Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 21-27, 2019: One More Member of BFD Arrested, Charged with Subversion


Defend the Defenders| January 27, 2019

Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on the local dissent, arresting Mr. Nguyen Van Vien, a member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD), and charging him with subversion, the same allegation it used to convict eight members of the group in 2018.

Mr. Vien went missing on January 13 and few days later, security officers came to conduct search in his house. Meanwhile, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that Vietnam’s police arrested Australian citizen Chau Van Kham. Kham and Vien reportedly were arrested during their meeting in Ho Chi Minh City.

On January 21, the Higher People’s Court in HCM City unexpectedly suspended the appeal hearing of democracy activists and human rights defenders Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia and Phan Trung on allegation of subversion. The five activists were arrested in early November 2016 and on October 5, 2018, the People’s Court of HCM City convicted them, sentencing them to a total 57 years in prison and 15 years of probation. The reason for the appeal delay is the absence of the appointed lawyer of Phan Trung.

Meanwhile, on January 23, in his appeal hearing, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi reduced jail sentence of citizen journalist and anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong from five years to four years. With the outcome of the hearing, Duong was sentenced to a total eight years on allegations of “causing public disorders” and “abusing democratic freedom” for filming a forced land grabbing in his Tu Son town in early 2018.

Saigon-based activist Truong Huu Loc has been kept in police custody since his arrest on June 11, 2018. He was charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the 2015 Penal Code for online call for mass demonstration and participation in the street protest in HCM City on June 10 which aimed to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

Meanwhile, on January 20, police from Ward 3, District 5 in HCM City detained activist Pham Ngoc Minh and his two friends while they were staying in a local cafeteria. The reason for the detention is that Minh’s T-shirt with “Protesting Cyber Security Law” slogan. They were held in police station until late evening.

===== January 20 =====

Three Vietnamese Activists Arrested for T-shirt with Slogan Protesting Cyber Security Law

Defend the Defenders:On January 20, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City arrested three activists as one of them wears a T-shirt with “Protesting Cyber Security Law” slogan, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Local activists said activists Pham Ngoc Minh (Facebooker Hoàng Trường Sa), Nguyen Phuoc Hoang Vu (Facebooker Paul Vu Nguyen) and their friend were detained by the police from Ward 3, District 5 when they were sitting in a local cafeteria. Mr. Minh weared the T-shirt with the slogan.

Police took them to the police station of Ward 3 for interrogation and released them in late hours of the same day.

Vietnam’s parliament passed the Cyber Security Law on June 12, 2018 despite widespread protest from local citizens, tens of thousands of them rallied on streets in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Nha Trang, Dong Nai, Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan and other localities to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. The first was designed to favor Chinese investors while the second was set to silence online critics.

After passing the Cyber Security Law, Vietnam has got strong condemnation from democratic governments and international rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Last year, Vietnam arrested 27 activists and convicted 41 human rights defenders, social activists and political dissents and sentenced them to a total 301 years and nine months in prison and 69 years of probation for exercising the right to freedom of expression.

In addition, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in mid June were detained, beaten and around 100 of them were sentenced to between eight months and 54 months in prison.

===== January 21 ===== 

Appeal Hearing of Democracy Activist Luu Van Vinh and His Friends Suddenly Postponed

Defend the Defenders: On January 21, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City unexpectedly postponed the appeal hearing of democracy activists and human rights defenders Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia and Phan Trung.

The absence of an appointed lawyer of defendant Mr. Trung was the reason for the appeal delay, said relatives of the defendants, adding the families of four other activists have hired lawyers to protect them while Phan Trung has no his own legal assistant.

It is unclear when the appeal hearing of the five activists will be resumed, said Mrs. Thap, the wife of Mr. Vinh. 

Mr. Vinh and his four friends were arrested in early November 2016 and charged with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code due to their plan to set up an group called Vietnam National Coalition which aims to request the right for Vietnamese citizens to have their roles in solving the country’s issues.

Upon their arrest, Mr. Vinh and others were brutally beaten. In addition, Mr. Do was beaten several months ago after the trial.

In their trial on October 5 last year which lasted one day and failed to meet international standards for fair trial, the People’s Cout of Ho Chi Minh City convicted them, sentencing them to a total of total 57 years in prison and 15 years of probation. Particularly, Mr. Vinh was sentenced to 15 years, Mr. Hoan- 13 years, Mr. Do- 11 years, Mr. Nghia- ten years and Buddhist monk Trung was given eight years. In addition, each was given three years of probation afterward.

During the trial, Mr. Vinh and Mr. Do reaffirmed their innocence while Mr. Hoan and Mr. Nghia said they were forced to make false confession during interrogation, said lawyer Dang Dinh Manh.

On October 4, one day prior to the trial, Human Rights Watch issued a statementcalling Vietnam’s communist regime to release them without conditions.

This prosecution shows there is no end in sight when it comes to the government stamping down on calls for political pluralism, democracy, or respect for rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These five advocates are heading to prison for a long time simply for daring to criticize the Communist Party.”

In late April, 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention officially saidthat the arrest of Luu Van Vinh was arbitrary and urged the Vietnamese government to release him and compensate him for illegal arrest and detention in accordance with international law.

The arrests and detentions of Vinh and his four friends are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent amid increasing social disatisfaction.

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, the security forces are striving not to allow the formation of opposition parties. Dozens of activists who advocate for multi-party election have been sentenced to lengthy imprisonments for subversion allegations.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested 27 activists and sentenced 41 human rights defenders with a total 302 years and nine months in prison and 69 years of probation.

The communist nation is holding 244 prisoners of conscience, according to NOW!Campaign, a coalition of 14 domestic and international NGOs, including Defend the Defenders, Boat People SOS (BPSOS), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) and Front Line Defenders (FLD).

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Activist Truong Huu Loc Still Under Detention for 8th Month, Investigation Continues

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City are still holding local activist Truong Huu Loc in detention for the 8th month since his arrest in mid June 2018.

Mr. Loc, 58, was kidnapped by police in HCM City on June 11, one day after the mass demonstration in which tens of thousands of people from different social groups rallied on streets of Hanoi, HCM City, Danang, Nha Trang, Bien Hoa and others to protest the Vietnamese communist regime to approve two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

Four days later, the Police Department in HCM City announced that they charged him with “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code for his participation in the peaceful demonstration on June 10.

According to state media, he was accused of conducting livestreams on his Facebook account Loc Huu Trung to call for street gathering to protest the communist regime’s policies and supplying bread, cake and water to demonstrators in HCM City on June 10.

One week after his arrest, police conducted a house search in his private residence, said his wife Nguyen Thi Le Truc, who was summoned to police station for interrogation for five times. Many protesters who were arrested together with Mr. Loc said he was brutally beaten by police upon his detention and in police custody.

It is likely the Security Investigation branch of the city’s Police Department extended the investigation period in his case.

In mid January this year, Mr. Loc’s two daughters were permitted to meet him for the first time since his detention in mid June last year. However, he has not been allowed to meet with a lawyer.

After the mass demonstration on June 10, police have been tightening security in a bid to prevent large-scale protests which may be deadly harmful for the communist regime. Since that, s ecurity forces have arrested and kidnapped dozens of activists with or without arrest warrants, and still hold many of them. At least six activists were charged with “disruption of security,” one of serious charges in the national security provisions of the Penal Code, with maximum imprisonment of 15 years.

Hundreds of others were detained and tortured by security forces in HCM City on June 17, according to reportsof local activists.

===== January 23 ===== 

Sentence of Citizen Journalist Do Cong Duong on Charge of “Abusing Democratic Freedom” Reduced to Four Years

Defend the Defenders: On January 23, the Higher Court in Hanoi reduced the imprisonment sentence of citizen journalist and anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong on charge of “abusing democratic freedom” by one year to four years, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The sentence reduction was in his appeal hearing based on the defense of Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son who, like in the first-instance hearing, insists that his client is innocent and should be released immediately and unconditionally.

With the outcome of today’s appeal hearing, Mr. Duong’s final sentence was totally eight years for his filming a forced land grabbing in Tu Son town on January 24, 2018, on the day he was arrested and charged with “causing public disorders” under Article 318 and “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

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.

LawyerSon, who also defended Duong in the two hearings for the first charge, 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.

On September 19, 2018, two days after the trial against him for the first charge, the Committee to Protect Journalist issued a statementto 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. 

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’ 2018Report, unchanged from previous years.

===== January 24 =====

Vietnam’s Security Forces Expand Investigation against American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen on Subversion Charge

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have expanded investigation against American citizen Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen on allegation of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned.

On January 24, police in Hanoi sent a summoning letter to a local activist Le My Hanh to request her to go to the Security Investigation Branch of the city’s Police Department on January 29 for interrogation in the case.

Ms. Hanh, who has participated in peaceful demonstrations to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), Hanoi’s plan to chop down hundreds of aged trees in the city’s center in 2015, and the Taiwanese Formosa which illegally discharged a large amount of industrial waste into the Vietnamese central coast and caused the catastrophic environmental pollution in 2016, met Mr. Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen in early July 2018 when he visited Hue City.

On July 6, Mr. Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and his friends Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, Tran Long Phi and Thomas Bao returned in Saigon and they went missing. 

On next day, police arrested Mr. Huynh Duc Thinh, a former political prisoner and the father of Binh, a member of the unregistered group Vietnamese Students for Human Rights which was established by imprisoned democracy activist Tran Hoang Phuc.

The families of the activists were told that they were arrested by security forces in Ho Chi Minh City and Binh was charged with subversion while the charges against others remain unknown.

Few days ago, the family of Mr. Thinh informed Defend the Defenders that he was released but placed under close surveillance. Others are still kept incommunicado in the temporary detention facility under the authority of HCM City’s Police Department.

The arrests and detentions of the group is part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent. Last year, Vietnam arrested at least 27 activists and sentenced 41 human rights defenders to a total 310 years and nine months in prison and 69 years under house arrest.

===== 

One More Member of BFD Arrested, Charged with Subversion

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have arrested Mr. Nguyen Van Vien, a member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD), and charged him with “Activities against the people’s government” under Article 109 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, according to the organization.

In its press release on January 25, 2019, BFD said police in Ho Chi Minh City conducted a house search in his private residence in the city on January 14, one day after Mr. Vien went missing. During the house search, police announced the subversion allegation against him.

However, Vien’s family has yet to receive any official documents from the police which may prove that he is held by the security forces.

On January 25, the Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan), a California-based political party of Vietnamese, said Vietnam’s security forces have arrested its member Chau Van Kham, a Vietnamese Australian, when he went to meet with Mr. Vien in HCM City.

Mr. Vien, 48, is an environmentalist in Quang Nam province. He has been active in condemning the Taiwanese Formosa Company for discharging a large amount of industrial waste into Vietnam’s central coast and caused a devastating environmental disaster in the region in 2016.

Due to his activisim, he and his family have been under persecution of the local government so he was forced to leave his home province to relocate in HCM City, the biggest economic hub in the Southeast Asian nation.

Mr. Vien is the first Vietnamese activist being arrested in 2019 and the 8th member of BFD being accused of subversion since late 2015 when the communist regime started its crackdown on the group with the arrest of its founder human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai and his assistance Le Thu Ha on December 16, 2015.

Last year, the communist regime convicted 41 activists, including nine members of BFD, mostly with charges in the national security provisions in the Penal Code. Eight members of BFD were charged with subversion and sentenced to between seven to 15 years in prison.

It is likely Mr. Vien is held imcommunicado in Phan Dang Luu temporary detention facility under the authority of HCM City’s Police Department. He faces life imprisonment or even the capital punishment if is convicted.

Vietnam is holding around 250 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistic.

===== January 26 =====

Chau Van Kham, Australian citizen and pro-democracy activist, detained in Vietnam

ABC News: Australian authorities have confirmed Australian citizen and pro-democracy activist Chau Van Kham has been detained in Vietnam.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) released a statement confirming the department had sought consular access to an Australian man detained in Vietnam, but for privacy reasons were unable to provide further details.

The family of Mr Chau feared the 70-year-old retired small businessman from Sydney had been arrested after they lost contact with him almost two weeks ago.

Dr Phong Nguyen, his friend and fellow member of pro-democracy group Viet Tan, said Mr Chau visited Vietnam on a fact-finding mission and was detained while meeting with a Vietnamese friend, Nguyen Van Vien, a member of Brotherhood for Democracy, on January 13 in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnamese authorities told Mr Nguyen’s wife her husband was arrested, but provided no reason for his detention, Dr Nguyen said.

“They haven’t allowed her to visit him,” he said.

“We assume both of them were arrested at the same time because they were together.”

Mr Chau’s family informed DFAT of his suspected detention last week and were told DFAT was working on his case.

Dr Nguyen said Mr Chau had not been allowed consular assistance.

“We still don’t know about his whereabouts and safety … [his family] want to send medication over, but first we have to locate where he is,” he said.

The Viet Tan describes itself as a peaceful pro-democracy group, but is branded as a “terrorist” organisation by Hanoi.

“We are mindful that the Vietnamese police have a history of framing peaceful activists with fabricated charges,” Dr Nguyen said.

The news comes a day after DFAT confirmed Chinese-Australian Yang Hengjun, an outspoken political commentator and blogger, had been detained in China.

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