Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for October 7-13, 2019: Trial against Pro-democracy Activist Nguyen Nang Tinh Scheduled on October 17


Defend the Defenders | October 13, 2019

Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have suddenly announced that the province’s People’s Court will hold the first-instance hearing against local pro-democracy campaigner Nguyen Nang Tinh on October 17 in its headquarters in Vinh City. The activist was arrested on May 29 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code, with imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if is convicted.

One week before the planned trial, Tinh’s lawyers find hard to obtain documents of the case. The province’s police have not allowed the lawyers to make copies of the document so the attorney had requested postponing the trial, however, their request was rejected.

Police in the central province of Khanh Hoa have completed the investigation against Hanoi-based human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai and his wife Ngo Tuyet Phuong, proposing the province’s People’s Procuracy to prosecute the couple and two local residents on allegation of tax evasion in a trumped-up case of property deal in 2014. Hai may face imprisonment of up two years in prison if is convicted.

Police in Ba Don town, Quang Binh province arrested local activist Nguyen Van Thanh on October 10 and later announced that he will be investigated for an allegation of “rape a person under 16 years old.” It is likely Thanh, 29 years old, fell into police’s trap as the local police are striving to silence his pro-democracy activist.

Prisoners of conscience Nguyen Ngoc Anh and Huynh Truong Ca are under persecution while serving their sentences in prison. While Mr. Anh was brutally beaten by an inmate backed by police, Ca is denied of proper medical treatment for his severe diseases which are result of inhumane treatment in prison.

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to immediately and unconditionally release pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong, who use his Facebook to criticize the government on various issues, including human rights abuse and weak response to China’s violations of the country in the East Sea (South China Sea). The call was made two weeks after he was arrested and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

Relatives of five members of the unsanctioned group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) are planning to appeal the decision of Ho Chi Minh City’s Police Department to arrest them in early September last year and hold them in custody for more than 13 months to investigate on the allegation of “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the Criminal Code. The activists have not been allowed to meet with their lawyers since their detention.

===== October 7 =====

Human Rights Lawyer Tran Vu Hai and His Wife Face Prosecution

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s state media has reported that the Khanh Hoa province’s Police Department has proposed the province’s People’s Procuracy to prosecute human rights attorney Tran Vu Hai and his wife Ngo Tuyet Phuong and two local citizens of tax evasion under Article 161 of the 1999 Penal Code.

The Police Department reportedly completed the investigation against the four individuals in a property deal in which they allegedly committed tax evasion worth VND276 million ($11,700), and the investigation results had been transferred to the province’s People’s Procuracy for consideration.

Accordingly, in 2014, Mr. Hai and his wife bought a land parcel from Khanh Hoa province-based citizens Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Ngo Van Lam. The deal value was about VND16 billion but they reported to the local authorities just VND1.8 billion, by that way the sellers paid less tax for the deal.

Authorities in the central coastal province probbed the case in early July and placed the four under restricted travel, including travel abroad. In addition, Khanh Hoa police also conducted searching Mr. Hai’s law office and private residence in Hanoi, in which they allegedly took away a large sum of money and documents from other cases.

The four are facing administrative fines of between VND276 million and VND1.38 billion and or non-custodial reform for up to two years if are convicted.

After being probbed, Hai and his wife hired four lawyers named Bui Quang Nghiem, Trinh Vinh Phuc, Ha Huy Son and Ngo Anh Tuan to represent them.

It seems that the probe is political as recently the Ministry of Public Security denied Mr. Hai’s request for representing former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat who is accused of “power abuse” after being kidnapped in Bangkok and taken to Vietnam in late January.

Lawyer Hai is well-known for his willingness to represent victims of injustice, victims of forced land appropriation and politically sensitive cases.

===== October 8 =====

HRW Calls on Vietnam to Release Pro-democracy Activist Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong

Defend the Defenders: On October 8, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to immediately and unconditionally release pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong (Facebooker Vượng Nguyễn), who was arrested on September 23 on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Criminal Code.

“The government thought to silence Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong by detaining him for expressing his opinions on Facebook,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch in the press release. “But this has only focused more attention on his views, and the government’s repressive efforts to censor online material.”

