Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly November 6-12, 2017: Many Activists Harassed during APEC Week
Defend the Defenders | November 12, 2017
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Authorities in many Vietnam’s localities have been tightening control on the occasion of the APEC Summit held in the central city of Danang on November 6-10 and the state visits of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to Hanoi after the summit.
Dozens of activists have been kept under house arrest since November 4 as Vietnam’s government wants to prevent them from meeting with foreign officials or holding public demonstrations to protest human rights violations or China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), or other issues.
Ahead of the visit of President Xi to Hanoi, local authorities have harassed former prisoner of conscience Bui Thi Minh Hang, one of the most active figures of the peaceful anti-China protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in 2011-2013. One week after kidnapping, robbing and interrogating her, on November 9, security forces in the city chased her, forcing her to change taxi three times to escape from the hunters.
The People’s Procuracy in the central province of Nghe An has ordered the local police to continue its investigation against labor activist Hoang Duc Binh after the police said they completed the process and advised the provincial procuracy to prosecute the activist on allegation of abusing the right of democratic freedom under Article 258 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.
Vietnam’s government continues its severe crackdown on the Brotherhood for Democracy. Police have summoned many members of the online group in a bid to interrogate to solidify the accusation of nine key members arrested since late July.
Mrs. Nguyen Thi Lanh, the wife of imprisoned human rights activist Nguyen Trung Ton, has sent an open letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to call for help as her family is being harassed by local authorities after his arrest in late July.
And other news
===== November 7 =====
DTD and 16 Other International, Domestic NGOs Urge APEC Leaders on Human Rights Issues
Defend the Defenders: On November 7, Defend the Defenders and 16 other international and domestic non-governmental organizations sent a joint letter to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to urge world leaders attending the event to press the host country Vietnam to free bloggers and rights defenders.
The letter targeted U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among other leaders set to join the main summit of the 21 APEC member countries on November 10-11 in the central city of Danang.
Other signatories of the letter include Access Now, Brotherhood for Democracy, English PEN, Dublin-based organization Frontline Defenders, the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders, the Viet Labor Movement and the California-based organization Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan).
“In a series of sham trials, the Vietnamese government has orchestrated the wrongful conviction and sentencing of prominent human rights defenders and bloggers,” said the letter.
The letter mentioned human rights activists Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Van Oai, and Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. Quynh, arrested in October 2016 and Nga, arrested in January of this year were sentenced to 10 and nine years’ imprisonment, respectively. Oai was sentenced to five years in prison and four years of house arrest for resisting police officers and leaving his home while on probation
“The Vietnamese government has used unsubstantiated national security concerns to justify, and illegitimate charges to carry out, the criminalization of free expression, dissemination of information, and peaceful advocacy,” said the letter.
“Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards,” read the letter.
According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is currently holding at least 84 prisoners of conscience, the highest number in any country in Southeast Asia. Other human rights organizations say 165 prisoners of conscience are held in Vietnam now.
Investigation against Labor Activist Hoang Duc Binh Continues
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Procuracy in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An has ordered the local police to continue its investigation against labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, said lawyer Ha Huy Son, who was hired by the activist’s family to defend for him.
The move was made more than one week after the Investigation Agency of the provincial police completed its investigation against Mr. Binh and advised the People’s Procuracy to prosecute him on allegation of “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 country’s 1999 Penal Code.
According to a letter from the Nghe An People’s Procuracy to the Hanoi-based B14 detention facility operated by the Ministry of Public Security, Mr. Binh will be under detention until January 6, 2018.
The Nghe An People’s Procuracy did not elaborate the charges of Mr. Binh, who is vice president of the unsanctioned Viet Labor Movement.
Mr. Binh was kidnapped by Nghe An security forces on May 15 when he traveled in a car with Catholic priests. Later, police announced that they arrested him on charges of “Destroying or deliberately damaging property” under Article 143, “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 and “abusing democratic freedoms under Article 258 of the Penal Code.
