Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly December 26-31, 2016: Vietnam Continues Its Violent Suppression of Local Activists in Last Days of 2016

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | December 31, 2016

Vietnam’s authorities, in a bid to consolidate their political monopoly, continue their violent persecution against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders in the last week of 2016.

On December 26, police in Ho Chi Minh City kidnapped, assaulted, questioned and beat local activist Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, who was organizing a training course on activism for southern youth.

Authorities in other localities have also suppressed activists, including former prisoner of conscience and labor activist Do Thi Minh Hanh and female teacher Nguyen Thanh Loan in HCM City, human rights and land right activist Tran Thi Nga in the northern province of Ha Nam, and environmentalist Nguyen Anh Tuan in the capital city of Hanoi.

On Monday, the Higher People’s Court in the central city of Danang rejected the appeals of Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An from the central province of Khanh Hoa, sending them back to prison. On August 23, Duy and An were sentenced to three and two years in prison respectively on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code by the People’s Court in the province for their online postings.

This week, the Supreme People’s Court informed Ha Huy Son, a lawyer of detained prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai, that it had extended the pre-trial period for Mr. Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha for additional four months. The duo was arrested on December 16, 2015 on allegations of “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88.

 

 ===== December 26 =====

 Vietnam Upholds Sentences against Two Bloggers for Anti-State Propaganda

Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Vietnam’s central city of Danang on December 26 rejected the appeals of two young bloggers, Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An, finding them guilty of conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.

The court upheld the three-year imprisonment sentence for Duy and the two-year jail term for An given by the People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa on August 23, 2016 for their postings on their Facebook pages.

Duy was arrested on November 27, 2015 while his cousin An had been detained three months earlier.

According to the indictment, An often surfed reactionary websites defaming the country. On April 17 last year, he drew a reactionary slogan on the wall of the headquarters of Vinh Phuoc ward police in Nha Trang city.

The indictment also alleged that the duo regularly accessed websites producing information against the Vietnamese state between 2009 and November 2015. In 2015, Duy compiled and shared a number of articles alleged to distort the policies and guidelines of the ruling Communist Party and its government.

Duy, who had been held incommunicado since late November last year, said he was informed about the Appeal Court proceedings one day ahead of the hearing and was not allowed to meet with his lawyers in advance to prepare for his defense.

Duy was reportedly denied family visits by the authorities and the only correspondence he had been permitted with his family were short notes confirming that he received goods and materials his family shipped to him through the authorities of the facility where he was being detained.

One day prior to the first trial, Rafendi Djamin, director of the Southeast Asia and Pacific Program of the London-based Amnesty International sent a letter to Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Thanh Son, who is also General Director of the Permanent Office on Human Rights of Vietnam, to urge Vietnam’s government to release the two young men immediately and unconditionally.

According to the information Amnesty International received, since his arrest last year, Duy has been unable to maintain significant contact with his family. He was not allowed to hire a lawyer of his own choice but had to accept a lawyer appointed by the local authorities.

Amnesty International said the continuing denial of Duy’s access to his family may amount to cruel and inhuman treatment, in violation of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a party, and of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture (UNCAT), which was ratified by Vietnam in February 2015.

After the first trial, Amnesty International said the convictions of two young activists showed Vietnam’s failure to address the increased willingness of local people to express dissent.

The London-based human rights body said however offensive their postings may be, their activities are protected by the right to freedom of expression. International human rights law includes expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive. And while it could be legitimate to treat an act of spray painting on a police station as a minor act of criminal damage, an offence of “conducting propaganda against the state,” particularly when applied to a statement which does not incite violence, is not consistent with international human rights law.

The UN Human Rights Committee has explicitly underlined that states should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as their administration. The same rule applies to criticism of political parties or systems, the human rights organization said.

Duy and An are among twenty activists jailed for political reasons this year. In late March, Vietnam imprisoned eight political dissidents and bloggers, including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia), with heavy sentences of up to five years.

Vietnam also arrested a number of other activists, including human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, who have been held since December 16, 2015 on Article 88 of the Penal Code. A date has not been set for their potential trial.

Vietnam has little tolerance for government criticism. It has resorted to a number of controversial articles such as Articles 79, 88, 245 and 258 of the Penal Code to silence dissent. According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is currently holding around 130 prisoners of conscience.

During its 13th Human Rights Dialogue with Vietnam on August 4, Australia expressed concern over ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly. It reiterated its serious concerns about the harassment, arrest and detention of peaceful human rights activists. Canberra also called on Hanoi to amend or remove provisions in the Penal Code that criminalize peaceful dissent.

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Vietnam Extends the Pre-trial Detention of Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai for the Third Time

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Procuracy has extended the pre-trial detention of prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai for the third time since his arrest on December 16, 2015.

