Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for April 1-7, 2019: NOW! Campaign Says Vietnam Holds at Least 251 Prisoners of Conscience


Defend the Defenders| April 7, 2019

In its quarterly press release on April 1, NOW! Campaign, an initiative involving 15 international and Vietnamese civil society organizations to work for release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, says Vietnam is holding at least 251 prisoners of conscience as of March 31, 2019.

The number includes 221 who have been convicted, typically of political crimes such as “propaganda against the state,” “subversion” and “sabotagingthe implementation of solidarity policies,” and 30 others who are held in pre-trial detention.

NOW! Campaign is concerned about recent abductions Vietnam’s security forces have carried out and their victims are human rights defenders. The typical case is democracy activist Huynh Thi To Nga, who was kidnapped by undercover police officers when she was working in Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Police have yet to inform her family about her arrest and charges against her nor the place she is being held.

Authorities in Hanoi have sent well-known blogger Le Anh Hung to a local mental clinic after holding him in police custody for the past nine months for investigation on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom.” His family has yet to be allowed to meet with him in the facility.

Anti-corruption activist and citizen journalist Do Cong Duong has been sent to Prison camp No. 6 in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province to serve his eight-year imprisonment. This would take his family two days to conduct monthly visits.

One Free Press Coalition (#OneFreePress) which uses the collective audiences of member organizations to stand up for journalists under attack for pursuing the truth worldwide, has named Vietnamese imprisoned blogger Tran Thi Nga in its second monthly listof “10 Most Urgent” with aim to call for attention to the most pressing cases of journalists under attack for pursuing the truth.

Police in Dong Thap have continued their harassment against the family of local prisoner of conscience Huynh Truong Ca, summoning his daughter to a police station for questioning about the supports the family has received from individuals and charity organizations.

===== April 1 ===== 

NOW! Campaign’s Latest Count: Vietnam Holds 251 Prisoners of Conscience

Vietnam is holding at least 251 prisoners of conscience, according to the NOW! Campaign, an initiative involving 15 international and Vietnamese civil society organizations to work for release of all prisoners of conscience in the Southeast Asian nation.

The above number includes 221 who have been convicted, typically of political crimes such as “propaganda against the state,” “subversion” and “sabotagingthe implementation of solidarity policies,” and 30 others who are held in pre-trial detention.

Many bloggers, lawyers, unionists, land rights activists, political dissidents, and followers of unregistered minority religions have been arrested and detained for peacefully exercising their internationally and constitutionally protected rights, principally the right to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of religion or belief, said NOW! Campaign ‘s press release on April 1, adding the list does not include individuals who have engaged in or advocated violence. 

Most prisoners of conscience have been charged with or convicted onallegations under Articles 109, 116,117, 318 and 331 in the 2015 Penal Code (previously Articles 79, 87, 88, 245 and 258 of the 1999 Penal Code, respectively): 

– 47 activists convicted forsubversion (Article 79 of 1999 Penal Code or Article 109 in the 2015 Penal Code); 

– 31 activists convicted and five charged with anti-state propaganda (Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code or Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code); 

– 57 people from ethnic minorities convicted for undermining the national unity policy (Article 87 of the 1999 Penal Code or 116 of the 2015 Penal C); 

– 12 activists convicted of or charged with “abusing democratic freedom” (Article 258 of the 1999 Penal Code or Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code); 

– 66 individuals convicted of or charged with “disrupting public orders” (under Article 245 of the 1999 Penal Code or Article 318 of the 2015 Penal Code). Fifty two of them were imprisoned for peaceful participation in or being suspected of planning to participate in the mid-June 2019 demonstrations and their aftermath. 

– The charges against16 individuals are unknown or yet to be announced by authorities. One typical example is the case of Huynh Thi To Nga (F) who was kidnapped by police on January 28 when she was working atNguyen Tri Phuong Hospital in HCM City. There has beenno news abouther detention and her family has not been informed ofher presentsituation. 

Abduction becomes rampant 

Since September 2018, Vietnam’s security forces have carried out many abductions to detain local activists before announcingthe official charges, and in some cases, they hold detainees for months without informing their families about their arrest and charges.

