Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly November 27-December 03, 2017: Vietnam Sends Two Human Rights Activists to Prison amid Intensifying Crackdown

Defend the Defenders | December 3, 2017

[themify_box style=”blue announcement rounded”]

Vietnam’s authorities have sent two human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Nguyen Van Hoa to prison on allegation of “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

On November 27, the People’s Court in the central province of Ha Tinh convicted blogger Nguyen Van Hoa and sentenced him to seven years in prison and three years under house arrest afterward. The conviction was based on Hoa’s postings on social networks about peaceful demonstrations of central people who oppose the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant which discharged a huge amount of toxic industrial chemical to the central coast and caused massive death of marine species in April last year. Instead of forcing the Taiwanese investor to pay adequate compensation and clean the environment, Vietnam’s communist government has applied many measures to silence environmentalists, including arrests and convictions.

On November 30, the Danang Higher People’s Court rejected the appeal of prominent blogger Quynh who is well-known blogger with a penname Mother Mushroom, upholding the ten-year sentence given by the People’s Court of the central province of Khanh Hoa on June 29. Quynh’s mother was not allowed to enter to courtroom but observed the hearing in another room via TV screen while many foreign embassies were rejected to have diplomats to attend the hearing.

It is worth to note that after the hearing, security forces in Khanh Hoa attacked relatives and supporters of Quynh when they held a small demonstration to condemn the court’s decision. Police brutally beat her mother and council and other activists, and detained many of them for hours. Police also robbed phones and cameras of activists and residents when they filmed the assault.

After the trial against Hoa and the appeal hearing of Quynh, many foreign governments such as the US, Germany, the UK and the EU as well as international and domestic NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders issued statements condemning the sentences, saying their conviction went against the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Internal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

Thugs continue to harass Hanoi-based activist Truong Van Dung, throwing dirty mess to his private house in a bid to discourage him from peaceful activities to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), voice against corruption and environmental pollution as well as human rights violation. The attack on the night of Sunday, the second within ten days, has seriously affected his family’s business as his wife runs a barberry shop in their house.

Authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa continue to intimidate the family of jailed Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton who was arrested on July 30 and being investigated on allegation of subversion. After questioning his wife and robbing her money when she got financial assistance from other activists in the country and abroad, local authorities blocked her bank account, practically freezing her businesses as a small seller in a local market. After his detention, she is the main worker taking care for his old mother and three children.

[/themify_box]

===== November 27 =====

Citizen Journalist Nguyen Van Hoa Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison

Defend the Defenders: On November 27, the People’s Court in Vietnam’s central province of Ha Tinh found citizen journalist Nguyen Van Hoa guilty of “conducting anti-State propaganda,” sentencing him to seven years in prison and three years under house arrest afterward, state media reported Monday.

The trial was carried out unexpectedly and unknown for the public and the blogger’s family after more than ten months of pre-trial detention. Mr. Hoa, 22, was arrested on January 11 this year on allegation of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State and the rights and legitimate interests of organizations and citizens” under Article 258 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

Later, authorities in Ha Tinh changed the charge to “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

According to the indictment, in 2013, Hoa established a Facebook account Nguyen Van Hoa (or Maria Luygonjaga) to disseminate many videos and pictures which “defame the state and officials” and go against the policies of the ruling communist party and its government.

His works had triggered other peoples who gathered to protest the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant for causing the environmental disaster in the central coastal region last year, and criticized the government’s poor response to natural disasters occurred in the region in 2016, the court said.

Between 2014 and January 2015, Hoa used Facebook account “Luoishoa” to disseminate anti-state documents which cause social satisfaction, the indictment said.

Hoa was said to produce some documents and get other materials from other “reactionary individuals” to post on social networks with penname “Con kien con” or “Little ant” or send to foreign media.

The procuracy said Hoa got financial aids of total VND92.1 million ($4,000) and $5,264 from foreign and domestic “reactionary individuals and groups.”

According to the state media, during the trial, Hoa, who was the first blogger to use flycam to report peaceful demonstrations of Ha Tinh residents against Formosa, admitted his wrongdoings and beg for mercy.

