Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly Report for December 17-31, 2018: Appeal of Nguyen Trung Truc Rejected while Huynh Truong Ca Was Sentenced to 66 Months for Allegation of Conducting Anti-state Propaganda

Defend the Defenders | December 31, 2018

On December 26, the Higher People’s Court in Danang rejected the appeal of former Spokesman Nguyen Trung Truc of the unregistered Brotherhood for Democracy, upholding the sentence of 12 years in prison and five years under house arrest.

Mr. Truc, arrested in 2017, was convicted by the People’s Court of Quang Binh on September 12 on allegation of “carrying out activities aimed to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code for his efforts to promote human rights and multi-party democracy as well as assist Formosa-affected fishermen in demanding proper compensation from the Taiwanese firm.

Two days later, the People’s Court in the southern province of Dong Thap convicted local activist Huynh Truong Ca on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code. Mr. Ca, a member of the unregistered group Hien Phap, was arrested on September 4 this year for his peaceful activities aming to promote civil, political and human rights in Vietnam.

Authorities in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong were carrying out a number of violent acts against Hanoi-based blogger Phan Van Bach and his local friends when he visited the province. On December 17, plainclothes agents attacked Pham The Luc who hosted the blogger in his private house, and four days later, they assaulted Bach and local land petitioner Dang Mai Yen, causing serious injuries to three activists. Finally, police requested Bach to go back to Hanoi.

And other important news

===== December 17 =====

Appeal Hearing of BFD’s Spokesman Convicted of Subversion Set on December 26

Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Danang has decided to conduct the appeal hearing of Nguyen Trung Truc, the spokesman of the banned group Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD) on allegation of subversion on December 26, Defend the Defenders has learned.

According to the court’s decision dated on December 11, the appeal hearing will be open for public at the headquarters of the court..

Mr. Truc, 44, was arrested on August 4, 2017 and charged with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

He had been kept incommunicado since being detained until August 2018 when he was permitted to meet with his lawyer to prepare for his defense.

On September 12, the People’s Court of the central province of Quang Binh convicted Truc, sentencing him to 12 years in prison and five years of probation afterward.

The trial lasted just three hours and only his son Nguyen Minh Tam was allowed to attend the hearing, according to his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng. Some foreign diplomatic missions were reportedly denied to sending their representatives to observe it.

One day ahead of the trial, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling the Vietnamese authorities to drop all charges against him and release him immediately.

“Nguyen Trung Truc is yet another victim of the Vietnamese government’s campaign against people who advocate human rights and democracy,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The country is now becoming a giant prison for anyone who speaks up against the government or acts to advance basic rights.”

Few hours after the trial, the US Embassy in Vietnam released a statement saying it is “deeply concerned that a Vietnamese court has convicted Nguyen Trung Truc to 12 years in prison and 5 years’ probation under vague charges of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration.”

The trend of increased arrests and harsh sentences for peaceful activists in Vietnam is troubling, said the Embassy in its statement. The US calls on Vietnam to 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, and 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.

Truc has been active in promoting human rights and multi-party democracy in Vietnam, as well as assisting fishermen who have been affected by the environmental disaster in the central coastal region as a result of the discharge of a huge amount of toxic industrial waste by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant located in the central province of Ha Tinh in May 2016.

He had been harassed by Vietnam’s security forces, including being kidnapped and beaten in 2016 when plainclothes agents abducted him and seven others, bringing them to remote areas in Ha Tinh province where they robbed and tortured them before leaving them in a forest area.

Truc is the 8th member of the Brotherhood for Democracy to be arrested and charged with serious crimes under national security provisions in the Penal Code.Others include prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, engineer Pham Van Troi, veteran journalist and labor activist Truong Minh Duc, English teacher Le Thu Ha, anti-corruption campaigner Nguyen Van Tuc, humanitarian aid Tran Thi Xuan. All of them were convicted on allegation of subversion and sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison in April-May. In addition, Vietnam also arrested former teacher and prisoner of conscience Vu Van Hung, who is also a member of the group, and sentenced him to one year in prison in a politically trumped-up case.

