Appeal Hearing of Anti-corruption Activist Do Cong Duong on Allegation of Abusing Democratic Freedom Set on Jan 23

Jailed citizen journalist Do Cong Duong

Defend the Defenders, January 15, 2019 

The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi will carry out the appeal hearing of citizen blogger Do Cong Duong on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” on January 23, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The appeal hearing will be open for public, the court said in its notice sent to his lawyer Ha Huy Son. It is unclear whether his relatives will be allowed to enter the courtroom as in his three hearings in 2018, his daughter and other family members were not permitted to observe from inside.

The appeal hearing will be made more than three months after the trial on October 12, 2018 in which the People’s Court of Bac Ninh convicted him and sentenced him to five years in prison.

It is unlikely the Higher People’s Court will reduce his jail sentence given the fact that the communist regime in Vietnam has sentenced government critics with heavy imprisonment recently.

Mr. Duong, 54, was arrested on January 24, 2018 while filming a forced land grabbing in his town of Tu Son. He was charged with “causing public disorders” under Article 318 and “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

On September 17 last year, the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted him on the first charge and sentenced him to four years in jail. On November 21 of the same year, the People’s Court of Bac Ninh province rejected his appeal and upheld the sentence.

Totally, he was sentenced to nine years in prison last year.

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 timesbefore being arrested. 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 andconvictions arelikely thelocal authorities’ 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.

Two days after the trial against him for the first charge, the Committee to Protect Journalist issued a statement to condemn the Vietnamese government’s move, saying he should be released and all pending charges against the journalist should be dropped.

“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.

Mr. Duong is listed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and NOW!Campaign, a campaign of 14 international and domestic independent civil organizations working for release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

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’ 2018 Report.