Hoa was said to reject to have own lawyer even who his family had hired to defend for him.

Many international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have called for his immediate and unconditional release, saying he did nothing wrong but exercised his basic rights of freedom of press.

The arrest and the conviction of Hoa is part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers. The trial was carried out four days before the EU-Vietnam Annual Human Rights Dialogue, the important event given the fact that Hanoi is urging the 28-nation bloc to ratify the Free Trade Agreement while the bloc is still concerned about human rights violations in the Southeast Asian nation.

Along with arresting more than 20 activists and charging them with serious accusations in the national security provision in the Penal Code so far this year, Vietnam has imprisoned human rights advocate Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, land rights activist Tran Thi Nga, blogger Nguyen Van Oai, and Nguyen Van Hoa.

Quynh was sentenced to ten years in prison and will go to appeal hearing on November 30 while Nga was given nine years in prison and five years under house arrest. Both were accused of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88.

Mr. Oai was sentenced to five years in prison and four years under house arrest.

——————–

Vietnam should respect the right of freedom of expression, says DROI Chair

EU Parliament: In reaction to the sentencing to 7 years imprisonment of Nguyen Van Hoa, Vietnamese activist, Mr. Panzeri, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights stated:

“I have learnt with dismay of the 7 year sentence against Mr. Nguyen Van Hoa for expressing his views on this environmental disaster, which caused a very serious problem for the livelihood of fishermen in the Ha Tinh province. Last February I led a DROI mission to Vietnam and I raised the issue of the environmental contamination caused by the toxic discharge from the Taiwanese-owned steel plant (Formosa) with the authorities and I asked the government to respond to the concerns of its people. The DROI delegation also expressed its serious concern regarding the restriction on freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests, and heavy prison sentences of bloggers, dissidents, civil society actors, human rights and environmental rights defenders. We stressed that the violation of human rights goes against the international human rights conventions to which Vietnam is a party and we called upon the Vietnamese authorities to guarantee human rights and freedom of expression.”

He added: “I call, once again, on the Vietnamese government to respect the right of freedom of expression of Vietnamese citizens and ask them to reconsider the 7-year sentence against Nguyen Van Hoa. It is essential to:

Address the environmental disaster, which caused massive destruction of fish in the region and affected the lives of thousands of people, through legislative measures aimed at restoring and rehabilitating the local economy,

Properly compensate the fishermen concerned for the damage inflicted,

Ensure respect for human rights, as they are core elements for the ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)”.

Background information

On 27 November Nguyen Van Hoa, Vietnamese blogger and activist, 22 years old, was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment by the Court for having spread online information, including videos, on the environmental disaster in the Ha Tinh province. The so-called “Formosa disaster” occurred in April 2016 when the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s steel complex dumped toxins into the ocean with devastating environmental effects in which hundreds of tons of fish were killed along the 200 kilometers coastline in the Ha Tinh province.

 

———————

Private Residence of Hanoi-based Activist Attacked with Dirty Mess, Second Attack Within Ten Days

Defend the Defenders: The private residence of activist Truong Van Dung in Hanoi was vandalized with a mixture made from waste lubricant oil, paint, and mam tom (fermented shrimp paste) in the early hours of November 27.

Mr. Dung said the attack was made at around 1 AM. He suspected that the incident was carried out by plainclothes agents since him and his family members have no personal disputes with anyone.

Dung, who has been harassed by by police officers and thugs in the past few years, said his family spent hours to clean their house after the attack.

This is the second attack with dirty mess against his family within ten days. The first incident occurred on November 18, few days after he was kidnapped and questioned by Hanoi police.

Earlier this month, when Vietnam hosted APEC Summit in Danang and U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hanoi, plainclothes agents also locked the gate door of his house with iron wires in a bid to block him inside.

Attacking activists’ private residences with dirty messes is one of many acts carried out by plainclothes agents and pro-government thugs in Vietnam in a bid to threaten and discourage them from continuing activities to promote human rights and democracy values.

The trick also aims to block his family’s economic activities since his wife uses the first floor to run a barber shop.

