Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly Report March 5-11, 2018: Prominent Political Blogger Pham Doan Trang Detained Again
Defend the Defenders | March 11, 2018
On the afternoon of March 8, International Women’s Day, security forces detained prominent political blogger Pham Doan Trang who has been targetted by the Vietnamese government for her writing, especially her recently-published book Chính trị bình dân (Politics for the Masses).
During the second detention within two weeks, Trang was reportedly questioned about many activities which aim to promote democracy and human rights in the Southeast Asian nation. Trang was released in the late night of the same day but remains under close surveillance.
The detention is likely part of the security forces’ plan to break her strong character and discourage her pro-democracy campaign, and may lead to her arrest in coming days or force her to go abroad.
Police also detained her friend, Le Kien Cuong, who rents an apartment for her after she left her mother’s house which has also been under police watch since February 24 when they detained her for the first time this year.
Security forces have also been maintaining close surveillance over blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of the unsanctioned Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam. On March 8, they blocked him from going to a meeting with Cynthia Veliko, head of the UN Office of the High Commisioner for Human Rights’ Regional Office in the Southeast Asia.
Police also barred the wives of jailed pro-demoracy activists Nguyen Van Dai, Truong Minh Duc and Pham Van Troi from participating in the meeting with Ms. Cynthia Veliko while the wives of Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Nguyen Trung Ton managed to come to the event. The activists were arrested in 2015-2017 and charged with subversion, under Article 79 of the Penal Code, a serious allegation which may lead to life imprisonment or even capital pulishment according to the current Vietnamese law.
Vietnam’s authorities have transferred convicted activist Tran Thi Nga to Dak Trung Camp in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, around 1,200 km from her native province of Ha Nam. This makes it difficult for her family to visit her and provide some supplements given the fact that she left two kids, six and eight years old, after being sentenced to nine years in prison and five years under house arrest.
It is worth noting that prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) was also moved to the Camp No. 5 prison in the central province of Thanh Hoa, around 900 km from her native city of Nha Trang where her two kids stay with her mother who also has to take care for the 90-year-old grandmother.
Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City also summoned former prisoner of conscience Tran Vu Anh Binh for violating the rules of his probation. They imposed an administrative fine of VND2.5 million ($110) because he went out of his areas during the Lunar New Year to visit some friends and relatives.
Three activists, Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc of the Chan hung Nuoc Viet (Reviving Vietnam Campaign) have apprealed the decision of the Hanoi People’s Court which convicted them on allegation of “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code. On January 31, the court, in a trial which failed to meet international fair trial standards, found the trio guilty, giving them a total of 20 years and six months in prison and 13 years under house arrest afterward.
The Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience has released its report on the country’s human rights violations in 2017, saying last year was the worst year for local dissidents with the arrest of at least 45 activists and convictions of dozens with lengthy sentences for controversial allegation in the national security provisions in the Penal Code. In addition, various types of harassment including kidnaping and torture, surveillance and blockage from free movement in the country and abroad have been used on many other activists, the organization said in its report.
And other news
===== March 5 =====
Convicted Activist Tran Thi Nga Moved to Central Highlands, Over 1,200 Km from Her Native Province
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have transferred convicted activist Tran Thi Nga to Dak Trung Camp prison in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, at a distance of over 1,200 km from her native province of Ha Nam.
On March 5, Mr. Phan Van Phong, the father of Nga’s two kids, went to visit her in the Detention facility near Phu Ly city under the authority of the Ha Nam province’s police to provide her with some supplements, however, he was informed by the facility’s authorities that she had been moved to the new place, Mr. Phong told Defend the Defenders.
Her transfer will cause difficulties for him and her family to visit her. She has two kids, five and eight years old, said Mr. Phong who is an activist based in Hanoi. Dak Trung Camp prison is under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security, he added.
Ms. Nga was arrested on February 21, 2017 on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code. In late July last year, the People’s Court of Ha Nam sentenced her to nine years in prison and five years under house arrest afterward and in late 2017, the Hanoi High People’s Court upheld the sentence.
