Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for April 27-May 3, 2020: Communist Regime Intensifies Online Crackdown, Jailing Two Facebookers for Their Posts

Defend the Defenders | May 3, 2020

Along with arresting bloggers or imposing heavy financial punishment on hundreds of Facebookers who were disseminating information about the ongoing outbreak of Coronavirus, Vietnam’s communist regime has boosted the convictions of other activists. During the week, the regime convicted two Facebookers and sentenced them to between 18 months and 5 years in prison for their online activities.

On April 27, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district, Can Tho City sentenced local resident Chung Hoang Chuong to 18 months for “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code for his posts on his Facebook account Chương May Mắn. His convicted was mainly for his post about the police brutal attack in Dong Tam on January 9, in which Vietnam’s communist regime deployed thousands of riot policemen to kill 84-year-old spiritual leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrest around 30 other land petitioners in a lengthy land dispute.

One day later, the People’s Court of Nghe An province convicted Facebooker Phan Cong Hai on allegation of “Conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Hai, who has voiced against human rights abuse and China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation. He was said to have shown disrespects for the regime’s leaders, including late President Ho Chi Minh, who is a founder of the regime.

Two international organizations of lawyers named the London-based International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Geneva Bar Association have issued a joint press release to condemn Vietnam’s authorities for harassing local young activist Truong Thi Ha upon her return in Vietnam in late March. Accordingly, police confiscation of her passport, cell phones, diary, and other personnel items and keeping her in a quarantine facility isolated from the outside for 14 days are serious violations of international human rights norms.

The Supreme People’s Court will hold a three-day review of the case of Ho Duy Hai, who was sentenced to death more than ten years ago in a murder case in which police in the southern province of Long An committed many wrongdoings during the investigation of the killing of two female post staffs in 2008. In the more than ten years, Hai and his family have claimed that he is a victim of legal miscarriage and petitioned in different state agencies to request for re-investigation.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and 73 other international rights groups and professional organizations have issued a joint statement calling on Vietnam and other countries to release imprisoned journalists who have been placed behind the bar for their writing. Last year, CPJ reported that Vietnam is holding 12 jailed journalists, including prominent journalist Pham Chi Dung, blogger Truong Duy Nhat, and citizen journalist Nguyen Van Hoa.

===== April 27 =====

Vietnamese Facebooker Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Online Posts, First Activist Convicted in 2020

Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district, Can Tho City on April 27 convicted local resident Chung Hoang Chuong of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code for his post on Facebook, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The court sentenced him to 18 months in prison in the trial the defendant has not been protected by his own lawyer while his wife was informed about the first-instance hearing just 20 minutes before it started.

Mr. Chuong, 43, was detained on January 11 this year. According to the indictment, Mr. Chuong has conducted online activities on his Facebook account Chương May Mắn where he wrote or shared numerous statuses regarding hot issues Vietnam, including human rights abuse, serious nationwide environmental pollution, systemic corruption and the government’s weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). His latest statuses on his Facebook page were about the military attack in Dong Tam commune carried out by the Ministry of Public Security and the Hanoi Police Department in the early morning of January 9 in which police killed at least two civilians.

His wife reported on her Facebook page that during the trial, the procuracy representative said Chuong should not write about the Dong Tam assault, because it is the issue of Hanoi and the capital city’s authorities are responsible for settle it.

Mr. Chuong has been the second Facebooker being detained for their online activities amid increasing crackdown on the local dissent. After him, Vietnam’s security forces arrested three others on different allegations. Ms. Ma Phung Ngoc Phu was charged with the same allegation while Ms. Dinh Thi Thu Thuy and Dinh Van Phu were alleged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 while former prisoner of conscience Tran Duc Thach was charged with subversion.

Since the Cyber Security Law become effective in early 2019, Vietnam has arrested more than two dozens of Facebookers on allegations of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedom” in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code, and sentenced 17 of them to between one and 11 years in prison, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.

Along with arresting Facebookers and charging them with controversial criminal offenses in the national security provisions of the Criminal Code, security forces in different localities have summoned hundreds of local Facebookers for interrogation about their Facebook posts.

Regarding Covid-19 alone, around 300 Facebookers have been fined between VND5 million ($220) and VND15 million for disseminating news on the pandemic which are considered fake news by the communist regime. They were forced to delete their posts and promised not to repeat “wrongdoings,” according to the state-controlled media.

