison.

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.

In An Phuoc Prison, 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. However, the inhumane treatment of the prison continued as the chief left the prison.

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 was held in An Phuoc Prison, 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.

Pastor Chinh is among 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International has urged Vietnam’s government to release unconditionally and immediately.

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.

Few prisoners of conscience have been pardoned although Vietnam has given amnesty for thousands of prisoners every year.

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Many Vietnamese Activists under House Arrest One Day Ahead of Open Trial against Two Pro-democracy Fighters, One Detained on Wednesday
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have been deploying local security forces to the private residence of activists, putting them under de facto house arrest one day prior to the open trial against two pro-democracy campaigners, the victims have complained on social networks.

Vu Quoc Ngu, chief executive officer of non-profit human rights organization Defend the Defenders, said the police in Thanh Tri district, Hanoi, sent a group of five plainclothes agents to station near his house in the early morning of Thursday.

Blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice chairman of the unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, said his house was also placed under the surveillance of local police. However, he left his house earlier and headed to the northern province of Thai Binh where the trial will be held on Friday.

Blogger Le Anh Hung, who already left his house in Thanh Xuan district, said local police came and told his mother that he should stay at home; otherwise he would be arrested.

In the central province of Nghe An, police detained former political prisoner Tran Duc Thach on Wednesday to Dien Chau district police. His family said that Thach is still under detention. The detention may be related to the trial against the two activists.

Vietnam’s authorities continue to prevent relatives and friends, as well as other activists, to attend so-called “open trials” against dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. In March, the Ministry of Public Security issued a circular banning people from gathering near courtrooms, especially during political trials.

In many open trials against local activists, Vietnam’s authorities have detained and even beaten many activists who attempted to come and support the defendants.

Meanwhile, the People’s Court in Thai Binh will hold its first hearing against Mr. Kim and Mr. Tung, two former prisoners of conscience, on Friday on allegations that they conducted attempts to “overthrow the state” under Article 79 of the Penal Code.

The two activists are facing heavy sentences according to the country’s law. For further details of the case, please see our previous report at:  http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/12/06/vietnam-to-try-two-pro-democracy-activists-after-nearly-15-months-of-detention/

===== December 16 =====

Two Democracy Campaigners Imprisoned with Heavy Sentences on Subversion Charges amid Intensified Crackdown
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist government has imprisoned two pro-democracy activists, Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung, with heavy sentences on charges of “conducting activities aiming to overthrow the state” under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code.

On December 16, the People’s Court of the northern province of Thai Binh found Kim and Tung guilty of the charges and handed down to them 13 years and 12 years in prison, respectively. In addition, the two will be placed under house arrest for five and four years respectively after completing their terms.

According to the indictment, Mr. Kim, 67, had the intention to establish an organization called “People Forces for Democracy Promotion” with the participation of army officers to overthrow the current regime and replace it with a democratic government. The two activists planned to publicize their organization on September 21, 2015 but Vietnam’s security forces arrested Mr. Kim a few hours before the organization’s debut.

Mr. Kim, a former lieutenant colonel of the Vietnam People’s Army and deputy head of the military political department of Thai Binh city before the 1990s, is a former political prisoner. During 1995-2005, he participated in a number of groups which promoted multi-party democracy, including the 8406 Bloc. He assisted farmers whose land was illegally seized by local authorities in seeking justice and participated in anti-corruption campaigns.

Mr. Kim was honored with the Hellman/Hammett Prize awarded by the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch in 2009.

He was arrested in July 2009 and charged for attempts to “overthrow the people’s government” under Article 79 of the Penal Code. He was later sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail and released in July 2015.

Mr. Tung is also a former prisoner of conscience, who completed his four-year term in mid 2015. Mr. Tung is a member of pro-democracy Bloc 8406. After being freed, Mr. Tung committed to continue to fight for multi-party democracy in Vietnam.

Tung was re-arrested in mid-December 2015 when he went to work in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.

Human rights lawyer Vo An Don, who is among the group of lawyers defending the accused said his clients are innocent as their activities were simply unrealized ideas.

In order to prevent activists to attend the “open trial” against Kim and Tung, security forces in many localities blocked key activists from going out of their private residences on Thursday and Friday.

The trial against Kim and Tung is held amid an intensified crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. So far, Vietnam has imprisoned around twenty activists and detained dozens of others this year. Among those jailed and arrested are prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, well-known blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who won the Civil Rights Defender Award 2015 of the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders, and prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, the founder and owner of newswire Anh Ba Sam.

During the sixth round of the Vietnam-EU annual enhanced human rights dialogue held in Brussels on December 8, the 28-nation bloc expressed its deep concern about the ongoing harassment and detention of an increasing number of human rights defenders and activists and urged Vietnam to release all activists who are being detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Both Kim and Tung are among 82 prisoners of conscience whom the London-based Amnesty International has urged Vietnam to free unconditionally and immediately.

