Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for June 22-28, 2020: Six Activists Arrested on Allegation of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”
Defend the Defenders | June 28, 2020
In order to ensure “social stability” as the Communist Party of Vietnam prepares for its 13th National Congress slated for January next year, Vietnam’s communist regime continues its intensified crackdown on local dissidents and activists, arresting six rights defenders in a single day on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.
On June 24, Hanoi’s security forces detained former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu and her two sons, Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, as well as another human rights defender Nguyen Thi Tam. Four of them are from Duong Noi commune, Ha Dong district where the local authorities have illegally seized their agricultural land without proper compensation. The land has been promised to private property developers. Police used forces to break into their houses, while in the case of Mrs. Tam they kidnapped her while she was out at a local wet market.
Some detainees and their relatives were reportedly beaten by police during the detentions and house search.
The four rights defenders had started their activism by opposing the illegal land-grabbing. Later, they were involved in other human rights issues and became prominent supporters of land rights petitioners in Dong Tam commune, My Duc district who have been under constant persecution of the regime since 2017. This peaked on January 9 this year when the Ministry of Public Security deployed thousands of riot policemen to attack the Hoanh village in the middle of the night and killed the local community leader Le Dinh Kinh in an extrajudicial killing. 29 land petitioners were arrested and 25 face trial on murder charges over the deaths of several police officers in a case observers and experts have noted is highly opaque. Sharing the sympathy with Dong Tam farmers, the four activists have disseminated news on Dong Tam and provided information about the incident and ensuing human rights concerns to foreign diplomats, especially the EU and the US. It is speculated that part of the reason behind the most recent arrests is also in reprisal to their advocacy with international stakeholders ad Vietnam seeks to avoid transparency and accountability.
Their arrests are likely in relation to Hanoi’s plan to prosecute the 25 detained Dong Tam petitioners on the allegation of murder of three police officers during the attack in January and four others on “resisting on-duty state officials.” One day after their arrest, the authorities in Hanoi released indictments against Dong Tam detainees. Authorities may hold the first-instance hearing soon. It is likely Hanoi’s authorities don’t want independent reporters covering the case so they arrested the four activists to silence others. It is worth noting that Facebooker Chung Hoang Chuong has sentenced to 18 months for disseminating the news on the brutal police attack on January 9.
On the same day, the police in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong arrested Facebooker Vu Tien Chi, 54, when he was conducting a live stream to “defame the regime and its leaders.” Authorities in the central coastal province of Khanh Hoa detained female Facebooker Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, who was said to use her Facebook account to distort the communist government and defame its leaders, including late President Ho Chi Minh, the founder and the first leader of the communist party.
The six detained rights defenders will likely be held incommunicado during the investigation which will last four months at least and may last more than two years. They are facing imprisonment of between seven and 12 years, or up to 20 years if they are convicted.
One day earlier, on June 23, the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province convicted local Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 for his peaceful online activities. Arrested in early November last year, Mr. Nghiem, 57, was sentenced to six years in prison in the trial in which he defended himself. He was likely under police pressure to deny legal counsel from Hanoi-based right lawyer Ha Huy Son who was hired by his family to defend for him. Nghiem may accept the sentence and will not appeal the court’s decision, according to his wife.
After nearly ten months of incommunicado detention, Facebooker Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong has been formally charged, also under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, by authorities in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong. On June 12 Vuong was allowed to meet with his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng for the first time to prepare for his defense. Lawyer Mieng got access to the case file and said the indictment against Vuong was very simple, saying his client was accused of using his Facebook account to criticize the communist government’s socio-economic policies. Such activities are protected speech under Vietnam’s obligations to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
===== June 22 =====
Facebooker Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong Prosecuted after 10 Months of Incommunicado Detention
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong have decided to prosecute local Facebooker Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code after ten months of incommunicado detention.
According to his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, he met with his client in the temporary detention facility under the authority of the province’s Police Department on June 12 for the first time to prepare for defense in the first-instance hearing which is expected to be held soon.
Mieng has also been allowed access to the case file. He said the four-page indictment claims Mr. Vuong used his Facebook account to conduct 98 video live streams and posted 366 status updates, amounting to content that distorts the regime and defames the communist leadership.
Mr. Vuong, who was arrested on September 23, 2019, participated in the mass demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018 in which tens of thousands of people from different social groups rallied on streets to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. He was detained and fined VND750,000 ($320) before being released.
===== June 23 =====
Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem Sentenced to Six Years in Prison After Being Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”
Defend the Defenders: On June 23, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s northern province of Hoa Binh convicted local resident Nguyen Van Nghiem of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.
At the end of the first-instance hearing which lasted only a few hours, the court sentenced the 57-year-old barber to six years in prison, Defend the Defenders has learned.
In an otherwise closed trial, only the defendant’s wife was permitted to enter the courtroom while his friends and supporters were barred from observing the trial inside.
The defendant had no legal assistance although his wife had signed a contract with Hanoi-based attorney Ha Huy Son. It is likely Nghiem had been pressured by the police to deny legal counsel.
Nghiem 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 activists, four of them were convicted between nine months and six 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.
Vietnam’s communist regime is holding at least 280 prisoners of conscience, according to the latest record by Defend the Defenders. More arrests are expected by the end of this year as the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam prepares for the 13th National Congress slated for January 2021.
