Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 09-15, 2020: Trial against Eight Member of Hiến Pháp Group, Appeal of HRD Nguyen Nang Tinh Postponed
Defend the Defenders | March 15, 2020
Vietnam’s authorities have postponed the first-instance hearing against eight members of the unsanctioned group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) scheduled on March 10 and the appeal of imprisoned human rights defender and environmental campaigner Nguyen Nang Tinh set on March 18. The respective People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City and Higher People’s Court in Hanoi did not point out the reasons for cancelation but Covid-19 outbreak across the nation may be the cause.
More than one year after being abducted in Bangkok, former prisoner of conscience, well-known blogger Truong Duy Nhat has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on charge of “Abuse of power or position in performance of official duties” under Article 356 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. During a short trial on March 9, he was convicted of causing the state asset loss of VND13 billion ($560,000) in selling a state property when he was the central region office’s representative of the state-run Dai Doan Ket newspaper in 2016. Nhat and his lawyer Dang Dinh Manh affirmed that he is innocent and the conviction is political.
On March 11, the Spain-based rights group Safeguard Defenders publicized its report about Vietnam’s abuse of pre-trial detainees. Its report Coerced on Camera: Televised Confessions in Vietnam is the first-ever study on Vietnam’s practice of broadcasting forced “statements” from victims detained but not yet tried, in clear violation of Vietnam’s obligations under international law. The report provides a snapshot of how Vietnam routinely airs pre-trial detainees confessing on local media as well as on national state broadcaster VTV. It has captured and analyzed more than a dozen confession broadcasts of rights defenders including well-respected lawyers, citizen journalists, and villagers as well as individuals in murder and corruption cases. Interviews with victims exposed how police manipulate or script the confession to the camera, trick or coerce prisoners into cooperating, and how those detained are denied access to legal counsel.
Also on March 11, the US Department of State issued its country report about Vietnam’s human rights record in 2019. Accordingly, the country’s human rights situation last year did not improve from a year earlier.
Authorities in Hanoi have continued to keep independent journalist Le Anh Hung in a mental clinic where he is being injected with higher doses of unknown medicine. He has been in enforced treatment after months of being investigated for the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom.” The writer for VOA and other dissident websites was arrested in mid-2018 after filing petitions against a number of senior communists, including General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Politburo member Hoang Trung Hai.
Authorities in the capital city are likely not willing to allow human rights lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Ngo Ngoc Trai and other attorneys to be defending lawyers for many people in Dong Tam commune who were detained on January 9 and charged with murdering three police officers during the police attack in the commune in early hours of the same day. It seems they want to appoint lawyers for most of 22 detainees who are proved by prominent mathematician Hoang Xuan Phu that they have not involved in killing the officers who were said by Vietnam’s police to die from petrol bombs during the brutal attack against land petitioners.
===== March 9=====
One Year After Being Abducted in Bangkok, Former Prisoner of Conscience Truong Duy Nhat Sentenced to Ten Years in Prison,
Defend the Defenders, March 9, 2020
Former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat, who was kidnapped in Bangkok in late January 2019, has been convicted of “Abuse of power or position in performance of official duties” under Article 356 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
In the trial on March 9 carried out by the People’s Court of Hanoi, Mr. Nhat, who was convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” for his posts criticizing the communist regime and sentenced to two years in prison in 2013, was given ten years of imprisonment as he was found guilty of causing the state asset loss of VND13 billion ($560,000) when he was the central region office’s representative of the state-run Dai Doan Ket newspaper in 2016.
According to his lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, Nhat did not admit his wrongdoings during the trial and his lawyer also proved that Nhat is innocent. He said he worked under the direction of the leadership of the newspaper which belongs to the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), the mass organization set up by the ruling communist regime. VFF has the power to decide who is eligible for being candidates for the country’s parliament elections which have been manipulated by the party.
Mr. Nhat, who was considered a prisoner of conscience after being imprisoned for his writing in 2013, was reportedly abducted on January 26, 2019, by Thai security officers in a supermarket in Bangkok. Later, he was handed over to Vietnam’s security forces who took him back in Vietnam and from January 28, he was held in a detention facility under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department.
One day before being kidnapped, Nhat registered as a political asylum to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR)’s Office in Bangkok.
In a meeting with his lawyers in the Hanoi-based T16 detention facility, Nhat confirmed that he was illegally arrested by the Thai police.
Initially, he was investigated for illegally acquiring property but as investigators failed to find sufficient evidence for the charge and the communist regime changed the allegation for him.
Nhat is among 12 Vietnamese being imprisoned for their writing, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists while some unofficial sources said he was kidnapped and taken to Vietnam as he holds secret information for many senior officials of the regime who do not want this information to become public.
