Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 15-21, 2020: Vietnam Continues Its Political Crackdown Ahead of Communist Party’s 13th National Congress



Defend the Defenders | June 21, 2020


After the European Parliament ratified the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), Vietnam’s communist regime has accelerated its crackdown on the local dissent which started in late 2015 with the arrests of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai. The new wave of persecution likely aims to ensure “social stability” six months ahead of the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, scheduled to take place in early January 2021.

Following the arrest of Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN)’s Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy on May 23, Vietnam’s security forces continue to show their unchecked power. This includes the detention of two activists Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong who were reportedly administering a Facebook group named Bàn luận Chính trị (Political Discussion) in which its 46,000 members were discussing the country’s issues and criticizing the communist regime’s socio-economic policies.

According to lawyer Dang Dinh Manh who was hired by Mr. Khoa’s family to provide legal counsel for him, Khoa and his colleague are charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code, which carries a potential maximum sentence of seven years. However, the police in Ho Chi Minh City has also informed the attorney that they may raise the charge against the duo to “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117of the same code with the toughest sentence of 12 years in prison.

After more than a week of detention, the police in District 8, HCM City have failed to inform Khoa’s wife where he is held. All her attempts to request to meet him or provide him with additional food and medicines have been denied, Defend the Defenders has learned.

 On June 19, Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning Vietnam’s new wave of persecution against the local political dissidents and human rights defenders. According to the New York-based rights group, Vietnam is imprisoning at least 165 activists for their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association. It calls on the international community to request the Vietnamese communist regime to respect its international human rights commitments.

Four days earlier, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists also issued separate statements regarding the arrest of IJAVN’s member Le Huu Minh Tuan, requesting Hanoi to drop all charges against the association’s key members, including President Pham Chi Dung and his deputy Mr. Thuy as well as Mr. Tuan and other independent journalists and Facebookers.

 In addition, IJAVN has also issued a statement demanding Vietnam’s communist regime put an end to its ongoing persecution against the organization and its members.

Seven months after arresting Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem (account Nghiem Nguyen), authorities in Vietnam’s northern province of Hoa Binh plan to hold the first-instance hearing on June 23 to try him on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117. Mr. Nghiem was said to deny legal services of attorney Huy Son who was hired by his wife right after his detention. He is likely to be convicted but his sentence may not be as tough as in other recent cases.

According to the Radio Free Asia (RFA), on June 18, followers of Vietnam’s Cao Dai religion confronted supporters of a state-sanctioned branch of the church who came to take over their facilities. Church members barred the door against the intruders amid heated arguments with local authorities. The attempted takeover of the Hieu Xuong, also called Phu Lam temple in Phu Yen province’s Tuy Hoa city was launched in the early morning by about 60 members of the state-approved Cao Dai church together with local police, a leader of the other group told RFA.

===== June 15 =====

Two Facebookers Detained for Political Discussion on Social Network, Accused of “Abusing Democratic Freedom”

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City have arrested two Facebookers, Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong, over their affiliation with a Facebook group in which its members hold discussions about Vietnam’s socio-economic issues, Mr. Khoa’s family told Defend the Defenders.

Accordingly, the detentions were made on June 13. Mr. Khoa was arrested outside by the police of District 8 who took him back to his private residence to search his house. His wife Pham Bao Ngoc said the police did not find anything but confiscated his cell phone.

Mrs. Ngoc told Defend the Defenders that she doesn’t know what allegation (s) her husband is charged with and so far, the police have yet to give her the arrest warrant and her efforts to contact the local police have been denied.

The 38-year-old Khoa and his colleague Thuong, 63, are likely being held by the Police of District 8 in their temporary detention center.

According to well-known blogger Le Nguyen Huong Tra who resides in Germany, Khoa and Thuong are admins of a Facebook group named Bàn luận Kinh tế-Chính trị (Economic-Political Discussion) with 46,000 followers. However, the group was closed immediately after the arrests of its two admins.

Ms. Tra also said the two were charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code, with imprisonment of up to seven years.

Saigon-based lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, who has been hired by Mr. Khoa’s family, has submitted a request to meet Khoa and attend interrogations. The police told the attorney that they are working on the case and considering changing their charge to “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with the highest punishment of 12 years in jail.

As the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam prepares for its 13th National Congress scheduled in January 2021, the regime escalates its crackdown on local dissent and tightens control on social media, especially Facebook, the largest social network in Vietnam with around 60 million active users.

In recent months, the regime has arrested a number of activists including Vice President of the unregistered group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam and well-known blogger Pham Thanh, the owner of Bà Đầm Già blog, and the author of several books with the content criticizing the communist regime and its leaders.

So far this year, Vietnam has convicted three activists for their Facebook posting and imposed imprisonment of between nine months and five years. In addition, the regime has imposed administrative fines up to VND15 million ($680) on hundreds of Facebookers nationwide for their online activities after requesting them to delete their posts.

===== June 16 =====

Trial against Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem Scheduled on June 23

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime will hold the first-instance hearing on June 23 to try Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

The trial will be carried out by the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province, his wife informed Defend the Defenders. Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son has been hired by Mr. Nghiem’s family to provide legal counseling for him.

Mr. Nghiem, born in 1963, will face imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if he is convicted.

He was arrested on November 5 last year over his posts on Facebook regarding issues such as human rights violations, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution and China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the weak response of Vietnam’s communist regime. He also conducted many live streams on his Facebook account Nghiem Nguyen on which criticized the communist regime and its leaders for their failure to deal with these problems.

So far this year, Vietnam has tried five activists, three of them were convicted between nine months and five years for their posts on Facebook. In addition, hundreds of Facebookers have been fined up to VND15 million ($680) for their Facebook posts which were considered fake or untrue by the communist authorities, especially about the Covid-19 pandemic.