Mr. Dung, who is very active in peaceful demonstrations to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and criticize many government policies, said he has been assaulted, detained and cheated by police officers and plainclothes agents in 15 different cases in the past few years.

All of acts are revenges of his activism, said Dung, who suffered many severe injuries in some of these attacks.

=====

Authorities in Thanh Hoa Block Bank Account of Imprisoned Nguyen Trung Ton’s Wife

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa are implementing different tricks to harass the family of Protestant Nguyen Trung Ton, who was arrested in late July on charge of subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code.

Along with sending thugs to disturb businesses of his wife and summoning her to police station for interrogation, police have ordered local banks to block her bank accounts.

The latest act has seriously affected her business as a small glossary seller. After his detention, she is the main worker in the family to take care of his old mother and three children, one of them is with mental disorders.

Last month, when she when to a local bank to withdraw money sent from other activists to help the family, police confiscated her money, saying the money came from “reactionary organizations and individuals.”

===== November 30 =====

Vietnam Upholds Ten-year Sentence for Prominent Human Rights Defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh

Defend the Defenders: The Danang Higher People’s Court has upheld the ten-year sentence for prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who is famous with her penname Mother Mushroom.

At the appeal hearing lasted few hours in the morning of November 30 in the central city of Nha Trang, the court rejected her appeal and kept the sentence given to her by the People’s Court of the central province of Khanh Hoa on June 29.

Ms. Quynh was arrested on October 10, 2016 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code, one of the many controversial articles in the law used by the communist government to silence local dissidents, human rights campaigners, social activists and online bloggers.

The so-called open appeal hearing held at the headquarters of the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa was closed for the defendant’s relatives and supporters as well as foreign diplomats and reporters. Ms. Tuyet Lan, the mother of Quynh, was not allowed to be in the courtroom but observed the hearing at another room via TV screen.

Nguyen Kha Thanh, one of Quynh’s lawyers in the hearing said the procuracy representative in the hearing remained silent when the defendant’s lawyers presented a number of arguments which proved her innocence.

Ms. Quynh said she practiced her civil rights but not intended to conduct any act against the state, lawyer Thanh told BBC News after the hearing.

Quynh also said during the hearing that Vietnam cannot develop if the government try to imprison its critics, Thanh added.

Local authorities deployed hundreds of police, militia and thugs to the court areas, blocking all roads leading to the courtroom. Activists coming from Saigon and Hanoi and other localities were forced to stay away from the court area.

After the hearing, relatives and friends of Quynh, triggered by the unfair hearing and the hard sentence, held a small peaceful demonstration near the court area. In response, police attacked the protestors, beating many people, including Ms. Tuyet Lan and her younger brother Nguyen Minh Hung and bloggers Trinh Kim Tien, Tran Thu Nguyet, Nguyen Cong Thanh and Duong Thi Tan, a former wife of ex-prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Hai who is famous with his penname Dieu Cay.

Police robbed phones and cameras of many activists, and detained bloggers Tien, Nguyet, and Thanh, took them away from the scene. Police also confiscated a cellphone of lawyer Vo An Don, whose license was revoked by authorities in Phu Yen province several days prior to Quynh’s hearing. Lawyer Don is among five lawyers hired by her family to defend for her in the appeal court.

Other lawyers were allowed to meet her few times in recent weeks in prison to prepare for the hearing.

On June 29, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa found that Ms. Quynh, the mother of two, guilty of conducting activities on Facebook and other social media, including writing, uploading and sharing articles and video content critical of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and the state; producing, editing, and sharing a report titled “Stop Police Killing Civilians” that listed 31 people who, the report claimed, had died in police custody; for giving interviews with foreign media that “distorted” the situation in Vietnam; and for her possession of a poetry collection and compact disc recording that were deemed critical of the ruling party and the state.

