Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for April 9-15, 2018: Hanoi Imprisons Four More Pro-democracy Activists, Still Holding Many Others in Pre-trial Detention
Defend the Defenders | April 12, 2018
The Vietnamese communist government has jailed three more human rights defenders namely Mr. Nguyen Van Tuc, Ms. Tran Thi Xuan, Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung and Mr. Vu Van Hung after the short first-instance hearings which failed to meet international standards for fair trials. The first two activists are senior members of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, the main target of the ongoing crackdown on local dissent.
On April 10, the People’s Court of the northern province of Thai Binh found Mr. Nguyen Van Tuc, 54, guilty of subverting the government, and sentenced him to 13 years in prison and five years of probation.
On April 12, Ms. Tran Thi Xuan, who has assisted Formosa-affected fishermen in demanding adequate compensation, was sentenced to nine years in prison and five years under house arrest by the People’s Court of her native province of Ha Tinh where the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant is located. Accused of subversion, she was forced to deny lawyers while her family was informed about her trial when it nearly ended. There is a doubt that she has been treated with drugs that can destroy human brains during the pre-trial detention and during the trial.
Also on April 12, in the neighboring province, the People’s Court of Nghe An convicted former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung, the founder and president of unregistered president of the Vietnam Republican Party, on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code. His arrest and conviction were also related to his assistance given to fishermen affected by the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group.
Mr. Vu Van Hung is the third activist convicted on April 12. He was arrested on January 4 in a trumped-up politically motivated case in which he was accused of “intentionally causing injury” under Article 134 of the 2015 Penal Code. The former prisoner of conscience was sentenced to one year in prison for the act he defensed himself against undercover policemen who followed him after a meeting with other activists.
On April 12, Amnesty International released its statement calling on Vietnam to drop charges against Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung and Vu Van Hung whom it considers as prisoners of conscience.
On the same day, Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, current Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, issued a joint statementexpressing their concerns about the way Vietnamese peaceful campaigners have been treated and in particular over the Vietnam’s use of Article 79 to charge and convict dissenting voices. They also called on Vietnam’s government to release all political prisoners and provide a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, in line with the country’s international obligations and commitments.
Vietnam is still holding many activists in pre-trial detentions, including Spokesman of the Brotherhood for Democracy Nguyen Trung Truc, human rights defenders Luu Van Vinh, Le Dinh Luong, Nguyen Van Duc Do, and Dao Quan Thuc. All of them are charged with subversion. With the exception of Luu Van Vinh, other activists have been kept incommunicado since being detained.
===== April 9 =====
Vietnam Activists: Facebook Content Restrictions Are Worsening
VOA News: Vietnamese activists and independent media groups say Facebook policies on restricting content could increase government censorship.
More than 50 individuals and groups sent an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It expresses their concerns about how the social media service is operating in Vietnam. The U.S.-based human rights group Viet Tan released the document Monday.
The letter says Facebook’s system of removing material if enough people protest about it could “silence human rights activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam.”
The groups say they have worked with Facebook officials in the past to make sure content is not wrongly removed. In the letter, they say this worked well until 2017. But, they write, that year “account suspensions and content takedown” increased.
Facebook has said its policies on content restrictions are necessary to prevent false news and enforce Facebook rules.
“We will remove content that violates these standards when we’re made aware of it,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement to Reuters. The spokeswoman said the company’s policies are the same in Vietnam as in other countries where it operates.
“There are also times when we may have to remove or restrict access to content because it violates a law in a particular country, even though it doesn’t violate our community standards,” the statement added.
Last year, Facebook’s head of Global Policy Management, Monika Bickert, met with Vietnamese officials to discuss policies for operating in Vietnam.
At the time, the two sides agreed to directly cooperate to limit illegal or offensive material, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications. Facebook also promised to remove false accounts and false information on the site about top government officials, the ministry said.
Vietnam is among Facebook’s top 10 users by numbers, with more than 55 million people using the service. It is especially popular with activist groups and citizen journalists.