Ms. Nga was a migrant worker in Taiwan. While working there, she assisted Vietnamese workers to demand Vietnamese brokers to take responsibility to ensure the rights of migrant workers.
Upon her return to Vietnam, about ten years ago, she assisted land petitioners who had lost their land due to illegal seizure from local authorities.
She also participated in many anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi from 2011 to 2016 to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), as well as in peaceful gatherings to demand multi-party democracy and on environmental issues.
Due to her activities, Vietnam’s communist government, particularly authorities in Ha Nam province constantly harassed and persecuted her and her two children. She was detained many times and placed under de facto house arrest for most of the last two years.
In May 2014, she was attacked by plainclothes agents in Hanoi who broke her right leg and caused a number of severe injuries to her body.
Police in Ha Nam also targeted her kids, throwing a dirty mixture containing decaying shrimp at them. Her private residence in Phu Ly city was attacked with paint and dirty substances many times.
Despite government intimidation and assault, Nga has continued to speak out against political injustices and broader state violence. She is part of a growing community of Vietnamese bloggers using Facebook and YouTube to foster political activism and solidarity, many of whom have been detained under vague national security laws as part of the government’s ongoing crackdown on free speech.
Ms. Nga is among six distinguished women human rights activists in Southeast Asia the human rights NGO Amnesty International recognized their work on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8) this year. Nga, Sirikan Charoensiri from Thailand, Maria Chin Abdullah from Malaysia, Tep Vanny from Cambodia, Leila de Lima from Philippines and Wai Wai Nu from Myanmar have faced harassment, threats, imprisonment, and violence for standing up for human rights in the region.
After her arrest, many foreign democratic governments and a number of international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders called on Vietnam’s communist government to immediately and unconditionally release her and other activists who have been imprisoned just because of exercising the right of freedom of expression which is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.
The arrest and conviction of Nga is part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists, and online bloggers.
Vietnam has little tolerance to government critics. According to Human Rights Watch, the communist government holds over 100 political prisoners while the Now!Campaign, an initiative by BPSOS, Civil Rights Defenders, Defend the Defenders, and 13 other partners said Vietnam is holding 168 prisoners of conscience.
Transfer to locations far from the family and the denial of medical treatment are measures frequently used by the Vietnamese communist government to punish prisoners of conscience who refuse to make confessions during trials or sentencing.
Recently, Vietnam’s authorities transferred prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) to the Camp No. 5 prison in the central province of Thanh Hoa, about 900 km from the central city of Nha Trang, where her family is living. Quynh was sentenced to ten years in prison on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
===== March 6 =====
Compositor Dissident Tran Vu Anh Binh Fined for Violating Probation Rules
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have imposed an administrative fine of VND2.5 million ($110) on former prisoner of conscience and compositor-dissident Tran Vu Anh Binh for violating the rules of his probation sentence.
The People’s Committee of Ward 9, District 3 made its decision on the adminisrative fine after summoning him in its headquarters on March 6, Mr. Binh said.
The People’s Committee said Binh violated the regulations for propation as he went to visit his relatives and friends who live outside of his area during the Lunar New Year which fell in mid-February.
Binh said during these days, he was stopped by local police who reminded him that he is still under a three-year house arrest and cannot go out of his area without informing local authorities.
Compositor Binh was arrested in May 2012 together with compositor Viet Khang (Vo Minh Tri) on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code for their posts on social networks and distribution of liftlefts criticizing the Vietnamese government. Later, Binh was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison and three years under house arrest afterward. He was freed in May 2017.
Viet Khang, who was sentenced to four years in prison, was allowed to live in exile in the US after completing his sentence. He left the country in February this year.
Viet Khang and Binh produced a number of songs about promoting patriotism and criticising the government on issues of the country’s sovereignty, human rights violation and other problems.
Their songs are very popular among activists.
===== March 7 =====
Three Convicted Activists of Reviving Vietnam Campaign Appeal Prison Sentences
Defend the Defenders: Three activists namely Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc of the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet (Reviving Vietnam Campaign) have apprealed the decision of the People’s Court of Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi which convicted them on allegation of “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.