HRW said Vuong’s Facebook postings reflects a wide range of independent views that the Vietnam Communist Party and government might find objectionable. None, however, involve incitement to crime, violence, hate speech, or other content that can be subject to any criminal charge consistent with the right to freedom of expression, which Vietnam pledged to respect by joining the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Vuong has expressed views supporting democracy in Vietnam and criticized the Communist Party of Vietnam for corruption and monopolizing power, said the rights group.

HRW said his arrest is a part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on government critics and pro-democracy campaigners. During the first nine months of 2019, the Vietnamese authorities convicted at least 11 people, including Nguyen Ngoc Anh, Vu Thi Dung, and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong, and sentenced them to between two and nine years in prison for criticizing the government, HRW noted, adding others arrested for Facebook posts and shares include Nguyen Nang Tinh, a rights activist in May and Pham Van Diep, a critic of the government, in June.

Original statement of HRW: Vietnam: New Arrest for Facebook Postings

===== October 9 =====

Trial against Pro-democracy Activist Nguyen Nang Tinh Scheduled on October 17

 Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have set to hold the first-instance hearing on October 17 to try local pro-democracy activist Nguyen Nang Tinh on allegation of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Clause 1, Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned from his family.

The trial will be conducted by the People’s Court of Nghe An in its headquarters in Vinh City, his family confirmed.

Speaking to Defend the Defenders, his wife and university lecturer Nguyen Thi Tinh said she received this information from his attorney Dang Dinh Manh few days ago. The 43-year-old activist faces imprisonment of between seven to 12 years if is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Mr. Tinh was arrested by Nghe An province’s security forces on May 29 who later charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Authorities in Nghe An said Mr. Tinh has used his Facebook account Nguyễn Năng Tĩnh to post and share articles and videos as well as images with content defaming state leaders and distort the ruling communist party’s policies.

Activists said Mr. Tinh is very active in promoting human rights and multi-party democracy, and speak out about the country’s issues such as systemic corruption, human rights abuse, widespread environmental pollution and China’s violations to Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the weak response of the communist government in Hanoi.

There are some videoclips on Youtube in which Mr. Tinh tough students to sing a number of patriotic songs composed by dissidents in which the government is criticized for suppressing anti-China activists.

Vietnam continues its political crackdown on local dissent, arresting more than two dozens of human rights defenders, bloggers and social activists so far this year with different allegations, from “disturbing public orders” to subversion. Hanoi has also convicted 23 activists in trumped-up allegations with a total 106.5 years in prison and 20 years of probation.

The communist regime is holding at least 233 prisoners of conscience as of  October 5, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.


Jailed Pro-democracy Activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh Beaten in Detention While Waiting for Appeal

Defend the Defenders: Jailed pro-democracy activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh, who is waiting for his appeal after being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” earlier this year, has been beaten by a criminal inmate who was likely acting on behalf of the authorities of Ben Tre province, Defend the Defenders has learned from his wife.

Mrs. Chau, who visited her husband on October 11 in a temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ben Tre province’s Police Department, told Defend the Defenders that due to the assault, Mr. Anh suffered serious injuries in his right leg, left arm and head, and he feels difficulty in moving.

A few days after being beaten, when he was still in great pain, he was moved to an isolated cell where he has no support from other prisoners but serves himself.

The suppression started in mid-September when he was sharing a room with two criminals. One of them, Do Cao Cuong from Hanoi, was reportedly threatening all week to kill him. Anh had reported to the prison’s authorities but received no response.

On Friday (probably September 20), Cuong was said to attack Anh, kicking him and beat him. Anh collapsed and suffered great pain in his head while Cuong continued to beat him despite the effort of the second inmate who tried to protect the victim. Anh told his wife that Cuong would kill him if the second inmates did not try hard to prevent it.

Once again, the prison’s authorities remained silent. A few days later, they moved Anh to another cell where Anh stays alone. By placing him to the new cells, Anh would not be troubled further by violent inmates but he also has no support as he needs while still suffering from the injuries caused by Cuong.

After that, a senior officer from the detention facility came and requested Anh to accept the punishment he received from the first-instance hearing.

