Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for September 17-23, 2018: Four Activists Jailed for Speaking Out About Country’s Issues


Defend the Defenders| September 23, 2018


Vietnam’s authorities continue their crackdown on local dissidents and bloggers, imprisoning four activists for speaking out about the country’s problems such as widespread human rights abuse, systemic corruption, serious environmental pollution, land grabbing and the government’s weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the South China Sea.

On September 17, the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted corruption fighter and citizen journalist Do Cong Duong on charge of “disrupting public orders” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code for his filming a forced eviction. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Mr. Duong is still charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the same code and the trial for the charge is expected to be carried out by the People’s Court of Bac Ninh province in October.

After Duong’s conviction, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning Vietnam’s move and urging the communist nation to release him immediately and unconditionally. If Vietnam wants to be taken seriously as a responsible international actor, it must stop jailing journalists,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.

Two days later, the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province found retired teacher Dao Quang Thuc guilty of “carrying out activities against the people’s government” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. Like others convicted for the charge, he was sentenced to lengthy imprisonment of 13 years in prison and five years of probation.

On September 22, in a separate trials, the People’s Court of Cai Rang district, Can Tho City, sentenced Facebookers Nguyen Hong Nguyen to two years in prison and Truong Dinh Khang to one years for “abusing democratic freedom.”

In all four trials, few relatives of the defendants were allowed to enter the courtroom. Mr. Nguyen was said to have no lawyers in his first-instance hearing.

Vietnam’s authorities continue to block local activists from going abroad and this time the victim was prominent dissident Nguyen Quang A. The Hungary-trained PhD was detained on his way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City where he has an international flight to Australia. The blockage aims to prevent him from going to Geneva to attend a Vietnam’s human rights hearing scheduled on October 10.

The fates of three Facebookers Ngo Van Dung, Doan Thi Hong and Ngo The Hoa are still unclear for their families after nearly three weeks. Ho Chi Minh City’s police have yet to confirm their arrests but allowed the family of Ms. Hong to supply her with food and additional food and send to the temporary detention facility located in Phan Dang Luu street.

===== September 17 =====

Anti-Corruption Fighter Do Cong Duong Sentenced to Four Years in Prison 

Defend the Defenders:On September 17, the People’s Court of Tu Son town found local anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong guilty of “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

Mr. Duong, who was on January 24 while filming the land grabing case in Tam Son commune, was sentenced to four years in prison, his lawyer Ha Huy Son said.

The trial was unfair as the judge refused to show evidences thay may prove the defendant’s innocence, lawyer Son noted, adding the witnesses summoned to the court were state officials or people working for the land grabbing party while evicted farmers recommended by the lawyer were not used.

Before being arrest, Mr. Duong was filming and he caused no troubles, Son said, affirming his client’s innocence and requested for his immediate release.

Five members of Mr. Duong’s family was allowed to enter the court’s areas which were blocked for local residents. However, they were not permitted to enter the courtroom but observed the trial from loud speakers.

Mr. Duong, 54, was also charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code. He is expected to be tried on this allegation in October by the People’s Court of Bac Ninh province. If is convicted, he may face another imprisonment of up to seven years in prison.

Mr. Duong, who is a land petitioner, became an activist on land issue. Together with other local residents, he filled letters to the state’s leaders to accuse Tu Son town’s government of illegal land seizure.

Duong is also a citizen journalist, producing hundreds of video clips which he has posted on his Facebook accountto report local officials’ corruption and cronyism, including provincial communist leader Nguyen Nhan Chien, who has big houses and has promoted numerous relatives to key positions in provincial agencies. The state-run media has also covered news affirming the information unveiled by Mr. Duong.

Due to his anti-corruption activities, Duong and his family have been persecuted by local authorities. He was summoned by the police for interrogation many times. Police also came to his private residence to threaten him.

His house has been attacked with a stinking concoction of feces, shrimp paste, and petrol, and his children have been discriminated in schools.

Duong’s arrest is likely reprisal for his efforts to fight illegal land grabbing and corruption, said his fellow My while hisattorney lawyer HaHuy Son said authorities in Bac Ninh provinceand Tu Son townare seeking to silence the anti-corruption activist and citizen journalist without respecting the country’s law and the presumption of innocence.

Land grabbing is a thorny problem in Vietnam where all land belongs to the state and local residents only have lease rights. The central government and local governments are authorized to seize any land from citizens for socio-economic development without paying adequate compensation.

In many localities, authorities have grabbed local residents’ land at very low compensation prices and sold it to property and industrial developers at prices much higher.

Thousands of farmers losing their land in that way are gathering in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to demand justice. The land petitioners are treated like second-class residents by the government. They are living in streets and house with cheap renting fees, being subjects of torture and detention by security forces.

Vietnam is among most corrupt nations in the world. According to Trading Economics, the nation scored 35 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Vietnam averaged 27.80 points from 1997 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 35 points in 2017 and a record low of 24 points in 2002.

In Vietnam where communists have ruled for decades, the government strictly controls media. Dozens of bloggers and independent journalists have been harassed and jailed.

Vietnam’s press freedom index is ranked at the 175th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 Report.

===== 18/9 =====

Vietnam Leading Dissident Barred from Traveling to Australia

Defend the Defenders:On September 18, Vietnam’s authorities blocked leading dissident Dr. Nguyen Quang A from going to Australia because they want him not to go to Brussels to attend a human rights hearing in the European capital city scheduled on October 10.

Dr. A said he was stopped on his way from Hanoi to Saigon where he will take an international flight to Australia. Security officers took him to a police station in Noi Bai International Airport where they interrogated him about his travel plan and searched his baggage.

Dr. A told the officers that he has plan to return to the home country on October 5 and will go to Brussels from Hanoi four days later, however, police officers from the Ministry of Public Security still held him for aroud six hours before releasing him.

A said he still plans to go to Brussels on October 9 and if they block him, it will be a solid evidence of human rights abuse and the European Parliament would take into account the Vietnamese move for their voting decision.

This is the 20th international travel blockage of Vietnam’s security forces against Dr. A since 2014, he noted.

More than 100 Vietnamese activists have been under international travel ban, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.

Meanwhile, 32 members of the European Parliament issued a joint statement calling on Vietnam’s government to improve the country’s human rights record, and urge the parliament not to ratify the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in a vote scheduled in December.

===== September 19 =====

Vietnam Court Convicts Retired Teacher on Subversion, Sentencing Him to 14 Years in Prison

Defend the Defenders: On September 19, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s northern province of Hoa Binh found local retired teacher Dao Quang Thuc guilty of “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

In the end of the trial which lasted just one day, the court sentenced him to 14 years in prison, one of the most severe jail terms given to activists in recent years, and five years of probation afterward.

In the so-called open trial, only his wife was allowed to enter the courtroom as a witness while his childrens, relatives and friends were kept away from the court area. All the roads leading to the court area were blocked by security forces.

Many activists in Hanoi, including land petitioner Trinh Ba Phuong and his mother former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu, were placed under house arrest as local authorities deployed groups of plainclothes agents and militia to station near their private residences in a bid to prevent them from going out.

The trial against Mr. Thuc was made more than 11 months after his arrest. He was held incommunicado until recently when he was permitted to meet with his lawyer Nguyen Ha Luan to prepare for his defense.

The primary school teacher was arrested on October 5 last year on allegation of subversion.During his pre-trial detention, he was tortured and inhumanely treated, according to his family.He was reportedly beaten by interrogation officers and suffered significant injuries so police transferred him to a hospital for treatment of these injuries.

Along with torturing him, police hadalso persecuted his family by summoning his wife and son to a local police station where they forced them to talk about her father’s activities despite having no knowledge of them.

Mr. Thuc is the third activist convicted within a week, and among 29 activists who have been convicted so far this year with a total 217 years and nine months in prison and 56 years of probation.

Vietnam still hold 29 others in pre-trial detention, mostly on allegations under articles  of national security provisions in the Penal Code. Many democratic governments and international human rights have urged Vietnam to remove these articles, saying they are controversial and used for silence government critics.

According to Defend the Defenders’ statistics, Vietnam is holding around 200 prisoners of conscience.

===== September 22 =====

Two Facebookers Jailed for Allegation of Abusing Democratic Freedom 

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam has imprisoned two Facebookers on allegation of “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, lawful

rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code amid the government’s increasing crackdown on online speech.

According to state media, Facebookers Nguyen Hong Nguyen, 38, and Truong Dinh Khang, 26, were convicted in separate trials conducted by the People’s Court of Cai Rang district, Can Tho City. The first was sentenced to two years in prison while the second was given one year in jail.

According to the Cong an Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Police) newspaper, since 2017, Nguyen Hong Nguyen had produced and posted a number of articles on his Facebook account Nguyên Hồng Nguyễn (Bồ Công Anh) which defame the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and its government. He was said to share articles from others which are harmful for the government.

Meanwhile, Khang was said to start posting and sharing 31 anti-state articles since July 2017 on her Facebook account Hồ Mai Chi.

The newspaper said the two blogger admitted their wrongdoings.

According to Tieng Dan online dissident newswire,  Mr. Nguyen came back to Vietnam in 2002 after living many years in Australia. He had shared numerous Facebook statuses about Vietnam’s issues and unjustice on his account and this is the reason for his detention on June 16, 2018. Police were said to search his house and confiscate his cell phone and later release him on bait.

Authorities in Cai Rang district decided to prosecute him on July 10 on allegation of “Illegal provision or use of information on computer networks or telecommunications networks” under Article 288 of the 2015 Penal Code, and ban him from going out of his area.

In the first-instance hearing, Nguyen had no lawyer to defend for him, activists said.

The convictions of Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Khang are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on dissidents and online bloggers. In the past three months, Vietnam imprisoned 14 activists and Facebookers and charged three of them with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331, three with “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the state” under Article 117 and one with “Activities against the people’s governmen” under Article 109 of the 2015 Penal Code. The seven remaining were held without announcing allegations against them.

The communist government has imprisoned 36 activists and bloggers so far this year, with a total imprisonment of nearly 220 years in prison and 56 years of probation.

In September, it convicted environmentalists and democracy campaigners Le Dinh Luong and Nguyen Trung Truc, and anti-corruption fighter and citizen journalist Do Cong Duong. Mr. Luong was sentenced to the record high imprisonment of 20 years in prison while Truc was given 12 years and Duong- four years in prison.

According to Now!Campaign, a coaliation of 14 domestic and international civil organizations such as BPSOS, Defend the Defenders, Civil Rights Defenders and Front Line Defenders, Vietnam is holding 228 prisoners of conscience.

Vietnam’s Internet environment is no longer safe for local activists and bloggers who try to warn the domestic public and the international community about the country’s problems, including systemic corruption, serious environmental pollution and the government’s weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Vietnam’s online suppression is expected to be harder when the Cyber Security becomes effective in January 1 next year. The law approval by the rubber-stamped parliament is opposed strongly from local activists and international community. In mid-June, tens of housands of Vietnamese rallied on streets in key cities to protest two bills Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

Vietnam has been near the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index for years and is currently ranked 175th out of 180 countries.