Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for October 28-November 3, 2019: Two Facebookers Jailed for Online Postings
Defend the Defenders | November 3, 2019
During this week, Vietnam’s communist regime convicted two Facebookers named Nguyen Van Phuoc from An Giang province and Pham Xuan Hao from Can Tho City for online postings which criticize the regime for failure to deal with the country’s problems. Both were sentenced for their right to freedom of expression which is protected by the country’s 2013 Constitution and other international rights treaties Vietnam has signed.
On October 29, the People’s Court of An Giang province convicted Mr. Phuoc of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code for his articles, live streams and sharing others’ postings as well as making and disseminating the flag of the former Saigon regime which fell in 1975. He was sentenced to five years in prison for his expression.
One day later, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district, Can Tho found university lecturer Hao guilty of posting articles that were considered as distorting the communist regime and its leaders. He was sentenced to one year in jail for “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
Authorities in the central province of Khanh Hoa have decided to hold the first-instance hearing on November 13 to try human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai and his wife as well as two local residents on allegation of tax invasion for their property deal in 2014. They are accused of reporting their deal value under the actual one so Mr. Hai and his wife had helped the seller to pay less tax. This is likely a political case given the fact that Mr. Hai has involved in many political cases, including becoming a lawyer for Truong Duy Nhat, a former prisoner of conscience who was kidnapped in Bangkok in late January and charged with an economic criminal allegation. The defendants face an administrative fine of between VND276 million ($11,750) and VND1.3 billion and or non-custodial reform for up to two years if are convicted.
On November 11, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City will hold the first-instance hearing to try Vietnamese Australian Chau Van Kham and two Vietnamese activists named Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen on allegation of “carrying out terrorist acts” under Article 113 of the Criminal Code just for their membership of Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), a California-based political group which works for promoting human rights and multi-party democracy in Vietnam. The trio, arrested in January this year, faces imprisonment of between ten and 15 years in prison if they are convicted although in the indictment against them there is no evidence proving their terrorist acts.
In order to prevent a mass uprising, the communist regime is applying various methods to persecute local dissidents, social activists, and Facebookers. Currently, Vietnam is holding 236 prisoners of conscience, including 28 in pre-trial detention, according to the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders.
===== October 29 =====
Facebooker Nguyen Van Phuoc Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” with 5-year Imprisonment
Defend the Defenders: On October 29, the People’s Court of An Giang province convicted local Facebooker Nguyen Van Phuoc of “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 Criminal Code for his online postings which criticize the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and its government.
State media has reported that the 40-year-old Facebooker was sentenced to five years in prison for conducting live streams, posting and sharing articles on his page with the content distorting the socio-economic policies of the party and the government and defaming the country’s communist leadership in the period between 2016 and August 2018.
He was accused of contacting overseas “reactionaries” and making and disseminating flags of the US-backed Saigon regime which fell in 1975.
Phuoc was likely arrested on December 10, 2018. He is among 38 activists being held for or convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code or Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.
He is the second activist being convicted for online postings this week. On October 30, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district, Can Tho City sentenced university lecturer Pham Xuan Hao to one year in prison on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
With the new two convictions, Vietnam is imprisoning 209 activists on various controversial charges, mostly in national security provisions of the Criminal Code. The communist regime is also still holding 28 other activists in pre-trial detention which may last up to two years.
===== October 30 =====
Can Tho University Lecturer Convicted of “Abusing Democratic Freedom” for Online Posting
Defend the Defenders: On October 30, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district in the Mekong Delta’s hub Can Tho City convicted university lecturer Pham Xuan Hao of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code, state media has reported.
Accordingly, the court sentenced Mr. Hao to one year in prison for his postings on his Facebook page. He was said to post and share many articles which distorted the communist regime’s policies and defamed the country’s leadership. It is unclear when he was arrested.
Mr. Hao, 54, is a lecturer at Can Tho University. He graduated from architecture and obtained a master’s degree.
He is among a number of Facebookers in Ninh Kieu district being convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” in recent years. In June this year, Quach Nguyen Anh Khoa was sentenced to six months in prison and in September last year, Doan Khanh Vinh Quang was given 27 months in jail for the same allegation.
Vietnam’s communist regime is using controversial allegations “abusing democratic freedom” and “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code to silence online dissent. As many as nine activists are being imprisoned between six months and seven years for the first charge and 37 activists are held for the second charge, 30 of them were sentenced to between two and 14 years in jail.
Currently, Vietnam is holding 236 prisoners of conscience, according to the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders.