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.
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.
Since the beginning of 2017, Vietnam’s communist government has arrested over 20 local activists and charged them with serious allegations such as anti-state propaganda under Article 88 and subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code.
Vietnam has also jailed many activists with heavy sentences, including prominent human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh with 10 years in prison and land rights activist Tran Thi Nga- nine years in prison and four years under house arrest afterward, and blogger Nguyen Van Oai, with five years in jail and four years under house arrest.
Vietnam is holding over 100 political prisoners, according to Human Rights Watch. However, Hanoi has always denied, saying it imprisons only law violators.
===== November 8 =====
Vietnam Requests Interrogation to Be Filmed, Recorded
Defend the Defenders: Interrogations of criminal suspects and witnesses in Vietnam must be recorded or filmed in order to prevent torture, according to a draft joint circular of the Ministry of Public Security, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuracy and the Ministry of Defense.
Accordingly, investigation officers cannot conduct interrogation without recording or filming devices. The head of the investigation agency responsible for a case will decide the form of recording or filming.
During interrogations, if the recording or filming devices have failure and cannot operate properly, the investigators must suspend their works, the joint circular states.
Before interrogation, investigators must inform the suspect/witness about recording or filming.
The records and films taken during interrogation can be used during trials as evidences. They may also help judges to detect coercions and torture, if they occur.
Voice recording and filming during interrogation are tools expected to prevent torture and coercion in Vietnam.
According to Human Rights Watch, torture is systemic across Vietnam. As many as 226 suspects and prisoners died in Vietnam’s detention facilities in 2011-2014 and the situation continues in the next years. The state media has reported dozens of deaths in police stations nationwide in the past few years.
===== November 9 =====
Many Activists Summoned for Interrogation about Brotherhood for Democracy
Defend the Defenders: The Investigation Agency under the Hanoi Police Department have summoned many local activists in relations with the Brotherhood for Democracy, the main target of the Vietnamese ongoing crackdown against local dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers.
On November 08, the agency issued a written letter requesting blogger Truong Van Dung to come to the agency headquarters in the city on the next day to work on a subversion case. Mr. Dung is one of most active figures in numerous peaceful demonstrations protesting China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and corruption as well as human rights violations in the country.
One day later, the agency summoned independent journalist Le Anh Hung and former prisoner of conscience Vu Van Hung. The first is anti-corruption fighter while the second was jailed three years in 2008-2010 for allegation of anti-state propaganda.
Police in other localities have also summoned local activists in a bid to question them about the Brotherhood for Democracy, an online organization established by prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai who was detained in late 2015 with initial charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code but later added with subversion under Article 79 of the law.
In late October, police interrogated former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Xuan Nghia and independent Khuc Thua Son for days, also about the Brotherhood for Democracy.
So far, the Brotherhood for Democracy has eight key members detained and accused of subversion, namely Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Van Tuc, Nguyen Trung Truc, and Tran Thi Xuan. Co-founder of the organization Nguyen Bac Truyen, who left it long time ago, was also detained and charged with the same allegation.
Le Dinh Luong from the central province of Nghe An, and Dao Quang Thuc from the northern province of Hoa Binh were also probed for subversion. The punishment for subversion may be up to life imprisonment or death penalty, according to the current law.
Vietnam has arrested 20 activists so far this year and still holds around ten detainees in pre-trial detention from last year. Most of them were charged with controversial articles 79 and 88 of the national security provision of the Penal Code.
The communist government has also imprisoned three bloggers Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Tran Thi Nga and Nguyen Van Oai with respective sentences of ten years, nine years and five years in prison. In addition, Nga has to serve five years under house arrest and Hoa- four years afterward.
===== November 9 =====
Wife of Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Calls for Help from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Defend the Defenders: Mrs. Nguyen Thi Lanh, the wife of imprisoned human rights activist Nguyen Trung Ton, has sent an open letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to call for help while her family is being harassed by local authorities.
