Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 18-24, 2019: Facebooker Le Minh The Convicted, Prison Sentences of Five Activists Upheld


Defend the Defenders | March 24, 2019

Vietnam’s communist regime continues its persecution against local dissidents, bloggers and social activists with more arrests and convictions this week.

On March 20, the People’s Court of Binh Thuy district, Can Tho City convicted local Facebooker Le Minh The of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of 2015 Penal Code, sentencing him to two years in prison. He has became the first blogger being imprisoned for his posts advocating human rights and democracy on his Facebook account this year amid increasing crackdown on online critics.

Two days earlier, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City rejected the appeals of democracy campaigners Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia and Phan Trung who were sentenced to a total 57 years in prison and 15 years of probation by the People’s Court of HCM City for allegation of subversion under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code in the trial on October 5 last year.

In mid-March, a court in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai convicted Protestant missionery Ksor Ruk on allegation of “undermining the state’s policy of unity” under Article 116 of the 2015 Penal Code, the controversial article often being used to punish these people who breavely exercising the right to freedom of religion and belief.

On March 19, authorities in the northern province of Bac Ninh detained a local resident named Nguyen Ba Manh, accusing him of disseminating “fake news” about the infection of many children in his local kindergarten on his Facebook account t Côngnông Đâùdọc. After being interrogated by local police, he was forced to remove his status which says the Ngu Thai kindergarten had used tapeworm-infested pork for feeding its children and calls on young parents in his area to voice out to protect their children. Later, police took him into custody for further investigation and he may face allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” with the maximum imprisonment of seven years in jail.

Former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat, who disappeared in Bangkok in late January after registering as an asylum seeker to UNHCR’s Office in Thailand, has been held in T16 temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security since January 28. He was likely abducted by Vietnam’s security agents in Bangkok and taken back to the home country. A number of international rights groups named Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Amnesty International have urged Vietnam’s government to fully explain his situation and release him immediately and unconditionally. 

===== March 18 =====

Vietnam Court Upholds Lengthy Sentences of Five Members of Pro-democracy Group

Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City has rejected appeals of five members of the to-be-established Vietnam National Coalition, upholding the lengthy sentences given by the People’s Court of HCM City in the trial on October 5 last year.

In the appeal hearing on March 18, the Higher People’s Court said there is no evidence for sentence reduction for Mr. Luu Van Vinh, Mr. Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Mr. Nguyen Van Duc Do, Mr. Tu Cong Nghia and Mr. Phan Trung, who were convicted and sentenced to a total 57 years of prison and 15 years of probation by the lower court.

During the four-hour-lasting appeal, security forces blocked the relatives of the defendants from entering the courtroom despite their strong protest. Later, they permitted only Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thap, the wife of Mr. Vinh, to sit in the room and sent others to another room so they could watch the appeal via TV screen only.

In their last words, the defendants affirmed their innocence and strongly protested the final decision of the court, said Dang Dinh Manh, one of their lawyers.

The five human rights defenders and democracy activists were beaten and arrested in early November 2016 for their plan to set up the Vietnam National Coalition which aims to work to promote civil and political rights of the citizens and end the political monopoly of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam which rules the country for decades. Later, they were charged with “conducting activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code with the maximum punishment is death penalty.

After lengthy incommunicado detention, they were tried on October 5, 2018: Mr. Vinh was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mr. Hoan- 13 years, Mr. Do- 11 years, Mr. Nghia- ten years and Mr. Trung- eight years. In addition, every has to serve three-year probation after completing their imprisonment.

Before the trial and the appeal hearings, many international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and democratic governments issued statements calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to release the five activists immediately and unconditionally, saying they carried out peaceful activities to promote human rights and democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had issued a resolution saying the arrest of Mr. Vinh was illegal and requested his release.

The arrests and convictions of the five activists are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent amid incrasing public disatisfaction on socio-economic issues, especially systemic corruption, widespread human rights abuse and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has requested the security forces not to allow the formation of opposition. Hundreds of activists have been kidnapped, arrested and convicted of allegations per controversial articles in the National Security provisions of the Penal Code.

According to NOW! Campaign, a coalition of 15 domestic and international civil organizations including Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Defend the Defenders and Boat People’s SOS (BPSOS), Vietnam is holding over 250 prisoners of conscience.

