Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for September 24-30, 2018: Crackdown Continues with Incommunicado Detention of Eight Activists, Convictions of Two More Facebookers

Defend the Defenders | September 30, 2018

 

In order to deal with increasing social disatisfaction, Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified its crackdown on local dissent by holding incommunicado eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) and imprisoning two more Facebookers.

In the first week of September, on the occasion of the country’s IndependenceDay (September 2), the security forces arrested blogger Huynh Truong Ca (Facebooker Huỳnh Trương Ca) and kidnapped eight other members of the Hiến Phap group which aims to raise awareness ofhuman rights concerns by distributing Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

The police in Ho Chi Minh City charged Mr. Ca with “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, released blogger Pham Thao (Facebooker Tâm Tâm Nguyen) but still hold incommunicado Mr. Ngo Van Dung (Facebooker Ngô Văn Dũng), Mr. Do The Hoa (Facebooker Bang Lĩnh), Ms. Doan Thi Hong (Facebooker Xuân Hồng), Ms. Tran Hoang Lan (Facebooker Tran Hoang Lan), Mr. Hung Hung (Facebooker Hung Hung), Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong (Facebooker Văn Cương Hồ) and Tran Phuong. The families of Dung, Hong and Hoa have yet to receive arrest warrants and official letters for their detentions from the city’s police.

During this week, Vietnam convicted two Facebookers Doan Khanh Vinh Quang and Bui Manh Dong on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Penal Code for their online postings which were considered harmful for the regime. The first blogger was sentenced to 27 months in prison and the second was given 30 months in jail. It is worth noting that their trials were held within 30 days from their arrests, unlike other political cases in which the alleged activists have been held for months before being brought to courts.

In addition, a court in Binh Thuan convicted 15 local citizens on allegation of “disrupting public order” under Article 318 of the Penal Code for their participation in the mass demonstration in mid-June. The protesters were given between 24 months and 54 months in prison. According to the Radio Free Asia (RFA), none of the defendants had attorneys in their trial .

With the new detentions and convictions, the number of arrested activists has risen to 23 so far this year. As many as 33 activists have been sentenced to a total 225 years and six months in prison and 56 years of probation as of September 30. In addition, 60 protesters were convicted in July-September, with 52 of them being sentenced to between eight months and 54 months in prison while the remaining eight havingbeengiven probation of between five and 12 months.

According to Now!Campaign, a coalition of BPSOS, Defend the Defenders and 12 other domestic and international NGOs, Vietnam is holding 245 prisoners of conscience.

Authorities in Gia Trung prison camp have denied the family of prisoner of conscience Tran Thi Nga regular visitsto meet with her without giving explanation. The move has triggered public concerns about her safety given the fact that in July-August, she was beaten and receiveddeath threats by an inmate who shared the same cell with the activist.

On October 5, the People’s Court of HCM City will try democracy activists Luu Van Vinh and his friends named Nguyen Van Duc Do, Phan Trung, Nguyen Quoc Hoan and Tu Cong Nghia on allegation of subversion under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. They have been kept in detention since their arrests in November 2016,which werelinked to the Coalition for Self-determined Vietnamese People, a unregistered group working for ending the communists’ political monopoly. Mr. Vinh founded the coalition in mid-July 2016and became the president of the organization butleft the group several days before being arrested.

 

His arrest and detention were considered arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,which calls on Vietnam’s authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

 

Vinh and his friends are facing life imprisonments, andeven the death penalty if they are convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

===== September 24 =====

Vietnam Convicts Third Facebooker Within Three Days amid Intensified Online Crackdown

 Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime has convicted Facebooker Doan Khanh Vinh Quang, sentencing him to 27 months in prison on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

At the first-instance hearing held on September 24, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district, Can Tho City, found Mr. Quang guilty of posting articles on his Facebook account Quang Doan to defame the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and its government.

State media reported that police found two flags of the former Southern Vietnam Republic in Mr. Quang’s private house. He was accused of inciting people to participate in the mass demonstration in mid-June in Ho Chi Minh City and other localities.

Quang, 42, is the third Facebooker in Can Tho to beconvicted within three days. Two days earlier, the People’s Court in Cai Rang district gave Nguyen Hong Nguyen and Truong Dinh Khang two years and one year of jail, respectively, for the same charge.

Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on local dissent and online bloggers which started in late 2015 with the arrest of prominent human right attorney Nguyen Van Dai, one of founders of the Brotherhood for Democracy.

Despite strong public protest against the draft law on Cyber Security, the communist-dominated parliament approved the bill on June 12 and it will become effective on January 1 next year.

More and more bloggers have been arrested and numerous citizens have been targetted for their online posts on social networks, especially Facebook, the most popular online platform in Vietnam with around 40 millionusers.

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Nine Members of Constitution Group Arrested in Early September: Facebooker Nguyen Uyen Thuy

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces arrested nine members of the unregistered Hiến Pháp (Constitution) in early September in a bid to prevent spontanous demonstrations amid increasing social disatisfaction, said Facebooker Nguyen Uyen Thuy, one of the group’s 18 member.

