Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report August 14-20, 2017: RSF Calls for Release of Blogger Nguyen Van Oai ahead of His Trial

Defend the Defenders | August 20, 2017

On August 18, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has issued a statement calling Vietnam’s authorities to immediately and unconditionally release blogger Nguyen Van Oai, who will be tried on the trumped-up allegations of “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 former prisoner of conscience will be brought to a court on August 21 after seven months of detention and face imprisonment of up to three years in jail for every charge if is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law .

“The charges against him are just a pretext for putting a stop to online posts that annoy the regime. We call on the judicial authorities in Nghe An province to free this blogger unconditionally, because he has committed no crime,” RSF said.

On August 18, the Department of Public Security in the central province of Nghe An brutally beat 15 members of relatives and friends of imprisoned political dissident Le Dinh Luong when they came to the department’s building in Vinh city to ask about his condition after one-month detention. After beating the group including elderly people and pregnant females, police detained six of them for interrogation and barbarically assaulted them again, releasing them in late night after forcing them to sign in letters saying they were not beaten by police.

Pro-government thugs in Hanoi continue to harass blogger Phan Van Bach. Along with threatening to kill him, thugs have thrown dirty substances containing decaying shrimp and waste oil and broken glass into his apartment.

On August 15, the U.S. State Department released its annual report, saying Vietnam’s government continued to harass religious groups, though the severity of their treatment “varied from region to region and among the central, provincial, and local levels.”

In 2016, Vietnam continued to restrict the activities of religious groups, assaulting and detaining church members, restricting their travel, and confiscating church land for development projects, the report said, adding groups not registered with the state were especially severely treated.

Raids were also made on Catholic churches, unregistered Buddhist temples, and Bible study groups, with church leaders and parishioners sometimes beaten by assailants dressed in plain clothes but apparently supervised by police, the report stated.

In response, Spokeswoman Le Thi Thi Hang of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the report still included some inobjective assessments and cited wrong information about Vietnam.

“The 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report of the U.S. State Department had some adjustments to match the reality in Vietnam. However, it was a regret as the report still gave some subjective assessments and cited incorrect information about Vietnam,” Hang said at a press conference in Hanoi on August 17.

Mrs. Bui Thi Kim Phuong, the wife of human right defender Nguyen Bac Truyen, said she has not been informed by Vietnam’s authorities about his arrest. Mr. Truyen, co-founder of Brotherhood for Democracy but left the organization few years ago, was kidnapped by security forces when he was waiting for his wife near the Ky Dong Redemptory Church in Ho Chi Minh City on July 30. Later, the Ministry of Public Security announced that its forces arrested Mr. Truyen and three other members of Brotherhood for Democracy namely Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc and Pham Van Troi and charged them with “Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code.

===== Aug 16 =====

Wife of Imprisoned Human Rights Defender Nguyen Bac Truyen Still Not Informed about His Arrest

Defend the Defenders: Mrs. Bui Thi Kim Phuong, the wife of human right defender Nguyen Bac Truyen has yet to be informed by Vietnam’s authorities about his arrest, she said in a recent interview given to RFA.

Mr. Truyen, co-founder of Brotherhood for Democracy but left the organization few years ago, was kidnapped by security forces when he was waiting for his wife near the Ky Dong Redemptory Church in Ho Chi Minh City on July 30. Later, the Ministry of Public Security announced that its forces arrested Mr. Truyen and three other members of Brotherhood for Democracy namely Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc and Pham Van Troi and charged them with “Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code.

The ministry said it will hold the detainees for at least four months incommunicado for investigation.

However, so far, Ms. Phuong has not received any formal announcement from Vietnam’s authorities about her husband’s condition.

She sent several letters to authorities asking about husband’s arrest and for location, but to no avail.

“I am very worried about his health and safety,” Phuong said.

Truyen, 49, was first arrested in 2006 on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code. Later, he was sentenced to four years in prison. After his release, Truyen was routinely followed and harassed for his human rights works.

He and his wife were beaten twice by plainclothes agents, one in Hanoi in 2014 when they were on their way to the Australian Embassy, and another in HCM City last year.