They had been tried unfairly by the court on January 31 this year, the activists said in their letters sent to the People’s Supreme Court. They also reaffirmed that they are not guilty and had only been exercising basic rights enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution as well as the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights to which Vietnam is a signatory.
In late January, the People’s Court of Hanoi found the trio guilty, giving them a total of 20 years and six months in prison and 13 years under house arrest afterward.
During the one-day trial, the judge found Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien were guilty of conducting anti-state activities under Clause 1 of Article 88, particularly for producing and disseminating 17 video clips which defamed the ruling communist party and its leaders, while Mr. Phuc was said to have assisted the two activists in making and posting three of them on Internet.
Mr. Thuan was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison and additional five years of probation while Mr. Dien was given six years and six months of jail and four years of probation. Phuc received the lightest sentence of six years in jail and additional four years of probation.
One of their lawyers said that during the trial, Mr. Thuan requested the judge to use a computer to show the trio’s video clips as evidences against them for discussion but the judge denied, arguing that the court has not been equipped with such devices. The judge also rejected the proposal of Thuan who said he is willing to donate a sum of VND50 million (around $2,200) for the court to purchase a modern set of computer and screen for the purpose.
Relatives of the trio were not allowed to enter the courtroom of the so-called open trial. They were kept far from the court area while all the roads leading to the court were blocked by numerous police officers and militia. Foreign diplomats were not permitted to observe the hearing in the courtroom while many activists in Hanoi were blocked from going out during the day.
Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien were arrested in early March while Mr. Phuc was detained on July 3 last year. They were firstly kidnapped by Hanoi police who later prosecuted them with anti-state propaganda, one of the controversial articles in the national security provisions in the Penal Code often used to silence peaceful activists.
For several months before being arrested, Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien had produced and posted on their Facebook pages many video clips in which Mr. Thuan criticized the Communist leaders and their government for human rights violations, corruption, and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
Late President Ho Chi Minh and incumbent General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong are among figures criticized by Mr. Thuan. Their clips were viewed by millions of Vietnamese Internet users.
The trio was held incommunicado since their arrests until recent months when the investigation was completed. They were allowed to meet with lawyers to prepare for their defense only several days before their trial.
After their arrests, some members of the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet were also been summoned to police stations for questioning. However, other members of the campaign continue their live streams on Facebook to provide independent TV channels to address social issues of the country, especially in land grabbing, miscarriage of justice, human rights abuse, and corruption. Their programs have attracted hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their trust in the state media.
The Chan hung Nuoc Viet was established by technocrat and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment after being convicted guilty on allegation of subversion in 2010.
The arrests and conviction of the three members of Chan Hung Nuoc Viet are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers which started in early 2016 when the Communist Party of Vietnam selected its new leadership with many police generals being appointed to senior positions of the party and its government.
The political persecution was severe last year as Vietnam detained at least 45 activists and charged most of them with serious accusations such as “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 and subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code 1999.
Last year, Vietnam convicted at least 19 activists, including human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, anti-corruption activist Phan Kim Khanh, and bloggers Nguyen Van Oai and Nguyen Van Hoa. All of them received heavy sentences ranging from five years to ten years in prison.
In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, Vietnam has shown little tolerance to local dissent.
According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding around 100 prisoners of conscience while Now!Campaign, an initiative by BPSOS, Civil Rights Defenders, Defend the Defenders, and 11 other partners said that the number is 168 at least so far this year.
Hanoi always denies imprisoning any prisoners of conscience and says it only imprisons law violators.
===== March 8 =====
Prominent Political Blogger Doan Trang Goes Missing
Defend the Defenders: Prominent political blogger Pham Doan Trang went missing in the afternoon of March 8, with friends later finding out she had been taken for questioning by the police.
Activists said, shortly before they lost contact with Doan Trang, security officers were seen stationed near the house her friends had rented for her after she left her mother’s apartment in Hanoi on February 27 to go into hiding to avoid intense police harassment.