Trial against Human Rights Lawyer Tran Vu Hai and His Wife on Tax Evasion Allegation Scheduled on November 13
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Vietnam’s central coastal province of Khanh Hoa will hold the first-instance hearing on November 13 to try human rights attorney Tran Vu Hai and his wife Ngo Tuyet Phuong and two local citizens of tax evasion under Article 161 of the 1999 Penal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned.
As many as 24 lawyers have been registered to the court to voluntarily defense for the couple who may face administrative fines of between VND276 million ($11,700) and VND1.38 billion and or non-custodial reform for up to two years if are convicted.
According to the indictment against them, they were accused of committing a tax evasion worth VND276 million in a property deal in 2014. Mr. Hai and his wife reportedly bought a land parcel from Khanh Hoa province-based citizens Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Ngo Van Lam. The deal value was about VND16 billion but they reported to the local authorities just VND1.8 billion, by that way the sellers paid less tax for the deal. The province’s tax authorities had approved the deal.
Authorities in Khanh Hoa probed the case in early July and placed the four under restricted travel, including travel abroad. In addition, Khanh Hoa police also conducted searching Mr. Hai’s law office and a private residence in Hanoi, in which they allegedly took away a large sum of money and documents from other cases.
After being probed, Hai and his wife hired four lawyers named Bui Quang Nghiem, Trinh Vinh Phuc, Ha Huy Son and Ngo Anh Tuan and 20 others to represent them. Dozens of other lawyers have declared they would take part in legal assistance for the couple.
It seems that the probe is political as recently the Ministry of Public Security denied Mr. Hai’s request for representing former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat who is accused of “power abuse” after being kidnapped in Bangkok and taken to Vietnam in late January.
Lawyer Hai is well-known for his willingness to represent victims of injustice, victims of forced land appropriation and politically sensitive cases.
===== November 2 =====
Trial against Australian Chau Van Kham and Two Local Activists Set on November 11
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime will try Australian citizen Chau Van Kham and two local activists named Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen on allegation of “Terrorism to oppose the people’s government” under Article 113 of the country’s Criminal Code just because of their membership in the California-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), Defend the Defenders has learned.
The trial will be carried out by the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City in its headquarters on November 11. Four other individuals will also be tried by the same court for “Fabricating an organization’s seal or documents and use” under Article 341 of the Criminal Code for helping Mr. Kham and others get fake identification documents.
Mr. Kham, 65 and Mr. Vien, 48, were arrested on January 13 this year during their meeting in HCM City while Mr. Quyen, 20, was detained ten days later. In the beginning, they were charged with “conducting activities against the people’s government” under Article 109. However, the Police Department of HCM City changed their charge after finding no evidence to prove the initial allegation.
Three Saigon-based human rights lawyers Dang Dinh Manh, Nguyen Van Mien, and Trinh Vinh Phuc are among attorneys defending the trio in the upcoming trial. The activists face imprisonment of between 10 years and 15 years in prison if are convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.
Mr. Kham is a senior member of Viet Tan which is labeled as a terrorist group by Vietnam’s communist regime. He has worked on promoting human rights and multi-party democracy in Vietnam. He reportedly used fake documents to enter Vietnam from Cambodia in early January and was arrested a few days later. During the visit of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Hanoi on August 22-24 and the 16th annual Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue on August 29, Human Rights Watch Australia urged the Australian government to address Vietnam’s human rights issues and raise questions about Mr. Kham.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vien 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 activism, he and his family have been under the persecution of the local government so he was forced to leave his home province to relocate to HCM City, the biggest economic hub in the Southeast Asian nation.
Vien is a member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy which is under severe persecution of the Vietnamese security forces with more than ten key members being jailed with lengthy sentences. He was said to join Viet Tan during meetings with Mr. Kham.
There is little information about Mr. Quyen with the exception that he became a member of Viet Tan a few years ago.
The arrests and the trial of the trio are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on the local dissent amid increasing social dissatisfaction triggered by the failures of the communist regime to deal with the nation’s issues, including systemic corruption, widespread human rights abuse, serious environmental pollution and China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
Hundreds of political dissidents, social activists, human rights defenders, and Facebookers, as well as ordinary people, have been beaten, arrested and convicted of allegations mostly in the national security provisions of the Criminal Code in the past few years.
So far this year, 27 activists have been convicted and sentenced to a total 115 years and six months in prison and 20 years of probation in trumped-up cases and trials which failed to meet international standards of a fair trial.
Vietnam is holding at least 236 prisoners of conscience, including 28 activists in pre-trial detention, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.
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