Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 21-February 2, 2020: Two Prisoners of Conscience Nguyen Viet Dung, Phan Kim Khanh Held in Solitary Cells
Defend the Defenders | February 2, 2020
According to their families, authorities in Ba Sao Prison camp have disciplined two prisoners of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung and Phan Kim Khanh and placed them in solitary cells. The reasons for imposing discipline against the two human rights defenders are unknown, but maybe from Mr. Dung’s refusal to work while Mr. Khanh was said to deny to obey by the prison’s inhumane rules.
Both Dung and Khanh are serving their 6-year imprisonments after being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.
On January 20, police officers from the Ministry of Public Security kidnapped Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh, the founder of 50K Fund which receives donations for prisoners of conscience. Police officers-kidnappers took her to the Security Investigation Agency’s office where they interrogated her for hours about her fund to receive donations for the family of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh from Dong Tam commune who was brutally beaten by riot police in the early hours of January 9. The abduction was made after the ministry requested Vietnam Commercial Bank (Vietcombank) to freeze her account with VND528 million ($22,500) contributions from Vietnamese worldwide for Mr. Kinh’s family.
In order to hide the information about the infection of Coronavirus, Vietnam’s authorities are striving to suppress Facebookers, not allowing them to write about the issue. Dozens of Facebookers in many localities have been questioned by local police who requested them to delete their posts. At least four Facebookers were fined VND50 million.
On January 29, Amnesty International released its annual human rights report on Asia and the Pacific. In Vietnam’s part, the London-based rights group said: “The year saw a surge in the number of prisoners of conscience. A crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued. A new cybersecurity law entered into force in January, aimed at restricting human rights online. The authorities subjected human rights defenders and activists to harassment, intimidation, and abusive restrictions both online and offline. The government prosecuted human rights defenders and activists, using a range of criminal law provisions. Prolonged pretrial detention was common. Prisoners of conscience were denied access to lawyers and family members, lacked proper health care, and in some cases were subjected to torture.”
Vietnam’s authorities have suspended the imprisonment of prisoner of conscience Ngo Hao for one year, allowing the 72-year-old political prisoner to return home on January 9 for medical treatment. Together with releasing female workers’ rights activist Tran Thi Nga, the move aimed to exchange for approval of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Nga, three weeks after being freed but forced to reallocate to the US together with her children and their father, was honored with Engel-du Tertre Human Rights Prize for her contribution against torture and inhumane treatment. ACAT France held a ceremony in Paris on February 1 to hand over the prize to Nga’s representative.
===== January 20 =====
Hanoi-based Activist Kidnapped, Other Threatened with Arrest for Helping Dong Tam Land Petitioners
Defend the Defenders: Police officers from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security have kidnapped Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh for interrogation for hours about their assistance given to land petitioners in Dong Tam commune, My Duc district.
On the afternoon of January 20, Mrs. Hanh and her husband Huynh Ngoc Chenh went to the Vietnam Bank for Commerce (Vietcombank)’s branch in Ba Dinh district to question the bank for freezing her account with around VND528 million ($22,500) of donations for the family of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, a 84-year-old resident of Dong Tam who was killed by police during the raid on January 9.
During a meeting with the bank’s representatives, Mr. Chenh recognized that plainclothes policemen were deployed in the office, probably the bank branch informed the police for the presence of the couple.
After receiving unsatisfied answers from the bank’s representatives, the couple left the office to return home with their motorbike. Not far from the bank, they were stopped by police officers in plainclothes who said Hanh must to go with them to their office for “working.” Hanh was forced to go in their car and the vehicle went to the Security Investigation Agency under the Ministry of Public Security at Nguyen Gia Thieu Street, Hanoi where many activists were interrogated and beaten.
During the three-hour interrogation, five police officers questioned about the 50K Fund she established last year for assisting prisoners of conscience and activist-at-risks, and the donations from Vietnamese in the country and abroad for Mr. Kinh’s family after the bloody police raid on January 9.
