Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly September 18-24, 2017: Vietnam Imprisons Human Rights Advocate amid Increasing Crackdown

Defend the Defenders | September 24, 2017

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On September 18, a court in the central province of Nghe An found human rights activist Nguyen Van Oai guilty 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, and sentenced him to five years in prison and additional four years under house arrest which will be effective after serving the imprisonment.

Foreign diplomats were also rejected to observe the trial which was said to be open for public while relatives and friends of Oai were not allowed to enter the courtroom. Police used brutal methods to prevent them from gathering near the court areas.

The conviction and imprisonment of Oai are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights campaigners, social activists and online bloggers. Since the beginning of this year, Vietnam has detained or imprisoned 16 local activists on anti-state charges under controversial articles in the national security provisions of the Penal Code.

Along with arrests and conviction, security forces have also harassed other activists. On September 20-24, police in Ho Chi Minh City detained a local student Le Minh Son for interrogation. Police in the city also detained Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Dinh Ha and two other local activists in the evening of September 23, torturing the trio during interrogation and forcing them to provide passwords for their laptops and cell phones. Police released the trio on the afternoon of September 24 without returning their items.

Meanwhile, pro-government thugs, with support of local authorities, are launching a campaign targeting Catholic community. In Dien Chau district, Nghe An province, thugs assault followers and demolish their properties as well as religious symbols.

And other news

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===== September 18 =====

Vietnam Human Rights Defender Sentenced to Five Years in Prison amid Increasing Crackdown

Defend the Defenders: On September 18, the People’s Court in Hoang Mai town, Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An sentenced human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Oai to five years in prison as part of the communist government’s intensified crackdown on local political dissidents, rights advocates, social activists and online bloggers.

The court found Mr. Oai guilty 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 judge gave him three years in prison for the first charge and two years for the second charge, said his lawyer Ha Huy Son who stood that his client is innocent.

In addition, the court said he has to serve four more years in house arrest, considering the additional probation period of the previous sentence had not been done.

None of Mr. Oai’s relatives Oai were allowed to enter the courtroom while foreign diplomatic corps were rejected to send their representatives to observe the trial which is said to be open for public.

On the day of the trial, authorities in Nghe An deployed hundreds of police and militia to ensure maximum security in Vinh city where the trial was held. All roads leading to the court areas were blocked for civilians.

One day prior to the trial, Nghe An sent police to the national road connecting Hoang Mai town and Vinh to stop cars transferring Oai’s relatives and friends in a bid to prevent them from gathering to the city.

Despite harassments from police, tens of Oai’s relatives and supporters managed to come to near the court areas and they were stopped by security forces.

Police said only Oai’s mother and wife can go inside the two women insisted to go together with others. Police rejected their request so the two women stayed outside of the courtroom.

Police requested people to go away from the court areas and pushed them in a street corner. They arrested several activists, including Le Sy Binh and Ho Huy Luat and released them afternoon, beat others including Oai’s mother. They also robbed cell phones of some people.

Along with using jamming devices to block cellular service, police also used Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) imported from the U.S. for the Vietnam Coast Guard to disperse people who held banners calling for immediate and unconditional release of Oai. The devices worked extensively so one of them burned later, observers said.

Mr. Oai, a former prisoner of conscience, was arrested on January 19 when he was fishing near his private house in Hoang Mai town.

Oai, who was imprisoned for four years between 2011 and 2015 on charge of subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code, got support from domestic and international community after his detention in January. After his arrest, 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.

The arrest and conviction of Oai is part of Vietnam’s intensifying crackdown on local activists.

In late June, Vietnam sentenced prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to ten years in prison. The communist government will try social activist Tran Thi Nga on July 25 and it is likely to receive heavy sentence too as the two were charged with the same allegation “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

In July-September, Vietnam arrested Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc and Nguyen Bac Truyen, Nguyen Trung Truc, Nguyen Van Tuc, Le Dinh Luong and charged them with subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code. They are facing life imprisonment and even death sentences if are convicted. Vietnam also added the same charge to prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and his assistance Le Thu Ha who were arrested on December 16, 2015 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

As many as 15 activists have been detained and tried since the beginning of 2017.

Vietnam is imprisoning over 100 activists, according to Human Rights Watch while Amnesty International says the Southeast Asian nation is holding around 90 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always denies holding any political prisoners, saying it keeps in prison only law violators.

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Front Line Defenders Condemns Conviction of Nguyen Van Oai

Defend the Defenders: On September 18, Front Line Defenders issued a statement to slam Vietnam’s conviction of human rights defender Nguyen Van Oai, saying the conviction and imprisoning him are solely motivated by his peaceful and legitimate work for human rights in Vietnam.

The condemnation was made few hours after a court in Nghe An province found Oai guilty and sentenced him to five years in prison and additional four years under house arrest.

The Dublin-based human rights organization calls on Vietnam’s communist government to quash his conviction and immediately release the human rights defender.

For full statement of Front Line Defenders: Nguyen Van Oai sentenced to five years imprisonment and four years house arrest

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Pro-government Thugs Demolish Properties of Catholic Followers in Dong Kieu Parish

Pro-government thugs, backed by authorities in Dien My commune, Dien Chau district in the central province of Nghe An were reported to demolish properties of many Catholic followers in Dong Kieu parish.

According to the Thanh nien Cong giao (Catholic Youth) online newswire, thugs with support from the local authorities demolished the parish’s welcome gate in late August.

In the evening of September 15, when the Doksuri typhoon ended and electricity was cut, pro-government came to the parish and demolished religious statues and decorative plants of followers in the parish.