Since 2006, Ms. Quynh has been blogging about human rights abuses and corruption in Vietnam. In 2013, she co-founded the independent Vietnamese Bloggers Network, which is now blocked in Vietnam. She has investigated and published widely on environmental protection, public health, correctional reform and anti-torture efforts, and has been critical of Vietnam’s foreign policy toward China over disputed islands in the East Sea (South China Sea). She has posted information about over 30 people who have died in police custody and has been active both online and offline in documenting and demanding redress for the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, when the Taiwanese-Vietnamese Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation leaked toxic waste into the ocean having a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Vietnamese in four central coastal provinces. Because of her tireless defense of human rights, she has been frequently targeted for harassment by the state, previously detained, interrogated, and beaten.

Ms. Quynh was awarded a Hellman Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch in 2010 as a writer defending free expression, the 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year award from Civil Rights Defenders in 2015 and the International Women of Courage award from the US State Department this year.

Before and after the trial, international human rights organizations and foreign governments, including the US and the EU, called on Vietnam’s government to release her immediately and unconditionally, saying the charges against her violate the right to freedom of expression as provided in international human rights law, which binds Vietnam. Amnesty International considers Quynh a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for her peaceful activities promoting and defending human rights.

In order to maintain the country under a one-party regime, Vietnam has little tolerance for government critics. It has used controversial articles such as 79, 88 and 250 in the national security provision of the Penal Code to silence local activists.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested, sentenced, and expelled abroad 25 activists.

Vietnam is holding around 90 prisoners of conscience, says Amnesty International while BPSOS and 14 other international and domestic human rights organizations placed the number of political prisoners as high as 165 prisoners. Hanoi always denies imprisoning any prisoner of conscience but only law violators.

———————

Many Activists, Relatives Beaten, Detained After Appeal Hearing of Mother Mushroom

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa have violently suppressed a peaceful demonstration right after the appeal hearing of prominent human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Quynh who is famous with her penname Mother Mushroom.

Triggered by the unfair hearing on November 30 in which the High People’s Court in the central city of Danang upheld the ten-year sentence of the well-known blogger on conviction of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code, her relatives and supporters conducted the street protest to slam the court and demand for immediate and unconditional release.

In response, dozens of police, militia and thugs surrounded the protestors, robbing their phones and cameras, and brutally beat many of them.

Blogger Nguyen Hoang Vi from Ho Chi Minh City, one of activists came to observe the hearing, reported that among assaulted people are Ms. Tuyet Lan, the mother of Quynh, Mr. Nguyen Minh Hung, a cousin of the jailed blogger, and activists Tran Thu Nguyet, Trinh Kim Tien, Nguyen Cong Thanh and Duong Thi Tan, a former wife of ex-prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Hai who is well-known blogger with Dieu Cay penname.

Tien, whose father was killed by a lieutenant police officer in Hanoi in a traffic case six years ago, suffered most as a group of around five plainclothes agents beat her when she conducted a live stream of the demonstration. Police knocked her down on the street and beat her with legs before taking her into a police car.

Police robbed a camera of lawyer Vo An Don, one of five lawyers hired by Quynh’s family to defend for her in the hearing but cannot attend the hearing after being disbarred few days ago, when he filmed the suppression.

Police detained Nguyet, Tien, Thanh, Hung and young activist Nguyen Dang Vu (Facebooker Nguyen Dang Vu) and took them away from the scene. They also tried to arrest Ms. Tuyet Lan but failed due to resistance of other activists. The mother was not allowed to enter the courtroom to observe the hearing of the daughter in another room via TV screen.

Police released all detainees on the afternoon of the same day.

Activists reported that police detained Vu, beating him and releasing him at a beach after robbing his wallet and a cellphone.

Shortly after the appeal hearing, US Chargé d’Affaires to Vietnam Caryn McClelland released a statement on the appeal verdict of Mother Mushroom, calling on Vietnam to release Ms. Quynh and all prisoners of conscience immediately, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.

“I am deeply troubled that a Vietnamese court has upheld the conviction of peaceful activist and International Woman of Courage awardee, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka “Mother Mushroom”) to 10 years in prison under the vague charge of “propaganda against the State,” Ms. McClelland in the statement posted on the website of the US Embassy in Hanoi.

All people have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and of peaceful assembly, she said.

Ms. Quynh is one of six individuals convicted this year for exercising such rights, including Tran Thi Nga., she noted, adding the trend of increased arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences of peaceful activists and students since early 2016 is deeply troubling.