The Brotherhood for Democracy is one of the main targets of the ongoing crackdown of the Vietnamese government on local dissent.

Expressing no tolerance with government’s critics, the Vietnamese communist government has arrested 26 activists so far this year, and convicted 39 human rights defenders, giving them a combined 294.5years and 66 years of probation. The highest sentence of 20 years in prison and five years of probation was given to human rights advocate and democracy activist Le Dinh Luong in the trial against him in August.

In addition, Vietnam has imprisoned 66 peaceful protestors who participated in the mass demonstration in mid-June, with imprisonment of between eight months and 54months. Eight others were given probation.


Thugs Attack Activists while Police Conduct Administrative Checking, Slashing Host’s Head

Defend the Defenders: Thugs attacked activists Pham The Luc and Phan Van Bach while police from Lam Dong province were conducting administrative checking in the former’s house in mid-night of December 17, slashing the house owner on his head.

Mr. Bach, a blogger from Hanoi who is visiting his friend Luc and witnessed the assault, said a group of three police officers knocked the door of Mr. Luc’s house at 10 PM of Monday to request for administrative checking.

While police were working with the house owner about the guest, several unidentified men entered the house, turned off all lamps and attacked the house owner and his guest. Luc tried to prevent the attackers to protect his guest so he was beaten by them. They likely used a knife to assault him, slashing on his head.

Police officers, led by lieutenant Le Viet Dung, did nothing to prevent the assault. When Luc screamed for help, police and the attackers run out of his house.

Despite blooding on his head, Luc remained in his house and got emergency from Bach because they afraid that they would be beaten if they go out.

Bach believes that he was the main target of the assault, however, he escaped of being beaten. In the morning of next day, he left Luc’s house by crossing a forest for several kilometers. Plainclothes agents were reportedly waiting for him on the main roads

Both Bach and Luc are activists and dissident bloggers posting numerous live streams and articles on their Facebook accounts to criticize the government policies and failure to deal with the country’s serious issues, including systemic corruption and widespread environmental pollution.

The attack against Mr. Luc is one of series of assaults against activists in recent weeks. In the most recent case, on December 9, thugs in Dong Nai used stones and bricks to attack a car in which travelled four activist Tran Ngoc Anh, Huynh Tan Tuyen, Nguyen Thanh Hai and Vo Van Trai, causing severe injuries to Mr. Trai and Ms. Anh. The activists planned to go to visit families of jailed mid-June protestors in Dong Nai, but they were forced to go back to their province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau to avoid being killed by the aggressive perpetrators.

In order to avoid being criticized internationally, Vietnam’s authorities have been using thugs and plainclothes agents to attack activists. They caused severe injuries to many of their victims including Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Trung Truc, and Tran Thi Nga who were later sentenced to lengthy imprisonment for their human rights and democracy advocacy.

===== December 21 =====

EU Diplomats Meet with Vietnam’s Government on Cyber Security Law

On December 21, EU Ambassador Bruno Angelet together with Ambassadors and Charge d’ Affaires of EU Member States to Vietnam met Minister and Chairman of the Office of the Government Mai Tien Dung to discuss the new Cyber Security law and its draft implementing Decree presently under public consultation.

During the meeting, the EU’s diplomats shared their concerns regarding specific issues of the legislation that would impact on Trade and Investment between the EU and Vietnam, on the compatibility of Vietnam’s legislation with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), on the respect by Vietnam of fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, and on Vietnam’s international integration strategy.

The EU and its Member States remain committed to supporting Vietnam’s international integration strategy, its economic development and security of its cyber infrastructure, said the diplomats.

The EU continues to support Vietnam joining and complying with the most advanced international treaties and conventions regarding cyber security (Budapest Convention), the diplomats pledged.

We stand ready to support Vietnam’s access to the most advanced international and multilateral programs for cyber-capacity building, thereby strengthening international rule of law, international commitments in the field of trade and fundamental freedoms, and promoting international best practices.


