Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for November 4-10, 2019: Vietnam Arrests 18th Facebooker for “Harmful” Postings, Upholds Jail Sentences for Three Activists
Defend the Defenders | November 10, 2019
This week is one of the worst moments for Vietnam’s local dissident as the communist regime arrested outspoken activist Nguyen Van Nghiem, the 18th Facebooker being arrested so far this year for their online activities, and upheld the jailed sentences for three political activists named Nguyen Ngoc Anh, Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and former political prisoner Huynh Duc Thinh.
On November 5, security forces in the northern province of Hoa Binh detained Mr. Nghiem, 56, and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for his postings and live streams on Facebook to criticize the communist regime and its leaders for failure to deal with the country’s serious issues. He will be detained for at least 120 days for investigation, and face imprisonment of up to 12 years if is convicted.
On the appeal hearing on November 6, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City rejected the appeals of Mr. Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen who was sentenced to 12 years in jail on the allegation of subversion and Mr. Huynh Duc Thinh, who was given one year in prison on the allegation of misprision by the People’s Court of HCM City on June 24 this year. Meanwhile, on November 7, the same court denied the appeal of Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Anh who was sentenced to six years in prison and five years of probation by the People’s Court of Ben Tre province in the first-instance hearing on June 6. In both hearings, relatives and friends of the defendants were not permitted to enter the courtroom while the defenses of their lawyers and themselves were ignored and undermined by the judges.
Different trials against college lecturer Nguyen Nang Tinh on an allegation “conducting anti-state propaganda” has been re-scheduled on November 15. The human rights defender and the environmentalist who was arrested on May 29 is expected to face a lengthy sentence.
Meanwhile, the People’s Court of Dong Nai province has postponed the first-instance hearing against four local residents named Vo Thuong Trung, Doan Viet Hoan, Nguyen Dinh Khue and Ngo Xuan Thanh on the allegation of “disruption of security” for their plan to participate in a public demonstration. Their trial was set on November 7 and the new date has not been set but likely on November 26. The lawyer of Mr. Khue has not been permitted to meet him for preparing his defense and the lawyer of Mr. Hoan has not been granted approval from the court while the remaining two activists likely have no their own lawyers.
Authorities in the capital city of Hanoi continue to keep blogger Le Anh Hung in a local mental clinic where he is forced to take heavy drugs doses. For months, his mother has called on Vietnam’s authorities to release him from an involuntary stay in the mental hospital, where she said he was forced to take medicine and is suffering “both mentally and physically.”
Along with the trial against educator Tinh, there will be two other trials against activists. 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. Human Rights Watch has issued a press release calling Vietnam’s communist regime to immediately and unconditionally release them, saying being a member of a political group is not a crime.
Two days later, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa will 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 sellers 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 and VND1.3 billion and or non-custodial reform for up to two years if are convicted.
===== November 4 =====
Trial against Four Residents for Plan to Participation in Demonstration Re-scheduled in Late November
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the southern province of Dong Nai have re-scheduled for unspecific timetable the trial against four local residents named Vo Thuong Trung, Doan Viet Hoan, Nguyen Dinh Khue and Ngo Xuan Thanh on the allegation of “disruption of security” for their plan to participate in a public demonstration.
The reasons for postponing are unclear and the defendants’ lawyers have not been informed about its delay, said lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, who was hired by Mr. Khue’s family to defend him. No specific date for the trial has been set, but possible on November 26, said lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, who is also hired by the family of Mr. Hoan.
In early November, the People’s Court of Dong Nai unexpectedly announced that it would hold the first-instance hearing on November 7 to try the four individuals on the charge under Article 118 of the Criminal Code for having the intention to join a street protest in April. They face imprisonment of between seven to 15 years if are convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.
They were arrested in April 2019, assessed as having followed the call of Ms. Lisa Pham, a Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist, to start planning to join the protest, to oppose the communist invasion of former South Vietnam in April 1975.
Lawyer Mieng said he has not been permitted to meet with his client while attorney Manh informed Defend the Defenders that he has not been granted permission for providing legal assistance for Mr. Hoan.
It seems Mr. Trung and Mr. Thanh have yet legal representation, Defend the Defenders has learned.
===== November 5 =====
Vietnam Arrests Nguyen Van Nghiem for “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” Allegation, 18th Facebooker Detained for Online Activities So Far This Year
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s northern province of Hoa Binh have arrested Mr. Nguyen Van Nghiem on allegation of “Making, storing, disseminating, or propagandizing information, materials, and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code for his online posting on his Facebook account Nghiêm Nguyễn.
On November 5, officers from the Security Investigation Agency under Hoa Binh province’s Police Department carried out his detention and the search of his private residence in Hoa Binh city. They confiscated a number of his items, including two computers, two printers, cameras, and cell phones.
He will be held for 120 days for investigation and face imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if is convicted, according to current Vietnam’s law.
Mr. Nghiem, 56, has posted numerous statuses and conducted many live streams on his Facebook account on which he spoke out about the country’s issues such as systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, serious human rights abuse, and China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). He has also criticized the communist regime and its leaders for failure to deal with these problems.
His live streams programs on Facebook have thousands of viewers thanks to his outspoken activities.
Mr. Nghiem has been the 18th Facebooker being arrested so far this year amid Vietnam’s increasing crackdown on local dissent which started in late 2015 with the arrests of prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha.
Since the beginning of 2019, Vietnam’s communist regime has arrested at least 28 human rights defenders, political dissidents, social activists, and Facebookers, mostly with allegations in the national security provisions in the Criminal Code. It has also sentenced 27 activists with a total of 115.5 years in jail and 20 years of probation.
Vietnam is holding at least 237 prisoners of conscience, including 28 in pre-trial detention which lasts up to 14 months.
Trials of many activists are scheduled in the coming two weeks.
===== November 6 =====
Trial against Pro-democracy Activist Nguyen Nang Tinh Re-scheduled on November 15
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have decided to re-schedule the first-instance hearing on November 15 to try local pro-democracy activist Nguyen Nang Tinh on allegation of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Clause 1, Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Criminal Code.
The trial will be carried out by the People’s Court of Nghe An province in its headquarters in Vinh city, according to the court’s notice sent to Mr. Tinh’s lawyer Dang Dinh Manh.
The trial, set on October 17 for the first time, was postponed due to the absence of some witnesses, said the court’s announcement on the scheduled day.
It is unclear whether lawyer Manh and other his colleagues have been permitted to have access to the case’s documentation to prepare for his defense. In mid-October, a few days before the scheduled trial, Mr. Tinh’s lawyers asked the court to postpone the trial as they complained that they had a very short time for his defense preparation. One week before the scheduled trial, his lawyers were allowed to meet with him in police custody and got access to his case’s documents, however, they had not permitted to make copies of the indictment and other documents, making their preparation impossible for the serious charge against him.
Mr. Tinh was arrested by Nghe An province’s security forces on May 29 who later charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda.” Authorities in Nghe An said Mr. Tinh has used his Facebook account Nguyễn Năng Tĩnh to post and share articles and videos as well as images with content defaming state leaders and distort the ruling communist party’s policies.
According to his family, his indictment was based on the information on the Facebook account Nguyễn Năng Tĩnh, however, he reportedly denied to have this account.
Local activists said Mr. Tinh, who is a college lecturer, is very active in promoting human rights and multi-party democracy, and speak out about the country’s issues such as systemic corruption, human rights abuse, widespread environmental pollution and China’s violations to Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the weak response of the communist government in Hanoi.
There are some videoclips on Youtube in which Mr. Tinh tough students to sing a number of patriotic songs composed by dissidents in which the government is criticized for suppressing anti-China activists.
Vietnam continues its political crackdown on local dissent, arresting more than two dozens human rights defenders, bloggers, and social activists so far this year with different allegations, from “disturbing public orders” to subversion. Hanoi has also convicted 27 activists on trumped-up allegations with a total 115.5 years in prison and 20 years of probation.
The communist regime is holding at least 237 prisoners of conscience as of November 6, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.
===== November 7 =====
Jail Sentences for Vietnamese American and Two Local Political Dissidents Upheld in Separate Appeal Hearings
Defend the Defenders: In two separate appeal hearings on November 6-7, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the jail sentences for Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and two local political activists named Nguyen Ngoc Anh and Huynh Duc Thinh, sending them back to prison, Defend the Defenders has learned.
On the appeal hearing on November 6, the court rejected the appeals of Mr. Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen who was sentenced to 12 years in jail on the allegation of subversion and Mr. Huynh Duc Thinh, who was given one year in prison on the allegation of misprision by the People’s Court of HCM City on June 24 this year. Meanwhile, on November 7, the same court denied the appeal of Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Anh who was sentenced to six years in prison and five years of probation by the People’s Court of Ben Tre province in the first-instance hearing on June 6.
In both appeal hearings, the judges reportedly said the final decisions were based on a lack of new evidence proving the defendants’ innocence. Both hearings lasted just a few hours in the mornings of Tuesday and Wednesday, observers said.
Mr. Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen visited his home country in late June and went to the central regions together with young activists Huynh Duc Thanh Binh and Tran Long Phi who participated in the mass demonstrations in HCM City on June 6, 2018 in which tens of thousands of residents rallied on streets to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. The trio was arrested and charged with subversion upon their return to HCM City on July 7 while Mr. Huynh Duc Thinh, a former political prisoner, and father of Mr. Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, was detained one day later.
Huynh Duc Thanh Binh and Tran Long Phi, who were given ten and eight years in jail by the trial on June 24, respectively, did not appeal for their sentences.
Observers said in the appeal hearing on November 6, relatives of Mr. Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and Mr. Huynh Duc Thinh were not permitted to enter the courtroom. There were a number of the diplomats from the US’s Embassy in Hanoi and General Consulate in HCM City attended the hearing.
Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, 39, is a shrimp grower in Binh Dai district, Ben Tre province. He was arrested on August 30 last year. He was accused of posting numerous articles and live streams on his Facebook account Nguyễn Ngọc Ánh in which he speaks out about human rights violations, systemic environmental pollution, bad economic management of Vietnam’s communist government, China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and Vietnam’s weak response.
In late September, he was beaten by a criminal inmate who was likely acting on behalf of the authorities of Ben Tre province. Due to the assault, Mr. Anh suffered serious injuries in his right leg, left arm and head, and he feels difficulty in moving. Later, he was placed in an isolated cell where he has no support from other prisoners but serves himself.
Two days prior to his appeal, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to immediately and unconditionally release him because he has conducted no crime but exercised his right of freedom of expression on Facebook.
Facing increasing social dissatisfaction, Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified its crackdown on human rights defenders, political dissidents, social activists, and Facebookers in order to keep their political monopoly. So far this year, the regime has arrested at least 28 activists and sentenced 27 to a total 115.5 years in prison and 20 years of probation.
The regime has a plan to try seven others in the coming days and its victims are human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai and his wife on allegation of tax evasion, pro-democracy activist Nguyen Nang Tinh on accusation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and four individuals named Vo Thuong Trung, Doan Viet Hoan, Nguyen Dinh Khue and Ngo Xuan Thanh who were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” for their plan to participate in peaceful demonstration in late April this year when the country marked the fall of the US-backed Saigon regime.
On November 5, authorities in the northern province of Hoa Binh arrested local resident named Nguyen Van Nghiem on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for his online postings and live streams on Facebook which were considered harmful for the regime.
Vietnam is holding at least 237 prisoners of conscience in severe conditions, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience, saying it imprisons only law violators.
===== November 8 =====
Blogger Le Anh Hung Still Held in Mental Clinic, Forced to Take Heavy Drugs Doses
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the capital city of Hanoi continue to keep blogger Le Anh Hung in a local mental clinic where he is forced to take heavy drugs doses, he informed his family during their meeting on November 8.
Talking with his mother, Hung said he feels worsen after being forced to take the drugs. He would like his family and other activists to voice for him so he would be freed from the Central Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in Hanoi.
For months, his mother has called on Vietnam’s authorities to release him from an involuntary stay in the mental hospital, where she said he was forced to take medicine and is suffering “both mentally and physically.”
Mr. Hung, 46, was arrested on July 5, 2018 and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code for his denunciations, online posts, public protests and interviews with foreign media in which he accuses Hoang Trung Hai, former prime minister, and incumbent party’s secretary in Hanoi of being a spy for China and General Secretary cum President Nguyen Phu Trong of backing Hai. Hung, a regular contributor for the Voice of America radio (VOA) and the Radio Free Asia (RFA), had submitted his denunciation to state agencies for more than 100 times before being arrested. He also participated in many peaceful demonstrations to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
After months of investigation, authorities in Hanoi suspended the case but sent him to the Mental Hospital 1 located in Hoa Binh village, Thuong Tin district in late March, where he is forced to be under involuntary treatment.
This is the second time Mr. Hung has been placed in involuntary mental treatment. 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 thereafter he and his wife accused Hoang Trung Hai, then deputy prime minister of leading a drug-smuggling ring.
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.
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