Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for October 15-21, 2018: Hanoi Releases Prominent Blogger Mother Mushroom, Imprisons Medical Doctor on Anti-state Propaganda Charge

Defend the Defenders| October 21, 2018


Vietnam’s communist regime has released prominent human rights Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh eight years before her ten-year jail term ends but convicted medical doctor Nguyen Dinh Thanh on charge of anti-state propaganda and upheld the record high sentence of 20 years in prison given to democracy campaigner Le Dinh Luong.

On October 17, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as blogger Mother Mushroom, was released from the Prison camp No. 5 in Thanh Hoa province, taken to Noi Bai International Airport where she and her mother and two kids took an international flight to Taipe and later to the US where she will live in exile, like other former prisoners of conscience such as Cu Huy Ha Vu, Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay) and Ta Phong Tan. She is among many dissidents treated by the communist government as goods for exchange of economic and political supports from the US and other democratic governments.

On the same day, the People’s Court in the southern province of Binh Duong convicted local medical doctor Nguyen Dinh Thanh on charge of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code. Thanh, who graduated from the prestigious Hanoi Medical University, was sentenced to seven years in prison for printing out 3,300 leaflets with a content calling for protest against two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

One day later, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected the appeal of human rights defender, environmentalist and democracy campaigner Le Dinh Luong, upholding his sentence of 20 years in prison and five years of probation, the record high imprisonment for the last five years given by the People’s Court of Nghe An province in the first-instance hearing on August 16.

Mr. Luong is among 17 activists convicted on charge of subversion this year. Others were given between seven and 16 years in prison and probation of up to five years.

Police in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak have proposed the province’s People’s Procuracy to prosecute human rights defender Huynh Thuc Vy on charge of “Affronting the national flag or national emblem” under Article 276 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.Vy, the former president of the unregistered organization Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, may face imprisonment of between six months and three years in prison if she is convicted. She has not been detained as her daughter is only two years old, but she may be arrested one year later when the kid becomes three years old.

Vietnam’s authorities continue to imprison individuals participating in the mass demonstrationin mid-June. On October 19, a court in HCM City sentenced three local workers to between 27 and 39 months in prison on charge of “disrupting public orders” for joining the mass to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in the city on June 11.

So far, nearly 70 protesters have been convicted and 59 of them were sentenced to between eight and 54 months in prison, others were given probation of up to two years.

and other news

===== October 15 =====

Vietnam sentences citizen journalist on second anti-state charge

CPJ: The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the second prison sentence handed to Vietnamese journalist Do Cong Duong and strongly reiterated its call for his immediate and unconditional release.

On October 12, in a half-day trial, a Vietnamese court in the northern province of Bac Ninh sentenced Duong to five years in prison on anti-state charges of “abusing democratic freedoms,” a criminal offense under article 331 of the revised 2015 penal code, according to news reports.

News reports said Duong was convicted for critical reports he posted on Facebook about local corruption and land disputes. His defense lawyer, Ha Huy Son, told Radio Free Asia that the methods authorities used to collect evidence against Duong were not compliant with local laws and that Duong was innocent of the charges.

“Duong was merely doing his job as a journalist and should be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam’s use of arbitrary and vague anti-state laws to jail journalists must stop.”

It was not immediately clear from the news reports if Duong intended to appeal the conviction. Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security could not be reached by telephone today for comment on Duong’s conviction.

Duong was sentenced separately in September to four years in prison on charges of “disturbing public order” while filming and taking photographs of state authorities forcibly evicting residents of Nach Ninh province’s Tu Son commune. “Disturbing public order” is a criminal offense under the penal code’s article 318.

Duong regularly covers land rights and corruption, including on his “Tieng Dan TV” program, where he live-streamed video discussions over Facebook, according to the 88 Project, an independent advocacy group that monitors the status of Vietnamese political prisoners.

The group said Duong was warned by Bac Ninh police in writing in September 2017 that his articles and live videos on Facebook included content that “distorts the truth” and “contradicts the directions and policies of the Party and the law of the state.”

Defense attorney Son said Duong was in poor health when he visited him in prison in April and that authorities, including the local police, had harassed his family over Duong’s land rights and anti-corruption reporting and activism, according to Radio Free Asia and 88 Project research.

At least 10 journalists were held behind bars in Vietnam when CPJ conducted its annual census of jailed journalists worldwide in December 2017. All 10 were jailed on anti-state charges related to their work, CPJ research shows.