Vietnams’ regime has also pressured on Facebook, asking Internet providers to reduce Facebook’s traffic flow by switching off their serves in the country so the American firm has been agreed to censor political posts in a bid to protect its economic interests in the market with over 65 million accounts, according to  recent report of Reuters.

===== April 28 =====

Amid UN Call for Releasing Prisoners of Conscience, Vietnam Sends Second Facebooker to Jail within Two Days

Defend the Defenders: Amid the call of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to release prisoners of conscience in order to protect their health from the deadly Coronavirus infection, Vietnam’s communist regime has sent the second Facebooker named Phan Cong Hai to prison for online activities, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The state-controlled media has reported that on April 28, the People’s Court of the central province of Nghe An convicted the 24-year-old man of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code, sentencing him to five years in jail and three years of probation.

According to the court’s indictment, Hai was said to use Facebook to post statuses with content “against the party and state, defaming central and local officials” and “running counter to party and state’s policies.”

The first-instance hearing lasted only two hours, and Hai had no lawyer to provide legal assistance for him, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Mr. Hai, who used Facebook as a social network platform to post support for activists jailed in protests against the government’s handling of a toxic dump in 2016, as well as other controversial issues, was arrested on November 19, 2019. Authorities issued an arrest warrant for him seven months before after they found his Facebook accounts “Người Việt xấu xí” and “David Nguyen” with posts harmful for the communist regime.

Hai is the second Facebooker being imprisoned within two days. On April 27, authorities in Ninh Kieu district, Can Tho City, convicted local resident Chung Hoang Chuong of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code for his posts on his account Chương May Mắn to criticize the Vietnamese police attack in Dong Tam commune on January 9 this year in which authorities deployed thousands of riot police to assault land petitioners, killing local spiritual leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested around 30 others in a land dispute case.

Facebook is massively popular in Vietnam and is often used as a tool for activists and civilians to disseminate news in the one-party state, which bans all independent media, and the hardline communist regime ramps up pressure against dissent on the social media platform. The social media giant has come under fire for complying with Hanoi to restrict content “deemed to be illegal”, with rights group Amnesty International calling Facebook “complicit” in Vietnam’s online censorship.

Vietnam is holding at least 245 prisoners of conscience and two dozens of them were jailed for their Facebook posts, according to the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders.


Two International Lawyers’ Organizations Condemn Vietnam’s Harassment against Young Activist Truong Thi Ha

Defend the Defenders: Two international organizations of lawyers named the London-based International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Geneva Bar Association have condemned Vietnam’s authorities for harassing local young activist Truong Thi Ha upon her return in Vietnam in late March.

Ms. Ha, who graduated law and has involved in a number of human rights events in the country and abroad, was detained on March 26 when she entered Vietnam from Laos. She was reportedly interrogated by Vietnam’s security officers who also confiscated her passport, cell phones, diary, and other things. Later, she was placed for quarantine for 14 days as a measure to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. In mid-April, she was permitted to go home in Hoai Duc district, Hanoi, without being returned the confiscated items from the police.

In a press release of the two organization posted on the International Bar Association’s website on April 1, IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto said “Whilst certain measures, such as the quarantine of those returning from abroad, are necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19, it is certainly not required to inflict undue suffering… The use of quarantine restrictions to exercise additional pressure on lawyers and law students is deeply troubling.”

IBAHRI Co-Chair Michael Kirby AC CMG stated “The IBAHRI understands and commends the precautions taken by the Vietnamese authorities to prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, preventing Trương Thị Hà from communicating with anybody outside of the quarantine unit is an abuse of power and violation of a basic human right. The IBAHRI has repeatedly stressed the importance of access to information and recourse to communication during this global crisis. The removal of Ms. Hà’s personal mobile phones is far from a necessary precaution with regard to Covid-19, rather, it appears to be penalization for her important activities defending human rights and the freedom of assembly.”

“Measures enacted by governments during the Covid-19 pandemic should not be a means for the authorities to intimidate or monitor human rights defenders. The Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provision in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that measures taken should be ‘the least intrusive and restrictive available to reach the objective.’ The removal of Ms. Trương Thị Hà’s personal documents and mobile phones are deliberately intrusive and restrictive actions, in direct contravention, the Siracusa Principles, said IBAHRI Co-Chair Anne Ramberg AC CMG.