During the interrogation, police officers said they would arrest some other activists, including land petitioner and human rights defender Trinh Ba Phuong for his covering news on the brutal police attack in Dong Tam on January 9, Hanh said.
The abduction and the interrogation against Mrs. Hanh were made a few days after her account in Vietcombank was suspended. On January 13, the Ministry of Public Security said on its website that the ministry had ordered local banks to freeze accounts of some activists, including Mrs. Hanh who have been receiving donations for persecuted Dong Tam residents. The ministry said the financial aids from people can help Dong Tam citizens purchase weaponry to deal with the government.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese activists continue to call for a boycott of Vietcombank’s service and ask the Japanese Mizuho to reconsider its investment in the Vietnamese bank. Currently, the Japanese side owns 15% stake in Vietcombank.
===== January 27 =====
Vietnamese Facebookers Interrogated, Asked to Delete Posts on Coronavirus Warning
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa have harassed several local Facebookers after they posted the news on Coronavirus infection in the area.
State media reported that the province’s Police Department has summoned a number of Facebookers to police stations for interrogation about their recent posts which stated that a local resident and one Chinese tourist had been infected with Coronavirus. After being questioned, these Facebookers were forced to confess that their news is not true. Police have also asked them to delete their posts.
Khanh Hoa is the coastal province with Nha Trang city becoming one of the most famous tourist sites in the country. Nha Trang is hosting hundreds of foreigners, mostly from Russia and China. Thousands of Chinese citizens have reportedly arrived in the city in recent days to spend the Lunar New Year, but most likely avoid Coronavirus endemics in their country.
According to some local Facebookers, on January 9, a local 10-year-old resident named Le Nguyen Thi Thanh Hien died from flu caused by Coronavirus NL63 strain. There was a death certificate issued by the authorities of the commune where her family resides as well as an email exchanged between the province’s health authorities about the case.
However, authorities in Khanh Hoa, including the province’s Health Department, have claimed that the province has not recognized any case of Coronavirus infection. There are only five suspected cases, three Vietnamese and two young Chinese tourists and they are placed under special care for further testing.
While China is chaotic from Coronavirus endemic with thousands of people infected and more than 50 deaths, Vietnam still opens its border gates with China, including flights from Wuhan, the center of the endemic.
Meanwhile, a hotel owner in the central city of Danang reportedly announced that it will not receive Chinese tourists given the threat of Coronavirus infection from China. In response, the city’s Department of Tourism and police came to the hotel to request the hotel owner to remove the notice and host tourists from China.
===== January 28 =====
Prisoner of Conscience Ngo Hao Temporarily Freed for Disease Treatment
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have decided to suspend the imprisonment of prisoner of conscience Ngo Hao for one year, allowing him to return home for disease treatment, Defend the Defenders has learned.
His family told Defend the Defenders on Monday that Mr. Hao, 72, was permitted to go home on January 9 from An Diem Prison camp in the central province of Quang Nam after seven years of being imprisoned on the allegation of subversion. His eyes are very poor while his blood pressure is very high, his son Ngo Minh Tam told Defend the Defenders.
Tam said he will take his father to Saigon for medical check-up after the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival which ended on January 28.
The move to suspend Mr. Hao’s imprisonment of Vietnam’s authorities was made after years of appeal from him and his family as his health has worsened a long time ago. Probably they do not want to take risks with his case after the deaths of two prisoners of conscience Doan Dinh Nam and Dao Duy Thuc in 2019.
According to a letter of Vietnam’s Ambassador to the EU Vu Anh Quang sent to European Parliament member Bernd Lange who is also a member of the EP’s Committee on International Trade dated January 20, Mr. Hao’s suspension was part of Vietnam’s concession in a bid to get support from EP in the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA)’s approval.
Mr. Hao is a former army officer of the Vietnam Republic’s Army supported by the US during the Vietnam War. He was arrested for the first time in 1997, being accused of being a senior member of the unsanctioned organization Vietnam Coalition Party. However, he was released in the same year due to his poor health.