But Vietnam has a history of restricting public comments that are critical of the government. In the past, Vietnamese police have arrested people for posting anti-government messages online.
The letter said many accounts and pages of well-known citizen journalists were recently blocked on Facebook before and during a major trial of Vietnamese activists.
In the case, Vietnam sentenced a longtime human rights lawyer and activist to 15 years in prison on the charge that he “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” Another six activists were sentenced to seven to 13 years.
The letter sent to Zuckerberg says the Vietnamese government employs a 10,000-strong “cyber army” to spread misinformation and silence dissent. The groups say this organization – called Force 47 – has misused Facebook policies to purposely publish false reports about activists and independent media organizations.
The letter said the groups support Facebook’s efforts to fight disinformation for the community. However, they fear the company’s current restriction policies are “putting severe limitations on the very audience that you are trying to serve.”
The letter came the day before Zuckerberg appeared before several U.S. Congressional committees in Washington. They questioned him about Facebook’s involvement in sharing user data with British research company Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg also discussed Facebook’s policies on users’ privacy.
===== April 10 =====
7th Member of Brotherhood for Democracy Convicted of Subversion, Sentenced to 13 Years in Prison
Defend the Defenders: On April 10, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s northern province of Thai Binh found former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Tuc, member of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, guilty of “”carrying out attempts to overthrow the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code.
As a result, Mr. Tuc was sentenced to 13 years in prison and five years under house arrest after completing the imprisonment sentence.
According to his daughter who was in the courtroom, Mr. Tuc couldn’t stand up during trial. The doctor checked his blood pressure before the trial and the doctor informed the court that it was quite high (190). The defendant also felt his heart muscles cramping up but the court still went on.
Mr. Tuc also has very bad hemorrhoids and he had a lot of rectal bleeding during the trial, his daughter namely Nguyen Thi Mai said.
Like other political cases, no activists were allowed to enter the courroom to observe the trial. Authorities in Thai Binh denied the request of Mr. Tuc’s mother to be present in his hearing.
Police were reportedly deployed to block all the roads leading to the court areas to prevent his relatives and supporters to gather near the areas.
Mr. Tuc, who was arrested on September 1 last year on charge of subversion, had been kept incommunicado detention since being caught until recently when he was permitted to meet with his lawyer to prepare for his defense, the family said.
Mr. Tuc is the 9th member of the unregistered Brotherhood for Democracy being arrested last year as Vietnam’s regime considers the online pro-democracy group as a potential threat for its political monopoly in the Southeast Asian nation. He has been the 11th political dissident being jailed with controversial charges in national security provisions of the Penal Code so far this year.
Last week, the People’s Court of Hanoi sentenced six members of the online pro-democracy groups namely prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai, engineer Pham Van Troi, veteran journalist and labor activist Truong Minh Duc, Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, enterprener Nguyen Bac Truyen, English teacher and translator Le Thu Ha with a total imprisonment of 66 years and 17 years of probation.
Mr. Tuc, born in 1964, was arrested for the first time in September 2008 for spreading leaflets protesting China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty and calling for multi-party democracy. He was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. Later, he was sentenced to four years and six months in prison and three years under house arrest.
After being released in 2012, he continued his activities to promote human rights and work for multi-party democracy. He joined Brotherhood for Democracy which strives to “fight to protect human rights recognized by the Vietnamese Constitution and international conventions” and “campaign to build a progressive, democratic, equal and civilized society in Vietnam.”
The arrests and convictions of seven members of the Brotherhood for Democracy are part of the ongoing crackdown of Vietnam’s communist regime on local activists which started in late 2015 and became the peak last year with detention of at least 45 activists.
Vietnam has arrested three other members of the organization namely Nguyen Trung Truc, Tran Thi Xuan and Vu Van Hung. The first two were charged with subversion while the third, also former prisoner of conscience, was charged with “inflicting injuries” under Article 134 of the 2015 Penal Code. Their first-instance hearings are expected to be held soon.
Vietnam may arrest other members of the organization in coming months, observers said, adding the Brotherhood for Democracy has around 80 members.
