Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for June 8-14, 2020: Communist Regime Arrests Third Member of IJAVN in Effort to Eradicate Free Press

Defend the Defenders | June 14, 2020


In a bid to demolish the unsanctioned organization Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and take full control of the press ahead of the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, the security forces have detained IJAVN’s third member named Le Huu Minh Tuan and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

On June 12, the security forces of Ho Chi Minh City reportedly arrested Mr. Tuan who uses Le Tuan pen name in his numerous articles about the country’s issues and took him to Chi Hoa temporary detention center where IJAVN’s President Dr. Pham Chi Dung and Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy are held for investigation on the same allegation. Dr. Dung was arrested in November 2019 and his deputy was detained six months later.

It is expected more members of IJAVN to be arrested in the coming weeks as the police in HCM City want to make the case bigger to eradicate the free press in Vietnam which is worsened in the last several years. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Hanoi held 12 journalists under the bar for their journalism activities as of 2019’s end while the Reporters Without Border (RSF) has placed Vietnam at the bottom of its annual free press indexes in recent years.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested at least 12 activists, nine of them for their writings. Vietnam is also among the biggest prisons of prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia, with around 280 activists being kept behind bars.

This week, the Hanoi Police Department released its investigation conclusion about the Dong Tam incident in which the Ministry of Public Security and the capital city’s police deployed thousands of riot policemen to attack Hoanh village, Dong Tam commune, Hoai Duc district in early hours of June 9. During the assault, police killed 84-year-old local spiritual leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested nearly 30 land petitioners. The police said three police officers were burned during the massacre and blamed the local land petitioners for killing them although the authorities have yet to show pictures and necessary documents for their death.

In their investigation conclusion, the Hanoi police proposed to prosecute 25 land petitioners, including two sons, one adopted daughter, and two grandchildren of elderly leader Kinh, on allegation of murdering the three police officers. Remaining four land petitioners are proposed to be prosecuted of “resisting on-duty state officials.” It seems that after killing communist member Kinh in a brutal way and beating his wife and sons, the communist regime is willing to impose harsh sentences for land petitioners who challenged the communists’ power by objecting their land grabbing which occurs nationwide.

The family of political activist Chau Van Kham, a Vietnamese Australian who is serving his 12-year imprisonment in Vietnam, has no information about him in the last four months. His relative’s effort to visit him in prison was denied while the Australian diplomatic mission in Vietnam has not been permitted to contact him. Mr. Kham, 70, was convicted of terrorism just because he is a member of the California-based Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan), a pro-democracy group of Vietnamese labeled as a terrorist group by the Vietnamese communist regime.

On June 10, the US Department of State released its report on the world’s religious freedom in 2019, in which the US slams Vietnam’s suppression on the freedom of religions, especially against the unregistered religious groups. Numerous followers of the unsanctioned religious groups have been harassed, arrested, beaten, having properties confiscated and the rights of free movement violated.

===== June 8 =====

Australian Citizen Jailed in Vietnam ‘Vanishes’ in Custody

RFA: Concern is growing for an Australian citizen who has disappeared in Vietnam’s prison system while serving a 12-year term for engaging in acts of “terrorism,” according to media reports.

Chau Van Kham, a resident of Australia and a member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party, has not been seen or heard from for nearly four months, Australia’s Guardian newspaper said on June 6.

Labeled a terrorist group by Vietnam in October 2016, Viet Tan describes itself instead as committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam.

Sentenced on Jan. 19, 2019, and held initially in Ho Chi Minh City, the 70-year-old Chau has now “disappeared” in custody, with no word of his present whereabouts given to family members or to consular officials, who were last in contact with him at the beginning of the year, the Guardian said.

Potentially life-threatening conditions from which Chau, a Sydney resident, suffers may now be made worse by the conditions of his confinement, Chau’s son told the Guardian in its report, adding that his father has been denied “any forms of communication with the outside world.”

“I worry not only for his health but his mental state . . . it frightens me [to think] how he’s doing inside,” Chau’s son said.

“He’s now on a long journey until his release with no support from the Australian government at all, it seems like they’ve forgotten him.”

Call for government action

In a May 27 letter to Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australian parliamentarian Chris Hayes meanwhile expressed “deep concern” over Chau’s continued imprisonment and urged swift government action to protect his well-being.

“I am advised by Mr. Chau’s Australian lawyer that all prisoner visitation rights have been canceled, and further [that] Mr. Chau has not been able to make or receive telephone calls from family or consular officials,” Hayes wrote.

Vietnamese officials cited concerns over the spread of coronavirus for the restrictions on prisoner contacts, Hayes said, adding that when Chau’s sister attempted to visit him on May 10 to deliver food and medicine, she was told only that he was no longer held at that prison.

“In view of the above, it would be appreciated if you could take all possible steps to secure Mr. Chau’s welfare, including all feasible and appropriate action to ensure that ongoing consular assistance is provided and that Mr. Chau is given access to his prescribed medication,” Hayes wrote.