In the evening of the next day, thugs were deployed came again, destroying two transport cars, Mother Virgin statue and other properties of the family of a follower namely Hoe.

The attack was done under presence of local policemen, followers said, adding thugs threatened to burn private houses of parishioners.

Dien Chau is the locality where authorities are conducting activities to discriminate the local Catholic community and defame its priests who bravely speak out about environmental pollution and systemic corruption as well as China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

In July-August, pro-government thugs with support by the local authorities attacked Catholic followers in Song Ngoc parish. Some parishioners were beaten and their houses were demolished.

Not only Catholic priests and followers in Nghe An have been attacked by pro-government thugs. On September 4, a group of 15 pro-government thugs armed with a gun and other weapons went to Tho Xoan parish in Xuan Tho commune, Xuan Loc town, Dong Nai province in a bid to “punish” outspoken priest Nguyen Duy Tan and local parishioners. They were blocked before causing any harm to the community.

Many members of the group are related to the pro-government thugs who brutally assaulted female activist Le My Hanh and her friends in Ho Chi Minh City on May 2.

===== September 19 =====

Vietnam Activists Participate in Conference of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

On September 19, three Vietnamese activists namely Dinh Thao, Le Thi Minh Ha and Anna Nguyen attended a conference of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The meeting was a part of mid-term evaluation of Vietnam’s implementation of 182 recommendations regarding human rights made by foreign countries in 2014 under the mechanism of universal periodic review (UPR).

Ms. Thao delivered a speech describing Vietnam’s worsening human rights situation with increasing crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights advocates, social activists and online bloggers.

In the first eight months of this year, at least 16 activists have been detained, arrested or sentenced under the country’s draconian Penal Code, including six members of Brotherhood for Democracy, who could face the maximum sentence of death for their peaceful human rights work. Two female activists, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, have been sentenced to 10 and 9 years in prison, for peacefully criticizing the government and have been subjected to dire prison conditions.

Ms. Thao graduated from the Hanoi Medical University while Mrs. Ha is the wife of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (known as Anh Ba Sam), who is serving 5-year sentence for simply blogging critical articles on his news website anhbasam.

According to Ms. Thao, Vietnam is holding over a hundred of prisoners of conscience.

In 2014, Vietnamese activists Nguyen Quang A, Pham Le Vuong Cac, Trinh Huu Long and Nguyen Thi Vy Hanh attended the UPR for Vietnam held by UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

===== September 20 =====

Vietnam Southern Police Launch Probe into Death in Custody

The police in Vietnam’s southern province of Ninh Thuan have recently suspended five officers over the possible torture that led to death of a suspect in police custody, state media reported.

The suspect, Vo Tan Minh, 35 years old, was arrested in April for possessing drugs. In early September, he was transferred to a temporary detention facility of the Phan Rang – Thap Cham police.

He was found to suffer severe injuries during in the afternoon of September 8 and was transferred to hospital but died soon after that.

Based on the result of autopsy, the authorities found that there were signs of torture and corporal punishment done by Phan Rang – Thap Cham local police, state media reported.

The Supreme People’s Procuracy is handling the case.

Minh is the second victim found dead in the temporary detention facility of the Phan Rang – Thap Cham police within few months. In early July, detainee Nguyen Hong De, 26 years old, died as police said he used his cloth to hang up himself to a window in his cell to commit suicide.

===== September 24 =====

 

Hanoi-based Activist Nguyen Dinh Ha Detained, Tortured in HCM City

Defend the Defenders: Hanoi-based human rights defender Nguyen Dinh Ha and two other activists have been detained and tortured by security forces in Ho Chi Minh City during interrogation, local activists have reported.

According to activist Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung, a member of the Vietnam Pathway movement, Mr. Ha went to meet with other activists in the country’s biggest economic hub several days ago.

In the evening of September 23, police violently entered in a private residence in Lac Long Quan street in Saigon, where Ha and two other activists stayed. Police detained the trio and took them to a police station in Ward 5, District 11 where they interrogated them overnight.

Police were said to torture the three activists, beating them and forcing them to provide passwords of their laptops and cell phones.

After questioning them for hours, police released them on 3 PM of September 24 without returning their laptops and cell phones.

Mr. Ha is a young activist in Hanoi. He graduated from the Hanoi Law University.

He has participated in many peaceful anti-China protests in Hanoi in 2011-2016 as well as other events to promote human rights and multi-party democracy.

In 2014, he visited the U.S. at the invitation of the U.S. Congress to lobby for human rights enhancement in the Southeast Asian nation.

He also competed for a place of the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the general election in May 2016, however, he was unfairly eliminated by the communist-controlled Fatherland Front.

He is also a reporter of Radio Free Asia.

Due to his human rights works, Ha has been under close surveillance of police who have been harassing him many times.

Ha has been placed de facto under house arrest in many occasions.

Ha told Defend the Defenders that in August, he was detained by Hanoi police who illegally robbed his significant amount of money and asked him to stop his activities.

Meanwhile, Le Minh Son, a student of University of Banking in Thu Duc district, HCM City, was reported to be detained by security forces in the city on September 20-24. Police came to the university and took him to a police station for interrogation.

Son is a member of the Students’ Association for Human Rights found by detained activist Tran Hoang Phuc. Phuc was arrested in early March and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Kidnap, detention, robbery, torture and interrogation are common practices applied by Vietnam’s security forces against local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers. Dozens of activists have become victims of police and plain clothes agents in the past few years and many of them sustained severe injuries.