Since the begining of 2017, Vietnam has convicted around 30 activists and sentenced them to lengthy imprisonments of between three and 16 years. Among the jailed activists are prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and land right activist Tran Thi Nga, both have children at school age.
It is worth noting that Vietnam still uses controversial articles such 79 and 88 of the 1999 Penal Code to silence local dissent although the country’s 2015 Penal Code became effective from January 1 this year.
The first-instance hearing of Nguyen Viet Dung, the founder and president of unsanctioned Vietnam Republican Party, is set on April 12. He was arrested in September last year and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code.
The EU and many foreign governments such as the US and Germany and a number of international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Vietnam for arrests and convictions of local activists, and demanded Hanoi to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.
According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding nearly 100 prisoners of conscience while Hanoi always denies of imprisoning prisoners of conscience but only law violators.
Three Vietnamese Activists Imprisoned on Thursday amid Increasing Crackdown on Local Dissent
Defend the Defenders: Three activists were convicted in separate trials on Thursday in Vietnam amid ongoing intensified crackdown of the communist government on local dissent.
In the first-instance hearing of former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung which last only three hours in the central province of Nghe An, the founder and president of the unsanctioned Vietnam Republican Party was sentenced to seven years in prison and five years under house arrest afterward. Dung was kidnapped by local plainclothes agents and later charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.
Meanwhile, the People’s Court of Nghe An held a trial hearing of Ms. Tran Thi Xuan, a senior member of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, on allegation of “carrying out attempts to overthrow the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. In the open court without presence of the defendants’ relatives and lawyer, the judge gave her nine years in prison and five years of probation.
Ms. Xuan, 1976, has been kept incommunicado being arrested on October 17 last year. She has not been permitted to meet with her family or contact with a lawyer the family hired for her. Several months ago, police publicized a letter with her signature saying she would not need a lawyer for legal consultation and defense preparation.
During the trial, Xuan confessed of wrongdoings and begged for mercy, however, observers said she was fat and not in normal conditions which may be result of being drugged for long period.
Her detention came as the Brotherhood for Democracy became the main target of the ongoing crackdown of the Vietnamese government on local dissent. Since late 2015, Vietnam has arrested ten members of the online pro-democracy group, and convicted nine of them, mostly with heavy sentences of between seven and 15 years in prison.
Vu Van Hung, a former prisoner of conscience and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, was the third activist being convicted today. After detentions of many senior members of the group, Vietnam’s security forces have targetted him and they arrested him on January 4 this year in a trumped-up case on which he was accused of “inflicting injuries” under Article 134 of the 2015 Penal Code.
In the trial which last few hours without presence of his lawyer, the People’s Court of Thanh Xuan district, Hanoi sentenced him to one year in prison.
On April 12, Amnesty International issued a statement regarding the trials of Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung and Mr. Vu Van Hung, in which the London-based human rights organization said “Nguyen Viet Dung is a brave young activist in a country where human rights are under attack. This man has already served time in prison for his peaceful activism once before. To ensure there is no repeat of this injustice, the authorities of Nghe An province must immediately drop all charges against Dũng and release him immediately” and “Vu Van Hung is a prisoner of conscience who has been held in pre-trial detention on trumped-up, politically motivated charges for several months. He has done nothing but peacefully defend human rights and should never have been detained in the first place.”
Amid growing social disatisfaction due to systemic corruption, serious environmental pollution, greater gap between the rich and the poor as well as the government’s weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), Vietnam has intensified crackdown on local dissent in a bid to prevent formation of opposition parties and discourage people from involving in politics.
With the election of the new leadership in 2016 with many police generals being promoted to senior posts of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and the state, Vietnam has little tolerance to government critics.
Since the begining of 2017, Vietnam has arrested at least 45 activists and convicted around 30 of them, sentencing them to lengthy imprisonments of between six and 16 years in prison. As many as 14 activists have been convicted and jailed so far this year.