===== October 16 =====

Vietnam’s Police Propose to Prosecute HRD Huynh Thuc Vy on Allegation of “Disrespecting National Flag” 

Defend the Defenders: Police in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Dak Lak have handed over the investigation results against local human rights defender and pro-democracy campaigner Huynh Thuc Vy to the province’s People’s Procuracy, proposing to prosecute her on allegation of “Affronting the national flag or national emblem” under Article 276 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

Vy, the 33-year mother of a two-year-old girl, may be tried soon and will face imprisonment of between six months and three years in prison, if is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

On August 9, police in Dak Lakdetained herafter she denied police’s request to go to a local police station for interrogation.She was released in late evening of the same day.

Police also searched her house and confiscated her laptop, Ipad, books and other items. They summoned her on October 16 and returned some of these items, she told Defend the Defenders.

Later, police announced to charge her with “disrespecting the national flag” and placed her under house arrest. They also issued a decision banning her from travel abroad.

Last year, Vy was pictured with the Vietnamese national flag which was tained with paint. Someone said she intentionally defamed the flag that she has never recognized.

Vy, 33, is the oldest child of former political prisoner Huynh Ngoc Tuan, who spent ten years in prison in 1992-2002 for sending his political book abroad.

She has posted a number of articles for human rights and multi-party democracy, including a book tittled “Nhận định Sự thật Tự do và Nhân quyền” (A view on Truth, Freedom and Human Rights). She also advocates for rights of ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, often visiting families of prisoners of conscience in the region.

She is among founders of the unsanctioned organization Vietnam Women for Human Rights, and was its president before getting maternal leave.

She is banned from foreign trip as police confiscated her passport when she was on her way to attend a workshop on cyber security organized by Reporters Without Formers in Bangkok in June 2015.

She was interrogated many times in the past. In 2012, she was arrested by the police, put in a car that went for a 1,000kms. She was then interrogated continuously for 12 hours, before being dropped at a fuel station at midnight.

In May, the British Broad Corporation (BBC) listed Vy as one of five female activists who are risking their lives to protect others’ rights. Other activists include Wang Yu from China, Maria Chin Abdullah from Malaysia, Anchana Heemina from Thailand and Phyoe Phyoe Aung from Myanmar.

Since 2013, Mr. Tuan’s family has been suppressed by police. He was brutally assailed by plainclothes agents several times and suffered a number of severe injuries.

The family of his youngest child, Huynh Trong Hieu, was forced to flee to Thailand to seek for political asylum.

Under police’s pressure, Vy and her husband Duy were forced to leave Ho Chi Minh City to Buon Ho several years ago where they are running coffee business.

=====October 17 =====

Prominent Human Rights Defender Mother Mushroom Released, Forced to Live in Exile in US

 Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime has forced prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, dissident blogger popularly known asMother Mushroom, to go to live in exile in the US after releasing her eight years before her prison term ends.

On October 17, Quynh was brought directly from the Prison camp No. 5 in the central province of Thanh Hoa to Hanoi International Airport. She was permitted to meet with an US’s diplomat for five minutes before being dragged in an airplane which later headed to Taiwan.

In the airplane, Quynh met with her elderly mother Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan and two kids who were allowed to go with her to the US where she has to stay and not to come back to the home country. This was their first meeting since she was arrested on October 2016.

Ms. Quynh, 39, is an activist who bravely spoke out about police’s torture, environmental pollution, China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the South China Sea. She was arrested two years ago for her criticism against the communist regime which has monopolistically controls the country’s political life for decades. She was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

In June 2017, she was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison by a court considered as kangaroo by international human rights organizations.

After losing her appeal, Quynh was transferred to the Prison camp No. 5 in Yen Dinh district, Thanh Hoa province where she was a subject of torture and inhumane treatment which led to her two hunger strikes in mid-2018.

Quynh, a co-founder of the unsanctioned organization Vietnam Blogger Network,has been honored with the 2010 Hellman/Hammett award by New York-based Human Rights Watch, the 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Yearawardby the Stockholm-based CivilRights Defenders, the United States Department of State International Women of Courage Award in 2017,and 2018 International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

After her arrest and conviction, many international human rights groups and professional organizations as well as foreign democratic government urged Vietnam to release her immediately and unconditionally.

Responding to Quynh’s release, Phil Roberson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in his Facebook account “While we are pleased that Mother Mushroom and her family are free, this release makes Vietnam’s new political repression strategy clear: arrests activists on bogus, rights abusing charges, prosecute them in kangaroo courts, and sentence them to ridiculously long prison terms. The hope fades in the face of years in horrific conditions behind bars, offer a freedom for exile deal and claims credit for the release. Hanoi is aiming to disrupt and dissolve the internal human rights and democracy movement one prominent activist at a time. But no one should forget that Vietnam is still one of the most repressive states in South Asia, with more than 100 political prisoners behind bars for speaking their minds, organizing associations outside of the government control, and holding peaceful protests.

