Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for September 30-October 6, 2019: Vietnam Holds 234 Prisoners of Conscience

Defend the Defenders | October 6, 2019


Vietnam’s communist regime is holding at least 234 prisoners of conscience as of September 30, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. The number includes 206 who have been convicted – typically of political crimes such as subversion, “propaganda against the state,” “abusing democratic freedom” and “undermining the national unity” –  and 28 others held in pre-trial detention. The list does not count Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and Vietnamese Australian Chau Van Kham, who are accused of conducting “attempts to overthrow the government” under Article 109 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code. Many of them, including eight members of the Hien Phap (Constitution) group have been held for more than one year in pre-trial detention without being brought to a court.

With exception of convicted female Huynh Thuc Vy who is being under house arrest thanks to her maternity, 233 prisoners of conscience are held in severe living conditions with constant physical and mental torture. Tens of jailed activists have conducted lengthy hunger strike to protest inhumane treatment in prisons and detention facilities acorss the nation.

Prisoner of conscience Doan Dinh Nam, who was serving his 16-year imprisonment in Xuyen Moc Prison camp in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, died on October 5 after years of suffering from kidney failure. His family wants to take his body to burn in his village but the prison’s authorities denied, insisting to carry out his cremation immediately.

Mr. Nam, 68, was arrested in 2012 together with 21 other followers of An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist sect on allegation of subversion in a trumped-up case in which the communist regime wants to persecute the sect and grab its properties in Bia Da tourism resort. In 2013, 21 of them were convicted and sentenced to between ten and 17 years in prison and five years of probation while leader Phan Van Thu was given life imprisonment. Currently, Mr. Thu is suffering from diabetes in the final phase in An Phuoc Prison camp in Binh Duong province.

His case, and other cases raise questions about the treatment of prisoners of conscience in prison camps and detention facilities across the nation. It is likely prisoners of conscience have been kept under severe living conditions without proper medical treatment so they often suffer from severe diseases.

While protesting China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), Vietnam’s communist regime has applied all measures to prevent spontaneous public demonstrations against Beijing or halt activities in which involve the local dissent.

On October 1, authorities in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other locations sent plainclothes agents and militia to private residences of local activists to place them in de facto under house arrest in a bid to prevent them from gathering to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of China’s independence.

Five days later, during a workshop in the capital city of Hanoi on the East Sea open for the public, officers from the Ministry of Public Security detained three independent journalists, taking them to a police station for interrogation for hours and confiscating their professional equipment before releasing them.

On October 2, Reporters Without Borders issued a statement calling on the Vietnamese authorities to investigate the assault against anti-corrupted reporters Kieu Dinh Lieu, who was brutally beaten by three thugs after he informed authorities about trucks full of illegal timber. Due to the attack, he fell unconscious and suffered from severe injuries in his head and body.

===== October 1 =====

Hundreds of Government Critics Held under House Arrest When China Marks 70th Anniversary of Independence

Defend the Defenders: On October 1, security forces in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other localities placed hundreds of local dissidents under de facto house arrest on the day when Beijing marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Activists said local authorities sent plainclothes agents and militia to follow them in late September and station near their private residencies from the early morning of Tuesday until late afternoon in a bid to prevent them from gathering to protest China’s violations of the country in the East Sea (South China Sea).

University lecturer Dao Thu said that there were three police officers in plainclothes stationed near her house in Thuy Khue street in Hanoi in the early morning of October 1. When she tried to go to work at Hanoi University, they stopped her, saying they were ordered by their supervisors not to permit her to go out all day.

Veteran primary school teacher Tran Thi Thao, veteran army officer Phan Khang and novelist Nguyen Nguyen Binh, a daughter of retired Major General Nguyen Trong Vinh as well as numerous others in Hanoi reported that plainclothes agents and militia stationed not too far from their residences.

Activists in HCM City said they were also barred from going out during the day.

Meanwhile, authorities in Hanoi, HCM City, and Danang City also deployed large numbers of police officers in uniform and plainclothes as well as militia to station on streets near the Chinese Embassy in the capital city and the Chinese General Consulates in HCM City and Danang City to protect them.

University lecturer Dao Thu also said that householders in many residential areas were forced to hang the national flags from September 30 without explanation.

In late September, the national television VTV used the Chinese national flag with six stars to present Vietnam in reporting an international sports event with the participation of Vietnam’s national football team.

International media reported that on September 30, China sent its research ship and armed vessels back to Vanguard Bank which is within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the East Sea. Vietnam’s communist regime has yet to respond to the new development.

===== October 2 =====

RSF Calls on Vietnam to Investigate Brutal Attack against Anti-corruption Reporter

Defend the Defenders: On October 2, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement calling on the Vietnamese authorities to launch an investigation to identify and punish the attackers and their supervisors involving in the brutal attack against anti-corruption reporter Kieu Dinh Lieu.

According to Vietnam’s state media, Mr. Lieu, a reporter of the official legal affairs magazine Tap chi Luat su Vietnam (Vietnamese Lawyers’Journal), was assaulted in afternoon of September 26 in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai after he discovered a large hoard of illegally-felled precious woods in Son Duong district and informed the province’s Forest Ranger Department about the suspicious transfer of the good which was likely from illegal logging.