Detentions were made ahead of the group’s plan to gather in Ho Chi Minh City on September 4 on the occasion of the country’s IndependenceDay (September 2) holiday to incite peaceful demonstrations on various issues, including human rights abuse, systemic corruption, the government’s weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty and bad government management which has ledto serious environmental pollution nationwide, said Thuy, who escaped from police raid.

The police kidnapped eight members of the group and took them into custody without informing their families about their arrests and detentions, Thuy told Defend the Defenders, adding only Huynh Truong Ca‘s arrest was publicized in state media.

Mr. Do The Hoa (Facebooker Bang Lĩnh) was detained in the evening of September 1, Ms. Doan Thi Hong (Facebooker Xuân Hồng) was arrested on September 2 while Ngo Van Dung (Facebooker Ngô Văn Dũng) was taken into custody after conducting a livestream in HCM City in the morning of September 4.

Other detained members are Ho Van Cuong (Facebooker Văn Cương Hồ), Tran Phuong (Facebooker Trần Phương), Hung Hung (Facebooker Hung Hung), Tran Hoang Lan (Facebooker Tran Hoang Lan), and Pham Thao (Facebooker Tâm Tâm Nguyen), said Thuy, who is now into hiding to avoid being arrested.

Police released Pham Thao after two days of interrogation and still hold the eight remaining members in custody, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The group was established on June 16, 2017, striving to educatepeople abouthuman rights as well as political and civil rights by disseminating Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution, Thuy said, noting once citizens know their rights enshrined in the constitution, they can fight for their rights and request the ruling communist party and its government respect the Constitution.

Currently, the party and state agencies are systematically violating the country’s Constitution, she added.

During the police raid in early September, nine members of the group successfully escaped, Thuy said.

So far, police in HCM City have yet to inform the families of eight members about their arrests and detentions. Relatives of Doan Thi Hong and Ngo Van Dung went to the temporary detention facility of the city’s police and were told that the two activists are held there. However, police have made no written form of confirmation about their detention, just tellingtheir families to send clothes and money for them.

On September 14, state media reported that police in Dong Thap province arrested Huynh Truong Ca, one of the members of the group, and charged him with “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code. He is facing imprisonment of up to 20 years in prison if is convicted, according to current Vietnam’s law.

Although the right to assembly is enshrined in the 2013 Constitution, Vietnam’s government does not permitspontanous demonstrations. Participants of spontanous protests have been suppressed, beaten, arrested and even charged with “disrupting public orders” and may face imprisonment of up to seven years in prison.

Related link:Vietnam jails activist for anti-government posts on Facebook

HCM City Police Verbally Admit Detentions of Two Facebookers Arrested Three Weeks Ago

===== September 26 =====

Vietnam Jails 15 Protesters For Violent Demonstration in Binh Thuan Province

RFA: Vietnamese authorities jailed 15 more protesters from southeastern Vietnam’s Binh Thuan province on Wednesday on charges of disrupting public order for participating in a violent demonstration in June against a proposed law concerning special economic zones.

The defendants, who ranged in age from 18 to 33, were handed prison terms of two to four and a half years each during a one-day trial, state media reported. Their indictment said they had attacked riot police with bricks, sticks, and Molotov cocktails, destroyed government vehicles, and caused traffic jams.

During the protest, police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, some of whom burned a dozen vehicles and damaged property at several government buildings.

Nguyen Cu, father of 19-year-old protester Nguyen Van Thuan who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, said his son turned himself in to police and admitted to the court that he had hurled three or four rocks at officers.

He also told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he could not afford a lawyer for his son because his family is poor.

“They [authorities] let us attend the trial,” he said. “The police previously came to my house and told me not to hire a lawyer because it would be a waste.”

Nguyen Cu added that none of the other defendants had attorneys.

In July, the Binh Thuan court sentenced six other protesters to up to two and a half years in prison on the same charges after finding them guilty of throwing rocks, bricks, and Molotov cocktails at riot police.

The protest was one of several held in cities and provinces around the country in early June to express public opposition to the proposed law that would grant 99-year leases for the economic zones to foreign investors.

Many feared that the leases would be snapped up by investors from neighboring China, with which Vietnam has had tense bilateral relations in recent years, in part due to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Dozens of others who participated in demonstrations in other cities and provinces have already been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing.

Vietnamese authorities beat and arrested demonstrators who took part in what began as a peaceful protest in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, including an American citizen of Vietnamese descent who later released and deported.

Thousands of others in central Ha Tinh province, southern Binh Duong province, and the capital Hanoi demonstrated in opposition to the economic zone draft law.

Some of the demonstrations also focused on a recently-passed cybersecurity law that protesters said would limit free speech in one-party communist Vietnam, where dissent is rarely tolerated and public unrest is quickly suppressed.

Following the protests, the government postponed the passage of the bill until more research on it could be conducted.