In the letter dated on November 9, 2017, Mrs. Lanh said after her husband was arrested on July 30 and charged with subversion under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code, her family has also been under harassment and intimidation of authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa.
The detention of Mr. Ton, a former prisoner of conscience, is part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers.
Since his arrest, Mrs.Lanh, a seller of glossary in a local market, has become the person responsible for taking care of his old mother and two kids, one of them has problem with health and mentality.
Soon after his detention, his blind mother was hospitalized for surgery. His second 19-year-old daughter, who has 20-kg weight and 1.2-meter height, was also taken to hospital due to blood shortage.
While she was facing financial difficulties, some Vietnamese were willing to support her family by sending financial aid to her bank account. However, when she went to a local bank to withdraw her money, a female police officer robbed her ID and demanded her to go to a police station for “working.”
Since November 3, local police have summoned her to their headquarters where she was interrogated by security officers from Thanh Hoa province’s Police Department.
During the interrogation, police officers demanded her to provide them her bank accounts. They said that she is receiving money from “terrorist groups.”
In her letter, Mrs. Lanh called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to use his power to ask Vietnam’s authorities to stop their persecution against her family. The moves of Thanh Hoa province’s police are terror acts, she said.
Mr. Ton is a Protestant pastor. He was sentenced to two years in prison and two years under house arrest on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code. He was released in January 2013.
He joined the Brotherhood for Democracy established by prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and others.
In March, Mr. Ton and his friend were kidnapped, robbed and brutally beaten by plainclothes agents when they visited the central province of Quang Binh. The attackers beat him and broke his legs and later left the duo at a remote area.
Due to the assault, he spent months in hospital for leg surgery. His treatment for injuries continued until his arrest in late July.
According to Vietnam’s current law, Ton faces life imprisonment or even death penalty if convicted.
Prominent Anti-China Protestor Hardly Escapes from Chasing Security Agents Prior to Xi’s Visit
Defend the Defenders: Prominent anti-China protestor Bui Thi Minh Hang has hardly escaped from chasing security agents on Hanoi streets ahead of the official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi, the former prisoner of conscience told Defend the Defenders.
The incident took place in Gia Lam district on November 10, two days ahead of the scheduled trip of President Xi to the city and nine days after Hanoi police kidnapped her, robbed her cell phone and money, and interrogation.
Ms. Hang, who was very active at peaceful demonstrations against China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in 2011-2013, said she was followed by dozens of plainclothes agents when she visited a friend in Gia Lam district in late afternoon of Friday.
While taking a dinner at a local restaurant with her daughter, son-in-law and their daughter, she noticed that many plainclothes agents were around her.
When the family left the restaurant and took a taxi, plainclothes agents followed by their motorbikes and cars. She had to change taxes three times to escape from the followers.
After hours of the game of cat and mouse on streets, Hang and her family came to a safe place.
She said her presence in Hanoi is not welcomed by the local police who have tightened control prior to the state visits of President Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Police afraid that she may organize or participate in public demonstrations to protest Xi, who has antagonistic policy in the East Sea. However, she has no plan but visit relatives and friends in the city.
Hang is among many anti-China activists who have suffered from persecution from the communist government in Hanoi. She was arrested in 2013 and later sentenced to 30 months in prison in a trumped-up political case.
Last week, on November 1, she was kidnapped, robbed and interrogated by Hanoi security forces when she visited her cousin in her native Soc Son district.
Meanwhile, authorities in Hanoi have sent numerous plainclothes agents and thugs to station near private residences of local activists, placing them under de facto house arrest since November 3.
Vietnam hosted APEC Summit in the central city of Danang on November 6-10. Presidents Trump and Xi will make their official visits to Hanoi on November 11-12.
