Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for November 18-24, 2019: Communist Regime Arrests Prominent Independent Journalist Pham Chi Dung, Accusing Him of “Conducting Anti-State Propaganda”

Defend the Defenders | November 24, 2019


Vietnam’s communist regime is intensifying its crackdown on local dissent, arresting Dr. Pham Chi Dung, president of the unregistered group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) with an allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

The arrest of Dr. Dung aims to attack independent journalists who bravely use their pens to address the most problematic issues of the country ignored by the state media. The persecution against him shows the serious government violation of the right to freedom of the press. Vietnam has long been near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s World Press Freedom Index and is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2019 Index.

Many international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and local civil societies including IJAVN and Defend the Defenders condemn Dr. Dung’s detention, calling on Vietnam’s authoritarian regime to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Two days before arresting Dr. Dung, authorities in Nghe An province also detained young Facebooker Phan Cong Hai, who was said to have posted numerous articles critical for the communist regime on his Facebook accounts. Hai was also charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” and faces imprisonment of between seven to 12 years in prison.

With the new two arrests, Vietnam has detained at least 30 human rights defenders, social activists, and Facebookers so far this year, mostly charged with controversial national security provisions of the Criminal Code. Currently, Vietnam is holding 238 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.

The People’s Court of Thanh Hoa will hold the first-instance hearing on November 26 to try local pro-democracy campaigner Pham Van Diep on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for his online postings. Diep was arrested on June 29 and held incommunicado since that time. It is unclear whether he has his own attorney or not. On November 20, HRW issued a press release urging the Vietnamese regime to drop all charges against him and free him immediately and unconditionally.

On the evening of November 20, security forces in Noi Bai International Airport blocked Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from taking a flight to Tokyo where he was invited to take part in a ceremony to welcome Pope Francis during his visit to Japan. Police officers told him that his blockage is based on national security concerns without explaining in detail. This is the second time Vietnam’s police barred him from going abroad in the last two years as a revenge for his active assistance given to Formosa-affected fishermen in the central coastal region.

===== November 20 =====

Catholic Priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc Blocked from Travel to Tokyo to Meet with Pope

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have barred Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from leaving the country to Japan where he would participate in welcoming Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) during the Vatican leader’s visit to Tokyo this week.

Speaking with Defend the Defenders, priest Thuc said security officers in Noi Bai International Airport blocked him from taking a flight from Hanoi to Tokyo at midnight on Wednesday [November 20]. Police officers said the blockage is based on the national security concerns under Decree 136 of the communist government.

Security officers in Noi Bai International Airport’s station also wrote in a working minute that the priest can appeal the police’s decision to the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Public Security.

Priest Thuc is from Song Ngoc parish in Vinh diocese. He has been assisting local Catholic followers in demanding the Taiwanese chemical giant Formosa to pay adequate compensation for the consequences caused by its toxic discharge into Vietnam’s central coastal region in 2016 which had devastating negative impacts on the local fishing industry and tourism.

He is among brave priests criticizing the Vietnamese communist regime’s human rights abuses.

He is among many Catholic priests being barred from going abroad for pastoral missions. Last year, Catholic priest Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong was also not permitted to leave to Australia where he was invited to take a lengthy course on religion.

Along with imprisoning and harassing local activists, Vietnam’s communist regime has also been blocking hundreds of local activists from going abroad for meeting with their international partners and doing international advocacy in the human rights field.


U.S. Embassy Hanoi Statement on Vietnam Labor Reform

On November 20, Vietnam adopted an amended Labor Code, representing an important step toward bringing its legal framework into greater alignment with international labor standards.

Vietnam’s National Assembly enacted historic legislation that allows for the formation of independent trade unions at the grassroots level. The law also improves collective bargaining rights, strengthens protections against discrimination at work, and enhances protections for younger workers. Importantly, the new law expands the Labor Code’s coverage from 15 to 56 million people by extending legal protections to workers without employment contracts.

Together, these new provisions demonstrate a significant commitment to advancing the protection of labor rights, and the United States Embassy commends the work of the government and the National Assembly for adopting these legal reforms.

As a longstanding partner with Vietnam on labor issues, the United States emphasizes the importance of solidifying reforms in the Labor Code, including through forthcoming regulations regarding the formation, registration, and functioning of independent trade unions, and the full protection of the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. The United States looks forward to future engagement with Vietnam on the Labor Code’s regulations and implementation of the reforms, and to continued partnership on labor rights. ( November 20, 2019)

===== November 21 =====

Vietnam Arrests Well-known Independent Journalist amid Increasing Crackdown on Local Bloggers

Defend the Defenders: On November 21, Vietnam’s security forces arrested well-known independent journalist Pham Chi Dung on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code for his writings criticizing the communist regime.

