Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly January 8-14, 2018: Hanoi Continues Persecution against Local Activists after Many Arrests and Convictions Last Year

Defend the Defenders, January 14, 2018

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Vietnam’s communist government continues its intensified crackdown on local dissent which got its peak in 2017 with at least 45 activists being arrested and 19 of them being convicted with hard sentences.

Along with holding former prisoner of conscience Protestant pastor Doan Van Dien from December 24 last year without issuance of arrest and charges, authorities decided to keep ex-political prisoner Vu Van Hung in police custody for investigation against him on allegation of “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

While the detention of Mr. Dien aims to target his son Doan Huy Chuong, who is also a former prisoner of conscience with total 8.5 years in jail, the arrest and allegation against former secondary school teacher Hung are part of the ongoing crackdown on the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy. Mr. Hung has been the 11th member of the online organization detained since late 2015.

Authorities in the central province of Nghe An will try environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh, vice president of the independent Viet Labor Movement on January 25 on allegation of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 and “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code. Binh was arrested on May 15, 2017 when he assisted Catholic priests in Nghe An in challenging the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant for its discharge of a huge amount of toxic industrial waste into the central waters which caused massive death of fisheries in the central coast in April 2016.

The appeal of jailed human rights activist Nguyen Van Oai was set on January 15. Oai was detained on January 19 last year on 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. On September 18, in a unfair trial carried out by the People’s Court of Hoang Mai town, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison and additional four more years in house arrest as it judged that the additional probation period of the previous sentence had not been done.

On January 14, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Oai, who served four-year imprisonment between 2011 and 2015 on charge of subversion. “The government’s pursuit of Nguyen Van Oai is vindictive and unwarranted,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “He never should have been sentenced in the first place, and the terms of his probation amount to a direct effort to control his thoughts and freedom to criticize and protest. This is the latest extension of the government’s unrestrained crackdown against dissidents.”

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===== January 11 =====

Appeal of Human Rights Defender Nguyen Van Oai Set on Jan 15 

Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An will hold an appeal hearing of human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Oai on January 15, according to the court’s notice to his lawyer Ha Huy Son.

Mr. Oai, who was arrested on January 19 last 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, was found guilty by the People’s Court in Hoang Mai town.

The district-level court held on September 18, 2017 sentenced Oai to five years in prison and additional four more years in house arrest as it judged that the additional probation period of the previous sentence had not been done.

Like other political trials, none of Mr. Oai’s relatives were allowed to enter the courtroom while foreign diplomatic corps were not allowed to send their representatives to observe the trial, which is said to be open for public. Many activists and Oai’s supporters were detained and beaten by security forces when they gathered near the court areas. Along with using jamming devices to block cellular service, police also used Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) imported from the US 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 in early 2017 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 last year. After his arrest, the EU, the US 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.

Last year, Vietnam arrested over 40 activists and convicted 19 of them, mostly on serious charges in the national security provisions of the 1999 Penal Code such as subversion and anti-state propaganda. Among the convicted are prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and labor activist Tran Thi Nga.

In order to maintain the country under a one-party regime, the communist government has little tolerance to its critics.

Vietnam is imprisoning over 100 activists, according to Human Rights Watch while BPSOS, Defend the Defenders, and 13 other partners, in their Now! Campaign found Vietnam to be holding 165 prisoners of conscience as of the end of November 2017. The number did not include 14 activists jailed in December last year.

===== January 12 =====

Vietnam to Try Environmentalist, Labor Activist Hoang Binh on Jan 25

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities will try environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh (or Hoang Binh), who is a vice president of the independent Viet Labor Movement on January on allegations of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 and “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

The trial will be held by the People’s Court of Nghe An province on January 25, according to his lawyer Ha Huy Son.

Binh, 33, will face imprisonment of up to 14 years in prison if convicted, according to the current law which gives imprisonment of between two and seven years in jail for each charge.