Since leaving her mother’s apartment in Le Duc Tho residental area where police had kept her under heavy surveillance, Ms. Trang was said to stay in an apartment in Ton That Tung street. Cuong, one of her close friends and a member of the Green Tree movement, hired the apartment for her.
Activists said at noon on March 8, the landlord asked Cuong to come to make temporary registration. He was busy so made an appointment with the landlord several hours later. Cuong immediately tried to contact with Trang by phone but failed.
In the late afternoon, Cuong tried to contact with the landlord but the landlord refused.
Activists said they feared that Trang had been arrested after many unsuccessful attempts to contact her or locate her.
Trang was released late that evening, after ten pm.
The recent spate of harassment began when Trang was detained by security officers from the Ministry of Public Security on February 24, and released about ten hours later. She was also summoned to a police station for interrogation about her recently-published book Chính trị bình dân (Politics for the masses).
On February 27, she left her mother’s apartment untracked and went into hiding.
Already, for most of the recent months, Trang has been forced into hiding in a bid to avoid harassment by local authorities, especially following a brief detention after she spoke with the EU Delegation preceding the EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue in November. She had returned to her mother’s house in recent days to celebrate the Lunar New Year festival.
Trang is among the leading political dissidents in Vietnam. After resigning as a journalist for state-run media, she has blogged politically and has been involved in a number of political activities, including working as a writer and editor for the Vietnam Right Now and Luat Khoa Tap Chi, an independent legal website as well as a namely political blog The Vietnamese.
She has produced nearly ten books. Chính trị bình dân is the latest one, in which she encourages all people to engage in politics to settle the country’s issues instead of leaving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam to decide on the behalf of the 94-million nation.
Due to her political activities, she has been under close surveillance by security forces.
In 2015, while participating in a peaceful demonstration in Hanoi to protest the city’s plan to chop down thousands of old-growth trees, she was brutally beaten by security forces which resulted in serious injuries in her left leg. The injuries have not healed. She is in need of medical care.
In May 2016, she was kidnapped by security forces when she was on her way to a meeting between then US President Barack Obama and civil society in Hanoi when he visited the communist nation.
On November 17 last year, after a meeting with political officers of the EU Member States at the Office of the EU Delegation to Vietnam together with some other activists, she was detained for questioning for many hours, only being released around midnight.
On March 5, People in Need, a Prague-based non-profit organization founded on the ideals of humanism, freedom, equality and solidarity, awarded her its Homo Homini Prize for 2017 for her contribution to human rights and democracy.
Along with purging political opponents within the ruling communist party to solidify his power, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and his faction in the country’s leadership has intensified its crackdown on local dissents and independent civil society.
The government has discouraged citizens to get interested in politics, saying they should focus on economic activities and leave political issues, including the country’s sovereignty and environmental problems to the party and its government. It considers Chính trị bình dân a provocation as the book encourages people to get involved in politics, so all people can decide major issues of the nation instead of leaving for communists.
Vice President of IJAVN Blocked from Meeting with OHCHR Officials
Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have barred blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of the unsanctioned Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) from participating in a meeting between local activists and senior officials from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Around twenty police officers in uniform and plain clothes as well as militia have been deployed near his private residence in Thanh Tri district from March 7, one day ahead of the meeting scheduled in the UN’s Representative Office Headquarters in Hanoi.
When he tried to go to the meeting, police surrouned him and did not allow him to leave his house.
When visiting Vietnam, the OHCHR’s delegation, led by Head of the OHCHR Regional Office in the Southeast Asia Cynthia Veliko, wanted to meet with local civil society to investigate human rights situation in Vietnam which has worsened since early 2016 when the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam held the 12th National Congress to select the new leadership for the 2016-2021 period.
Along with arrests and convictions, Vietnam’s security forces have also blocked many activists from going abroad as well as meeting with foreign diplomats.
Mr. Thuy has been under continous harassment from authorities due to his social activities and charity campaigns. He was brutally beaten by police officers in some occasions, and has been placed under house arrest many times.