In its notice sent to Ha Huy Son, a lawyer of Mr. Dai, the Supreme People’s Procuracy said the investigation period will be extended until April 17, 2017, which will mark 16 months since Dai’s arrest late 2015.

According to Vietnam’s Criminal Procedure Code, Dai’s lawyers will be allowed to meet him after the police agency completes investigation to prepare for his defense, the Supreme People’s Procuracy said.

Mr. Dai, the founder of the Vietnam Human Rights Center and of the Brotherhood of Democracy, was arrested together with his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha on allegations of conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

The duo is facing imprisonment of between 12 and 20 years, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Mr. Dai has been held incommunicado and he has not been allowed to meet with his lawyers and relatives. His wife was permitted to meet with him once since late 2015.

In mid-December, security forces detained a number of activists, including Tran Duc Thach, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Truong Minh Duc and questioned them about their relationship with Mr. Dai. 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.

The US, the EU and other countries as well as many international and domestic human rights organizations have urged Vietnam to release Mr. Dai and Ms. Ha immediately and unconditionally, saying the two activists only exercise their right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a state party.

In order to keep the country under the control of a one-party regime, the Vietnamese communist government has used many controversial articles such as Articles 79, 88 and 258 of the Penal Code to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

Around twenty activists have been imprisoned in 2016. Many others, including prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Me Nam), have been detained for months.

According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is currently holding around 130 political prisoners, while Amnesty International said the Southeast Asian nation is detaining at least 90 prisoners of conscience.

Hanoi consistently denies holding any prisoners of conscience as it asserts it only detains persons who have violated the law.

——————–

Saigon-based Activist Kidnapped, Questioned and Beaten Two Times by Police

Defend the Defenders: Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, a young activist from Saigon, was kidnapped, interrogated and beaten two times by plainclothes police officers on December 26, 2016 the victim told Defend the Defenders.

Thanh, who was organizing a training course on activism for youth from the southern region, said on Monday afternoon that he was informed by the trainees that local authorities came to the training site for administrative verifications. Shortly after arriving at a cafeteria, at around 3:30pm, he was attacked by a group of ten plainclothes agents.

The attackers held his arms to his back and started to beat him on his head, breast and back. One of them took his gun and pointed it to Thanh’s right ear, shouting “I will shoot you if you resist. Fuck you that you are training others.” Later, the guy covered Thanh’s head with a shirt and the attackers forced him into a car and drove away.

The kidnappers took Thanh to a police station in Tan My district and other police officers interrogated until mid-night. The interrogators, coming from the city’s Police Department and the Ministry of Public Security, questioned him about the training course and other activities which aim to promote respect for human rights and multi-party democracy.

They also accused him of receiving money from foreign-based groups in order to build forces with a view to overthrowing the regime.

During the interrogation, two of the kidnappers threatened to beat him, Thanh said.

After answering some questions about his personality, Thanh remained silent, demanding his release.

The police released Thanh at 11:30pm. Thanh could not use his cell phone to contact his friends as police had put it into water. When Thanh took a taxi, a group of around 20 thugs on ten motorbikes blocked the car and took him out to beat him until he collapsed on street. Policemen and militia who were standing nearby did not intervene.

Thanh is the third activist who has been assaulted by Vietnamese plainclothes policemen within a week. On December 22, plainclothes agents in the northern province of Ha Nam beat local human rights activist Truong Minh Huong, and one day later, police kidnapped, assaulted and robbed Nguyen Van Dung in the central province of Thanh Hoa.

Along with arrests and heavy prison sentences, Vietnam’s authorities have deployed plainclothes to conduct physical attacks against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. Hundreds of activists have been beaten by police officers in police stations or on the streets this year, victims included La Viet Dung, Nguyen Cong Huan, Nguyen Trung Truc, Mai Van Tam, Nguyen Van Thanh, Phung The Dung, and Nguyen Cong Thu.

Communists have ruled Vietnam for decades and have no plan to share power. The Communist Party of Vietnam has ordered the police to take any action deemed necessary in order to prevent the formation of opposition forces.

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Hanoi-based Activist Harassed by Local Authorities after He Paid Tribute to Victims of Hydropower-related Floods

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vinh Tuy ward, Hai Ba Trung district in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have harassed Nguyen Anh Tuan, a local human rights and environmental activist after he paid tribute to the victims of floods in the central provinces which were caused by torrential rains and water discharges from hydroelectric dams.

On December 25, when Mr. Tuan held the national flag at half-mast in front of his private residence to pay respect and to mourn over 200 deaths due to floods in the central provinces earlier this year, the local authorities sent dozens of police officers, local militia, Communist Party members and thugs to demand him to take the flag down.

Some of them threw stones and brick at his house and threatened other members of his family.

At that time, he was away and only his wife and their second baby were present at the residence.

They eventually stole the flag despite strong protest from Tuan’s wife.