Shortly after his abduction in Bangkok more than one year ago, Amnesty International issued a public statement calling on authorities in Thailand and Vietnam conduct an investigation about his disappearance in Bangkok and later being in police custody in Hanoi. Bangkok and Hanoi remained silent.
Meanwhile, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City has suddenly canceled the first-instance hearing scheduled on March 10 against eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) without pointing out reasons. The activists, being kidnapped in early September 2018 and held incommunicado for more than one year, were charged with “disruption of security” and face imprisonments up to 15 years.
HCM City Court Postpones Trial against 8 Members of Hiến Pháp Group
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City has suddenly postponed the first-instance hearing against eight members of the unregistered group named Hiến Pháp (Constitution), just one day prior to the trial scheduled on March 10 in the country’s biggest economic hub.
The court announced its decision when relatives of the defendants were on their ways heading to HCM City, some of them from provinces hundreds of kilometers to the city, Defend the Defenders has learned.
The court did not point out the reasons for its decision but Covid-19 outbreak in Vietnam may be the concern for it.
Two of the defendants named Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Ms. Hoang Thi Thu Vang are charged with Clause 1 of Article 118 “Disruption of security” of the Penal Code and face imprisonment of between seven and 15 years in prison while the six remaining Mr. Ngo Van Dung, Ms. Doan Thi Hong, Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong, Mr. Le Quy Loc, Mr. Tran Thanh Phuong and Mr. Do The Hoa are accused of the same allegation but under Clause 2 with the risk of being sentenced to between two and seven years in jail if are convicted.
All of them were kidnapped by security forces in HCM City in the first days of September 2018 after they had called for street demonstrations on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day (September 2). Police held them incommunicado for months without informing their families and continued keeping them isolated from outside for around one year after their families found them being imprisoned.
The group was established in 2017 with the aim to enhance civil rights among Vietnamese by disseminating the country’s Constitution approved by the communist-controlled parliament in 2013. Its members were active figures of the mass demonstration in HCM City on June 10, 2018 in which tens of thousands of residents rallied on streets to protest two bills on Special Economic zone and Cyber Security. The first seems to favor Chinese investors amid increasing tensions in the East Sea (South China Sea) while the second aims to silence online government critics.
Recently, Ms. Doan Thi Hong, who was detained when her daughter was about two years old, has informed her family that she is held in very severe conditions. Since being arrested, she has been under physical and mental torture constantly, according to the information she gave her older sister.
Despite doing nothing special harmful for the country, Hiến Pháp group has been targetted by Vietnam’s communist regime. Two members of the group Pham Minh The and Huynh Truong Ca were convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” and “anti-state propaganda” with respective imprisonment of two years and five and half years in 2018-2019.
===== March 11 =====
Safeguard Defenders Releases Report about Vietnam’s TV Confessions
Safeguard Defenders: Vietnam’s abuse of pre-trial detainees comes into the spotlight today with the publication of Safeguard Defenders’ Coerced on Camera: Televised Confessions in Vietnam. The report is the first ever study on the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s practice of broadcasting forced “statements” from victims detained but not yet tried, in clear violation of Vietnam’s obligations under international law.
Coerced on Camera provides a snapshot of how Vietnam routinely airs pre-trial detainees confessing on local media as well as on national state broadcaster VTV. The report captured and analysed more than a dozen confession broadcasts of rights defenders including well-respected lawyers, citizen journalists and villagers as well as individuals in murder and corruption cases. Interviews with victims exposed how police manipulate or script the confession to camera, trick or coerce prisoners into cooperating, and how those detained are denied access to legal counsel.
Vietnam has long been overshadowed by China, another authoritarian country that uses forced televised confessions to stifle dissent, isolate rights defenders, and to send messages to foreign governments and organizations to counter criticism. We used our ground-breaking 2018 report Scripted and Staged: Behind the Scenes of China’s Forced Televised Confession, the first in-depth study of China’s practice of airing forced confessions, to compare the practice in the two countries. Like China, Vietnamese victims confessed to anti-State crimes and thanked the authorities for showing them the error of their ways but in general the broadcasts were more simply produced, lacking Beijing’s sophisticated treatment.
A worrying development in recent appears to indicate that Vietnam is copying some of China’s tricks – including the confession of a former state official who was kidnapped from Germany in 2017 and forced on camera to say he had returned of his own volition; the 2018 broadcast of the first foreigner confessing on Vietnamese television; and the most recent case in January 2020 of villagers fighting to prevent their farmland being appropriated coerced to incriminate each other on camera. The production value of confessions has also markedly improved.
Forced televised confessions not only break Vietnam’s own laws on the right to counsel, fair trial and protection against torture and self-incrimination, they are also grave transgressions of its obligations as Party to international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other judicial protections.