The IBA is committed to defending lawyers, as well as law students at-risk, and ensuring the rule of law is upheld during this global pandemic.

Ms. Ha has engaged in social activism for years. She participated in the mass demonstration in Saigon on June 10, 2018 in which tens of thousands of people gathered on streets to protest two bills Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security, the first aimed to offer great incentives for foreign investors, most likely Chinese ones amid increasing Beijing’s aggressiveness in the East Sea (South China Sea) while the second is the tough measure of the communist regime to silence online dissent.

She was detained, beaten, and interrogated by security forces who also requested her landlord to evict her out of her room.

In the past few years, Ha left country, going to the Philippines, Thailand, and the EU to exercise her attorney’s experience and participate in a number of international events to report human rights abuse in Vietnam. She is well-known for publicly supports given to imprisoned blogger Phan Kim Khanh who is serving his six-year jail for online posts against the corruption of state officials.

Ha is among hundreds of Vietnamese activists being denied of being granted passports or having passports confiscated by security forces, or being barred from going abroad as the security forces say their acts are based on the nation’s security.

===== May 3 =====

Vietnamese Supreme Court to Review Case of Death Row Inmate Ho Duy Hai

Defend the Defenders: Next week, Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court will hold a three-day review of the case of Ho Duy Hai, who has been sentenced to the death sentence for the allegation of killing two post staffs in Long An province 12 years ago.

The hearing, chaired by Head of the Supreme People’s Court Truong Hoa Binh, will be carried out in its headquarters on May 6-8, the state-controlled media has reported, adding that Hai’s lawyer Tran Hong Phong is invited to participate in the hearing.

The review is made after Hai’s family and himself have complained for the past 12 years that he is innocent and wrongly convicted due to legal miscarriage. On November 30, 2019, the Supreme People’s Procuracy announced that “Ho Duy Hai’s case suffered from serious procedural shortcomings that affected the quality of evidence gathered” to prosecute him.

In mid-January 2008, two female staffs named Nguyen Thi Thu Van and Nguyen Thi Anh Hong of the Cau Voi Post Office in Nhi Thanh commune, Thu Thua district were murdered in their post office. The killer seemed to steal some properties of the victims.

Shortly after that, the local police arrested Ho Duy Hai, who just graduated from a college and is a friend of the victims.

During the investigation, there are a number of police’s shortcomings as they asked people to buy a knife from a local market and used it as a weapon in the murder case. Hai’s family claimed that police took his younger sister’s jewelry and said they were stolen by Hai from the victims after killing him.

In addition, according to the autopsy, the fingerprints taken from the scene were not from Hai.

Despite a lack of solid evidence proving his crime, he was still convicted and sentenced to the capital punishment by the Long An province’s People’s Court and upheld by the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City. He has claimed that police beat and tortured him for false confessions.

For more than a decade, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Loan, Hai’s mother petitioned all levels of government to intercede in her son’s case, even holding banners in front of the offices of the communist party’s general secretary, the prime minister, and the country’s president. She also enlisted the help of activists, dissidents, and human rights groups on social media to spread awareness. In December 2014, when Hai was only a day away from lethal injection, the Long An provincial court decided to temporarily suspend his execution due to uproar over the nagging inconsistencies in the case.

The case became so high-profile that legislator Le Thi Nga, head of National Assembly (NA)’s Judicial Committee at the time, involved. She personally investigated the case’s inconsistencies, confirming that “there were serious violations committed by the police and prosecution in Hai’s case.”

Legal miscarriage in Vietnam is rampant before and after the country’s parliament approved the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014. In a number of murder cases, people sentenced to death but later have been freed after the real perpetrators confessed themselves. The victims of legal miscarriage include Nguyen Thanh Chan and Han Duc Long from Bac Can, and Tran Van Them from Bac Ninh. They have been compensated for huge sums for wrongful convictions and long spending behind the bar to wait for execution.

In all of these cases of legal miscarriage, the victims claimed that they were tortured by investigation officers for coercive confessions.

Related article: After Decade of Petitions, Vietnam to Re-consider Case of Death Row Inmate Ho Duy Hai