Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly August 07-13, 2017: Labor Activist Hoang Duc Binh Added with Third Charge

Defend the Defenders | August 13, 2017

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Vietnam’s authorities have added the third charge of “Destroying or deliberately damaging property” under Article 143 of the country’s Penal Code after charging him with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 and “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of the law.

The third charge was made nearly three months after authorities in Nghe An province kidnapped him and later charged him with the first two charges. Binh is facing total imprisonment of 13 years if is convicted, according to the Vietnamese current law.

Authorities in the central province of Nghe An will try former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Oai on charge of with “Resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 and “Failing to execute judgments” under Article 304 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code. The activist faces imprisonment of up to three years for every charge if is convicted.

Many international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International have urged Vietnam to release Oai immediately and unconditionally after he was detained on January 21.

Police in Son Ky ward in Tan Phu district, Ho Chi Minh City, arbitrarily detained Dang Ngoc Huong and his wife in the evening of August 10 when they were sitting in a local cafeteria, holding them in a police station for hours until the early morning of the next day. During interrogation, police brutally beat him and his wife in order to force him to confess of committing public disorders.

Police also requested Huong and his wife to leave the district although the couple wants to stay in the city during their week-long honey moon.

On Aug 9, one day ahead of the Vietnam-Australian annual human rights dialogue slated in Canberra, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging Australia to pressure Vietnam to request the Southeast Asian nation to improve its human rights record.

The call is made amid Vietnam’s intensified crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers, with arrest of seven activists on charges of subversion and democracy freedom abuse and conviction of two human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga with heavy sentences.

On August 7, activists in London, Dublin and Prague held solidarity actions to mark the 600th day of the unjust imprisonment of Vietnamese human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai. In London, 600 lines were drawn in chalk on the path leading to the Vietnamese embassy in the UK. The Dublin-based NGO Front Line Defenders and Van Lang group in Prague also made similar actions in the two remaining capital cities.

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===== August 07 =====

Nguyen Van Dai Imprisoned 600 Days without Trial

 Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Activists in London, Dublin and Prague marked the 600th day of the unjust imprisonment of Vietnamese human rights lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai on 7 August with a solidarity action.

600 lines were drawn in chalk on the path leading to the Vietnamese embassy in London, to mark 600 days of Nguyen Van Dai’s detention without trial since December 2015, along with the hashtag #FreeNguyenVanDai. Solidarity actions were also  performed by members of Van Lang in Prague and Front Line Defenders in Dublin.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW’s) East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said: “CSW is deeply concerned that lawyer Nguyen Van Dai has been unjustly detained for over 18 months and that so little is known about his current condition, and how he has been treated in detention. Mr Dai has been a vocal champion for religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam who has dedicated his life to securing justice and freedom for all. Rather than being branded a criminal, the government should recognise the positive role he has played in supporting and defending the most vulnerable in society. We call for his immediate release and urge the Vietnamese government to respect and protect the right to freedom of religion or belief and other human rights in Vietnam.”

Nguyen Van Dai, a Christian, and his colleague, Le Thu Ha, were arrested on 16 December 2015 and were subsequently charged with ‘spreading propaganda against the state’ under Article 88 of the Vietnamese penal code. Since then, the two of them have been held in prison without trial, with limited contact with the outside world.

CSW recently learned that the charges against Dai and Ha have been changed to ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration’ under Article 79 of the Vietnamese penal code. This carries possible penalties of 12-20 years imprisonment, a life sentence, or capital punishment.

On 30 July, four other activists were arrested and also charged under Article 79. No trial date has been announced for any of these detainees, and CSW is concerned that they may also be subject to a lengthy detention without trial.

===== August 08 =====

Labor Activist Hoang Duc Binh Probed for Third Criminal Charge

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have prosecuted human rights activist Hoang Duc Binh with additional charge “Destroying or deliberately damaging property” under Article 143 of the country’s Penal Code after charging him with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 and “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of the law.

The third charge was made nearly three months after authorities in Nghe An province kidnapped him and later charged him with the first two charges.

Under the third charge, he may face imprisonment of between six months and three years, and even between two and seven years under certain circumstances if is convicted, according to the Vietnamese current law.

For the first two charges, he will face imprisonment of between six months and three years for the charge under Article 257, and up to seven years for the charge under Article 258.