Safeguard Defenders calls on the Vietnamese government to live up to its responsibilities as a signatory to the International Covenant on Political & Civil Rights and UN Convention Against Torture, to comply with its own domestic laws prohibiting forced confessions and to immediately stop the illegal practice of airing forced confessions of detainees on television and afford them the proper protections that due process and the rule of law affords.
===== March 12 =====
Vietnam Copies China Model of Forced Confessions on State TV-Report
RFA: Vietnam is adopting the techniques of fellow Communist state China when it comes to televising forced confessions of human rights advocates and other political prisoners, a Spain-based rights NGO said in a report on Wednesday.
In the report “Coerced on Camera: Televised Confessions in Vietnam,” the NGO Safeguard Defenders identified 21 people since 2007 who had been forced by authorities to confess on TV, and found videos for 16 of them.
Of the 16, 14 were human rights defenders — rights lawyers, citizen journalists, villagers protesting against land grabs – while one was a state oil executive accused of corruption and another was a farmer charged with murder.
“That number is likely much much higher,” the group said in a statement.
“Vietnam’s poor human rights record makes it more than likely that many of these victims are also routinely exposed to arbitrary detention, mental and physical torture and threats,” it said.
“Like China, some of Vietnam’s victims are made to frame their crimes as being anti-state or anti-Party, a reflection of how authoritarian countries criminalize dissenting or critical voices,” said the group, which in 2018 produced a landmark report on China’s televised forced confessions.
“Like China, Vietnamese victims confessed to anti-State crimes and thanked the authorities for showing them the error of their ways,” it said.
The report noted that Hanoi’s forced-confession broadcasts have long been less sophisticated than those of Beijing, but said Vietnamese authorities have started raising their game in recent years.
“Starting in 2017, the confession news packages appear to become more elaborate,” it said.
Family members forced to confess in murder case
Among examples of the more slick confession videos, it said, was that of William Nguyen, a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese descent and the only foreigner subject to the practice.
“He was shown carefully framed against a blue background and an attempt was made to make it seem natural and not a simple police questioning session,” they said of Nguyen’s confession in 2018, when the graduate student from Houston, Texas, found guilty of “disturbing public order” for taking part in rare, large-scale protests and then deported to the United States.
This year, Vietnamese state television went even further in showing the confessions of family members of elderly community leader killed by Vietnamese police during a land protest outside Hanoi in January.
Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed on Jan. 9 by police who attacked his home in Dong Tam’s Hoanh village in an early morning assault that involved about 3,000 security officers from the police and armed forces.
“On 13 January, just four days after the attack, four villagers, including Kinh’s son, grandson, adopted daughter and another male relative, appeared on state broadcaster VTV1 to confess to taking part in the violence. Their faces were bruised and cut. All four were accused of murder,” the report said.
“The case is an extremely sensitive one for the Party and clearly it was at pains to urgently control the narrative,” said Safeguard Defenders.
“This explains why four coerced confessions were aired–an unusually high number–and the sensitive story was reported at length in an effort to persuade the public, many of whom may also have felt sympathetic towards the villagers,” it said.
In an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday, Defend the Defenders (DTD)’s Director Vu Quoc Ngu said the report aims to “remind many different countries that they have ignored human right abuses in Vietnam.”
“Safeguard Defenders wants to raise concern from international organizations about this issue, hoping that they will call on Hanoi to end human rights abuses and comply with the signed international commitments,” said Ngu, who is also among the project researchers.
Televised forced confessions violate Vietnamese laws under the 2015 Penal Code forbidding extortion of confessions and also go against articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam signed in 1982, Ngu said.
“We need voices to pressure the Vietnamese Communist Party to comply with laws and international commitments,” added Ngu.
===== March 14 =====
Hanoi Court Postpones Appeal of Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Nguyen Nang Tinh
Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi has postponed the appeal of jailed human rights activist and environmental campaigner Nguyen Nang Tinh scheduled on March 18 without giving an explanation.
Mr. Tinh, 44, arrested by Nghe An province’s security forces on May 29, 2019 and charged with “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 in November last year, he was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in jail and five years of probation.
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.
===== March 15 =====
Independent Journalist Le Anh Hung Still Held in Mental Clinics, Higher Doses of Medicine Injected
Authorities in Hanoi have continued to keep independent journalist Le Anh Hung in a mental clinic where he is being injected with higher doses of unknown medicine.
The information was provided by his family after his recent telephone call to his mother.
Hung, 47, was arrested on July 5, 2018 and charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Penal Code after he filed petitions hundreds of times to Vietnam’s leadership and state agencies in which he accuses General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Politburo member Hoang Trung Hai and other senior officials from different crimes, including working for China and drug smuggling.
After months of investigation, the Police Department of Hanoi sent him to the Central Mental Clinics No. 1 located in Thuong Tin district for a check-up. Later, he was transferred to the facility for enforced treatment despite the protest from him and his family.
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