Nghe An Authorities Tighten Security Control Prior to Trial of Labor Activist Hoang Binh, Harassing Former Prisoner of Conscience Do Thi Minh Hanh

Labor activist Hoang Duc Binh

Defend the Defenders, January 24, 2018

Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have been enhancing security control one day prior to the trial of labor activist and environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh (or Hoang Binh), detaining former prisoner of conscience Do Thi Minh Hanh and later deporting her back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Ms. Hanh, president of the unsanctioned Viet Labor Movement in which Mr. Binh is vice president, was detained by security forces in the Vinh airport immediately after landing in Vinh Airport on the afternoon of Tuesday (January 24).

Ms. Hanh, who was sentenced to seven years in jail due to her independent union activities but served four years in prison thanks to international pressure, planned to come to Nghe An to support Mr. Binh and Mr. Phong.

She was reportedly beaten by security officers who were deployed to the airport to keep close watch on activists who come to observe the so-called open trial of Mr. Binh scheduled on January 25.

Police were said to rob her wallet with VND1.1 million (nearly $50) and destroyed her cell phones by putting them into water. They left her baggage in the airport and later relatives of Binh came to collect them.

Meanwhile, police in Nghe An have summoned many activists to their stations. The move aims to prevent them from gathering in the court’s areas tomorrow to express their support for Binh.

The People’s Court of Nghe An province will try Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong on Wednesday. The first was charged with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 and “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code while the second was alleged of resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.”

Binh, 33, will face imprisonment of up to 14 years in prison if convicted, according to the current law which gives imprisonment of between two and seven years in jail for each charge while Mr. Phong, the driver of Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc, will face imprisonment of up to seven years in jail if convicted, according to Vietnam’s current law.

On May 15, 2017, authorities in Nghe An kidnapped Mr. Binh when he escorted Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from the Song Ngoc parish in Dien Chau district to Vinh city. Their car was stopped by police in Dien Chau district’s center and police violently removed Binh from the car. Later, the province’s authorities publicized an arrest order of Binh issued by the province’s People’s Procuracy two days earlier.

On November 28, 2017, police in Nghe An also arrested Mr. Phong for refusing secret agents’ order to open his car’s door when the agents wanted to detain Binh more than six months earlier.

Along working to promote rights of workers, Binh is a well-known blogger who has covered news on the Formosa-causing environmental disaster in the central coastal region.

In the press release of the Viet Labor Movement on his detention, the organization said the arrest aims to neutralize him because he has effectively assisted regional Catholic priests in helping thousands of victims of the environmental catastrophes caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant and Ho Ho hydropower plant.

The Taiwanese Formosa steel plant illegally discharged a huge amount of industrial waste into waters in the central coast, causing massive death of fisheries in April 2016.

Instead of asking the foreign investor to take measures to clean the water and compensate adequately for local fishermen, Vietnam’s government has suppressed the local Catholic community which strongly protested the Taiwanese firm.

Authorities from Dien Chau district and Nghe An province deployed thousands of police officers, militia and thugs to attack Catholic followers when they were on their way to Ha Tinh province to challenge the Taiwanese company, causing severe injuries for hundreds of people, including priest Dang Huu Nam.

On January 24, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s government to release immediately and unconditionally Mr. Binh and Mr. Phong. “The Vietnamese government is again using its abusive penal code to punish people for exercising their rights to protest and free speech,” said Brad Adams, Asia director in the press release. “All this trial will prove is what we already know – that the leaders of Vietnam don’t respect their own people’s rights,” he added.

The arrest and trial of Mr. Binh are part of Vietnam’s ongoing intensified crackdown on local activists which began from early 2016 when the new communist leadership with many police generals being appointed in key posts gained power after the ruling communist party’s National Congress in January.

Last year, Vietnam arrested at least 45 activists and convicted 19 ones, giving them hard sentences of between three and 16 years, mostly on allegations in the national security provisions in the Penal Code.

Among convicted are human rights defenders and environmentalists Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Tran Thuy Nga and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa.

Binh is among numerous activists who will be tried for their activities which aim to promote human rights and protect environment. On January 23, Vietnam convicted four southern dissidents Vuong Van Tha, Vuong Van Thuan, Nguyen Nhat Truong and Nguyen Van Thuong on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code and sentenced them to total 31 years in prison and 12 years under probation.

Vietnam will try Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien and Tran Hoang Phuc, three members of members of the Chan hung Nuoc Viet (Reviving Vietnam Campaign), on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Vietnam is holding around 180 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ counting.