===== June 24 =====
Four Activists Detained for Advocating for Dong Tam Land Petitioners, Accused of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”
Defend the Defenders: On June 24, Vietnam’s security forces violently detained four Hanoi-based rights defenders over voicing support for land rights petitioners in Dong Tam commune, My Duc district. Dong Tam was the site of a brutal late-night raid in January this year.
According to a short video clip made by human rights defender Trinh Ba Phuong, a large number of uniformed and plainclothes policemen gathered near his private residence in the early hours of Wednesday. At around 5.30 am, police cut Internet connection in the area and used pliers to cut his house’s lock to break in and arrest him in the front of his wife who gave the birth of their second child four days ago.
Phuong’s mother, a former prisoner of conscience, Can Thi Theu and his younger brother Trinh Ba Tu were also detained by the police. Theu, who has been imprisoned twice, for a total 35 months for objecting land grabbing, was arrested while staying in her daughter’s house in the northern province of Hoa Binh while Tu was detained in their agricultural field in the province.
Land petitioner and human rights defender Nguyen Thi Tam was the fourth victim of Vietnam’s persecution. She was kidnaped by security forces while going to a local wet market. She was taken away while the police came to her private residence in Duong Noi village to conduct a house search.
According to their families, the detainees as well as some of their relatives were beaten by police officers during their detention and house search, during which police confiscated a computer and four cell phones from Mrs. Tam’s house and cell phones from Mrs. Theu and her sons. Police also informed in a working minute that they also found some books printed by the unsanctioned publisher Liberal Publishing House led by prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang in Mrs. Theu’s family houses.
All of them are from Duong Noi village, Ha Dong district, Hanoi where the city’s authorities had seized their agricultural land without paying adequate compensation. Theu and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem as well as Phuong, Tu, and Tam were active defenders for their land although they failed.
Later, the state-controlled media reported that all of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, which carries possible imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison, or up to 20 years.
The detentions are likely related to the brutal massacre on January 9 when the Ministry of Public Security deployed thousands of riot police to Dong Tam commune to attack Hoanh villagers. Police killed 84-year-old communist member Le Dinh Kinh, the community leader of the local land petitioners, and arrested nearly 30 people, including his two sons and two grandchildren.
Police said during the attack, three police officers were killed and blamed the local petitioners for their deaths although there is no solid evidence surrounding their deaths. Without an effective independent investigation, there is no way to know what happened in Dong Tam.
In its investigation report released recently, the Hanoi Police Department proposed 25 detainees be prosecuted of murders and four others for “resisting on-duty state officials.”
Since the land dispute in Dong Tam commune started in 2017, the four activists have provided strong support for the local petitioners. Right after the massacre in early January this year, Phuong and Tam kept updating their posts about the case on their Facebook accounts. Phuong also met with US diplomat in Hanoi to report the case.
Two days after detaining the four activists, authorities in Hanoi publicized the indictments against 29 Dong Tam land petitioners, paving the way for the city’s People’s Court to hold the first-trial against them. Hard sentences are expected. Some sources claim the authorities plan to impose the death penalty for four of the defendants and lengthy sentences for the remaining.
Tam is a well-known strong woman in Duong Noi. She often criticized Hanoi police for persecuting her. In recent weeks, she made a number of online surveys about the communist regime’s policies and its senior officials.
It is worth noting that Facebooker Chung Hoang Chuong was convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” and sentenced to 18 months in prison for disseminating information about the police’s massacre in Dong Tam.
Along with recent detentions across the country, the arrests on Wednesday prove that the communist regime will apply all measures to crack down on the local dissent in a bid to ensure a “stable environment” for preparation ahead of the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. It is likely that the police generals want to show their power after dozens of police and army generals have been imprisoned or fired for economic wrongdoings.
Black Wednesday: Vietnam Arrests Two More Activists on Allegation of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s persecution of rights on June 24 does not end with the four detentions in Hanoi but continues with two more in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong and the central coastal province of Khanh Hoa, Defend the Defenders has learned.
According to state-run media, on Wednesday, the security forces in Khanh Hoa arrested Ms. Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, born in 1976, and charged her with “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.
Newspapers reported that Thuy, a teacher fired due to her political opinion, had used Facebook to distort the ruling communist party and defame its leaders. She was said to burn Vietnam’s national flag and cut portraits of late communist founder President Ho Chi Minh.
Activists also reported that the police in Khanh Hoa arrested Mr. Chi on the same allegation. The 54-year-old Facebooker was accused of using the social media platform to conduct live streams to slander the party and its socio-economic policies.
As reported, Vietnam’s security forces arrested former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu and her two sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu as well as human rights defender Nguyen Thi Tam in the early morning of Wednesday, June 24. The state-run media reported that Theu, who was sentenced twice to a total 35 months in prison for objecting land grabbing, and her two sons Tu and Phuong were charged under Article 117. Mrs. Tam, who is also a former prisoner of conscience Tam was accused the same allegation.
Like in other political cases, the accused activists will likely be held incommunicado for at least four months of investigation, during which they will not have access to lawyers and not allowed to meet with their relatives. Their pre-trial detention may be extended to 13 months but in reality, it may last for years as has been seen in other politically sensitive cases. They face imprisonment of between seven and 12 years, or as high as 20 years if they are convicted.
State-run media also reported that on June 21, the police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested land petitioner Phan Thi Thanh Hong on the allegation of “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the Criminal Code over petitioning her land dispute case before different state agencies.
With the new arrests today, the number of prisoners of conscience rises to nearly 290, according to Defend the Defenders’ records.
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