Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for May 11-17, 2020: Beaten by Police Officers, Unsanctioned Books Shipper in Critical Health Conditions
Defend the Defenders | May 17, 2020
Three days after being tortured during interrogation by security officers in Ho Chi Minh City about the unregistered Liberal Publishing House, Mr. Phung Thuy, 56, felt great pain and his health conditions are critical. However, he could not go to a hospital for treatment, fearing that he would be re-arrested by police who are still trying to detain him for further questioning.
While Mr. Thuy has been forced to go into hiding, security officers of the Ministry of Public Security’s Representative Office in HCM City continue to harass his daughter. They have reportedly been using her as a hostage, summoning her to a police station many times in a bid to force him to show up.
In response, Amnesty International launched a campaign urging the international community and local residents to write letters to Vietnam’s government to request the end of persecution against Mr. Thuy and his family as well as Liberal Publishing House. The London-based rights group calls on the communist regime to respect the rights to freedom of expression, information, and publishing.
On May 11, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district in Can Tho City convicted local resident Ma Phung Ngoc Phu of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code for “fake news” regarding the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam and other posts on Facebook which were considered harmful to the communist regime. Phu, who was arrested on April 10, was sentenced to nine months in prison, becoming the 5th activist being imprisoned for peaceful activism.
Prisoners of conscience continue to be tortured and inhumanely treated by prisons’ authorities across the nation. The family of imprisoned activist Huynh Duc Thanh Binh reported that he and five other prisoners of conscience in Xuan Loc Prison camp in the southern province of Dong Nai have been brutally beaten by police when they requested more time for outdoor working.
In mid-April, police reportedly assaulted prisoners of conscience Ngo Van Dung and Le Quy Loc, who were kept in Phan Dang Luu temporary detention facility under the authority of Ho Chi Minh City Police Department. Due to the severe injuries caused by the attacks, Mr. Loc was hospitalized for one week while Mr. Dung was transferred to Chi Hoa temporary detention facility also under the authority of the city’s police. Mr. Dung’s lawyer said he was severely injured too.
The case of death row inmate Ho Duy Hai is still hot after the Supreme People’s Court rejected the appeal of the Supreme People’s Procuracy and upheld his capital punishment. Three legislators Luu Binh Nhuong, Le Thanh Van and Truong Trong Nghia urged the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly to review the case and order re-investigation as the previous investigation and conviction committed a number of serious shortcomings which may make Hai a victim of legal miscarriage which is not rare in the authoritarian country.
On May 14, the US-based Vietnam Human Rights Network publicized its report titled “Report on Human Rights in Vietnam 2019-2020” in both languages Vietnamese and English.
===== May 11 =====
Vietnamese Facebooker Sentenced to Nine Months in Prison for “Abuse of Democratic Freedom” for Posting on COVID-19
Defend the Defenders: On May 11, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district in the Mekong Delta’s hub of Can Tho City convicted a local female resident named Ma Phung Ngoc Phu of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code for her posts on Facebook regarding the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
The state-controlled media reported that she was convicted of disseminating fake news about Covid-19 infection in the country in late February as well as many statuses and articles with content distorting the communist regime and defaming its leaders in January-February.
The district police detained her on April 10 after finding out that she used her Facebook account James Nguyen to disseminate the information unfavorable for the regime.
She has been the second Facebooker being convicted of online posts so far this year. On April 27, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu also convicted local resident Chung Hoang Chuong on the same allegation for posting news about the police brutal attack in Dong Tam commune in early January this year.
On May 6, the People’s Court of Da Huoai sentenced local citizen Dinh Vinh Son to nine months of probation and VND30 million ($1,280) for the allegation of “Illegal provision or use of information on computer networks or telecommunications networks” under Article 288 of the Criminal Code. Accordingly, Son was accused of posting fake news about the Covid-19 pandemic on his Facebook account Ho Hoang Duy in a bid of revenging a guy named Ho Hoang Duy, with who he has quarrel.
In addition to imprisoning Facebookers for their online posts, authorities in many Vietnamese localities have summoned hundreds of Facebookers for their posts regarding the disease and Vietnam’s response to the outbreak. According to media, around 400 of them have been fined between VND7.5 million and VND15 million after being requested to delete their questionable posts.
As the Covid-19 has killed hundreds of thousands of people and infected more than two million worldwide, Vietnam has only around 300 cases infected with Coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Health.
Also according to the ministry, no casualty of COVID-19 has been reported although there have been a number of suspicious deaths in many localities in recent months.
However, activists and many experts said the figures provided by the ministry are not reliable given the fact that hundreds of Chinese citizens, including from Wuhan, the first epicenter of the disease, have been visited and freely moved across Vietnam since late 2019 when the first cases were reported in the Chinese province of Hubei.