In 2013, he was arrested again, charged with “attempting to overthrow the communist government” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. Later, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Phu Yen province’s People’s Court.
Like many prisoners of conscience being held in prison camps and detentions facilities across the nation, Mr. Hao’s health became very poor due to severe living conditions with low-quality food, severe weather conditions, inhumane treatments from prison’s guards and lack of proper medical treatment.
Hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been suffered from severe diseases after spending years in prisons. Last year, two prisoners of conscience Dao Quang Thuc and Doan Dinh Nam who were sentenced to lengthy sentences on subversion died from the Prison camp No. 6 in Nghe An province and Xuyen Moc Prison camp, respectively, due to harsh conditions in prisons.
Last year, dozens of prisoners of conscience conducted hunger strikes to protest inhumane treatment in prisons across the nation.
Vietnam is holding at least 141 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.
===== January 29 =====
Prisoners of Conscience Nguyen Viet Dung, Phan Kim Khanh Placed in Solitary Cells
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ba Sao Prison camp have reportedly disciplined two prisoners of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung and Phan Kim Khanh, placing them in solitary cells because they are refusing to confess and disobeying the prison’s rules.
Mr. Dung’s mother has told the Radio Free Asia (RFA) that he is disciplined because he refuses to work in prison. Dung has confirmed that he is innocent so he has no duty to work while serving his six-year sentence.
His family said his family sent him some money but the prison’s authorities keep and have not handed over to him so he cannot buy additional food from the prison’s canteen which sells goods at prices much higher than the market prices.
Dung, who established the Republican Party, was arrested in 2017 for the second time and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code 1999. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. In the appeal hearing, his sentence was reduced to six years.
Meanwhile, Mr. Khanh, who was sentenced to six years in jail for the same allegation, was placed in a solitary cell for objecting to the prison’s rules, Project 88 said without giving details.
Mr. Khanh, who is among 12 imprisoned journalists in Vietnam according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, was arrested on March 21, 2017 for running two websites Chống Tham Nhũng (Anti-corruption) and Tuần Việt Nam (Vietnam Weekly). His appeal against the conviction of the People’s Court of Thai Nguyen in the trial on October 25, 2017 has not been respected. It is likely Ba Sao Prison camp has been keeping his appeal letter which should be sent to the Supreme People’s Court.
Dung and Khanh, together with other prisoners of conscience held in Ba Sao Prison camp, have reportedly conducted a number of hunger strikes in recent years to protest inhumane treatment and persecution against prisoners of conscience.
Both Dung and Khanh are among 241 prisoners of conscience, according to the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders.
Amnesty International’s 2019 Report on Vietnam
On January 29, 2020, Amnesty International released its report on human rights in Asia and the Pacific in 2019.
Regarding Vietnam, Amnesty International said “The year saw a surge in the number of prisoners of conscience. A crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued. A new cybersecurity law entered into force in January, aimed at restricting human rights online. The authorities subjected human rights defenders and activists to harassment, intimidation, and abusive restrictions both online and offline. The government prosecuted human rights defenders and activists, using a range of criminal law provisions. Prolonged pretrial detention was common. Prisoners of conscience were denied access to lawyers and family members, lacked proper health care, and in some cases were subjected to torture.”
For the full report on Vietnam in 2019: HUMAN RIGHTS IN ASIA-PACIFIC in 2019- Vietnam
===== January 30 =====
Former Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience Tran Thi Nga Honored with Engel-du Tertre Award
Defend the Defenders: The France-based human rights group named Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-France) has decided to honor former Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Tran Thi Nga with Engel-du Tertre Human Rights Prize for her contribution against torture and inhumane treatment.
The prize named after ACAT-France’s founders Hélène Engel và Edith du Tertre, will be handed over to the recipient in a ceremony scheduled in Paris on February 1.