Judicial Committee of Vietnam’s Parliament Seeks Review of Appeal in Ho Duy Hai Death Row Case

RFA: The Judicial Committee of Vietnam’s highest legislative body National Assembly (NA) on Tuesday agreed to seek a review of a court rejection last month the appeal of a death row prisoner, in a rare case of public disagreement between branches of the one-party communist state.

The majority of the panel’s 40 members agreed to review the decision last month to reject an appeal of the verdict in the case of Ho Duy Hai, who was convicted in 2008 of the murder of two female postal employees in Long An province and given the death penalty, according to state media reports.

On May 8, a 17-member jury rejected the Supreme People’s Procuracy’s petition to throw out the verdict in Hai’s trials and reinvestigate his case, saying he had admitted guilt for his crimes and the basic facts supported the decisions by the courts of the first instance and later appeals.

On Monday, Supreme Court Chief Judge Nguyen Hoa Binh reaffirmed the death penalty, telling the assembly that Ho had given 25 statements to the court admitting his guilt.

The majority of the National Assembly Judicial Committee, however, disagreed, according to the online state media outlet Tuoi Tre.

They said their evaluation of the investigation and rulings in Hai’s case pointed to serious issues with the potential to change the nature of the case, and that they will petition the assembly standing committee for a review of the May 8 cassation trial’s conclusion.

Hai’s case has stirred public interest in one-party Vietnam, where the assembly typically rubber stamps ruling party decisions.

For further reading: Vietnam Assembly Committee Seeks Review of Appeal in Death Row Case

===== June 18 =====

Cao Dai Church in Vietnam Resists Takeover Bid by Followers of State-Controlled Branch

RFA: Followers of Vietnam’s Cao Dai religion confronted supporters of a state-sanctioned branch of the church who came to take over their facilities on Thursday, with church members barring the door against the intruders amid heated arguments with local authorities, sources told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

The attempted takeover of the Hieu Xuong, also called Phu Lam, temple in Phu Yen province’s Tuy Hoa city was launched in the early morning by about 60 members of the state-approved Cao Dai church together with local police, a leader of the other group said.

He and other members of his congregation then quickly gathered to protect their building, the church leader named Nguyen Ha said.

“We closed the door, not allowing them into the temple, and some of our followers who were standing outside spoke with the authorities and the state-affiliated Cao Dai group,” Nguyen said, adding, “The dispute in front of the temple’s gate lasted for many hours.”

At 11:00, the state-sanctioned group departed after taking video footage of the clash, he said.

Speaking to RFA following the clash, Cao Van Minh—a Cao Dai church leader and manager of the Hieu Xuong temple—said he hopes that the state-affiliated Cao Dai group and the local authorities will now leave them alone.

“We don’t want them to disturb us anymore,” Cao said.

“We only want to be authentic followers of the Cao Dai church belonging to God, and not have to argue about these things,” he said.

Reached for comment, an office on duty at the Tuy Hoa City police department denied any knowledge of the clash.

Frequent clashes

Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Cao Dai religion, which combines elements of many religions, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups who do not follow the state-sanctioned branches, and clashes are frequent.

In March 2017, authorities disrupted a group of unsanctioned Cao Dai adherents in Dong Thap province’s Tam Nong district and seized their church for use by an officially recognized sect of the religion, according to the building’s administrator Duong Ngoc Re.

Re told RFA that provincial and district authorities, as well as those from local Phu Thanh A village, ordered him to meet with them twice on March 16 and 19 to force his group to follow a sanctioned Cao Dai sect, but he refused.

Just a month before, two Cao Dai followers were beaten and robbed by plainclothes police, a source told RFA at the time, adding that local authorities often hire thugs or plainclothes officers to beat and harass activists when they lack evidence to arrest them.

The State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern for violating religious freedom in 2006 amid improving diplomatic relations, but rights groups and Vietnamese religious activists have long questioned that decision.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in an annual report in April 2019 that “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom” justified returning Hanoi to the blacklist.

===== June 19 =====

HRW Says Vietnam Intensifies Political Crackdown on Local Dissent Ahead to 13th National Congress of Ruling Communist Party

Defend the Defenders: Responding to the recent arrests carried out by Vietnam’s security forces, Human Rights Watch on June 19 issued a statement saying the Vietnamese government is intensifying a crackdown on human rights activists and dissidents ahead of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam’s 13th National Congress scheduled for January 2021.

Vietnam’s communist regime has arrested and convicted numerous people for political crimes since late 2019, including three members of the unsanctioned professional organization Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), namely President Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and regular member Le Huu Minh Tuan, while another IJAVN member, Le Anh Hung has been forcibly committed in a mental hospital for over a year. Well-known blogger Pham Thanh, a former IJAVN member has also been detained, along with member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy Tran Duc Thach, activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, Facebookers Dinh Van Phu, Huynh Anh Khoa, Ma Phung Ngoc Phu, Phan Cong Hai, etc.

“Vietnam is clamping down hard on dissent this year, and other countries need to speak up,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “Vietnam’s allies and trading partners should be complaining about these new cases to Hanoi and demanding that the authorities release these political prisoners.”

HRW said in the past, Vietnamese authorities have rounded up dissidents and activists to ensure that the party congress appears to run smoothly and without any dissident or opposition voices.

The New York-based rights group said Vietnam is imprisoning at least 165 people for exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association and currently in prison, while Defend the Defenders puts the number of political prisoners in Vietnam at ((what is your latest count??)).

For the full press release of HRW: Vietnam: Crackdown on Peaceful Dissent Intensifies