In early September last year, police in Ho Chi Minh City abducted seven members of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution) and still hold them incommunicado. After requests fromtheir families, the city’s police admitted that they were kept in custody for investigation of criminal charges. The charges against two of them, Tran Thanh Phuong (M) and Do The Hoa (M), remain unknown totheir families and the public.

In late February 2019, undercover police officers detained medical worker Huynh Thi To Nga (F) while she was working atNguyen Tri Phuong Hospital in HCM City. Police in HCM City have yet to announceher detention and charge against her. The charge againstherolder brother Huynh Minh Tam (M),who was arrested two days earlier,also remains unknown.

Along with kidnapping activists in the country, Vietnam’s security forces seem to have carried out illegal arrests in foreign countries also.  On January 25, former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat (M) registered withthe Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugee (UNHCR) in Bangkok for refugee protection. He went missing the next day.After repeated requests for information, his family was finallyinformed on March 20 that he had beentaken into police custodyon January 28 atT16 detention facility in Hanoi under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. Several days later, the ministry announced that he was being investigated foreconomic crime. However, police have not disclosedany information about his situation or status despite multiple expressions of concern byinternational rights groups.

For more details: https://www.vietnampocs.com/blog/latest-count-vietnam-holds-251-prisoners-of-conscience

===== April 2 =====

Vietnamese Imprisoned Blogger Listed as One of Ten Most UrgentJournalists under Attack for Pursuing Truth

Defend the Defenders: One Free Press Coalition (#OneFreePress) which uses the collective audiences of member organizations to stand up for journalists under attack for pursuing the truth worldwide, has named Vietnamese imprisoned blogger Tran Thi Nga in its second monthly listof “10 Most Urgent” with aim to call for attention to the most pressing cases of journalists under attack for pursuing the truth.

According to its information, One Free Press Coalition introduced Ms. Nga as a brave citizen journalist who produced a number of videos critical of authorities on topics like toxic environmental spills and government corruption. Due to her activism, she was arrested and convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to nine years in prison in a one-day trial in 2017.

Currently, Nga, the mother of two kids, is serving her jail sentence in Dak Trung Prison camp in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, about 1,200 km from her family in the capital city of Hanoi.

Other brave journalists in the list were Miroslava Breach Velducea from Mexico, Maria Ressa and Rappler from the Philippines, Azimjon Askarov from Kyrgyzstan, Rana Ayyub from India, Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau from Nicaragua, Anna Nimiriano from South Sudan, Claudia Duque from Colombia and Osman Mirghani from Sudan.

With journalist freedoms under assault worldwide, the One Free Press Coalition was conceived during a meeting of the International Media Council at the World Economic Forum. Top editors from leading media organizations committed to use their collective muscle—by working together, they could shine a massive light on the plight of threatened journalists all over the world.

The coalition consists of 17 international media outlets named The Associated Press

Boston Globe, CNN Money Switzerland, Corriere Della Sera, De Standaard, Deutsche Welle, EURACTIV, Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, HuffPost, Le Temps, Republik, Reuters, Süddeutsche Zeitung, TIME and Yahoo New.

Ms. Nga is among 251 Vietnamese prisoners of conscience by NOW! Campaign, a coalition of 15 international and Vietnamese civil society organizations such as CRD, Front Line Defenders, Defend the Defenders, BPSOS and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) which works for release of all prisoners of conscience in the Southeast Asian nation.

===== April 3 ===== 

Family of POC Huynh Truong Ca Questioned about Receiving Humanitarian Support

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap have questioned the family of local prisoner of conscience Huynh Truong Ca about humanitarian supports it has been receiving from Vietnam’s unregistered civil organizations and individuals in the country and abroad.

On April 2, police in Hong Ngu district issued a summoning letter requesting Ca’s daughter Huynh Thi Thai Ngan to be in the district police’s headquarters on April 3 to answer police’s questions regarding the financial supports his family has received from 50K Foundation, a charity foundation set up by Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh.

During the meeting, police officers threatened Ms. Ngan, saying she must not receive further supports from 50K Foundation and other sources.

50K Foundation was set up by Mrs. Hanh one year ago. Its beneficiaries mostly are prisoners of conscience and their families as well as activists-at-risk.

Along with blocking economic activities of families of activists, authorities in their localities are striving to halt all support from other people in the country and abroad. In some case, plainclothes agents reportedly robbed families of activists when they went from banks after receiving supports.

===== April 4 =====

Hanoi Sends Blogger Le Anh Hung to Mental Clinic After Nine Months of Detention

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Hanoi have sent well-known blogger Le Anh Hung to a local mental clinic after holding him in police custody for the past nine months, Defend the Defenders has learned.

According to his mother, Mr. Hung, 45, was sent to the mental health clinic located in Thuong Tin district. On April 4, she and her second son went to request the facility’s authorities to allow them to meet with the blogger, however, they denied, saying they are carrying out first tests for him. 

Mr. Hung, 45, was arrested on July 5, 2018 on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code for his denunciations against senior officials of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), including General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and secretary of the Hanoi’s party committee Hoang Trung Hai, who is among the 17-member Politburo, the highest decision-making body of the party.

He was held in the Temporary detention facility No. 2 under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department since being detained last year. His arrest came after he filed his letter 139 times to state agencies to accuse Trong and Hai of cooperating with China and betraying the nation.

This is the second time Hung was sent to mental health facilities after submitting denunciations against senior officials. In 2013, his family had to make all efforts to rescue him and get him out of a mental disorders treatment facility after two weeks. He was sent there after he and his wife accused Hoang Trung Hai, then deputy prime minister of leading a drug smuggling ring.

Hung was a regular contributor to the Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Voice of America radio (VOA) as well as a writer of the Việt Nam Thời báo (Vietnam Times) of the unregistered Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. He had short time working as a translator for Defend the Defenders.

He participated in many peaceful demonstrations to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

Hung is not the first activist being sent to psychiatry clinics by authorities who want to silence their voices. 

About two decades ago, Hanoi also sent local political dissident Nguyen Trung Linh to a mental health clinic for years, and for years following, the city’s police were threatening to send him back whenever they feel that his voice may be dangerous for the regime. Currently, Linh is under pre-trial detention on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Hung’s mother, a retired worker in a mental clinic in her home province of Ha Tinh, is concerned that he may be poisoned with toxic chemicals during his stay in the Hanoi-based clinic.

——————–

Imprisoned Citizen Journalist Do Cong Duong Sent to Nghe An 

Defend the Defenders: Imprisoned citizen journalist and anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong has been sent to serve his eight-year imprisonment in the Prison camp No. 6 located in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province.

In order to conduct monthly visits, his family has to travel around 600 km from his home province of Bac Ninh.

Mr. Duong, 55, was arrested on January 24, 2018 while filming a land grabbing case 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. In separate trials last year, he was sentenced to a total nine years in prison. In the appeal hearing for the second charge in February this year, he got one-year reductrion.

His arrest and conviction aim to silence his anti-corruption activities in Bac Ninh province where local communist chief Nguyen Nhan Chien has promoted dozens of his relatives to key positions in local government and supported many companies, including property developers.

===== April 5 =====

Imprisoned Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Anh Allowed to Meet with Family after 7 Months of Incommunicado Detention

Defend the Defenders: Imprisoned Facebooker Nguyen Ngoc Anh has been permitted to meet with her family after incommunicado detention since being arrested on August 30 last year, Defend the Defenders has learned.

On April 5, his wife Chau and five-year-old son met him in the temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ben Tre province’s Police Department, she told Defend the Defenders, adding he is healthy and remains mentally strong.

Anh, 39, has not been allowed to meet with his lawyer, she noted.

By allowing him to meet with his family, authorities in Ben Tre have signaled that investigation against him was completed and he may be taken to a court soon. He is facing imprisonment of between seven and 12 years, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Anh, who graduated from Nha Trang University’s Aquaculture, was arrested in August last year, and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code due to his online activism.

The shrimp grower is said to have posted many articles and conducted a number of live streams on his Facebook account Nguyễn Ngọc Ánhto promote human rights and multi-party democracy. He also participated in peaceful demonstrations in issues of environment and the country’s sovereignty.

His arrest is a part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on the local dissent, which started in late 2015 with the detention of prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and has been intensified after the Law on Cyber Security in early 2018.

Anh is considered as a prisoner of conscience by NOW! Campaign, a coalition of 15 domestic and international civil rights organizations, including Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), Front Line Defenders (FLD), Defend the Defenders (DTD), and Boat People SOS (BPSOS).

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