===== September 27 =====

Can Tho Imprisons 4th Blogger on Allegation of “Abusing Democratic Freedom”

Defend the Defenders: On September 27, the People’s Court of Thot Not district in the Mekong Delta’s economic hub of Can Tho convicted local blogger Bui Manh Dong on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

According to the indictment, Mr. Dong, 40, was found guilty of posting on social media many statuses and images which defamedlate President Ho Chi Minh and his successor Ton Duc Thang as well as other senior officials of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and its government.

Mr. Dong was arrested on September 1, one day prior to the country’s IndependenceDay (September 2) and charged with “Illegal provision or use of information on computer networks or telecommunications networks” under Article 288 of the Penal Code.

Mr. Dong is the 4th blogger in Can Tho City to bearrested and convicted within a week. On September 22, the People’s Court in Cai Rang district sentenced Mr. Nguyen Hong Nguyen, 38 and Truong Dinh Khang, 26, to two years and one year in prison, respectively, and two days later, Mr. Doan Khanh Vinh Quang was given to 27 months in prison, for the same charge under Article 331.

Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on local dissent and online bloggers which started in late 2015 with the arrest of prominent human right attorney Nguyen Van Dai, one of founders of the Brotherhood for Democracy.

Since the beginning of 2018, Vietnam has arrested 23 activists on allegations of subversion (Article 109), conducting anti-state propaganda (Article 117) and “abusing democratic freedom” (Article 331) in the national security provisions of the Penal Code.

The communist regime has convicted 33 activists and sentenced them to a total 225.5 years in prison and 56 years of probation. Environmentalist and human rights defender Le Dinh Luong was given the record high sentence of 20 years in prison and five years of probation for subversion.

In addition, Vietnam arrested hundreds of activists and people participating in the mass demonstrationin mid-June which broke to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. So far, 52 protesters have been sentenced to between eight and 54 months in prison and eight others have been given between five and 12 months of probation, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. More convictions against protesters are expected in the coming months.

Despite strong public protest against the draft law on Cyber Security, the communist-dominated parliament approved the bill on June 12 and it will become effective on January 1 next year.

More and more bloggers have been arrested and numerous citizens have been targetted for their online posts on social networks, especially Facebook, the most popular online platform in Vietnam with around 40 million users.

Many activists have complained that Facebook suspended their accounts for posts critical for Vietnam’s communist regime. The situationhasworsened since Facebook appointed Le Diep Kieu Trang, a daughter of a senior communist official, as its director in the Southeast Asian nation in March 2018.

Related link: Vietnam jails another Facebook user for comments critical of government

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Prisoner of Conscience Tran Thi Nga Denied to Meet with Family, Dissidents Concerned about Her Safety

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese activists are concerned about safety of prisoner of conscience Tran Thuy Nga after authorities in Gia Trung prison camp denied her family’s visit.

Many activists have questioned the prison’s refusal, suggesting she may be under a dangerous situation given the fact that she received death threats in June and July.

On September 29, her fiance Phan Van Phong took their two children from Hanoi to travel around 1,300 km to the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai where Nga is serving her nine-year imprisonment. However, they were not allowed to meet with her and the prison’s authorities gave no explanation.

The last meeting between Nga and her kids was July 26.

In August, her younger brother came to the prison for a visit, however, he was denied as the prison’s authorities told him that she wasbeing disciplined for violating prison regulations.

In mid-August, Nga was beaten and given death threat by a fellow inmate, according to Mr. Phong, an activist in Hanoi who is taking care oftheir two kids, six and eight years of age. Nga telephoned him to report the assault against her carried out by a female inmate who was placed in the same cell with her.

The female inmate, considered the most aggressive woman in the prison, was continuously beating Nga and threatening to kill her.

Meeting strong public condemnation after the incident was unveiled, the prison’s authorities were said to move the perpetrator to another cell.

Nga said the harassment against her is part of the acts of prison authorities aiming to force her to confess her wrongdoings. Since being arrested in January 2017 and convicted in mid-2017, she has refused to deliver a false confession, saying she has done nothing wrong according to Vietnam’s law and international human rights laws.

After being convicted in trails which fail to meet international standards for fair trials, prisoners of conscience have been transferred to prisons far from their houses, placing arbitrary obstacles on family visitation.

In prisons, they have been treated inhumanely as prison authorities under the authorities of the Ministry of Public Security impose different methods to break their mental strength and make their lives more difficult, former prisoners of conscience and prisoners of conscience have said.

The methods include cell confinement, threats and torture by other inmates, forced labor, and poor-quality food as well as the denial of proper medical treatment. In 2016, the London-based NGO Amnesty International released its report titled “Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam” described clearly how prisoners have been treated in prisons.

In July, prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a well-known blogger under the penname of Mother Mushroom, conducted a long-lasting hunger strike to protest inhumane treatment while serving her ten-year imprisonment in Prison No. 5 in Yen Dinh district, Thanh Hoa province. She was also threatened by an inmate and provided with poor-quality food. She agreed to end the hunger strike after a representative of the US Embassy in Vietnam visited her and the prison authorities agreed to move her to an another cell.

Nga, who was arrested in late February 2017 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code, was sentenced to nine years in prison. She is listed as one of around 100 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam by Amnesty International.