All three charges are stumped-up and politically motivated, said Hoang Duc Hao, a younger brother of Mr. Binh.

On June 15, one month after being arrested in Nghe An province, Binh was transferred from a local detention center to B14 detention facility in Hanoi which is under management of the Ministry of Public Security.

Mr. Binh, vice president of the unsanctioned Viet Labor Movement, was arrested and probed due to his peaceful activities which aim to help the Catholic community in the central region to seek justice in the environmental disaster caused by the illegal discharge of toxic industrial waste of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant into the central coastal waters last year.

Binh and Bach Hong Quyen are two bloggers who have covered information about the natural disaster caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant as well as local protests against the pollution-causing investor. Quyen was forced to flee to a foreign country to seek political refugee status after authorities in the central province of Ha Tinh on June 12 issued an arrest warrant for him, accusing him of “causing public disorder” for his peaceful activities.

Relatives of Binh reported that authorities in B14 detention center has not permitted the family to send food supplements, medical drugs, books and other basic goods.

The arrest and charges of Binh is part of the ongoing intensified crackdown against Vietnamese activists, with arrests and heavy sentences of dozens of political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers since late 2015, starting with the arrest of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha.

===== August 09 =====

Human Rights Watch Urges Australia to Press Vietnam on Rights

One day prior to the Vietnam-Australia Human Rights Dialogue slated in Canberra on August 10, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling Australia to press the Southeast Asian nation for significant progress on human rights.

HRW made a submission covering key areas for improvement, such as political prisoners and detainees, ending harassment and violence against activists and dissidents, and respecting freedom of expression and religion.

“Vietnam is making an all-out effort to repress criticism online in 2017,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “Australia and other countries need to have a uniform approach in holding the Vietnamese government accountable, and this means being more vocal about the worsening crackdown on bloggers and activists.”

HRW said the government of Vietnam has a long record of limiting freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly for groups that criticize the government. Those brave enough to speak out often face multiple forms of police harassment, including intimidation of family members, arbitrary prohibitions on travel within Vietnam or abroad, brutal physical assaults, and fines.

Authorities also arbitrarily detain and hold people incommunicado for long periods without access to legal counsel or family visits. Courts impose long prison terms for violating vague national security provisions that criminalize speech and activism critical of the government. Police frequently torture suspects to elicit confessions and sometimes respond to public protests with excessive use of force.

Vietnam cracks down on bloggers and activists who post critical opinions on social media, charging many under Article 88 of the Penal Code for “conducting propaganda against the state.” More than 100 activists are in prison for exercising their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion.

In addition, Vietnamese bloggers and rights activists are being beaten, threatened and intimidated with impunity, said HRW.

In June, HRW released a report that documented 36 recent attacks on human rights activists, including beatings by people in civilian clothes who appeared to be acting at the behest of the authorities, or with their permission. Police usually fail to act on complaints against such assailants. In some cases, the assaults took place in plain view of uniformed police officers who did not intervene, even when the beatings took place in a police station.

“Vietnamese bloggers and activists face daily harassment, intimidation, violence, and imprisonment,” Pearson said. “Australia needs to unequivocally pressure Vietnam to stop these abuses.”

More information: Australia: Press Vietnam on Rights

and Australia – Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

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Vietnam to Try Former Prisoner of Conscience Nguyen Van Oai on Aug 21

Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court in the Hoang Mai town, Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An will try former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Oai on August 21, his lawyer Ha Huy Son has announced.

Oai, who was imprisoned for four years between 2011 and 2015, was arrested on January 19 this year and charged with “Resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 and “Failing to execute judgments” under Article 304 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

He will face imprisonment of up to three years in jail for every charge if is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law. He may receive a heavy sentence as Hanoi is intensifying its crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and independent bloggers.

The Catholic social activist was arrested on his way home from a fishing trip in Hoang Mai town. Local authorities accused him of failing to obey regulations set for house arrest as he is still under four-year probation period given by the previous sentence.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Tri, his sister, told the Voice of America radio that the first charge is incorrect as when he was detained by plainclothes agents, he resisted as he thought they were thugs.

After being released two years ago, he worked to promote civil rights and assisted local residents in protesting the local authorities’ power abuse regarding imposing taxes and fees, and high fees in education, she said.