Despite the intimidation, Truyen continued working towards democracy and human rights for the Vietnamese, writing about fellow political prisoners and the hardships they face in their daily life.

He received the Hellman/Hammett Award from Human Rights Watch in 2011 for his “commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of persecution.”

Brotherhood for Democracy was established by human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, Mr. Truyen and Mr. Troi and some others. Considering the organization as potential threat for the communist party’s political monopoly, the Vietnamese government has launched a crackdown on it. In early August, Vietnam detained its Spokesman Nguyen Trung Truc, and charged the five newly-arrested activists together Mr. Dai and his assistance Ms. Le Thu Ha of subversion under Article 79. Mr. Dai and Ms. Ha were arrested in late 2015 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88.

Related article: Vietnam Activist Nguyen Bac Truyen Unaccounted For Two Weeks After Arrest

===== August 17 =====

U.S. Report on Religious Freedom Gives Wrong Information about Vietnam: MoFA

Defend the Defenders: The 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report of the U.S. State Department still included some inobjective assessments and cited wrong information about Vietnam, Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.

Ms. Hang made this statement at a press conference in Hanoi on Aug 17 regarding the U.S. State Department’s release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report.

Vietnam has a consistent policy to respect and ensure the freedom of belief and religion, and following or not following any religions. This was enshrined in the Constitution and law of Vietnam and is ensured and respected in reality, she said, adding Vietnamese law bans any religious and belief discrimination.

“The 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report of the U.S. State Department had some adjustments to match the reality in Vietnam. However, it was a regret as the report still gave some subjective assessments and cited incorrect information about Vietnam,” she noted.

On August 15, the U.S. State Department released its annual report, saying Vietnam’s government continued to harass religious groups, though the severity of their treatment “varied from region to region and among the central, provincial, and local levels.”

In 2016, Vietnam continued to restrict the activities of religious groups, assaulting and detaining church members, restricting their travel, and confiscating church land for development projects, the report said, adding groups not registered with the state were especially severely treated.

Raids were also made on Catholic churches, unregistered Buddhist temples, and Bible study groups, with church leaders and parishioners sometimes beaten by assailants dressed in plain clothes but apparently supervised by police, the report stated.

===== August 18-19 =====

Nghe An Police Beat 15 Relatives of Imprisoned Political Dissident Le Dinh Luong, Assaulting further Six of Them during Nine-hour Detention

Defend the Defenders: On August 18, police in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An brutally beat 15 relatives of imprisoned political dissident Le Dinh Luong, detaining six of them and torturing them for hours before releasing them in mid-night of Friday, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Xoan, a daughter-in-law of Mr. Luong, told Defend the Defenders.

Mrs. Xoan said on Friday, a group of 15 people from her family and relatives went to the Nghe An province’s Department of Public Security to request for meeting Mr. Luong and provide him with some supplements. The family wants to know his health conditions as someone claimed that he was beaten upon detention on July 24.

Police invited the group into a room and forced them to wait for hours. Later, instead of answering questions, authorities accused the group of causing public disorders and deployed 200 policemen to beat the group which included elder people and pregnant females, Xoan said.

Later, police detained Mrs. Xoan and her husband Le Dinh Hieu, activists Tran Thi To, Ho Van Luc, and Le Van Nhan and took them to different rooms where they continued to beat them.

Mr. Nhan suffered most, receiving severe injuries in his right leg. Mrs. Xoan, who has a baby, was also attacked by police officers in plainclothes while Mrs. To was beaten and stripped off all clothes.

At 11 PM of the same day, police forced the detainees to sign in letters which they have to say that they were not beaten by police. Xoan said police would kill them if they refuse to sign the untrue letters prepared by police.

This was the second police assault against Mr. Hieu after his father’s arrest on July 24. On July 28, Xoan and Hieu were detained by police in Ho Chi Minh City for hours and Hieu was brutally beaten by police before being released in mid-night (you can read the case here: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2017/07/29/police-in-hcm-city-beat-son-detain-daughter-in-law-of-arrested-political-dissident-le-dinh-luong/).

Mr. Luong, a veteran in the war against China’s invasion of Vietnam’s northern region in 1980s, was kidnapped on July 24 by Nghe An province’s police. Later, police announced that he is detained for probing on charge of “Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code.

Luong, 52, is facing long-term imprisonment of between twelve and twenty years of imprisonment, life imprisonment or capital punishment if is convicted, according to the Vietnamese current law.

State media reported that Mr. Luong is an extremely dangerous element belonging to the U.S.-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) which is labeled by Vietnamese authorities as a terrorist organization.

According to the Nghe An police, Mr. Luong once called for boycotting the elections of the parliament and local People’s Councils while capitalizing on the environmental disasters caused by Formosa to cause social disorders and instigate demonstrations.

Luong is an army veteran who joined the battle against Chinese invaders in Vietnam’s northernmost region in 1980s.

The arrest of Luong is part of Vietnam’s intensified crackdown against local political dissidents, human rights advocates, social activists and online bloggers.

In late June, Vietnam sentenced prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to ten years in jail and today, it will try Tran Thi Nga, another human rights advocate. Both are charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article of Penal Code.

One week after Luong’s arrest, Vietnam’s security force arrested five other activists namely Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc and Nguyen Trung Truc, accusing them, together with imprisoned human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, of subversion under Article 79. Mr. Dai and Ms. Ha were detained on December 16, 2015 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code. Six of them are member of Brotherhood for Democracy while Mr. Truyen, one of the movement’s co-founders, left it long time ago.

More than 100 Vietnamese activities are imprisoned in the country, according to international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The list includes medical doctor Ho Hai. Nguyen Van Hoa, Nguyen Van Oai, and Tran Hoang Phuc who were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 while Luu Van Vinh and his friends were arrested last year and charged with subversion per Article 79.

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Apartment of Hanoi-based Blogger Attacked with Paint, Glass, Fourth Attack Since Late July

Defend the Defenders: Unknown individuals threw paint and broken glass particles into the private residence of Hanoi-based blogger Phan Xuan Bach on late night of August 18, the victim told Defend the Defenders.

Due to the attack, his apartment was full with red paint and tiny particles of glass. However, no one of his family got hurt, said the blogger 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.

In early morning of Saturday, Back received a box from an unknown individual and when he opened the box, he found three cans containing liquid substance likely made from decaying shrimp, and a flag of the former Vietnam Republic. Bach said it is a plot against him because possessing flags of Vietnam Republic may be considered as an anti-state act.

The attack was the fourth attack against Bach and his family since late July, and he supposed the attackers are pro-government individuals who found his critical live stream programs harmful for the ruling communist party and its government.

The first attack was on the afternoon of July 29 as his apartment was attacked with a mixture made from decaying shrimp, oil waste and dead crabs. One week later, a group of ten people including war veterans and other members from the Fatherland Front, a mass organization working under umbrella of the ruling communist party, came to his apartment to threaten to beat him.

On the afternoon of August 12, two young individuals came to his apartment, threatening to kill him if he continues to criticize the government. At 10 PM of the same day, his apartment was attacked with a substance containing decaying shrimp.

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 while activists Nguyen Lan Thang and his family was also attacked with paint by pro-government thugs.

===== August 20 =====

RSF Call for Release of Blogger Nguyen Van Oai ahead of His Trial

Defend the Defenders: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally free Nguyen Van Oai, a dissident blogger who is due to be tried on trumped-up allegations on August 21.

“Nguyen Van Oai is one those outspoken citizens who use new technology to protest against Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party and its policies,” RSF said. “The charges against him are just a pretext for putting a stop to online posts that annoy the regime. We call on the judicial authorities in Nghe An province to free this blogger unconditionally, because he has committed no crime,” RSF said.

On January 19, Oai, a former political prisoner, was detained by security forces in the central province of Nghe An. Later, he was 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.

Oai was an active blogger on social networks, writing about such sensitive issues as political prisoners and social injustice on his Facebook page.

The trial of Mr. Oai is part of the ongoing intensified crackdown against political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and bloggers. The victims include Pham Minh Hoang, who was expelled in June after being stripped of his Vietnamese nationality. In all, at least 20 activists have been arrested or harassed in some way since the start of the year.

Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

RSF calls for release of Vietnamese blogger about to go on trial

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