——————–

Amnesty International Condemns Imprisonment of Two Activists, Long Detention of Nguyen Van Dai
Defend the Defenders: On December 16, Amnesty International issued a public statement to condemn Vietnam’s imprisoning two pro-democracy activists with heavy sentences, and the year-long detention of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai.

The statement was made few hours after the People’s Court of Vietnam’s northern province of Thai Binh convicted Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung for activities aimed at “overthrowing” the state under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The two democracy fighters were sentenced to 13 and 12 years in prison and to five and four years of house arrest, respectively.

One year ago, Vietnam arrested human rights lawyer Dai, accusing him of carrying out anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. The Hanoi-based lawyer has not been given access to a lawyer but he was allowed to meet with his wife once.

London-based Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of these three activists, held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, and for the release of all other prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. They are at risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

There are approximately 88 prisoners of conscience held in Vietnam’s jails, although the number may be higher, said Amnesty International while the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Southeast Asian nation holds around 130 political prisoners.

Vietnam denies holding any prisoner of conscience; it alleges it is detaining only persons who have violated the law.

Viet Nam: Incommunicado detention of human rights lawyer and trial of pro-democracy activists shows disdain for international human rights law
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Seven International Organizations Issue Statement Calling for the Release of Human Rights Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai
Defend the Defenders: On December 16, seven international organizations, namely Reporters Without Borders, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Lawyers for Lawyers, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, English PEN and and Viet Tan, issued a joint statement calling on Vietnam’s government to immediately and unconditionally release human rights lawyer and blogger Nguyen Van Dai who has been arbitrarily detained for a year without access to legal representation or any indication of the date of a trial.

The call was made one year after the detention of Mr. Dai who is charged with “conducting propaganda against the State” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Vietnamese authorities continue to remain silent regarding the investigation process with no indication that his trial will be held soon. Furthermore, he has not been granted access to a lawyer while his wife was allowed to meet with him only once in a detention facility in Hanoi.

Recently, a coalition which consists of Lawyers for Lawyers, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, PEN International and Viet Tan submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) regarding Mr. Dai’s case. The petition requests the UNWGAD to render an opinion on whether the arrest and detention of Dai contravene Vietnam’s international human rights law obligations and are arbitrary, alleging he is detained as a result of the exercise of his rights. The petition asks the UNWGAD to recommendDai’s immediate and unconditional release.

The Vietnamese government must immediately release Nguyen Van Dai and reinstate all of his political and civil rights, including his ability to practice law, they said.

Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger arbitrarily detained for the last year
——————–

Many Activists Detained, Questioned about Human Rights Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have detained a number of local activists in police stations to question them about their relationship with human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who has been incommunicado since December 16 2015.

Among those detained were former prisoners of conscience Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Tran Duc Thach.

Mr. Truyen was detained for several hours on December 15 while Mr. Duc was questioned from 5:00pm until midnight on December 16 by police in Ho Chi Minh City.

On December 14, police in the central province of Nghe An detained Mr. Thach for three days before releasing him.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has detained Mr. Dai for over a year without revealing any plans to bring him to a court of law. His arrest has been condemned by foreign governments and international human rights organizations, which have urged his immediate and unconditional release.

Some observers said that Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which is under great international pressure, has sought new evidence for Dai’s case and the detention of other activists would serve this objective.

Vietnam’s police may carry out other arrests in the coming days, observers said.

===== December 17 =====

Vietnam Arrests Activist Making Online Videos Defaming State Leaders
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have detained a resident from the central province of Thanh Hoa for posting online videos on social networks “defaming the country’s leadership,” state media has reported.

On December 16, police in Thanh Hoa arrested Nguyen Danh Dung and charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.

Dung, 29, will be held for at least three months for investigation, the VietnamNet newswire said.

If convicted, Dung will face imprisonment of between two and seven years in prison, according to Vietnam’s current law.

According to the police’s press release, Dung established and managed a Youtube account, Thien An TV, a blog, tinhhinhdatnuocvietnam.blogspot.com (Vietnam’s situations), and two Facebook accounts, “Thien An” and “Quachthienan,” in which he posted videos which allegedly “defame” leaders of the state and party.

He was said to collect materials from the Internet to create his own video clips, police said.

Vietnam has used a number of legal provisions such as Articles 79, 88 and 258 of the Penal Code to silence local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders although the country’s 2013 Constitution grants rights to freedom of expression to citizens and the communist nation is a signatory state of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In March, the communist government imprisoned prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam) to five years in prison and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to three years in jail for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 258. Mr. Vinh founded well-known news dissident website “Ba Sam,” which boasts millions of readers.

His imprisonment has been condemned worldwide.

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