Blogger Phan Van Bach, Land Petitioner Dang Mai Yen beaten by plainclothes in Lam Dong

In the morning of December 21, planclothes agents in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong brutally beat Hanoi-based blogger Phan Van Bach and local petitioner Dang Mai Yen when they were in a cafeteria near the latter’s private residence in Duc Trong district.

Due to their attacks, Mr. Bach received a number of injuries on his head and body while Ms. Yen was with severe injuries on her legs.

The two went to a police station to report and request for investigation, however, the local police did nothing.

The assault was made four days after plainclothes agents attacked local activist Pham The Luc in his private house in which Mr. Bach spent overnight.

===== December 23 =====

Security Forces in Lam Dong Province Force Blogger Phan Van Back to Go Back to Hanoi

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong have forced Hanoi-based blogger Phan Van Back to go back to the capital city after using plainclothes agents to attack him in two occasions, the activist informed Defend the Defenders.

Bach, a member of the Viet Reviving Campaign, said that police in Lam Dong requested him to take a flight from Lien Khuong Airport in Da Lat city to go back to Hanoi on the late afternoon of December 23.

Bach, who is an activist working to promote human rights and freedom of information, is visiting activists in Lam Dong. However, his presence in the province is unwelcomed by the local authorities who try to harass him and his hosts.

On December 21, plainclothes agents attacked him and land petitioner Ms. Dang Mai Yen when they were at a coffee shop near the latter’s private residence in Duc Trong district, beating him and causing severe injuries for Ms. Yen.

In the mid night of December 17, when Bach was visiting local activist Pham The Luc, local police came to check his documentation and request for registration. During the police administrative checking, plainclothes agents stumped in Luc’s private residence, using tools to attack him and cause severe injury in his head. The main target of the assault was believed to be the activist coming from Hanoi.

Like security force in other localities, security forces in Lam Dong often use violence to silence local activists and their guests. The victims of their assaults include democracy activists Le Dinh Luong, Tran Thi Nga, Do Thi Minh Hanh and Truong Anh Kim.

===== December 25 =====

Dong Thap to Try Activist Huynh Truong Ca on December 28

The People’s Court of Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Thap will hold a trial on December 28 to try local activist Huynh Truong Ca on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

Mr. Ca, 47, is a member of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution) which is advocating human rights, political and civil rights by disseminating the country’s 2013 Constitution and international treaties in which Vietnam is a signatory party.

He and other members of Hien Phap were key figures of the peaceful demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10 in which tens of thousands of people from different social groups rallied on streets to protest Vietnamese communist-controlled parliament’s plan to approve two bills Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. The first one is considered to ignore the country’s sovereignty and favour Chinese investors while the second is expected to silence local dissent.

Mr. Ca was arrested on September 4 and held incommunicado since his detention.

His arrest is part of Vietnam’s crackdown on local dissent in early September amid calls for mass demonstration on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day (September 2). Police arrested dozens of activists, including nine members of Hien Phap group.

Ca is facing imprisonment of up to 12 years in prison if is convicted.

Vietnam continues its persecution against human rights defenders, political acitivsts, online bloggers. Since the begining of this year, Vietnam has arrested 26 activists and convicted 39 activists, sentencing them to between one year and 20 years in prison with a total 294.5 years in prison and 66 years of probation.

In addition, Vietnam has imprisoned around 70 peaceful protesters on allegation of “causing public disorders.”

According to Now!Campaign, a coalition of 14 international human rights organizations and domestic rights groups, Vietnam is holding 240 prisoners of conscience.

===== December 26 =====

Vietnam Court Upholds Lengthy Sentence of BFD Spokesman Nguyen Trung Truc

On December 26, the Higher People’s Court in Danang rejected the appeal of democracy activist Nguyen Trung Truc, upholding his sentence of 12 years in prison and five years of probation given by a lower court three months ago.