Vietnam Activists Placed under House Arrest During and After APEC
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have sent police officers to private residences of local activists, effectively placing them under de facto under house arrest before and after APEC held in the central city of Danang on November 6-10.
Mr. Hua Phi, of Cao Dai religious group, said: “On Nov 4, five people came to my house at 5PM, telling me they were from Duc Trong district police, Lam Dong province. They gave me an oral notification that I was not allowed to go anywhere on November 4-11. They would arrest me if I try to go out.”
Most Rev. Thich Khong Tanh – a Buddhist monk and co-president of the independent Interfaith Council, said he is under police guard and close surveillance. Since November 5, a group of four and five police officers have been monitoring him.
“Under surveillance, I’m cordoned off and watched so closely that I can’t go anywhere. Since November 5th, there have been about 4 or 5 agents around. Normally, cameras are installed nearby, but now more people have been mobilized,” said the monk who is temporarily living at Giac Hoa pagoda after his Lien Tri pagoda was completely demolished by authorities in Ho Chi Minh City.
Other members of the council are also under surveillance, such as Catholic priest Fr. Phan Van Loi in Hue city, members of Hoa Hao Buddhist group in the southern province of Vinh Long, and members of Cao Dai religious group.
During the official visits of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to Hanoi on November 11-12, all activists in the city have been under house arrest as local authorities deploy police, militia and members of the Father Front to station near their private residences. Many activists have complained that they are not allowed to go to markets or visit their relatives and friends.
===== November 10 =====
Anh Ba Sam, Mother Mushroom, Brotherhood for Democracy Honored with 2017 Vietnam Human Rights Award
Defend the Defenders: Prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (penname Anh Ba Sam), human rights activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Mother Mushroom), Protestant pastor Y Tich and the Brotherhood for Democracy have been chosen as the winners of the 2017 Vietnam Human Rights Award (VNHRA), the prestigious price from the Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNHRN).
The three individuals and the online pro-democracy group were selected from 14 nominations this year, the VNHRN said at a press conference in Little Saigon, California on November 10.
The prizes will be handed over to the recipients or their representatives at a ceremony on December 10 on the occasion of the 69th Human Rights Day and the 20th anniversary of the VNHRN.
Mr. Vinh founded the news website Anh Ba Sam, the most popular news channel for Vietnamese activists. He was arrested in 2014 and later sentenced to five years in prison on accusation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 258 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code (for more information about Mr. Vinh: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/category/nguyen-huu-vinh-anh-ba-sam/)
Ms. Quynh, prominent human rights defender already awarded with 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year from the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders, was arrested on October 10, 2016 on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code. In June, she was sentenced to ten years in prison (for more information about Ms. Quynh: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2017/07/12/urgent-action-ten-years-in-prison-for-human-rights-defender-nguyen-ngoc-nhu-quynh/)
Pastor Y Tich, born in 1960 in A Luk village in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, is an activist fighting for land ownership and the right for freedom of religion for ethnic minorities in the region. In 2007, he was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. In 2013, he was detained again and given to 12 years in prison for his human rights activities. Currently, he is held in An Phuoc prison in the southern province of Binh Duong.
The Brotherhood for Democracy is an online group calling for human rights promotion and multi-party democracy, established by prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and other activists. Currently, the organization is the main target of the ongoing crackdown of the Vietnamese communist government, with nine key members arrested and charged with subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code namely Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Van Tuc, Nguyen Trung Truc, Tran Thi Xuan and Dao Quang Thuc. Co-founder Nguyen Bac Truyen, who left the organization, was also detained and charged with the same allegation.
The VNHRA was founded in 2002 with the purpose of providing recognition to the outstanding works in the field of human rights in Vietnam. It is also an opportunity to express solidarity with and support for those involved in the relentless fighting for basic rights and justice for Vietnamese people.