On May 15, authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An kidnapped Mr. Binh when he escorted Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from the Song Ngoc parish in Dien Chau district to Vinh city. Their car was stopped by police in Dien Chau district’s center and police violently removed Binh from the car. Later, Nghe An province’s authorities publicized an arrest order of Binh issued by the province’s People’s Procuracy two days earlier.

On November 28, 2017, police in Nghe An also arrested Nguyen Nam Phong, the driver, and accused him of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330. More than six months earlier, when the police ordered Phong to open the car to allow them to take Binh out, Phong denied. However, police still broke the car and detained Binh.

Mr. Phong will also be tried in the same case of Binh on January 25.

Along working to promote rights of workers, Binh is a well-known blogger who has covered news on the Formosa-causing environmental disaster in the central coastal region.

In the press release of the Viet Labor Movement on his detention, the organization said the arrest aims to neutralize him because he has effectively assisted regional Catholic priests in helping thousands of victims of the environmental catastrophes caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant and Ho Ho hydropower plant.

The Taiwanese Formosa steel plant illegally discharged a huge amount of industrial waste into waters in the central coast, causing massive death of fisheries in April 2016.

Instead of asking the foreign investor to take measures to clean the water and compensate adequately for local fishermen, Vietnam’s government has suppressed the local Catholic community which strongly protested the Taiwanese firm.

Authorities from Dien Chau district and Nghe An province deployed thousands of police officers, militia and thugs to attack Catholic followers when they were on their way to Ha Tinh province to challenge the Taiwanese company, causing severe injuries for hundreds of people, including priest Dang Huu Nam.

The arrest and trial of Mr. Binh are part of Vietnam’s ongoing intensified crackdown on local activists which began from early 2016 when the new communist leadership with many police generals being appointed in key posts gained power after the ruling communist party’s National Congress in January.

Last year, Vietnam arrested at least 45 activists and convicted 19 ones, giving them hard sentences of between three and 16 years, mostly on allegations in the national security provisions in the Penal Code.

Among convicted are human rights defenders and environmentalists Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Tran Thuy Nga and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa.

Vietnam is holding around 180 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ counting.

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

Vietnam to Hold Pro-democracy Activist Vu Van Hung for Two Months on Allegation of Causing Public Disorders

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Hanoi will hold prodemocracy activist Vu Van Hung (or Vu Hung) for the next two months for investigation on allegation of “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

Police in Thanh Xuan district informed his family after nine days of detention. Currently, Mr. Hung, who is a former secondary school teacher and member of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, is held in the Temporary Detention Center of Thanh Xuan district police.

According to the current law, people accused of causing public disorders may face imprisonment of up to seven years in prison.

Mr. Hung, a member of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, went missing from 1.30 PM of January 4 after participating in a meeting of the unsanctioned Chu Van An Teachers Association in a restaurant in Thanh Xuan Bac ward, Thanh Xuan district. The lunch-meeting was disrupted as the restaurant owner under district police pressure asked the participants left the facility at the middle of the event.

After failure to connect with Mr. Hung by phones, his relatives went to different places to seek for him. When his wife and son came to the police station of Thanh Xuan Bac ward, they found him kept here.

Police denied telling them the reason for his detention while Mr. Hung said he was caught in a trumped-up case and beaten by plainclothes before being arrested and taken to the police station. He was hand-cuffed, the wife said.

At a meeting with his lawyer in the police detention facility, Mr. Hung said he was followed by two plainclothes agents after leaving the restaurant by a bus. The agents started to attack him in a place near his private residence in Ha Dong district and they arrested him with the support of the local police.

The detention is related to his human rights activities, affirmed Vu Quoc Ngu, chief executive officer of Defend the Defenders, adding Vietnam’s security forces often detain or kidnap targeted activists in trumped-up cases and later charge them with controversial articles in the Penal Code’s national security provisions.

As a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, Mr. Hung is targeted for long time ago, Mr. Ngu said.

Brotherhood for Democracy is one of main targets of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent, the most severe campaign for many years.