In August 2011, Oai was arrested for the first time together with 13 other young Catholic activists and they were charged with “Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the Penal Code. Later, they were sentenced to between four and 13 years in prison.

After his arrest in January this year, the EU, the U.S. and other countries and international human rights have condemned Vietnam’s move, urging the communist government to release him immediately and unconditionally.

===== August 11 =====

HCM City Police Arbitrarily Detain Couple during Their Honey Moon, Brutally Beating Them during Interrogation

Defend the Defenders: In late night of August 10, police in Ho Chi Minh City arbitrarily detained and brutally beat an environmental couple who came to spend their honey moon in Vietnam’s biggest economic hub, the victims said.

Environmental activists Nguyen Thuy Trinh, Dang Ngoc Huong and his wife and other friends were seating in a cafeteria in Son Ky ward in Tan Phu district to chat and then a local policeman came to request Trinh to go with him to a local police station.

Ms. Trinh, a young labor activist from Ha Tinh province, objected the order, saying she has no duty to be summoned by police since she has not committed any crime. Other policemen came to demand Trinh to go to Son Ky ward police station to work about her T-shirt with “No Formosa” emblem.

As Trinh rejected and left the scene with support from other friend, police detained Mr. Huong and his wife to the police station where the couple was barbarically beaten by police officers.

In the beginning, police assaulted only Huong, however, as he remained silent, police beat his wife. In order to protect his wife, Huong was forced to sign in a working minute confessing of causing public disorders and refusing to cooperate with police.

Police in Son Ky held the couple from 10 PM of Thursday until 4 AM of the next day, and released them after imposing an administrative fine of VND350,000 ($15.4).

Police also forced Mr. Huong and his wife to leave Tan Phu district although the couple planned to stay longer in the district during their honey moon.

Huong is an environmental activist from Ha Tinh, one of the most affected areas by the discharge of industrial waste of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant to the local coast which caused the most serious environmental disaster in the 200-km coastline of the central region in April last year.

He has been active in protesting the Taiwanese firm to demand it to clean the local waters, compensate for the affected fishermen, and leave the country.

One week earlier, Huong got married and they are on their week-long travel to the southern region.

Instead of closing the steel plant of Formosa Plastic Group in Ha Tinh after the environmental catastrophe in which hundreds of tons of fish died, Vietnam’s authorities target activists who voice against the environment polluter.

===== August 13 =====

Hanoi Blogger under Constant Terror of Pro-government Thugs, Local Authorities Stay Aside

Defend the Defenders: Pro-government thugs in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have constantly harassed local blogger Phan Van Bach in recent weeks but authorities have not intervened despite request from the victim.

Blogger Bach, who is conducting live streams programs on his Facebook account about the country’s hot issues on environment, corruption, and other issues which are ignored by state media, said local thugs often come to his private residence in Trung Tu ward, Dong Da district to threaten to kill him because he is criticizing the government.

The thugs include military veterans and members of the local affiliates of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, the mass organization under umbrella of the ruling communist party.

Thugs also threw dirty messes made from decaying shrimp and waste to his apartment, Bach said.

Bach, who ran for a seat in the country’s parliament in the general election in May last year but was eliminated unfairly by the Vietnam Fatherland Front, have reported the thugs’ harassment to the local police, however, police have yet to take measures to protect his family from the thugs.

Bach is among several bloggers belong to the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet (Vietnam Revival Movement) which aims to fight for multi-democracy, human rights and transparency in Vietnam. A number of members of the movement has been imprisoned, including founder Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Vu Quang Thuan, and Nguyen Van Dien. Mr. Thuc is serving his 16-year imprisonment on charge of subversion under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code while Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien were arrested in early March and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the law.

Bach and other members of the movement have been summoned by Hanoi police for questioning their relations with Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien.

The Communist Party of Vietnam and its government closely control media and impose severe censorship in social media. The government has used controversial articles of the Penal Code such as 79, 88 and 258 to silence local political dissidents and online bloggers.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Vietnam is one of countries with highest number of imprisoned journalists while Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam at the 175th position out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index in 2017.

Meanwhile, many Vietnamese activists have also been assaulted by pro-government thugs along with being harassed and persecuted from the government. Blogger Le My Hanh was attacked twice in May by pro-government thugs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City but perpetrators remain unpunished despite denunciations from the victim.

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