Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly January 09-15, 2017: Vietnam Temporarily Rescinds 13-year Imprisonment of Activist Dang Xuan Dieu, Forcing Him into Exile in France

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | January 15, 2017

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On January 12, 2017, Vietnam’s authorities temporarily rescinded the 13-year jail sentence of pro-democracy activist Dang Xuan Dieu, forcing him to live in exile in France.

Mr. Dieu was arrested on July 30, 2011 and charged with conducting activities attempting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code. While serving his sentence, he was tortured and inhumanely treated by the prison’s authorities after he refused to recognize that his activities constituted “wrongdoings.” Many international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, called for his unconditional release.

Former political prisoner Le Cong Dinh said he was prevented from taking part in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Saigon on January 14 as local authorities deployed a large group of plainclothes agents to block his private residence on January 13-14.

On January 13, former prisoner of conscience Pham Thanh Nghien was stopped at a border gate while on her way to Bangkok. Authorities said she is on a list of people who are not permitted to go abroad due to national security reasons.

Meanwhile, authorities in Hanoi verbally informed Vu Quoc Ngu, chief executive officer of Defend the Defenders, that he could not travel abroad at least until April 2018, on similar grounds. Last year, he was stopped at Hanoi International Airport when he was on his way to Paris to attend a workshop on freedom of the press organized by Reporters Without Borders.

On January 12, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s communist government to end its ongoing crackdown against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. Asia Director Brad Adams said if Vietnam’s authorities want the country to live up to its full potential, they need to engage in dialogue with critics instead of silencing them.

The New York-based human rights organization said: “Vietnamese bloggers and activists frequently risk their freedom and personal safety to campaign for democracy and basic rights” while “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners have for too long prioritized commerce and good relations over support for these brave individuals and the holding of multiparty elections that would bring an end to one of the world’s longest running one-party dictatorships.”

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===== January 10 =====

Hanoi-based Human Rights Activist Told He Cannot Travel Abroad until April 2018

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi will not allow local human rights activist, Mr. Vu Quoc Ngu, to travel abroad at least until April 2018.

Mr. Ngu, chief executive officer of the independent human rights organization Defend the Defenders, has been banned from traveling abroad due to “national security reasons” under the government’s Decree 136, officers from the city’s Department of Public Security informed him at a recent meeting.

The verbal notice was made after Mr. Ngu challenged the decision of the Department of Public Security, particularly its Sub-Department of Immigration, to prevent him from traveling to France in September last year.

The police officers refused to give details about the travel ban. They also refused to lift the ban, as Mr. Ngu requested.

On September 26, 2016, Mr. Ngu was stopped in Noi Bai International Airport when he was on his way to Paris, where he was invited to attend a conference on freedom of the press organized by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF).

Earlier, in July 2015, Mr. Ngu was also prevented from traveling to Bangkok to attend a cyber security training course conducted by RSF.

Along with barring him from going abroad, security forces in Hanoi have also prevented him from meeting with foreign diplomats and attending peaceful gatherings of local activists.

Mr. Ngu is among hundreds of Vietnamese political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders who cannot go abroad for “national security reasons” regulated by the government Decree 136.

Many of them have challenged the ban before various courts of law but to no avail, as all of them said they could not review cases related to national security.

Defend the Defenders is a non-governmental organization striving to report serious human rights violations in Vietnam and to support human rights defenders in their work. It has close ties with local activists and international human rights organizations such as the London-based Amnesty International, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the Paris-based RSF and the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders.

=====  January 12 =====

Vietnamese Activist Released 79 Months Ahead of 13-year Term End, Forced into Exile in France

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have decided to release political dissident Dang Xuan Dieu, who was serving a 13-year jail sentence, 79 months before the official end of his term and forced him into exile in France.

Mr. Dieu, whose term was to end in July 2023, will take a flight to Paris at midnight on January 12, according to local social websites. He will not be allowed by the ruling communist authorities to return to his home country.

He was arrested on July 30, 2011 and later sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of conducting “activities attempting to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code.

He is a member of a group of Catholic youths who have been accused of being affiliated to the Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan), a California-based political party considered as terrorist group by the communist government of Vietnam.

While serving his sentence, Dieu was tortured and inhumanely treated by prison authorities after he refused to recognize that his activities constituted “wrongdoings.” Many international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, called for his unconditional release.

Dieu is now among the many political dissidents who have been forced to live in exile in foreign countries. A few years ago, Vietnam’s government released Cu Huy Ha Vu, Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay) and Ta Phong Tan before the end of their jail terms and forced them into exile in the U.S.

Vietnam has used political dissidents as bargaining chips to earn economic and political benefits from Western countries, said Dr. Vu, a France-trained legal expert.

Vietnam still holds at least 90 prisoners of conscience, according to Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch believes the communist government is currently holding over 130 political prisoners. Hanoi consistenly denies holding any political prisoners, as it says it only detains persons who violated the law.

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Vietnam: End Crackdown on Bloggers and Activists

Human Rights Watch: The Vietnamese government engaged in a broad crackdown on freedom of speech, opinion, association, assembly, and religion in 2016, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017. Rights bloggers and activists faced constant police intimidation and harassment, were subject to incommunicado detention, and imprisoned for exercising their basic rights.

