Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for November 11-17, 2019: Four Activists Sentenced to 44 Years in Prison in Worst Week for Local Dissent
Defend the Defenders | November 17, 2019
After arresting Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem and upholding lengthy sentences for two activists named Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and Nguyen Ngoc Anh last week, this week the Vietnamese communist regime continues its intensified crackdown, convicting four pro-democracy activists with a total 44 years in prison and 15 years of probation.
On November 11, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City found Australian citizen Chau Van Kham and two local activists named Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen guilty 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). In the short hearing which lasted a few hours, the court sentenced Vietnamese Australian Mr. Kham, 69, to 12 years in jail gave 48-year-old Vien 11 years in prison while Mr. Quyen, 20, has to serve his ten-year imprisonment. The first will be deported after serving his sentence while the remaining two have to be under 5-year probation afterward.
Four days later, the People’s Court of Nghe An province convicted human rights defender and pro-democracy activist Nguyen Nang Tinh of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for his postings on his Facebook page. The court sentenced him to 11 years in prison and five years of probation, the toughest imprisonment given to a dissident for the allegation in Vietnam’s modern history.
In addition, Vietnam’s authorities seem to get their goal in preventing human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai from his professional activities ahead of the upcoming trial against former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat, who was kidnapped in Bangkok and taken to Vietnam in late January this year. On the trial on November 13-15, the People’s Court of Nha Trang city held the first-instance hearing against him and his wife lawyer Ngo Tuyet Phuong on the allegation of “tax evasion” related to the property deal the couple made in 2014. Although more than 40 lawyers defended that the court is not eligible for the case and Mr. Hai and his wife are not subjects of tax payment since they were buyers, the court still sentenced the couple to one year of non-custodial reform and imposed administrative fines of VND20 million ($850) each.
After spending the last four years abroad for international advocacy as a staff of VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience), Mrs. Dinh Thao was detained by Vietnam’s security forces upon her landing in Noi Bai International Airport. Police confiscated her passport and interrogated her in eight hours before releasing her in the late afternoon of Friday (November 15). They informed her that they may summon her for further questioning in the future.
===== November 11 =====
Three Pro-democracy Activists Sentenced to 33 Years in Prison for Being Members of US-based Political Group
Defend the Defenders: On November 11, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City found Australian citizen Chau Van Kham and two local activists named Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen guilty 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.
In a short hearing which lasted a few hours, the court sentenced Vietnamese Australian Mr. Kham, 69, to 12 years in jail and gave 48-year-old Vien 11 years in prison while Mr. Quyen has to serve his ten-year imprisonment. The first will be deported after serving his sentence while the remaining two have to be under 5-year probation afterward.
During the trial, lawyer Trinh Vinh Phuc defended the activists, saying they did nothing wrong with the exception that Mr. Kham used a fake ID to enter from Cambodia to Vietnam. However, the judge reportedly said their membership in Viet Tan is a crime since the communist regime considers it a terrorist organization.
Mr. Kham and Mr. Vien were arrested on January 13 this year during their meeting in HCM City while Mr. Quyen 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.
Mr. Vien is a member of the unsanctioned political group Brotherhood for Democracy, more than ten key members of which have been convicted of subversion and other allegations in the national security provisions of the Criminal Code for their peaceful activities. 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. He was said to join Viet Tan during meetings with Mr. Kham, who is a senior member of the group in Australia.
There is little information about Mr. Quyen, who is an electrical worker installing cameras for private houses. He reportedly became a member of Viet Tan a few years ago.
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. The right group also issued a press release calling on Hanoi to drop the charge against him and freeing him immediately and unconditionally.
The arrests and the conviction 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, 30 activists have been convicted and sentenced to a total 142 years and six months in prison and 30 years of probation in trumped-up cases and trials which failed to meet international standards of a fair trial.
Vietnam is holding at least 237 prisoners of conscience, including 26 activists in pre-trial detention, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.
Related articles: Chau Van Kham: Sydney man’s Vietnam terror trial a ‘sham’, says family
===== November 15 =====
Pro-democracy College Lecturer Nguyen Nang Tinh Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison
Defend the Defenders: On November 11, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An found local pro-democracy college lecturer Nguyen Nang Tinh guilty 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.
After a few hours on Friday morning, the court sentenced him to 11 years in jail and five years of probation, the toughest imprisonment given for anti-state propaganda allegation for decades.
Three lawyers Dang Dinh Manh, Trinh Vinh Phuc, and Nguyen Van Mieng went to the courtroom without documentation for Mr. Tinh’s case since they had not been permitted to get access to the documents, including the indictment as Nghe An province’s authorities said the case’s documents are among top national secret. The attorneys were reportedly requested to leave their laptops and cell phones outside of the courtroom.
In his last words in the trial, before the judge announced the court’s decision, Mr. Tinh said he would repeat his actions to protect the country and promote human rights and democracy even he will be punished severely.
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 lecturer of Nghe An College of Cultural and Art, 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 and even terrorism. Hanoi has also convicted 31 activists on trumped-up allegations with a total 153.5 years in prison and 35 years of probation.
The communist regime is holding at least 237 prisoners of conscience as of November 15, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. It is a worrying trend that the communist regime has been ging much longer sentences in recent years for the same allegations in the national security provisions of the Criminal Code compared to a decade ago, noted Vu Quoc Ngu, director of Vietnam’s non-profit organization.
Human Rights Lawyer Tran Vu Hai and His Wife Convicted of Tax Evasion, Sentenced to One-year Non-custodial Reform
Defend the Defenders: On November 15, the People’s Court of Nha Trang city, Khanh Hoa province convicted 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.
The couple was sentenced to one year of non-custodial reform and was ordered to pay an administrative fine of VND20 million ($850) each for the crime they have not committed, according to the lawyers providing legal assistance for the experienced couple attorneys.
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.
As many as more than 60 lawyers had been registered to the court to voluntarily defense for the couple. However, many of them were denied and only around 40 were allowed to attend the trial which was treated as a political one since the local authorities deployed a large number of police officers to block all the roads leading to the court areas and the lawyers were under strict security check-up before entering the courtroom. They were requested to leave all electrical devices, including laptops and cell phones outside. A few reporters of the state-run newspapers were allowed to enter the courtroom to cover the trial.
The defense lawyers said as buyers, Mr. Hai and his wife are not subjects for tax payment for the deal, and they are innocent since the province’s tax authorities approved the deal. Ms. Hanh is a citizen of Belgium so the case should be handled by an upper court and the Nha Trang city’s People’s Court is not eligible for the case. In addition, the property Ms. Hanh sold to Mr. Hai was the only house she owned so she is not required to pay tax for the deal, according to current Vietnam’s law.
The trial lasted three days, longer than other cases with similar characters. On the first day, one of the defense attorneys, Nguyen Duy Binh was rudely expelled out of the courtroom and was taken out by two policemen after questioning Ms. Hanh about her legal representation. Binh was interrogated for hours in a local police station.
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.
It is clear that the allegation and convictions against Mr. Hai and his wife are 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 participation in sensitive cases to represent victims of injustice, victims of forced land appropriation and political dissidents.
Vietnamese Activist Detained upon Landing in Hanoi After Four Years Staying Abroad for International Advocacy
Defend the Defenders: On November 15, Vietnam’s security forces detained female activist Dinh Thao upon her landing in Noi Bai International Airport after spending the last four years abroad for international advocacy, Defend the Defenders has learned.
Mrs. Thao who has a 16-month-old baby returned in her home country from Bangkok where she worked for VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience), a U.S.-based rights group working for promoting human rights and multi-party democracy in Vietnam. She was taken by a group of around ten security officers to a police station for interrogation from the morning of Friday until 5 PM on the same day.
Police confiscated her passport, telling her that they may summon her for further interrogation in the future.
According to VOICE’s press release issued when she was held in police custody, in the past four years, Mrs. Thao has been working to promote human rights in Vietnam by engaging in a number of United Nations (UN)’s human rights mechanisms, advocating the EU and other foreign governments via bilateral agreements with Vietnam.
She has worked closely with international and regional NGOs to enhance knowledge of the international community about Vietnam’s human rights situation, the press release said.
Thao graduated from the prestigious Hanoi Medical University in 2015. She was one of the prominent civil activists in Hanoi before going abroad for human rights advocacy. She was a coordinator of the unregistered environmental group Cây Xanh (Green Trees) during its campaign in 2014 which aims to protest Hanoi’s authorities plan to chop down thousands of aged trees in the capital city’s main streets. She was also among key organizers of a campaign supporting independent candidates for the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the general election in 2016.
Thao’s detention was condemned by a number of international rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
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