The US also 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, the statement concluded.

Vietnam upheld the sentence of Quynh one day ahead of the annual Human Rights Dialogue with the EU. The EU Parliament has yet to approve the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement due to worsening human rights situation in the Southeast Asian nation.

On November 27, Vietnam convicted citizen journalist Nguyen Van Hoa who covered the news on the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh and the demonstrations of the local residents who demand the giant plastic group to pay adequate compensation and stop its businesses in the country. Hoa was sentenced to seven years in prison and additional three years under house arrest afterward.

After the trial against Hoa, Mr. Pier Antonio Panzeri, chairman of the EU Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, released a statement calling on Vietnam’s government to respect the right of freedom of expression of Vietnamese citizens and ask them to reconsider the sentence against the blogger.

He said Vietnam needs to ensure respect for human rights, as they are core elements for the ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).

===== December 1 =====

EU, Rights Groups Call on Vietnam to Release Blogger ‘Mother Mushroom’

RFA: Foreign governments and international rights groups reacted strongly on Friday to a Vietnamese court’s Nov. 30 confirmation of the 10-year prison term imposed in June on jailed blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, calling the rejection of her appeal a violation of the due process guaranteed by international agreements and by Vietnam’s own laws.

Quynh, also known by her blogger handle Mother Mushroom, had blogged about human rights abuses and official corruption for more than a decade.

She had also criticized the government’s response to a 2016 toxic waste spill by the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group that destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Vietnamese living in four coastal provinces.

Writing in a statement released Dec. 1, Ambassador Bruno Angelet—head of the European Union’s delegation to Vietnam—said that Quynh’s return to jail “directly contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam is a party.”

“The freedoms of opinion and expression are enshrined as fundamental rights of every human being, indispensable for individual dignity and fulfillment , as well as [guaranteed by] Article 25 of the Vietnamese Constitution.”

Authorities’ interference with Quynh’s legal team and refusal to allow EU representatives to observe the court’s hearing of Quynh’s appeal raise “questions as to the transparency of the process,” Angelet wrote.

“The European Union expects Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to be immediately and unconditionally released,” he said.

‘Grieved, indignant’

Barbel Kofner, Germany’s Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, also called in a statement on Friday for Quynh’s immediate release, calling herself “grieved and indignant” over the decision by the appellate court.

Rights groups also spoke out against Quynh’s return to jail, with Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams saying the blogger’s only crime had been “to speak her mind and fight for human rights.”

“The Vietnamese government should address her concerns, including freedom of speech, a clean environment, and the end of police brutality, instead of punishing her for trying to improve her country.”

The Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights meanwhile strongly protested the rejection of Quynh’s appeal, noting that Quynh’s mother and others who had come to support her at her hearing were assaulted by plainclothes security agents outside the courtroom.

“This courageous woman’s real ‘crime’ is that of identifying Hanoi’s strategy of perpetuating a climate of fear, and she is paying a high price for this today,” the Committee wrote in a Nov. 30 statement.

“Dispelling this fear is the most urgent challenge we face,” the Committee said.

Predetermined sentence

Meanwhile, a group of 38 Vietnamese rights organizations and concerned individuals in and outside the country called on Hanoi on Friday to free jailed blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, who was sentenced on Nov. 27 to a seven-year prison term for his online writings on the Formosa toxic waste spill.

“Hoa’s sentence was not result of due process of law under the Penal Code, but was simply a predetermined sentence,” the group wrote in an open letter published on the web site of the Vietnam Human Rights Defenders.

“What he did was to help uncover Formosa’s crime and support its victims in bringing Formosa to court, which doesn’t violate Vietnamese law,” said the group made up of civil society organizations, officially unrecognized religious groups, and bloggers and activists both in Vietnam and in countries as far away as the United States, Denmark, France, and Slovakia.

Authorities have been targeting activist writers and bloggers in a months-long crackdown in one-party Communist Vietnam, where dissident is not tolerated.

Vietnam currently holds at least 84 prisoners of conscience, the highest number in any country in Southeast Asia, according to rights group Amnesty International.

=================