Anh, who was arrested on August 30 last year and sentenced to six years in prison and five years of probation in late April this year, is under continuous physical and mental torture of several inmates with whom police officers likely have promised to grant amnesty or reduce their sentences for their dirty works.

The prison’s authorities are trying to isolate Anh, not allowing other inmates to contact with him. Police officers confiscated his items and still hold them although he has filled petitions demanding them to return. There is serious maltreatment against other jailed individuals, including constant interrogation. One taken to the facility on August 19 committed suicide after being continuously questioned for several days while another was beaten so badly that he hardly eats and the physical and mental torture against them were acts of revenge for their sympathy to Anh or contact with him.

Mr. Anh, a 39-year-old shrimp grower in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre, was convicted for his posts on his Facebook account Nguyễn Ngọc Ánh in which he speaks out about human rights violations, systemic environmental pollution, bad economic management of Vietnam’s communist government, China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and Vietnam’s weak response.

He is listed as one of 128 prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International and a political prisoner by Human Rights Watch.

Due to the inhumane treatment of Ben Tre province’s police, he is suffering from a number of diseases, including sinusitis and bone soreness. Police ignored his request for medical treatment and not allowed his wife to send medicines for him.

===== October 11 =====

Pro-democracy Activist Nguyen Van Thanh Detained, May Be Charged with Raping in Unclear Circumstance

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Binh have kidnapped local pro-democracy activist and tried to charge him with “rape of a person under 16 years old” under Article 142 of the country’s 2015 Criminal Code in a case that many dissidents consider as a trumped-up allegation in a bid to silence him.

Businessman Thanh, 29, was reported missing in the afternoon of October 10 after he informed his family that he went outside to meet with a client for his house repair business. His family couldn’t contact him from early evening of the same day, fearing he may get trouble. One day later, the police in Ba Don town announced that they arrested him and publicized the arrest warrant on allegation of raping dated October 11.

It is likely Thanh will be held for months and no wonder if authorities in Quang Binh will change their charge against him into one of the allegations in the National Security provisions in the Criminal Code, like in other trumped-up cases in the past such as with political dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu and environmentalist Nguyen Nam Phong.

Thanh is a member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy which is suffering seriously from Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on the local dissent with ten members being imprisoned for their peaceful activities.

In recent years, Thanh has reportedly worked against local corruption and high unofficial fees imposed by local schools. He has also voiced against the Taiwan-invested Formosa Steel Plant which discharged its industrial waste into the sea and caused the environmental disaster in Vietnam’s central coast in 2016 with hundreds of tons of fisheries died along the 200-kilometer line.

Due to his peaceful activities, he has been harassed by the local authorities who try to block his economic activities. He was detained several times for questioning.

Vietnam is intensifying its crackdown on the local dissent, arresting two dozens of activists so far this year. The communist regime has also convicted 23 bloggers, Facebookers and anti-corruption activists for their peaceful activities to a total 106.5 years in prison and 20 years of probation. A number of activists are held in pre-trial detention.

===== October 12 =====

Jailed Pro-democracy Activist Huynh Truong Ca on Hunger Strike to Demand for Proper Medical Treatment 

Defend the Defenders: Pro-democracy activist Huynh Truong Ca, who is serving his 5.5-year imprisonment in Xuan Loc Prison camp in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai, is carrying out a hunger strike from October 4 to demand for proper medical treatment for his serious diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol level in blood and lymph nodes.

According to his daughter who met him during a monthly visit to the prison on October 12, he and some other fellows started fasting after the prison’s authorities denied his request for medical check-up and treatment for his diseases.

Mr. Ca, a 48-year-old member of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution) which aims to educate the public about the human rights they are entitled to under Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution, was arrested in early September 2018 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code. In late 2018, he was convicted and sentenced to five years and six months in prison and four years of probation.

During his detention in the temporary detention facility under the authority of the Dong Thap province’s Police Department, he was tortured as he was locked up in a dark cell with prisoners on criminal offences. These prisoners, backed by the police, abuse him as they continuously beat him. He was not given enough food, at times he was left hungry. During weekends, he was only given plain rice soup.

These maltreatments happened when the police tried to force him to confess and implicate others after his arrest in Sept 2018, but he refused to do so.