Quynh is among a number of prisoners of conscience whom the communist regime in Hanoi released before their jail terms end and forced to live in exile in the past few years. Other include legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu, independent blogger Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai, human rights defender and pro-democracy campaigner Dang Xuan Dieu.

According to Now!Campaign, a coalition of 14 domestic and international NGOs such as BPSOS, Defend the Defenders, Civil Rights Defenders and Front Line Defenders, Vietnam is holding at least 250 prisoners of conscience.


Vietnamese Medical Doctor Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison for Printing 3,300 Leaflets

 Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam have sentenced local medical doctor Nguyen Dinh Thanh to seven years in prison for printing 3,300 leaflets which he produced to call for peaceful demonstration to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security, state media has reported.

On October 17, the People’s Court of Binh Duong province found Mr. Thanh guilty of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Mr. Thanh, a 27-year-old worker of a local healthcare facility, was arrested on June 8, two days prior to the mass demonstrationwhen he was printing 3,300 leaflets in a local photo shop, according to media. He was the person making the contents of the leaflets, media said, citing information from the local police.

Thanh, who graduated from the prestigious Hanoi Medical University had posted a number of articles with “toxic contents” defaming the ruling communist government on his Facebook account since 2013 when he was a student of the Hanoi Medical University.

He has been in the black list of Binh Duong province’s Police Department, media said.

In recent months, a number of activists have been convicted on allegation under Article 117 or “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 for their posts on social networks. They include agronomist Nguyen Ngoc Anh from Ben Tre and businessman Huynh Truong Ca from Dong Thap, and four bloggers named Nguyen Hong Nguyen, Truong Dinh Khang and Bui Manh Dong from Can Tho.

A number of others have been accused of “disruption of security” due to their attempts to call for peaceful demonstrations on various issues of the country, including human rights abuse, widespread environmental pollution and systemic corruption.

More arrests of activistsand Facebookers are expected in coming months once the Cyber Security become effective. The law, passed by the rubber-stamped National Assembly on June 12, is considered by rights group as an effective tool to silence government critics.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested 26 activists and charged them with controversial articles in the national security provisions of the Penal Code. The communist regime has convicted 39 human rights defenders and democracy campaigners, sentencing them to a total 294.5 years in prison and 66 years of probation, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.

In addition, Vietnam has also convicted around 70 protesters participating in the mass demonstration in mid-June on allegation of “disrupting public orders”, giving them imprisonments of between eight months and 54 months or probation of between five and 24 months.


Three Workers in HCM City Jailed for Participation in Mass Demonstration in Mid-June

Defend the Defenders: On October 17, the People’s Court of Binh Tan district, Ho Chi Minh City, convicted three local workers on allegation of “disrupting public order” under Article 318 of the 2015 Penal Code for their participation in the mass demonstration in mid-June.

Particularly, Mr. Le Trong Nghia, 31, was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, Ms. Pham Thi Thu Thuy, 44, was given two years and six months in jail.

Mr. Vo Van Tru, 36, received highest imprisonment of three years and three months. He was accused of throwing a 33-kg stone at riot police and injuring a policeman.

The defendants are workers of the Taiwan-invested Pouyen factory located in Binh Tan district. They joined thousands of others to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security on June 11.

According to RFA, tens of thousands of workers in Pouyuen Tan Tao conducted strikes to protest the two draft laws on June 9 and June 11. Authorities in HCM City deployed hundreds of riot police to suppress their demonstration. Video footages showed that police used tear gas to disperse the workers’ gathering while the protesters responded by throwing stones and bricks to police.

So far, nearly 70 protesters have been convicted, 59 of them were sentenced to between eight months and 54 months, eight of them were given probation between five and 24 months.

The rubber-stamped parliament passed the Cyber Security Law on June 12 but suspended the bill on Special Economic Zones.

===== October 18 =====

Vietnamese Court Upholds 20-year Imprisonment of Democracy Campaigner Le Dinh Luong

Defend the Defenders: On October 18, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected the appeal of human rights defender and environmentalist Le Dinh Luong, upholding the sentence of 20 years in prison and five years of probation given by a lower court.

In the appeal hearing which lasted less than four hours of Thursday’s morning, the judge said that there is no new evidence which can be used for sentence reduction. On August 16, the People’s Court of Nghe An province convicted Mr. Luong on allegation of “conducting activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

The sentence against Mr. Luong is the most severe in political cases in the past five years, observers said.

Like in the first-instance hearing, two lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Ha Huy Son presented statements which firmly proved that their client is innocent and had no activities which can be considered to overthrow the people’s administration but for protecting human rights, environment and the country’s sovereignty. However, the judge ignored their defense.