Hanoi always denies of holding prisoners of conscience, saying it imprisons only law violators.

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One More Missionery Imprisoned for Exercising Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Gia Lai have convicted Protestant missionery Ksor Ruk of “undermining unified policy” under Article 116 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code for his activities which aimed to exercise and promote the right to freedom of religion and belief.

According to the state media, in a trial on March 15, the People’s Court of Gia Lai sentenced missionery Ksor Ruk to ten years in prison for a trumped-up allegation of attempt to re-establish Dega independent state.

He was arrested on October 30 last year just because he worked to form a group of Protestant followers to pray together.

This will be the second imprisonment of the missionery. In 2007, he was convicted of the same allegation and sentenced to six years in jail, and served his sentence in 2007-2013.

According to Defend the Defenders (DTD)’s statistics, Vietnam is holding at least 54 Protestant pastors, missioner and followers on charges of “undermining policy” in the National Security provisions in the Penal Code, and the actual number may be much higher. Their sentences range from six to 20 years in jail.

===== March 19 ===== 

Vietnamese Facebooker Detained for Disseminating News on Childen’ Infection with Tapeworm

Defend the Defenders: On March 19, authorities in Vietnam’s northern province of Bac Ninh detained a local resident named Nguyen Ba Manh, accusing him of disseminating “fake news” about the infection of many children in his local kindergarten on social network.

According to state media, Mr. Thanh, a 32-year-old resident of Cuu Yen village, Ngu Thai commune, Thuan Thanh district, was summoned by the district police for his post on Facebook which says the Ngu Thai kindergarten had used tapeworm-infested pork for feeding its children.

Mr. Manh was reportedly to admit that he had posted two pictures of tapeworm-infected pork from Internet to his Facebook account Côngnông Đâùdọcwith written explanation: “Parents in Ngu Thai commune need to voice that our commune has used tape-worm-infested pork.”

After requesting Mr. Manh to delete his status that the local authorities consider “fake,” the local authorities reportedly forced him to post another status to apologize for incorrect news which “has caused social disatisfaction among residents disorders and trigger local disorders.”

After imposing on him an administrative fine which was not reveiled, police reportedly detained him for futher investigation. He may face a charge of “abusing democratic freedom 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 with the maximum punishment of seven years in prison.

Meanwhile, dozens of young parents in Bac Ninh province are in panic after knowing that their children had been feeded with tapeworm-infected pork from schools’ canteens. Hundreds of local children have been taken to Hanoi’s hospitals for test.

The medical tests showed that more than 200 children in Bac Ninh have been positive with tapeworm infection test and the number of the infected children may rise further since many of them had been supplied with food provided by the same supplier have yet tested.

It is unclear the sources for infection but many are suspecting that the children got infection after consuming food from their schools’ canteens which have used unsafe pork.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered the province’s police to investigate the incident, however, the food samples of the concerned schools’ canteens had disappeared.

It is a rumor that the company supplying the quality-questionable pork for dozens of the schools where the infection occured belong to individuals who are in close connection with Nguyen Nhan Chien, the chief of the provincial party Committee. About two dozens of relative of Chien, who is a member of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam’s Central Committee, are holding key positions in the local government agencies.

Vietnam’s communist regime often uses Article 331 and or “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code to silence local dissent and bloggers.

Vietnam continues to languish near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s World Press Freedom Index, and is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2018 Index.

There are at least 26 imprisoned media workers in Vietnam where authorities target citizen journalists in particular, according to the Paris-based organization.

===== March 20 ===== 

Vietnamese Activist Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Facebook Posts

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have convicted democracy activist Le Minh The (Facebooker Lê Minh Thể) 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.

In the three-hour-lasting trial on March 20, 2019, the People’Court of Binh Thuy district, Can Tho City, sentenced him to two years in prison for his posts on his Facebook account from March 22 to August 29, 2018, according to the court’s indictment.

Only his wife was permitted to attend the trial proceeding in a courtroom. His other relatives and supporters were blocked from going in, said his younger sister who was detained by police who took her to a local station and released her after the first-instance hearing of her brother ends.

Mr. The, 56, is a member of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) which aims to promote civil and political rights among citizens by disseminating the country’s Constitution 2013. He conducted numerous live streams on his Facebook account calling for promoting human rights and multi-party democracy.