His family had also been harassed and closely monitored by Dong Thap police who banned them from contacting or receiving support from others. Police in Dong Thap summoned his wife and daughter to a police station to interrogate them for hours. The police also told them they would be jailed if they continued to use Facebook to post information about him. They grabbed their cell phones to delete their information and requested the daughter not to make friends with others. The prison’s authorities also refused to accept the medicine his family sent in for him.

Mr. Ca is one of nine members of the Hien Phap group being arrested in early September last year due to their participation in the peaceful demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10 to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

Five of them named Ngo Van Dung, Doan Thi Hong, Hoang Thi Thu Vang, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Ho Dinh Cuong were charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 while Le Minh The, who was detained on October 10, 2018, was alleged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code. The remaining three named Do The Hoa, Tran Thanh Phuong and Hung Hung are also held without charge. All of them had been held incommunicado by the police of Ho Chi Minh City for many months until recent months.

According to the information Defend the Defenders has obtained, authorities in HCM City have no sufficient evidence to prosecute them so they continue to hold them in detention.

Several members of the group were forced to flee to Thailand to seek political asylum.

Vietnam is holding at least 233 prisoners of conscience under severe living conditions. Along with physical and mental torture, low-quality food and water, and small cells, prisoners of conscience have no access to proper medical treatment. Many of them are suffering new serious diseases while old diseases become more problematic without receiving drug supplies and being sent to specialized clinics for their health problems. In some cases, prisons’ authorities deny medicines supplied by prisoners’ families.

Dozens of prisoners of conscience have conducted long-lasting hunger strikes in recent months to protest inhumane treatment in prisons across the nation as they have no other choices although their moves are not supported internationally. It is likely prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Dien is fasting while serving his 8-year imprisonment in Ba Sao Prison camp.

===== October 13 =====

Relatives of Imprisoned Activists Try to Sue Ho Chi Minh City’s Police for Illegal Holding Them Over 13 Months

Defend the Defenders: A group of relatives of five activists members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) has planned to suit the Police Department of Ho Chi Minh City for illegal holding their husbands and wife, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The suit would be launched by Mrs. Huynh Thi Kim Nga- the wife of Mr. Ngo Van Dung, Ms. Doan Thi Khanh- the older sister of Ms. Doan Thi Hong, Mrs. Le Thi Khanh- the wife of Mr. Tran Thanh Phuong, Mrs. Do Thi Be- the wife of Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong, and Mr. Le Van Dinh- the husband of Mrs. Hoang Thi Thu Vang. Mr. Dung, Ms. Hong, Mr. Phuong, Mr. Cuong and Mrs. Vang were kidnapped by HCM City’s police in early September last year and have been held in the Temporary Detention facility located on Phan Dang Luu street since then.

Four of them were charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s 2015 Criminal Code while the charge(s) against Mr. Phuong remain(s) unclear. They face imprisonment of between seven and 15 years if are convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

The relatives said the police in HCM City kidnapped the five activists and took them to the detention facility without arrest warrants and timely announced their situations to their families, making their families seek for them for weeks before finding out that they were held by HCM City police.

The activists have been held incommunicado until August when the police permitted them to meet with their relatives for the first time. However, their requests for meeting with their lawyers were rejected as the police say the imprisoned activists are not allowed to meet with their lawyers during the investigation.

Some jailed activists told their families that investigation officers have pressured on them to requested them to accept the allegations, however, the activists turned down.

The detention time is another issue. Their families have received no documents for investigation period extension while they have been held for more than 13 months.

According to Vietnam’s Criminal Procedure Code, the time limit for investigation of a criminal case is three months and four months for extremely dangerous cases and would be extended four times as maximum.

Hiến Pháp is a group of activists that aims to educate the public about the human rights entitled in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution. Many of its members were key actors in the mass protest against two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in HCM City on June 10, 2018.

In early September last year, authorities in the city launched crackdown on the group, abducting its seven members. Three other members of the group fled to Thailand.

Two other members of the group, Mr. Le Van The was arrested on October 10, 2018 and sentenced to two years in prison for “abusing democratic freedom” while Mr. Huynh Truong Ca was sentenced to five years and six months after being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Their arrests and convictions are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent which started in late 2015 with the arrest of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha.