Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 2-8, 2020: Appeals of Three Pro-democracy Activists Rejected
Defend the Defenders | March 8, 2020
On March 2, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City rejected the appeals of Vietnamese Australian Chau Van Kham and two local pro-democracy activists Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen, upholding the jail sentences given by the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City in the first-instance hearing on November 11 last year.
The trio was arrested in mid-January, 2019 and charged with “terrorism” just because they are members of the California-based political group Viet Tan. After months of being held incommunicado, they were convicted and sentenced to respective 12, 11 and ten years in prison.
Y Ngun Knul, land rights and religious activist from Montagnard ethnic minority in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, has been released in late February after being held 16 years in prison. He was arrested in 2004 and sentenced to 18 years in prison on the charge of “Undermining the unity policy” under Article 87 of the country’s Criminal Code 1999 for demanding land rights and religious freedom. He returned home in Dak Lak province, with critical health conditions from kidney failure, high blood pressure, and stomach problems. However, he could not effort to go for a medical check-up due to financial difficulties.
Political blogger Bui Thanh Hieu (Wind Trader) who lives in exile in Germany was forced to stop his writing on the social network Facebook after his mother and other relatives have been harassed by Vietnam’s authorities. He announced his decision one week after police searched his mother’s house which caused her health fell and she has been hospitalized for urgent treatment.
On March 4, Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, the widow of murdered Dong Tam 84-year-old resident Le Dinh Kinh, submitted her petition to the Supreme People’s Procuracy and the Ministry of Public Security to request for an investigation on his death. In her petition, she also requested the release of her sons and grandchild, who were detained by Vietnam’s police during the bloody attack in Dong Tam in the early hours of January 9. Her sons Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, and grandchild Le Dinh Doanh are held by Hanoi Police Department and investigated for murdering three police officers during the attack. Earlier this week, Mathematic professor Hoang Xuan Phu released his second report which says Dong Tam residents are not responsible for the deaths of three police officers.
Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, a long-time critic of Vietnam’s communist regime, is recovering from a recent heart attack on February 28 but remains in poor health at his home in the central city of Hue. He has been placed de facto under house arrest in Hue since his release in 2016.
On March 4, authorities in Binh Duong province interrogated local resident Nguyen Thien Nhan, who is a member of the unregistered group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). During the interrogation which lasted few hours, four security officers questioned him about the IJAVN and its imprisoned President Pham Chi Dung. They threatened that if Nhan continues to work for the association, he would be arrested.
The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi says it will hold the appeal hearing for educator and human rights campaigner Nguyen Nang Tinh on March 18, four months after the first-instance hearing in which the pro-democracy activist and environmentalist was convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to 11 years in jail and five years of probation just because of writing about multi-party democracy, human rights and the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, a member of the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, formally became an advocate for the release of Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen through the Defending Freedoms Project. She is the second US Representative to adopt Mr. Truyen, after Harley Rounda also from California.
===== March 2 =====
Three Members of US-based Viet Tan Lose Appeal on Controversial Accusation of “Terrorism”
Defend the Defenders: On March 2, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City has rejected appeals of three members of the California-based political group Viet Tan, upholding the jail sentences given by the People’s Court of HCM City in the first-instance hearing on November 11 last year.
Accordingly, Vietnamese Australian Chau Van Kham will have to serve his 12-year imprisonment while two local activists Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen will stay behind a bar in the next 11 and ten years, respectively.
The trio was arrested in mid-January 2019 and alleged with terrorism due to their membership of Viet Tan which is labeled as a violent group by the communist regime in Vietnam.
For details, please read the following articles:
Germany-based Blogger Stops Writing after His Family in Hanoi under Harassment
Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese blogger Bui Thanh Hieu (Wind Trader) has been forced to stop his political writing after his family in Hanoi has been harassed by the local authorities.
Hieu, who currently lives in exile in Germany, has made a notice to inform the public that he will have to stop writing on Facebook for a long time in order to save his mother and other relatives from troubles caused by the Hanoi security forces.
The move was taken a week after security forces conducted a house search of his mother’s private residence in the capital city’s center. Due to the police harassment, his mother fell sick and had been taken to hospital for special treatment.
Hieu has numerous political writings criticizing the communist regime’s policies in socio-economic issues. He was also among brave citizen reporters covering sensitive topics, including land grabbing and environmental pollution in many places across the nation.
Due to the continuous persecution, his family was facing, the German government granted his family with political asylum and allowed him and his wife as well as their child to live in Germany from 2014. His mother and siblings still remain in Vietnam.
===== March 3 =====
Second US Congress Member Adopts Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen
U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, a member of the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, formally became an advocate for the release of Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen through the Defending Freedoms Project.
“I’m proud to represent San Jose, home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam itself. Mr. Truyen’s sad abuse is all too common a plight. I won’t sit back, so I contacted the Tom Lantos Commission to make it crystal clear that I stand behind Mr. Truyen and strongly urge the Vietnamese government to immediately release the religious-freedom fighter back to his family,” said Rep. Lofgren in her press release posted on her website.
Mr. Truyen is a Hòa Hảo Buddhist and legal expert who was targeted by the Vietnamese government for his human rights and religious freedom advocacy. In July 2017, Mr. Truyen was arrested together with five key members of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy on the charge of subversion. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Representative Harley Rounda is the first US Congressman advocating for the release of Mr. Truyen through the Defending Freedoms Project.
Prominent Dissident Priest Nguyen Van Ly Recovering from Heart Attack
Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, a long-time critic of Vietnam’s communist regime, is recovering from a recent heart attack but remains in poor health at his home in the central city of Hue.
The priest suffered a heart attack on February 26 in Hue, where he has lived since his release from prison in 2016.
He was imprisoned many times with a total of 18 years in jail and placed under house arrest from 2016.
In his trial in 2007, a police officer used his hands to seal his mouth to prevent the priest from criticizing the communist regime and this image was circulated on Internet, becoming a symbol of unfair trials in the country.
===== March 4 =====
Independent Journalist Interrogated About Relations with Imprisoned IJAVN’s Chairman
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s southern province of Binh Duong have interrogated local independent journalist Nguyen Thien Nhan about the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) in which he is a member, and its President Pham Chi Dung, who was arrested in late November last year and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
Mr. Nhan said he was summoned by the police in Hoa Phu ward to “work” on his residence registration and the local area’s security issues on March 4’s morning. However, he was questioned by four security officers from the province’s Police Department.
During two-hour interrogation, the police officers questioned him about the IJAVN and its president’s detention, Nhan’s trip to Thailand in 2015, and his writing on his Facebook page, Nhan told Defend the Defenders.
Police officers said that the IJAVN is an unregistered organization and its president Dung has violated the country’s law. They also said that they are collecting information about Nhan’s anti-state activities.
Nhan, who is among key figures of the IJAVN, rejected the accusations of the police, saying the organization was established according to the country’s Constitution 2013 and the international conventions in which Vietnam is a signatory party. He also affirmed that he has not violated the country’s laws.
Mr. Nhan is among a number of independent journalists being harassed in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Ms. Le Thu, an independent reporter based in Ho Chi Minh City, has also been intimidated for months. She told Defend the Defenders that under the pressure of the local police, her landlord requested her to move out of her renting apartment although their renting contract is still in effect. The landlord even attacked her after the two sides exchanged words. Finally, Thu agreed to leave the apartment and seek a new place for her and her small daughter who have to move from one place to another several times in recent years due to police intervention.
Harassment and intimidation in the cases of Mr. Nhan and Ms. Thu are among the numerous tactics of Vietnam’s security forces against local citizen journalists. Others include arrest and imprisonment. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Vietnam is imprisoning 12 independent journalists and the most recent victim is Dr. Pham Chi Dung, who was arrested few days after sending an open letter to the European Parliament to urge the parliament not to approve the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement unless Hanoi agrees to improve its human rights records. However, the European Parliament passed the pact on February 12 despite the call of dozens of international and domestic rights groups to suspend its approval.
===== March 5 =====
Dong Tam Widow Submits Petition to Request Investigation on Her Husband’s Murder
Defend the Defenders: Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, the wife of murdered Dong Tam 84-year-old resident Le Dinh Kinh, has submitted her petition to the Supreme People’s Procuracy and the Ministry of Public Security to request for an investigation on his death.
In her petition sent to the state agencies on March 4, she also requested the release of her sons and grandchild, who were detained by Vietnam’s police during the bloody attack in Dong Tam in the early hours of January 9. Her sons Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, and grandchild Le Dinh Doanh are held by Hanoi Police Department and investigated for murdering three police officers during the attack.
Earlier this week, Mathematic professor Hoang Xuan Phu released his second report which says Dong Tam residents are not responsible for the deaths of three police officers.
For further details: Dong Tam Widow Petitions Vietnamese Officials Over Husband’s Death
===== March 6 =====
Religious Activist Released after 16 Years in Prison, Health Conditions Critical
Y Ngun Knul, a religious activist from Montagnard ethnic minority in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, was released on February 28 after being held 16 years in prison.
He was arrested in 2004 and sentenced to 18 years in prison on the charge of “Undermining the unity policy” under Article 87 of the country’s Criminal Code 1999 for demanding land rights and religious freedom.
He returned home in Dak Lak province, with critical health conditions. “I have kidney failure and high blood pressure and had a gastrointestinal hemorrhage,” the activist told RFA in an interview. “Now I can eat the only bowl of rice per day because I have stomach problems that make it hard for me to breathe” and “My foot is swelling, too, making it hard for me to move.”
“I would like to go to a hospital for treatment, but I have no money now,” he said.
===== March 7 =====
Appeal of Pro-democracy Activist Nguyen Nang Tinh Scheduled on March 18
Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi has decided to hold the appeal hearing of pro-democracy activist and environmentalist Nguyen Nang Tinh on March 8, four months after he was convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code in the first-instance hearing carried out by the People’s Court of Nghe An province in which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years of probation.
The appeal will be held in the headquarters of the People’s Court of Nghe An province located in Vinh city, according to the decision sent to his family and lawyers.
One of his Nguyen Van Mieng said Tinh has a low chance of getting a lighter sentence in appeal although he and two other attorneys pointed out a number of wrongdoings of the investigation by Nghe An province’s police and examination carried out by the province’s Department of Information and Communication.
Mr. Tinh, 43, 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.
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.
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