Last year, Vietnam arrested key members of the online organization, including Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Van Tuc, Truong Minh Duc, and Nguyen Trung Truc. The founder Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha were arrested in late 2015. They were charged with subversion under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code and face life imprisonment or even death punishment if convicted, according to the current law.

In November 2017, Mr. Hung was summoned by Hanoi police several times for interrogation about his membership of the Brotherhood for Democracy.

Mr. Hung is a former political prisoner. In 2008, he was arrested for hanging banners calling for multi-party democracy and later convicted with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. He was sentenced to three years in jail and three years under house arrest. He was forced to abandon his job as a secondary school teacher.

After being released in 2011, Hung has actively participated in peaceful demonstrations and meetings on social issues, including the environmental disaster caused by the toxic industrial waste discharge of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in the central coastal region in 2016 which caused massive death of marine there.

The Communist Party of Vietnam has ruled the country for decades and strives to maintain the nation under a one-party regime.

Since the 12th National Congress of the party in February 2016 with appointments of many police officers to senior positions of the party and state apparatuses, Vietnam has launched severe campaign to suppress local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers.

The peak of the crackdown was 2017 with arrests of at least 45 activists on allegations under controversial articles 79 and 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. The communist government convicted 19 activists, sentencing them to between three and 16 years in prisons.

In addition, Vietnam also expelled two pro-democracy activists to France.

===== January 14 =====

Vietnam Still Holds Former Prisoner of Conscience Doan Van Dien in Custody Since December 24, No Charges Issued

Defend the Defenders: Police in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai are still holding former prisoner of conscience Protestant pastor Doan Van Dien for questioning since his detention on December 24, 2017, his family told Defend the Defenders.

So far, the local authorities have not issued charges for him nor arrest warrant for the activist whose works aim to promote rights of workers and farmers, said his son Doan Huy Chuong, who is also a former prisoner of conscience released in February 2017 after spending total 8.5 years in jail for his efforts to protect workers’ rights.

On December 24 last year, Dong Nai police arrested Mr. Dien in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong where he temporarily stays. The detainee is a member of the Inter-faith Council, an unregistered coalition working for religious freedom in the Southeast Asian nation.

Police verbally informed the family about the detention of Mr. Dien but did not unveil the reason for the arrest. They told his daughter-in-law that he was “invited to the police station to work on some issues” without giving more details.

Currently, Mr. Dien is held in the B5 Temporary Detention Facility under management of Dong Nai police.

Pastor Dien and his son established the unregistered Solidarity Association of Workers and Farmers in 2006. One year later, they were arrested and charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 258 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code. Later, the father was sentenced to 4.5 years while the son was given 18 months in prison.

Mr. Chuong said the detention of his father aims to force him to show up so the police can arrest him. Along with holding the father, Dong Nai police have sent officers to different places to seek for the son, Chuong said.

The prolonged detention of his father without charge and arrest warrant is violation of the country’s Criminal Procedure Law, which allows police hold suspects for maximum nine days without charge(s).

After serving the 18-month imprisonment, in 2009, Chuong and Do Thi Minh Hanh and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung formed the Viet Labor Movement aiming to help workers demand for higher salary and better working conditions.

In 2010, the trio was arrested on allegation of “Disrupting security” under Article 89 of the Penal Code 1999. Chuong and Hanh were sentenced to seven years in prison each while Hung was given nine years in jail. Chuong was released in February last year while Hung is still in prison and Hanh was released in 2014 after four years in prison thanks to international pressure.

Since being released last year, Chuong has continued to work on the capacity of vice president of the Viet Labor Movement to assist workers. He has been targeted by security forces as Vietnam’s government prioritizes foreign investment and ignores workers’ rights.

Mr. Dien is the latest victim of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers. In 2017, Vietnam arrested at least 45 activists on allegation of anti-state activities in the national security provisions of the Penal Code and sentenced 19 of them to between three and 16 years.

According to Defend the Defenders’ counting, Vietnam is holding around 180 prisoners of conscience while Amnesty International says the figure is over 100.

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