Three thugs reportedly came to a cafeteria in Pleiku city where Mr. Lieu was sitting. They stumped on him, beating him until he collapsed on the ground. The attackers requested other clients in the cafeteria to delete all images and videos they had taken from the assault before leaving the scene. The thugs also illegally broke his car to take away all videos and other materials. Due to the attack, he fell unconscious and suffered from cerebral hemorrhaging and concussion. He was hospitalized with severe conditions.

Lieu discovered a large hoard of illegally-felled precious woods near Pleiku, the capital of Gia Lai province, in Vietnam’s central highlands, on 26 September.

A reporter for the official legal affairs magazine Tapchi Luatsu Vietnam (“Vietnam Lawyers’ Gazette”), Kieu Dinh Lieu was hospitalized with cerebral hemorrhaging and concussion after being beaten unconscious by his three assailants.

Although working for a media outlet allied with Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Lieu has specialized in covering local corruption and, in recent weeks, had been covering illegal logging and trafficking in precious woods in Gia Lai.

“By courageously investigating corruption and illegal logging, Kieu Dinh Lieu acted in the Vietnamese public’s interest,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The beating he received is all the more shocking because Vietnamese journalists must constantly make concessions to state propaganda requirements. We urge the authorities to ensure that those responsible for this attack do not go unpunished.”

Vietnam has been languishing for years near the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2019 Index.

Origial statement of RSF: Vietnamese reporter beaten unconscious for investigating illegal logging

===== October 5 =====

Religious Activist Doan Dinh Nam Dies from Kidney Failure in Xuyen Moc Prison Camp

Defend the Defenders: Prisoners of conscience Doan Dinh Nam, a follower of the Buddhist sect An Dan Dai Dao, died from kidney failure on October 5 while serving his 16-year imprisonment in Xuyen Moc Prison camp in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau.

Mr. Nam, born in 1951, suffered from damaged kidneys six years ago, and earlier this year, his family asked Vietnam’s authorities to suspend his imprisonment so he can get proper treatment for his severe disease, however, the request was turned down.

Religious activist Bui Ngoc Dien, a daughter-in-law of sect leader Phan Van Thu, informed Defend the Defenders that Mr. Nam’s family requested the prison’s authorities to return his body so his relatives can conduct funeral ceremony for him and burn him in his native village in the central province of Phu Yen but the prison’s authorities denied, insisting to cremate his corp immediately in a cremation facility of Vung Tau city’s General Hospital.

Mr. Nam was arrested on February 6, 2012, together with 21 other followers of An Dan Dai Dao, including its leader Phan Van Thu for an allegation of “attempting to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. In 2013, they were sentenced to between ten and 17 years in prison while the sect leader was given a life sentence.

Their case was among numerous trumped-up cases as Vietnam’s authorities want to suppress their sect while robbing their properties. Before being persecuted, An Dan Dai Dao ran an eco-tourist company at the Da Bia Tourist Resort in Phu Yen province. They signed a contract with the local authorities to engage in protecting the forest and environment. The group believed in the prophecies of Nguyen Binh Khiem, an oracle from the 16th century or Vietnamese equivalent of Nostradamus, and dreamed of building a new “Utopia” in which science, nature, and humankind would be harmoniously balanced. They organized conferences and produced leaflets to disseminate their beliefs.

According to reports in the state-run media, the group, founded in 1969, had several hundred members and sections in several central and southern provinces.

After imprisoning 22 key followers of the sect, Vietnam’s authorities confiscated their properties, including the resort.

===== October 6 =====

Police Detain Three Independent Journalists, Confiscating Their Equipment during Workshop on East Sea in Hanoi 

Defend the Defenders: On October 6, police officers from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security detained three independent journalists named Le Dung Vova, Anton Tuan and Cat Linh during a workshop on the East Sea (South China Sea) in Hanoi.

According to independent journalist Le Trong Hung from the unsanctioned media CHTV in which the three detainees are also members, police officers from the ministry’s Security Investigation Agency took the trio to its office in Nguyen Gia Thieu street at lunchtime for interrogation.

In the police station, police officers questioned the trio separately about their media activities for hours and requested them to deleted all materials they had collected from the workshop. They confiscated eight cell phones, two cameras, and other equipment as well as documents from them before releasing them at 7 PM.

The workshop, held by the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research of the Hanoi National University in Cong Doan hotel in the capital city and open for the public, was about the Vanguard Bank and the East Sea. China has been sending Haiyang Dizhi 8 survey ship escorted by dozens of armed vessels to waters near the Vanguard Bank which is within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone since early July this year. Vietnam has protested the Chinese aggressive moves, saying they violated its sovereignty in the resource-rich sea which is also very important for world navigation, with commercial goods worth $5.3 trillion are passed every year.

Vietnam’s communist regime has tightly controlled the local media and the country has been listed at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders in years. Dozens of independent journalists and anti-corrupted reporters have been imprisoned or beaten for their brave articles.