Due to his online activities and participation in the peaceful mass demonstration in Ho Chi Minh on June 10, 2018 which aimed to protest two bills on Special Economic Zone and Cyber Security, he was arrested on October 10, 2018.

He had been kept incommunicado since being arrested until early 2019. He is the first activist being convicted in 2019.

His arrest and conviction are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent and online bloggers. Last year, Vietnam arrested nearly 30 activists and convicted more than 40 democracy campaigners and human rights defenders, sentencing to a total 300 years in prison and 69 years of probation.

Vietnam is still holding 28 activists in pre-trial detention, including blogger Nguyen Danh Dung, who was arrested on December 16, 2016 on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom.”

Mr. The, together with seven other imprisoned members of Hiến Pháp, is listed as a prisoner of conscience by NOW! Campaign, a coalition of 15 international and Vietnamese NGOs, including Defend the Defenders, Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, and BPSOS working on release of all prisoners of conscience in the Southeast Asian nation.

According to NOW! Campaign, Vietnam is imprisoning at least 250 activists as of late March 2019.

——————– 

Truong Duy Nhat, Who Disappeared in Bangkok in January, Held in Hanoi

RFA: Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger for Radio Free Asia, who disappeared in Bangkok in late January amid suspicions he was abducted by Vietnamese agents, is in a Hanoi jail, his daughter and a local writer said Wednesday, in the first word of his fate since he went missing.

Canada-based Thuc Doan Truong told RFA’s Vietnamese that her mother was informed by prison authorities that Nhat was arrested on Jan. 28 and thrown into a jail in central Hanoi district on the same day.

Rights activists had suspected that Nhat was detained by Thai authorities on the outskirts of Bangkok and handed to Vietnamese agents on Jan. 26 after he had fled to Thailand to seek political asylum with a U.N. refugee agency.

For further reading: RFA Blogger Who Disappeared in Bangkok is Being Held in Hanoi, Says Daughter

===== March 21 =====

Vietnam Urged to Publicize Information about Truong Duy Nhat’s Situation

Defend the Defenders: Internationl rights groups such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Amnesty International have urged Vietnam’s communist regime to publicize clear information about the situation of former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat, who is held in detention in Hanoi after reportedly went missing in Bangkok two months ago.

On March 21, the three international NGOs issued their statements calling Vietnam’s government to fully explain Mr. Nhat’s status after he had reportedly submitted application for refugee status to the Office of UN High Commissioner on Refugee (UNHCR) in Bangkok on January 25.

Their statements were released after Nhat’s family saidthey were informed that he is being held in T16 temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. His wife escorted by some friends in Hanoi visited the detention facility in Thanh Oai district, Hanoi  on March 20 to request to meet with him, however, the facility authorities said he is in investigation period and will not be able to meet with his family. However, they accepted some food and other neccesaries from his family for him.

Police informed his family that he was detained on January 28 and taken to the facility on the same day. Police gave no information about his charge(s).

Given the fact that Nhat was reported to appear in the UNHCR’s office in Bangkok, it is likely that he was abducted in Thailand’s capital city and taken to Vietnam, as some sources rumored in early February, one week after he disappeared in Bangkok’s outskirt.

“We call on the Vietnamese authorities to fully explain Truong Duy Nhat’s status,” saidDaniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The reasons for his abduction and therefore arrest in Thailand must be clarified without delay. For the time being, everything indicates that he was arrested because of his journalistic activities. The precise role played by the Thai authorities in this matter must also be established.”

In its press release, CPJ urged Vietnam to free Nhat. “Vietnamese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release blogger Truong Duy Nhat and allow him to travel freely outside of Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities in Vietnam and Thailand should investigate the circumstances around Nhat’s apparent abduction in Thailand and hold those responsible to account under the fullest extent allowable under local laws.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser Joanne Mariner said“… Reports that Nhat is now in a Hanoi prison are extremely worrying, and we are calling on the Vietnamese authorities to confirm whether he is in their custody and disclose his whereabouts at once.”

Nhat is a former prisoner of conscience. He served two-year sentence in 2013-2015 for allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” due to his critical posts on his blog.

Some sources said that his detention this time is related to economic crimes of police senior lieutenant Phan Van Anh Vu who is still being investigated after sentenced to 25 years in prison. The cases involved many senior officials in Danang City where Nhat once headed the representative office of a state-run newspaper.

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