Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for July 13-19, 2020: Trial against Eight Members of Hiến Pháp Group Set on July 31
Defend the Defenders | July 19, 2020
The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City will hold the first-instance hearing on July 31 to try eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution), nearly 23 months after first abducting them.
Three female and five male activists were detained in early September 2018 and charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s Criminal Code, with imprisonment of up to 15 years in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and demonstration enshrined in the country’s Constitution and protected under Vietnam’s obligations in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Many of them have been beaten or placed in severe living conditions during the investigation period or pre-trial detention.
Meanwhile, authorities in Hanoi continue to keep Mr. Le Anh Hung, who was arrested in July 2018 and charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code, forcibly committed without judicial process in a psychiatric hospital. He was reportedly beaten, restrained to his bed, and subjected to forced medication for his supposed mental illness. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture holds that involuntary institutionalization and forced medication can rise to the level of torture.
Independent journalist and fellow blogger Nguyen Vu Binh said that the medical staff at the Central Mental Hospital No. 1 are forcing Mr. Hung to take medication that he insists he does not need as he is not mentally ill.
Hung was transferred from jail to the mental hospital without the judicial process for “observation and treatment” in April 2019. If convicted he could serve up to seven years in prison.
Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on Falun Gong’s practitioners, considering their health-improving exercises illegal although the country’s law has no provisions against Falun Gong. On July 18, authorities in the central province of Ha Tinh detected a gathering of 28 Falun Gong followers in the private residence of Mr. Le Van Lao in Cam Vinh commune, Cam Xuyen district to watch a video clip about health exercises. The local authorities deployed a large group of police officers to Mr. Lao’s house to ask the people to stop gathering. They confiscated some documentations about Falun Gong and threatened to punish them severely in the coming weeks.
On July 13, ten international and domestic rights and professional groups, including Defend the Defenders and Amnesty International, issued a joint letter to urge Vietnam’s communist regime to stop its ongoing crackdown on the local dissent and independent media as well as respect its international human rights commitments. The ten groups call on Vietnam to release 11 activists arrested recently, including three members of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam and four human rights defenders from Duong Noi commune, as well as free all prisoners of conscience, the number of whom hit 276 as of June 30, according to Defend the Defenders’ record.
===== July 13 =====
DTD Joins Other International NGOs to Call on Vietnam to Respect Human Rights Commitments and Release Prisoners of Conscience
Defend the Defenders has joined Amnesty International and 8 other international rights and professional organizations to urge Vietnam’s communist regime to stop its ongoing crackdown on local independent media as well as respect its international human rights commitments.
In the press release, publicized on July 13, the ten groups express their concerns about Vietnam’s intensified persecution against local activists ahead of the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party slated in January next year.
Defend the Defenders joined the call to express its deep concerns about the recent arrests of 11 human rights defenders, including four human rights defenders in Duong Noi, two members, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Anh Tuan, of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, and blogger Pham Thanh.
The human rights and professional groups said they are also concerned about the increasing persecution against the members of the unsanctioned Liberal Publishing House which led political blogger Pham Doan Trang to leave the publisher.
The organizations note that while Vietnam is praised for its successful dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak, Hanoi has an unmet duty to improve its human rights record.
Finally, the organizations request Hanoi to stop its persecution against independent civil organizations and to release all prisoners of conscience. Hanoi must respect, protect, and promote human rights, in line with Vietnam’s international commitments.
===== July 14 =====
HCM City Court to Hold First-instance Hearing to Try 8 Members of Hiến Pháp Group on July 31
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City has decided to hold the first-instance hearing against eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) on July 31, after a number of postponements due to the Covid-19 outbreak and other reasons.
The trial will be held in the headquarters of the city’s People’s Court, 21 months after the detention of activists Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, Hoang Thi Thu Vang, Doan Thi Hong, Ngo Van Dung, Do The Hoa, Le Quy Loc, Tran Thanh Phuong, and Ho Dinh Cuong. They were abducted by security forces in Ho Chi Minh City in early September 2018 and charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s Criminal Code.
Their fate and whereabouts remained unknown for months as Police held them incommunicado without informing their families, and even after the families had been informed of the detention they have remained incommunicado for nearly a year.
The first two of the defendants, Ms. Hanh and Mrs. Vang are charged with Clause 1 of Article 118 and face imprisonment of between seven and 15 years in prison while the remaining six are accused under Clause 2 of the same article and risk between two and seven years imprisonment if are convicted.