Mr. Luong’s wife, son and daughter-in-law were allowed to enter the courtroom to observe his appeal. However, authorities in Nghe An province deployed large number of police and militia the court areas and to block all the road leading to the province’s court. Police were also sent to My Khanh parish to prevent local residents to gather near the court’s areas to support him. The parish got huge assistance from him to overcome consequences from the environmental disaster caused by chemical spill of the China-invested Formosa in April 2016.

Two days ahead of his appeal, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to drop all charges against Mr. Luong.

“Vietnam should reverse the draconian sentence imposed on a veteran environment and democracy activist, Le Dinh Luong, and release him,” the New York-based rights group said.

His 20-year sentence is one of the harshest in the government’s crackdown on peaceful activists, said said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director.

Mr. Luong, who was arrested onJuly 24last year, is among 21 activists convicted on subversion in2017-2018. He was given the most severe jail term while 20others were sentenced to between seven and 16years in prison and up to five years of probation for the same charge.

He has been held incommunicado since being arrested until late July thisyear when his lawyers got approval from the People’s Procuracy to meet with him to prepare for his defense.

Mr. Luongis a veteran in the war against China’s invasion of Vietnam’s northern region in 1980s. State media reported that Mr. Luong is an extremely dangerous element belonging to the U.S.-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) which is labeled by Vietnamese authorities as a terrorist organization.

According to the Nghe An police, Mr. Luong once called for boycotting the elections of the parliament and local People’s Councils while capitalizing on the environmental disasters caused by Formosa to cause social disorders and instigate demonstrations.

Mr. Luong himself was attacked by under-covered policemen in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong in August 2015 when he visited Tran Minh Nhat, who then completed his sentence on alleged subversion. Many other activists were also beaten in that incident.After his detention, his relatives were also brutally beaten by police forces twice.

Luong’s conviction met strong international condemnation. The US Department of State expressed its deep concern about thecase, saying that the trend of increased arrests and harsh sentences for peaceful activists in Vietnam is troubling. It has called onHanoito release all prisoners of conscience immediately and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.

The US also urges the Vietnamese government to ensure its actions and laws, including the Penal Code, are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution and its international obligations and commitments.

Freedom of expression and the right to be represented by counsel are guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a party, said Human Rights Watch, adding Vietnam should immediately release Luong and other activists who have been wrongly imprisoned and allow them to peacefully express their views.

“For peacefully campaigning on behalf of fishermen affected by an environmental disaster, Le Dinh Luong could face a life sentence or even the death penalty. This is a patently unjust and politically-motivated case that should be dropped and Le Dinh Luong must be released immediately and unconditionally,”said Amnesty International’s Director of Global Operations Clare Algar ina statement prior to his first-instance hearing.

Luong’s arrest and conviction are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent which started in late 2015. The crackdown got its pick this year, with the arrests of 26 activists and convictions of 39 human rights defenders and democracy campaigners with a total 294.5 years in prison and 66 years of probation.

More arrests are expected in coming months as the Cyber Security will become effective on January 1 next year. The law, passed by the communist-dominated National Assembly on June 12 this year, is considered as an effective tool of the communist government to silence online criticism.

===== October 19 =====

Corporate Security Guards Attack Indigenous Protesters in Rural Vietnam-Amnesty International

RFA: Security guards employed by Indian-owned RK Viet Nam on September 27 attacked a group of protesters at the company’s marble quarry in Lam Thuong commune, Yen Bai province, according to a statement by Amnesty International.

During the fracas, in which the guards used guns, batons and electric cattle prods, 11 of the several hundred protesters were injured, the statement said.

The protesters were mainly of the Tay indigenous community living in the villages near the quarry. They had gathered that day to protest pollution related to the operation of the quarry, which they say has poisoned their only source of clean water and killed large numbers of fish and poultry, the report said.

In addition, the mountain on which the quarry is situated is considered a spiritual guardian of the local communities by the Tay people.

Amnesty International said video and photo evidence taken by people on the scene during the attack was provided to them and local rights groups. One video shows that rapid-response police were there while the attack as going on, but did nothing to intervene.

The report also said that following the attack, local authorities ordered the company to temporarily cease operations to smooth things over with the community. Local activists told the NGO that police came to their homes and demanded they delete social media posts about the event.

On October 4 the local district president Bui Ban Thinh ordered that the police track down information about those who posted about the attack on Facebook.

Several people who were on the scene spoke to RFA’s Vietnamese service and confirmed the veracity of these reports about the incident, but declined further comment, fearing reprisals.

Amnesty International’s statement demanded that Vietnamese authorities “immediately order a thorough investigation.”

They also urged the authorities to look into the concerns of the protesters by assessing the environmental and human rights impacts of the quarry, and possibly compensating those affected.