State media reported that security officers detained Dr. Dung from his private residence in Ho Chi Minh City. He will be held incommunicado in the next four months for investigation, and face imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if is convicted.

Citing police’s sources, state media reported that he has carried out anti-regime activities such as producing anti-state articles, cooperating with foreign media, providing interviews and articles with distorted information.

Mr. Dung obtained PhD degree in economics. He was arrested for the first time in 2014 when he was a security official of the party organization in HCM City. He was alleged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” and subversion but released without being tried after six months in police custody.

He is a political writer, with regular contributions for the Voice of America (VOA), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Radio Free Asia (RFA) under pennames of Viet Thang, Viet Le Quan, Thuong Son, and Pham Chi Dung.

In 2014, he and many other writers formed the unregistered Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) which strives to fight for freedom of the press in the Southeast Asian nation. Its members have been producing thousands of articles about the country’s problems which the state media tries not to cover.

Its website was closed immediately after his detention due to the government online attack, said an IJAVN’s representative.

Dr. Dung was listed among the world’s information heroes of Reporters Without Borders in 2014. Due to his critical writings, he has been harassed by security forces, including being barred from travel abroad once in 2014 and placed de facto under house arrest in many occasions since

The arrest of Dr. Dung is part of Vietnam’s ongoing intensified crackdown on the local dissent and independent bloggers. Security forces are also attacking the Liberal Publishing House and unsanctioned Cây Xanh (Green Trees) and persecuting their staffs in recent months. So far this year, the communist government has arrested 29 activists, including 19 bloggers for their online postings.

Vietnam is holding at least 238 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Last week, the communist regime convicted four political activists and human rights defenders with a total of 44 years in prison and 15 years of probation in the trials failed to meet international standards for a fair hearing.

===== November 22 =====

Vietnam to Try Pro-democracy Activist Pham Van Diep on Allegation of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” on November 26

Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Thanh Hoa province will hold the first-instance hearing on November 26 to try local pro-democracy activist and human rights defender Pham Van Diep on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.

Mr. Diep, 54, was arrested on June 29 by security officers of the province’s Police Department. He was said to use blogs and Facebook accounts to address human rights abuse in Vietnam.

He went to Russia in 1992 to study a bachelor’s degree there and stayed in the country until 2016. During that time, he had difficulties with Vietnam’s regime when he returned his home country as sometimes he was not permitted to enter the country.

In 2016, he tried to enter Vietnam from Laos and was arrested by the Lao security forces. Later, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison for “using the Lao territory to work against Vietnam.” He was released in March 2018 and returned to his parents’ house in Thanh Hoa province.

He participated in anti-China protests in Hanoi in 2011, and the demonstration in mid-2018 against two bills on cybersecurity and special economic zones.

On November 20, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s communist government to free Mr. Diep, saying Diep’s all activities in the past 17 years aim to voice his opinions about important Vietnam’s social and political issues and protest his persecution for speaking out. There is no good reason for Vietnam to treat him as a criminal, said HRW’s Asia Advocacy Director John Sifton.


RSF concerned by prominent dissident journalist’s arrest in Vietnam

RSF: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns yesterday’s arrest of Pham Chi Dung, an outspoken Vietnamese journalist and leading press freedom defender who for years has been trying to help create an open and informed civil society in Vietnam that is not controlled by its Communist Party.

Included on RSF’s list of “information heroes” five years ago, Dung was arrested at his Ho Chi Minh City home by police, who told him he was accused of “anti-state propaganda,” a catch-all term that is penalized by article 117 of Vietnam’s criminal code.

According to the prosecutor’s office, he will spend the next four months in detention “while the police investigate.” He is facing up to 12 years in prison.

“Pham Chi Dung’s arrest is the latest confirmation of the Vietnamese regime’s complete inability to tolerate any information that does not issue from its own propaganda apparatus,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“We demand this journalist’s immediate release. At a time when Vietnam wants to conclude trade deals with the European Union and defense agreements with the United States, we urge Brussels and Washington to freeze all progress for as long as Hanoi continues to display such contempt for press freedom.”

Expert on party’s inner workings

A former army officer and former member of the Communist Party of Vietnam who returned his party card in order to write and develop a critique of Vietnam’s ruling elite, Dung is well known internationally and helped to create the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) in 2014, for which he was stripped of his passport.

An expert on the party’s inner workings and internal power struggles, he posted an article on the Nguoi Viet website on 17 November raising questions about Nguyen Phu Trong, the party’s general secretary, and Vietnam’s current president. Rumors about his failing health suggest that he may not be able to hold on to these positions until the party’s next national congress in 2021, which could exacerbate the power struggle among its rival factions during the coming year.

The publication of this analysis could account for the timing of Dung’s arrest and explain why the authorities wanted to silence him at this particular moment

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