Hiến Pháp was established in 2017 with the aim to enhance civil rights among Vietnamese by disseminating the country’s Constitution approved by the communist-controlled parliament in 2013. The defendants, together with other members of the group were key figures participating in the mass demonstration in Saigon 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. The first is considered to favor Chinese investors to purchase land in Vietnam amid increasing concerns of Beijing’s intensifying aggressiveness in the East Sea (South China Sea). The second which was approved by the communist-controlled parliament and became effective from January 1, 2019. The Cyber Security Lawis considered an effective tool to silence online government critics.
A few months ago, Ms. Hong, who was detained when her daughter was about two years old, informed her family that she was held in very severe conditions. Since being arrested, she has been under physical and mental torture constantly, according to the information she gave her older sister.
In mid-April, Mr. Dung and Mr. Loc were brutally beaten by police officers while being held in Phan Dang Luu temporary detention center under the authority of HCM City Police Department. Due to the severe injuries, both were taken to a hospital for urgent treatment for ten days.
Despite doing nothing harmful for the country, Hiến Pháp group has been targetted by Vietnam’s communist regime. Two members of the group Pham Minh The and Huynh Truong Ca were convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” and “anti-state propaganda” with respective imprisonment of two years and five and half years in 2018-2019.Mr. The was released on July 10 this year, three months before his imprisonment term was set to end.
===== July 15 =====
Detained Vietnamese Blogger Beaten, Forcibly Injected
RFA: A Vietnamese blogger held in a psychiatric hospital while awaiting trial for criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state in postings online has been beaten, tied to his bed, and forcibly injected for refusing to take medication for his supposed mental illness, Vietnamese sources say.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent has deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists and Facebook personalities, and activists say things are likely to get worse in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.
Le Anh Hung, a member of the online Brotherhood of Democracy advocacy group who had blogged for the Voice of America, was arrested in July 2018 on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code.
He was transferred from jail to Hanoi’s Central Mental Hospital No. 1 for “observation and treatment” in April 2019, and if convicted at trial could serve up to seven years in prison.
Medical staff at the hospital are forcing Le to take medication that he insists he does not need as he is not mentally ill, independent journalist and fellow blogger Nguyen Vu Binh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on July 16.
“Therefore he protests, and as a result they beat him and tie him up, and then inject him with the drugs,” Nguyen said.
“They beat him very cruelly,” he said, adding, “Early this week, a nurse named An used a metal folding chair to beat him and then fastened him to his bed, injecting him with sedatives that left him unconscious.”
Attempts to reach Le’s mother Tran Thi Niem and hospital authorities rang unanswered on Thursday.
Mental, physical suffering
Tran had called on authorities in June 2019 to release her son from his forced stay in the mental hospital, where she said he was being forced to take medicine and was suffering “both mentally and physically.”
Le, in his mid-30s, had lost weight and looked ragged, gaunt, and depressed, Tran told RFA following a May 2019 visit to her son in the hospital, adding that he had undergone psychiatric assessments twice between October 2018 and April without his family being informed.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people of whom 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
“Criminal penalties apply to those who disseminate materials deemed to oppose the government, threaten national security, or promote ‘reactionary’ ideas,” said Human Rights Watch in an annual survey of Vietnam’s rights conditions in 2019.
“Authorities block access to websites, frequently shut blogs, and require internet service providers to remove content or social media accounts deemed politically unacceptable,” the New York-based group said.
===== July 18 =====
Vietnam Continues Crackdown on Falun Gong, Threatening to Persecute 28 Practitioners
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on Falun Gong’s practitioners, considering their health improving exercises illegal although the country’s law has no provisions against Falun Gong.
The state-controlled media has reported that on July 18, authorities in the central province of Ha Tinh detected the gathering of 28 Falun Gong followers in the private residence of Mr. Le Van Lao in Cam Vinh commune, Cam Xuyen district to watch a video clip about health exercises.
The local authorities deployed a large group of police officers to Mr. Lao’s house to ask the people to stop gathering. They confiscated some documentations about Falun Gong.
The local authorities threatened to punish them severely in the coming weeks.
Vietnam’s government treats Falun Gong practitioners as a dangerous group after the Chinese authorities longstanding persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. Many practitioners have been harassed, beaten or imprisoned in localities across the nation, including the capital city of Hanoi. The communist regime often prosecutes them with the allegation of “causing public disorders” with lengthy imprisonments.
In June, authorities in the central province of Quang Tri disciplined Mr. Tran Huu Duc, a principal of a local high school after he invited dozens of local residents to his house to practice Falun Gong. He was fired from the post of party secretary of the school’s party unit. The local authorities have proposed the province’s Education Department to remove him from the school’s principal post.
Many Hanoi-based activists said their health has improved significantly after practicing Falun Gong for a short time.
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