In the so-called open appeal hearing which lasted several hours in the court’s headquarters in the central city of Danang, relatives of the defendant were not permitted to observe the hearing from inside of the courtroom but stayed away from the room, said his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng.

Although the lawyer proved that his client is innocent and requested for his immediate and unconditional release, the court decided to make no change of the decision made by the People’s Court of Quang Binh in the first-instance hearing on September 12.

Mr. Truc, 44, was arrested on August 4, 2017 and charged with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code for his activities which aim to promote human rights and multi-party democracy as well as his efforts to support victims of the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in Vietnam’s central coastal region in 2016.

Before being arrested, Truc had been harassed by Vietnam’s security forces, including being kidnapped and beaten in 2016 when plainclothes agents abducted him and seven others, bringing them to remote areas in Ha Tinh province where they robbed and tortured them before leaving them in a forest area.

Truc, the spokesman of the Brotherhood for Democracy and the representative of the organization in the central region, is the 8th member of the group to be arrested and charged with serious crimes under national security provisions in the Penal Code. Others include prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, engineer Pham Van Troi, veteran journalist and labor activist Truong Minh Duc, English teacher Le Thu Ha, anti-corruption campaigner Nguyen Van Tuc, and humanitarian aid Tran Thi Xuan. All of them were convicted on allegation of subversion and sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison in April-June this year.

The Brotherhood for Democracy is one of the main targets of the ongoing crackdown of the Vietnamese government on local dissent.

Expressing no tolerance with government’s critics, the Vietnamese communist government has arrested 26 activists so far this year, and convicted 39 human rights defenders, giving them a combined 294.5years and 66 years of probation. The highest sentence of 20 years in prison and five years of probation was given to human rights advocate and democracy activist Le Dinh Luong in the trial against him in August.

In addition, Vietnam has imprisoned 58 peaceful protestors who participated in the mass demonstration in mid-June, with imprisonment of between eight months and 54months. Eight others were given probation.

===== December 28 =====

Activist Huynh Truong Ca Sentenced to 66 Months in Prison for Conducting Anti-state Propaganda

Defend the Defenders: On December 28, the People’s Court of Dong Thap found local activist Huynh Truong Ca 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 country’s 2015 Penal Code.

After several working hours of Friday, the court sentenced Mr. Ca to five years and six months in prison, and three years under house arrest. Unlike other political trials, his relatives were allowed to observe the hearing inside the courtroom.

His daughter told Defend the Defenders that Mr. Ca defensed himself in the hearing and the judge often stopped him, not allowing him to explain and reject the accusation.

Mr. Ca, 47, is a member of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution) which works to promote human rights, civil and political rights among citizens by disseminating the country’s 2013 Constitution as well as international human rights treaties in which Vietnam is a signatory party.

He and other members were key figures of the mass demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10 which aimed to protest the Vietnamese communist regime to approve two bills Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security, the first one is considered to ignore the country’s sovereignty to favor Chinese investors while the second aims to silence online government critics.

He was arrested on September 4 when Vietnam’s security forces intensified suppression to prevent public demonstration on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day (September 2). Police reportedly arrested and kidnapped dozens of activists, including ten members of the Hien Phap. Eight members of the group are still in police custody, four of them were charged with “disrupting security” under Article 118, one alleged of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Penal Code and three other are without official charges.

The arrest and conviction of Mr. Ca is part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent amid rising social disatisfaction. In 2018, Vietnam arrested at least 26 activists and charged them with different allegations in the national security provisions of the Penal Code.

During 2018, the communist regime convicted 40 activists with a total 300 years in prison and 69 years of probation. In addition, Hanoi arrested hundreds of demonstrators in mid-June, convicting around 90 of them on allegation of “causing public disorders” and sentencing them to between eight months and 54 months in prison.

Vietnam is holding at least 244 prisoners of conscience, according to Now!Campaign, a coalition of 14 international and domestic human rights organizations such as BPSOS, Defend the Defenders, Civil Rights Defenders, and Front Line Defenders.

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