Activists said Vietnam’s communist regime, like China’s regime, is undermining the figures of Coronavirus infection and praise the government’s efforts in dealing with the pandemic to raise the regime’s legitimacy. As a result, people are not believing in the government’s data and seek other sources on social networks, especially on Facebook which is the most popular in Vietnam with more than 60 million accounts.
===== May 12 =====
Vietnamese Legislators Request Parliament’s Review of Death Row Inmate’s Case
Defend the Defenders: Two Vietnamese legislators Le Thanh Van and Luu Binh Nhuong have called on the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly (NA) to review the case of well-known
row inmate Ho Duy Hai, who last week was rejected in his bid for a new trial that would have sparked a reinvestigation into his murder case.
Mr. Hai, 35, was arrested in March 2008 and convicted nine months later of plundering property and murdering two female postal employees in the southern province of Long An. The People’s Court of Long An province sentenced him to death for the two allegations.
Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court rejected a request by the country’s Supreme People’s Procuracy to reinvestigate the case, prompting his family members to petition lawmakers over the decision Monday.
Two legislators Nhuong and Van put in the request Thursday while sending a letter to the Communist Party of Vietnam’s chief, the president, and the assembly’s chairman, asking them to look into five specific issues in the case that they say need to be solved in a cassation case.
Meanwhile, Hai’s legal advisor Tran Hong Phong has sent a petition and evidence of Ho’s alibi to President Nguyen Phu Trong which shows that the killer was left-handed, while the prosecution argued that Ho killed the women using his right hand in the initial and appeal cases.
===== May 14 =====
Six Prisoners of Conscience Beaten in Xuan Loc Prison Camp
Defend the Defenders: Six prisoners of conscience, including Mr. Huynh Duc Thanh Binh were reported to have been beaten by police officers while serving their sentences in Xuan Loc Prison camp in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai.
According to Mr. Binh’s mother, she learned the information from him during her visit to the prison on May 12. She recognized an injury in his face and questioned about it and he told her it was a result of a recent attack of prison guards on him and five other fellows.
Binh said the prison’s authorities allow them to go out for work during weekdays. When he and others asked them to work during the weekend, the authorities did not agree and sent police officers to their cells to beat them.
The mother could not learn the name of the five other beaten prisoners of conscience and when the incident happened because police officers interrupted their conversation and took Binh away.
The mother said she has submitted a complaint to Dong Nai province’s People’s Procuracy as well as the prison’s authorities to clarify the attack as she points out that her son and other prisoners of conscience in Xuan Loc Prison camp are under danger situation.
Mr. Binh, 24, was arrested in July 2018 together with Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and Mr. Tran Long Phi. Three of them were convicted of subversion and sentenced to between eight and 12 years in prison for their peaceful activities which aim to promote human rights and multi-party democracy as well as protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). His father Huynh Duc Thinh was also sentenced to one year in jail.
After convicting local activists under controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code and sentencing them to lengthy imprisonments, Vietnam’s communist regime continues to persecute them in prisons with severe living conditions across the nation.
They are holding prisoners of conscience in small cells with tiny windows or without windows, so prisoners prefer to be sent out for working even their works are not paid.
In most of the prisons, inmates are forced to do construction works or cashew processing as well as other works without proper protective equipment, and all profits from their works go to the private pockets of prison’s senior officers.
Last week, families of prisoners of conscience in Phan Dang Luu temporary detention facility under the authority of Ho Chi Minh City’s Police Department told Defend the Defenders that jailed activists Ngo Van Dung and Le Quy Loc were beaten by dozens of police officers on April 12 for unknown reasons while they are waiting for their first-instance hearing. After the assault, they transferred Mr. Dung, 51, to Chi Hoa temporary detention facility also under the authority of the city’s police while Mr. Loc, 44, was sent to a hospital for treatment of severe injuries caused by the attack.
Torture is still systemic in Vietnam although the communist parliament ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014. Dozens of suspects or prisoners have been killed or being seriously injured in police custody annually.
Former prisoners of conscience have reported that they were often sent to solitary cells after refusing to admit wrongdoings or protesting inhumane treatment in prisons.
===== May 15 =====
Liberal Publishing House’s Shipper In Critical Health Condition After Being Beaten by Vietnamese Security Officers
Defend the Defenders: Mr. Phung Thuy, a shipper of the unregistered group Liberal Publishing House (LPH), is in critical health situations due to injuries caused by officers from the Ministry of Public Security, a prominent dissident and political writer Pham Doan Trang has said.
Currently, Mr. Thuy, 56, has been going into hiding in order to avoid being re-captured by security forces after fleeing from a police station in the early hours of May 9. However, his daughter is still held by police as a hostage and the police’s reward would be his surrender.
Ms. Trang said due to the torture which lasted from 9 AM of May 8 to 3 AM of May 9, Mr. Thuy felt chest tightness, had difficulty breathing and nausea three days later. From the afternoon of May 12, he vomited fresh blood. His body twitched because of pain while his stomach swelled up, and whenever he touched his hand he felt a twitching pain, so much that he couldn’t breathe.
As Defend the Defenders reported, Mr. Thuy fell into the police’s trap as they ordered him to ship some books printed by LPH. They took him to the headquarters of the ministry’s Representative Office in Ho Chi Minh City located in Nguyen Van Cu street, District 1. In the police station, police officers beat him repeatedly from 9.00 AM on Friday to the early hours of Saturday. Specifically, police officers were punching in his face, chest, ribs, and stomach. They kicked his shins and at least six police officers had stepped his toes.
During the torture, police officers interrogated him about his relations with Ms. Trang and other activists involving in the affairs of the underground publisher as well as the place Ms. Trang is staying now. Thuy reportedly received serious attacks after giving negative answers the police officers did not want to hear.
The interrogators used all their professional skills from Germany’s Stasi to beat him until he collapsed at midnight on Friday. As his relatives brought some medicines for him, they took their motorbike and forced him to sign in a minute in which he has to confirm that he was treated properly, not being tortured during the working time with the police.
They continued to interrogate and beat him until 3 AM on Saturday (May 9) when Thuy had to call his family again to bring the medicines for him. When his daughter arrived at the police station, Thuy took this chance, running out of the interrogation room to grab the motorbike of his offspring and drive away.
Police officers were chasing him closely like in an action film made by Holywood. With luck, Thuy successfully escaped from angry policemen. Angry of failing to catch him, police detained his 24-year-old daughter and hold her as a hostage.
Trang said there is a nationwide campaign of Vietnam’s police to destroy LPH and halt its print and dissemination of books with contents aiming to promote human rights, multi-party democracy, and civil rights in the country ruled by communists for decades. Along with seeking printing facilities of the publisher, police are making tricks to catch its staff and shippers. She herself has been forced to live in secret places in Vietnam from a long time ago in order to avoid being detained by security forces.
LPH, which was officially introduced to Vietnam’s public on February 14, 2019, publishes a range of non-fiction books written by Vietnamese authors on topics such as political science, public policy, and other social issues. Some titles include Politics of a Police State, Non-Violent Resistance, Politics for the Common People, Life Behind Iron Bars, and A Handbook for Families of Prisoners. Many of these books are considered sensitive by the government and their publication is banned. The Vietnamese authorities generally censor publications that are perceived to conflict with government policy.
Since the Liberal Publishing House began operations, the police have launched several sting operations to try to arrest people working for it. It has also been subjected to online harassment, its Facebook page was subjected to a coordinated reporting campaign conducted by cyber-troop, where a military unit operates online and targets activists, human rights defenders, and political dissidents. This led to the closure of the Facebook account in February 2019, the same month LPH came online. In July, three different banks informed the publisher that its bank accounts would be closed. No justification was given. Police forced shipping companies to provide names and addresses of buyers. Those who refused to comply faced frequent intimidation, harassment, and intrusive surveillance. In November 2019, the publishing house’s newly launched website (https://nhaxuatbantudo.com/) was targeted by multiple cyberattacks, attempting to take over the control of the website, only with the support of IT expert that the website could maintain its operation.
Since early October 2019, police have harassed and intimidated dozens of people connected to LPH –- in what appears to be a targeted campaign. The harassment has taken place in at least three major cities, including Hanoi, HCM City, and Hue, in addition to the provinces of Binh Duong, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Phu Yen. The individuals who have been targeted are believed to have either bought or read books printed by the publisher or to have worked for the publisher. Individuals in those locations have been summoned to local police stations where they have been interrogated about books they bought from LPH. After questioning, most were pressured to sign statements promising that they would not buy books from LPH again. In one case, police detained and allegedly tortured Vu Huy Hoang in custody on October 15, 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City, to force him to confess to working for the publisher. Police detained him for more than 12 hours, during which time he was repeatedly beaten until his nose bled. Fearful of re-arrest, the man went into hiding as soon as he was released.
On October 23-24, a man in Phu Yen province received two letters from the police summoning him to the local station for questioning about his receipt of “banned” books. After interrogating the man, police searched his house and confiscated books printed by LPH. While in early November, a man who occasionally works with the publisher went into hiding, fearing arrest, after police instructed his regular employer to inform them when he next came to the office.
On May 14, Amnesty International launched a campaign urging the international community and Vietnamese to write a letter to Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his government to request the end of the persecution against LPH and its supporters as well as ensure the right to freedom of expression, information, and publishing.
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