Since its establishment, the VNHRA has been presented to a number of human rights activists in Vietnam, including Most Ven. Thich Quang Do, Rev. Nguyen Van Ly (2002); Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh, Mr. Le Chi Quang, Dr. Pham Hong Son, Mr. Nguyen Khac Toan (2003); Mr. Pham Que Duong, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que (2004); Mr. Le Quang Liem, Father Phan Van Loi, Ven. Thich Tue Sy (2005); Mr. Do Nam Hai, Mr. Nguyen Chinh Ket, Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh (2006); Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, Lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan (2007); Ven. Thich Thien Minh, Blogger Dieu Cay Nguyen Van Hai, Tu Do Ngon Luan Magazine (2008); Pastor Nguyen cong Chinh, Writer Tran Khai Thanh Thuy (2009); Journalist Truong Minh Duc, Mr. Doan Huy Chuong (2010); Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, Ms. Do Thi Minh Hanh (2011); Blogger Ta Phong Tan, Ms. Pham Thanh Nghien, Ms. Huynh Thuc Vy (2012), Mr. Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, Lawyer Le Quoc Quan, and Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (2013); the Vietnam Redemptorist Province, Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen, Musicians Tran Vu Anh Binh and Viet Khang (2014): Most Ven. Thich Khong Tanh, Mrs. Ho Thi Bich Khuong, and Mrs. Bui Thi Minh Hang (2015); The Vietnamese Bloggers’ Network, Lawyer Vo An Don, and two activists for victimes of injustice Ms. Tran Ngoc Anh and Ms. Can Thi Theu (2016).
Nominees of the prize must be an individual currently living or a non-governmental organization still active in Vietnam; involved in non-violent works for the promotion and protection of Vietnamese people’s human rights; and their works have generated positive influence inside and outside of Vietnam.
===== November 11 =====
Vietnam dissident locked in home for ‘Piss on you Trump’ protest
AFP: A dissident musician dubbed the ‘Lady Gaga’ of Vietnam was locked in her home by plainclothes police Saturday after she flashed a sign reading “Piss on you Trump” as the U.S. president arrived in town for a state visit.
Mai Khoi, who met with then President Barack Obama on his trip to Vietnam last year to talk about the country’s dismal rights record, has long called for the communist government to ease its heavy restrictions on expression and political participation in her music.
The one-party state routinely jails its critics and is accused of waging a crackdown on dissidents in the months leading up to Trump’s visit to Vietnam, which included an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting in Danang and a stopover in Hanoi.
On Saturday, Mai Khoi held up a banner reading “Piss on you Trump” as the president’s motorcade rolled through town, where he is meeting top officials on Sunday.
Several plainclothes police escorted her to her home and locked her inside for several hours.
One scuffled with a documentary filmmaker who has been following the singer.
“I just want to practice my right to express myself, to the protest because I don’t agree with what Trump says and what Trump is doing now,” Mai Khoi said from behind locked gates at her home.
Trump’s administration has been accused of prioritizing business ties over rights issues with its allies.
He is expected to soft-pedal on rights issues when he meets with Vietnam’s top leaders, including President Tran Dai Quang, the former head of the country’s security apparatus.
Her plainclothes escorts had left her house by late Saturday, but she said she was too nervous to leave home.
“I am very worried about being arrested at any moment,” she said.
The 34-year-old musician was barred from running for Vietnam’s rubber stamp parliament last year, and routinely faces harassment from authorities.
Underground concerts with her band “Mai Khoi and the Dissidents” have been shut down, and she is not allowed to sell her music legally in the country.
Vietnam’s rights record has nosedived since a new conservative leadership came into power last year.
Analysts also say that Trump’s muted criticism of Vietnam’s rights record have allowed the crackdown to go unchecked.
Since the beginning of the year, at least 15 people have been arrested and several hefty jail sentences handed down, including dissident blogger “Mother Mushroom” who was jailed for 10 years in June.
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump awarded Mother Mushroom, whose real name is Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the “International Women of Courage Award” in March.
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