Wives of Jailed Activists Barred from Meeting with OHCHR Officials
Defend the Defenders: On March 8, Vietnam’s authorities barred wives of jailed pro-democracy activists Nguyen Van Dai, Truong Minh Duc and Pham Van Troi from participating in a meeting with officials from UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) who came to visit the communist nation.
During their visit to Vietnam this week, representatives of OHCHR, led by Ms. Cynthia Veliko, head of OHCHR Regional Office in the Southeast Asia, invited five wives of activists Dai, Duc, Troi, Nguyen Trung Ton, and Nguyen Bac Truyen to the UN’s Representative Office Headquarters in Hanoi to talk about situation of the activists who are held in pre-trial detention on allegation of subversion under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.
However, only two wives managed to attend the meeting while wives of Mr. Dai, Mr. Duc and Mr. Troi were blocked by security forces who threatened not to allow them to meet with their jailed husbands in the future if they came to the event.
Mr. Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha were arrested in late 2015 on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and in late July last year, they were added with allegation of subversion while the remaining were detained on July 30 with subversion.
The Investigation Agency under the Ministry of Public Security said they concluded the investigation on the case and proposed the Supreme People’s Procuracy to prosecute them on allegation of subversion. However, the date for their trial has not been set.
Their arrests are part of the ongoing crackdown on local activists. The arrested activists, key members of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, may face life imprisonment or even death penalty if convicted, according to Vietnam’s current law.
Vietnam’s communist regime has used controversial articles such as 88 and 79 of the 1999 Penal Code to silence local dissent.
===== March 10 =====
Nghe An Likely Targets Anti-Formosa Fishmen after Catholic Priest Transfer
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Nghe An have started to target local fishermen who had participate in anti-Formosa protest last year after the transfer of Catholic priest Dang Huu Nam from the Phu Yen parish.
In recent days, the Investigation Agency under the Nghe An province’s Department of Public Security has summoned a number of fishermen, including Bui Thi Nhiem, Sam and Cao Sy Hoan to the police station to clarify their participation in a campaign against Formosa steel plant in the neighbor province of Ha Tinh which discharged a huge amount of indistrial waste into the central coastal region and caused an environmental catastrophe with mass fish death in April 2016 in the central waters.
Farmers in Nghe An, particularly in Phu Yen parish, Dien Chau district have been affected by the environmental disaster, however, Vietnam’s government has no plan to compensate them for so they conducted a number of activities, including peaceful demonstration and lawsuit against the Taiwanese Formosa. In response, local authorities have applied a number of acts to suppress them.
Priest Nam, who has assisted local Catholic followers in the case, has been transferred to another place, likely under pressure of Nghe An’s authorities.
In May last year, Nghe An arrested environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh who assisted Dien Chau fishermen in seeking justice in the case, and sentenced him in February this year with heavy sentence of 14 years in prison.
===== March 11 =====
2017- The Worsest year for Vietnam’s Dissent: FVPoC
The year 2017 is the worsest year for Vietnam’s dissent with the official arrest of at least 43 human rights activists, said the unsanctioned Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience (FVPoC) in its report on human rights violations in the country last year.
Plainclothes agents and pro-government thugs carried out a number of physical assaults targetting political dissidents and people who disagree with government’s policies, the report said, adding these attacks were brutal and severe, conducted in day lights with witness of uniformed police.
The communist government enhanced surveillance over activists, the report said, noting authorities in many localities deployed police officers, plainclothes agents and militia to private residences of local activists to place them de facto under house arrest in many occasions, including various international and domestic anniversaries as well as during visits of foreign leaders.
Most of meetings of activists were troubled and interrupted by security forces, it said.
FVPoC said its report was made from data collected from its members, activists and victims. Only the most serious cases published on Internet were classified and reported, it said, adding there are many cases without publication that may be out of the report.
FVPoC calls on the Vietnamese government to respect basic rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which Vietnam is a signatory party, including the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and movement.
The organization calls on Vietnam’s trade partners to raise human rights issues while negotiaing free trade agreements with Vietnam, requesting Vietnam’s government recognize independent civil societies and allow local people to freely express their opinions.
For details: Report on HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS in VIETNAM
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