Mrs. Nga will become the first activist in Asia being awarded the prize since its debut six years ago. Winners of the prize in previous years include a Mexican human rights defender who works against enforced disappearance, political activist Naama Asfari in Western Sahara, female human rights defender Luaty Beirao from Angola and a journalist in Erythrea.
Nga, 43, is a worker rights activist and a human rights defender. She also participated in many peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi in 2011-2016 to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
Due to her social engagement, she and her two kids were detained, assaulted and harassed many times by Vietnam’s security forces. In February 2017, she was arrested and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code 1999. In the same year, she was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison and three years of probation.
During the pre-trial detention and prison, she always fought against torture and inhumane treatment committed by police officers.
In early January, Nga was freed but forced to live in exile in the US, together with her family.
ACAT-France is a member of the World Coalition Against Torture.
===== January 31 =====
Four Vietnamese Fined for Spreading “Fake News” on Wuhan Coronavirus Epidemic
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have imposed financial penalties on four local residents who have reportedly posted “fake information” about the novel Coronavirus infection on social media.
According to the state-controlled media, Facebookers Ha Thi Le Nhan from the central city of Hue, Tran Van Tung from the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Tran Thi Thu Thuy from the northernmost province of Lang Son and Vu Thi Thanh from the northern city of Haiphong were summoned to by the local police for interrogation about their posts on Coronavirus infection in their areas.
Newspapers also reported that the four Facebookers admitted that their posts were untrue. Police in their localities have proposed administrative fines of between 10 million ($430) and VND15 million.
Particularly, Mr. Tung was fined with VND15 million, Ms. Nhan and Ms. Thuy were punished with VND12.5 million while Ms. Thanh has to pay VND10 million.
They were requested to delete their posts and will face heavier penalties, including arrest and charge with criminal offenses if they repeat.
Nhan was said to have posted on her Facebook account that “Hue has detected one nCoV infection case. The patient, a Chinese national from Wuhan, is now quarantined at Hue Central Hospital.” She reportedly also posted the same information on several Facebook groups.
In the same move, Tung posted on Facebook on January 27 “Le Loi Hospital in Vung Tau Town [capital of Ba Ria-Vung Tau] is putting two Chinese in quarantine as they are suspected to have been infected with the new coronavirus.”
As for Thanh, she wrote on her own Facebook account on Sunday that “One suspected Wuhan pneumonia infection case has been found in Haiphong and the patient is now quarantined at Viet Tiep Hospital.”
All of them were said to keep their posts shortly and deleted them later but the local police said their information has already caused confusion among many people.
Last week, authorities in the central province of Khanh Hoa also summoned a number of local Facebookers for interrogation regarding their posts on the Coronavirus infection in Nha Trang city, one of the tourist sites attracting tens of thousands of Chinese citizens and tourists from other countries. After being interrogated, the Facebookers were demanded to delete their posts.
Meanwhile, Vietnam has confirmed five cases of nCoV infection as of January 31. They are two Chinese citizens and three Vietnamese residents coming back from Wuhan. One of the Chinese had recovered.
The nation had 97 suspected cases with symptoms like fever and cough and is quarantining 32 pending test results.
Many experts predicted that Vietnam may be the nation suffered most from the Coronavirus epidemic after China where the disease broke and took lives of 231 people and infected more than 7,000.
Vietnam’s communist government is considering to declare a national emergency in a bid to deal with the outbreak. As many as 500,000 Chinese citizens, thousands of them from Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, were reportedly to enter Vietnam during the Lunar New Year festival which lasted one week until January 29.
Instead of providing transparent information about Coronavirus infection in localities, Vietnam’s central government and local authorities are striving to hide all information regarding the disease and suppress bloggers and Facebookers.
Vietnam has around 50 million Internet users, however, the country is listed at the bottom of Internet freedom, according to Freedom House’s 2019 report. Last year, at least 21 Facebookers were sentenced to between one year and 11 years in prison for their online posts.
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