When Tuan returned, he tried to contact a local policeman believed to be present at this incident but the officer did not answer his call.

Last week, activists from all corners of the country have called for a national mourning period for the victims of these floods. The activists said they will launch a week-long, nationwide remembrance period from December 25 to commemorate the flood victims since the Vietnamese government has not taken any action.

Many activists have criticized the Vietnamese government for not dedicating a national mourning period to pay tribute to the people who have lost their lives due to water discharges from hydroelectric dams in the central provinces amid torrential rains.

In late November, the communist government in Hanoi launched a state-sponsored national day of mourning for the deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro. This move was criticized by many activists who contend that the Cuban dictator only contributed to the communism cause, not to the whole Vietnam nation per se.

Vietnam has numerous hydroelectric power plants in its northern and central provinces. When these power plants discharge water from their dams during the rainy season, they cause devastating, untold damages, losses and hardship to the local populations – lives, people livelihoods, material possessions, and many others.

===== December 28 =====

Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience Still Held Incommunicado since his Arrest Late 2015

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa have held Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy incommunicado since his arrest late November 2015, preventing him from meeting with his mother and relatives and from receiving food supplements from his family.

Speaking with Defend the Defenders, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nay, the mother of Duy, said she was not even permitted to attend the trial on August 23 and the appeal hearing on December 26 against her son, who has been accused of conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.

In August, the People’s Court in Khanh Hoa province sentenced Duy to three years in jail. The Higher People’s Court in Danang City upheld the sentence. His cousin Nguyen Huu Thien An was sentenced to two years in prison in the same case. (Report of the appeal court: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/12/27/vietnam-upholds-sentences-against-two-bloggers-for-anti-state-propaganda/)

Mrs. Nay said authorities in Khanh Hoa have refused to allow her to meet with Duy. They have also refused to receive supplements of food and basic goods which she wanted to send Duy given the fact that prisoners, particularly prisoners of conscience, are notprovided with adequate food and medical services.

Some sources told her that most of the time Duy is placed in solitary confinement. He was not permitted to meet with his lawyer prior to the appeal hearing to prepare his defense, she noted, adding that he was not allowed to hire a lawyer of his choice and had to accept a lawyer appointed by the local authorities in the proceedings before both courts.

The online postings of Duy and An were not harmful for Vietnam’s government. However, the Khanh Hoa province’s police characterized their activities as a serious threat to national security in a bid to raise the local police’s prestige so they can obtain promotions, according to some activists.

Before and after the two courts’ verdicts, the US government and many international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the proceedings against Duy and An, saying the use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalize individuals exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly is disturbing.

Amnesty International said the continuing denial of Duy’s access to his family may amount to cruel and inhuman treatment, in violation of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a party, and of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture (UNCAT), which was ratified by Vietnam in February 2015.

You can find more details on the case of Duy and An in previous articles on our website: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/?s=%22nguyen+huu+Quoc+Duy%22

Duy and An are among at least 16 activists detained on politically-motivated charges this year. Others include prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia) and prominent land rights activist Can Thi Theu.

Vietnam has also arrested a number of other activists, including human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, who have been held from December 16, 2015 under Article 88 without a trial, prominent human rights defender and environmentalist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, and well-known blogger Ho Van Hai (aka Bac sy Ho Hai.)

Vietnam has little tolerance for government criticism. It has used a number of controversial Penal Code articles, including Articles 79, 88, 245 and 258, to silence local dissent. According to the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding around 130 political prisoners. According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is detaining at least 90 prisoners of conscience. Vietnam consistently denies holding any prisoners of conscience as it asserts it only detains persons who have violated the law.

The story was posted on: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2017/01/01/vietnam-prisoner-of-conscience-still-placed-in-incommunicado-since-being-arrested-in-late-2015/

===== December 31 =====

Vietnam Security Forces Continue their Harassment of Activists in Late 2016

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have continued their harassment of local activists in the final days of 2016, the victims have complained.

Blogger Nguyen Thanh Loan, a female teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, told Defend the Defenders that on December 30, 2016 she was summoned to a police station in Phan Dang Luu, where suspects in political cases are temporarily held.

Ms. Loan, who participated in anti-Formosa demonstration in April-May, 2016, was interrogated by the police about her relationship with Luu Van Vinh, who is under detention on charges of conducting activities which aim to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code.

After questioning her for several hours, police said they will summon her again next week.

HCM City-based former prisoner of conscience Do Thi Minh Hanh, who is also a labor activist, said on December 31 that the local authorities had deployed many plainclothes policemen near her private residence, preventing her from going out.

Meanwhile, human rights activist Tran Thi Nga from the northern province of Ha Nam reported that she had been placed under de facto house arrest as a group of plainclothes police officers were deployed near her house. She was not permitted to go out to buy foodstuff for her two children and herself.