In the 687-page 27th edition of its World Report, Human Rights Watch reviews the state of human rights in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

“Hopes that Vietnam’s new crop of leaders selected at the Communist Party Congress in 2016 would ease up on repression were dashed over the last year,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “If they want the country to live up to its full potential, the authorities need to engage in dialogue with critics instead of silencing them.”

In 2016, at least 19 people, including prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh, also known as “Anh Ba Sam,” Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, also known as “Nguyen Ngoc Gia,” and land rights activist Can Thi Theu, received sentences ranging from 20 months to nine years in prison for their blogging or peaceful rights campaigning. The police also arrested at least eight other persons, including bloggers Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as “Mother Mushroom,” and Ho Van Hai, also known as “Dr. Ho Hai,” for allegedly “conducting propaganda against the state.” Others, such as Nguyen Van Dai and Tran Anh Kim, arrested in 2015, continue to be detained without trial.

If they want the country to live up to its full potential, the authorities need to engage in dialogue with critics instead of silencing them.

Brad Adams -Asia Director

2016 also saw frequent physical assaults against human rights bloggers and campaigners at the hands of anonymous men who appear to be acting with state sanction and impunity. Several dozen people, including former political prisoners Tran Minh Nhat and Nguyen Dinh Cuong, and activists Nguyen Van Thanh and La Viet Dung, reported that they were attacked by men in civilian clothes. No one was charged in any of the cases.

Police frequently used excessive force to disperse pro-environment marches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Many protesters reported that they were beaten and detained for hours. Others, including prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang and rights activist Nguyen Quang A, were put under house arrest or detained so they could not attend specific events, such as a meeting with foreign diplomats and dignitaries or a public protest.

“Vietnamese bloggers and activists frequently risk their freedom and personal safety to campaign for democracy and basic rights,” said Adams. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners have for too long prioritized commerce and good relations over support for these brave individuals and the holding of multiparty elections that would bring an end to one of the world’s longest running one-party dictatorships.”

===== January 13 =====

Many Activists in HCM City Barred from Meeting with Outgoing State Secretary Kerry

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have placed a number of local activists under house arrest since early Thursday in a bid to prevent them from taking part in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is visiting the Southeast Asian nation for the last time before stepping down on January 20.

Prominent lawyer Le Cong Dinh, a former political prisoner, said a group of over ten preventing him from leaving the area.

Dinh said he was invited by the U.S. General Consulate in HCM City to meet with Kerry when the top U.S. diplomat comes to the city on Friday afternoon.

Other activists, including Pham Chi Dung, president of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, have also complained of being under de facto house arrest.

After meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and holding talks with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son in Hanoi on Friday, Kerry will travel to HCM City where he will meet with Dinh La Thang, Secretary of the ruling communist party’s Committee in the city.

Kerry is scheduled to meet with local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

Along with barring local activists from going abroad, Vietnam’s authorities have applied a number of measures to prevent them from meeting with foreign diplomats and officials.

Last year, many activists were not allowed to attend a meeting between President Barack Obama and representatives of local civil societies as part of his visit to Vietnam on May 23-25.

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Former Prisoner of Conscience Pham Thanh Nghien Barred from Travelling Abroad

Defend the Defenders: On January 13, 2017, Vietnam’s authorities stopped former prisoner of conscience Pham Thanh Nghien at a border gate, preventing her from accompanying her father-in-law to Bangkok on a medical trip.

She was held at the Moc Bai International Border Gate in Tay Ninh province, which borders Cambodia, as she and her father-in-law were on their way to Phnom Penh. The border gate’s authorities told her that they barred her from going abroad as requested by the police from her native city of Haiphong.

She was among the first Vietnamese activists to speak out against Chinese suppression of Vietnamese fishermen in the East Sea (South China Sea). She was arrested in August 2009 while holding a sit-in at her private residence to protest China’s brutality.

The following year, she was sentenced to four years in jail and an additional three years under house arrest on charges of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

After being released, she continued to work to promote human rights in Vietnam, protest China’s violations of Vietnamese sovereignty in the East Sea, and speak out on environmental issues in the country.

Nghien is among the many Vietnamese activists who have been barred from travelling abroad under Decree 136 of the communist government.

===== January 15 =====

Independent Reporter Nguyen Van Hoa Kidnapped

On January 13, the Tin mung cho Nguoi ngheo (Good News for the Poor, or GNfTN) newswire reported that Mr. Nguyen Van Hoa, a young Catholic who often reported on anti-Formosa protests in Ha Tinh and Nghe An provinces, was kidnapped by Ha Tinh police on January 11, 2017. As of January 13, his whereabouts remain unknown.

His friends told GNfTP that Mr. Hoa is a person with an acute sense of justice and fairness, and who is very aware of the social injustice caused by the communist regime. He took an active part in making sure that the voice of victims of the sea disaster in the central region was brought to social media.

Thanh Niên đưa tin về các vụ biểu tình phản đối Formosa bị bắt cóc