Among jailed human rights defenders are human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai, the co-founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy, well-known blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Mother Mushroom) and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh.
According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding 97 prisoners of conscience while the Now!Campaign, a coalition consisting of 15 NGOs including Defend the Defenders, BPSOS and Civil Rights Defenders, the number of prisoners of conscience is 168 as of March 31.
Vietnam always denies of holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators.
UN human rights experts urge Viet Nam not to stifle dissenting voices
UN News: United Nations experts have urged Viet Nam not to crackdown on civil society or stifle dissent, after the authorities jailed several human rights defenders for “conducting activities to overthrow the people’s government” – a charge that carries the possibility of the death sentence or life imprisonment.
These activities have received rulings, with the founder of Brotherhood for Democracy, Nguyen Van Dai, sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest. The defenders have two weeks to appeal against the sentences.
“We are deeply concerned at the way these peaceful campaigners have been treated and in particular, over the use of Article 79 of the 1999 penal code of Viet Nam,” which carries the possibility of the death sentence or life imprisonment, the experts said.
Two human rights lawyers were arrested in 2015 while attempting to meet European Union delegates before an annual EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. Another four activities were arrested in July 2017 amid a general crackdown on freedom of expression.
Created in 2013, the Brotherhood for Democracy consists mostly of former jailed dissidents who set up an online group calling for democracy.
The UN experts are particularly concerned that all six were held in pre-trial detention with very limited access to legal counsel, in a clear breach of international human rights standards, and that they were prosecuted in relation to their activities as human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists.
In 2017, there was a substantial increase in the number of arrests and detentions of human rights defenders in Viet Nam.
“We urge the authorities not to crack down on civil society to muzzle dissenting voices and stifle the people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law,” the experts stressed.
The UN experts are Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, current Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
===== April 13 =====
Spokesman of Brotherhood for Democracy Still Held Incommunicado Since Being Arrest in August 2017
Defend the Defenders: Nguyen Trung Truc, the spokesman of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, has been held incommunicado since being detained on August 4 last year, said Saigon-based lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, who was hired by the activist’s family to provide legal consultation for him.
On April 12, lawyer Mieng submitted a request for permission to the People’s Court of Quang Binh, which will hold the first-instance hearing of his client in coming months.
During over the past nine months, his family has permitted to send him some additional food while his lawyer has yet to receive a permission to meet him in prison to prepare for his defense. Like in other political cases, his lawyer has not been allowed to attend interrogations.
Mr. Truc, born in 1974, was arrested in August last year and charged with subversion under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code. If convicted, he will face life imprisonment or even death punishment, according to the current Vietnamese law.
Truc has been active in promoting human rights and multi-party democracy in Vietnam, as well as assisting fishermen who are affected by the environmental disaster in the central coastal region started in May 2016 as a result of the illegal discharge of a huge amount of toxic industrial waste by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant located in the central province of Ha Tinh.
He has been harassed by Vietnam’s security forces, including the kidnap in 2016 when plainclothes agents abducted him and seven other fellows, bringing them to a remote areas in Ha Tinh province where they robbed them and tortured them before leaving them in a forest area. The assault was reported by Defend the Defenders and Human Rights Watch.
Truc has been the 10th member of the Brotherhood for Democracy being arrested and charged with serious allegation in the national security provisions in the Penal Code.
Last week, Vietnam convicted six senior members of the online pro-democracy group on subversion, and sentenced prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai, co-founder of the organization, to 15 years in prison and five years under house arrest afterward. Five others were sentenced to between seven and 12 years in jail.
On April 10, Vietnam also convicted Nguyen Van Tuc, former prisoner of conscience and senior leader of the Brotherhood for Democracy, of subversion and sentenced him to 13 years in prison and five years under house arrest.
Hanoi also imprisoned former prisoner of conscience Vu Van Hung, he is also one of active members of the organization in a trumped-up politically motivated charge of “inflicting injury” under Article 134 of the 2015 Penal Code. He is sentenced to one year in prison and expected to be released on January 4 next year.
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