Dissent is not tolerated in Vietnam, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers, bloggers, and activists calling for greater freedoms in the one-party communist state.

Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that authorities held 138 political prisoners as of October 2019, while Defend the Defenders has suggested that at least 240 are in detention, with 36 convicted last year alone.

===== June 12 =====

Vietnam Communist Regime Arrests Third Journalist in Effort to Demolish IJAVN

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime has arrested the third journalist named Le Huu Minh Tuan in an effort to demolish the unregistered group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), Defend the Defenders has learned.

Local activists reported that on June 12, the security forces of Ho Chi Minh City’s Police Department arrested Mr. Tuan, who is a member of IJAVN, and has a number of articles under penname Le Tuan. He is charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code and his arrest is likely related to the previous detentions of IJAVN’s President Phạm Chi Dung and Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who were accused of the same allegation with imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if are convicted.

Tuan was said to be taken to Chi Hoa temporary detention center under the authority of HCM City’s Police Department, where Mr. Dung and Mr. Thuy are held incommunicado since their arrest in November 2019 and May 23 this year, respectively.

Mr. Tuan, 31, joined IJAVN in 2014. He graduated from Da Nang University, majoring in history. He is currently working on a second degree at Hanoi Law University.

In the months after the arrest of Mr. Dung, Tuan was repeatedly summoned by security forces for interrogation about the association. Tuan’s friends advised him to go into hiding to avoid being harassed or detained, however, he refused, saying he didn’t want his studies interrupted. He also acquiesced to these questionings because he believed he hadn’t done anything wrong.

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam is striving not to allow the formation of opposition groups and civil society organizations. After arresting a dozen of key members of the unsanctioned group Brotherhood for Democracy, Vietnam’s security forces are targeting IJAVN which has more than 50 independent journalists and dissidents who have produced thousands of unbiased articles regarding hot issues of the country such as human rights violations, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the weak response of the communist regime in Hanoi, failures of socio-economic policies of the ruling Communist Party, etc.

Under the communist regime’s provision, IJAVN is a thorny group that should not exist. Since its establishment in 2014, it and its members have been under constant persecution of security forces who strive not to allow its members to gather or meet with foreign diplomats. In November last year, the security forces started their campaign to crack down on the association by arresting its President Dung and a half year later, they detained Acting President Thuy.

A number of its members are under threat and may be arrested at any moment as the security forces want to eradicate the association ahead of the upcoming 13th National Congress scheduled in January 2021.

Vietnam is among the world’s biggest enemies of the press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Hanoi held 12 journalists under the bar for their journalism activities as of 2019’s end while the Reporters Without Border (RSF) has placed Vietnam at the bottom of its annual free press indexes in recent years.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested at least 12 activists, nine of them for their writings. Vietnam is also among the biggest prisons of prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia, with around 280 activists being kept behind bars.

===== June 13 =====

Vietnam Police Call For Murder Charges Against 25 Dong Tam Detainees

RFA: Vietnamese authorities will now file murder charges against 25 villagers held since a deadly police raid in January on the Dong Tam commune outside Hanoi in which three police officers and a village leader died, sources said on Friday.

Another four meanwhile face charges of obstructing officers in the performance of their duty, sources said, citing recommendations contained in a 47-page report released by Hanoi police investigators and sent to lawyers on June 12.

Six of the 25 now charged under Article 123 of Vietnam’s Penal Code in the deaths of the three police officers killed during the raid have been identified as Le Dinh Cong, Bui Viet Hieu, Nguyen Van Tuyen, Le Dinh Chuc, Le Dinh Doanh, and Nguyen Quoc Tien.

The four charged with obstructing officers on duty were identified as Le Dinh Hien, Bui Viet Tien, Nguyen Thi Dung, and Tran Thi Phuong, sources said.

Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the Jan. 9 assault that involved about 3,000 security officers and was the latest flare-up of a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Hanoi.

Conclusions regarding Le’s death contained in the police investigators’ report raise questions that must now be clarified, said defense lawyer Ha Huy Son, speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

First is the finding by police that Le had been killed by gunshots fired from behind, Ha said.

“Photos and videos posted on social media actually show that he was killed by two shots fired into his chest, just to the left of his heart,” he said.

Also unclear from the police investigators’ report is why the police raid on Dong Tam commune’s Hoanh hamlet was launched at all, and why DNA identifications were not made of the three police officers who died in the assault, reportedly by burning, Ha said.

Also missing from the report is any mention of the wounding by gunfire of one of Ha’s clients, Bui Viet Hieu, who was struck by bullets in the abdomen and foot during the Jan. 9 assault, Ha said.

Though official reports said that villagers had assaulted police with grenades and petrol bombs in the early morning raid, a report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days later by journalists and activists said that police had attacked first during the deadly clash.

Police blocked off pathways and alleys during the attack and beat villagers “indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report said, calling the assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”

While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation.