Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly for July 27-August 2, 2020: Eight Members of Constitution Group Convicted after Nearly 23 Months in Defention
Defend the Defenders | August 2, 2020
On July 31, after nearly 23 months in pre-trial detention, eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp(Constitution) were convicted at trial of “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s Criminal Code. Their conviction is a reprisal for their brave exercise the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
At the end of the one-day closed trial, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced the eight activists to a total of 40 years and six months in prison and 20 years of probation. Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh was given the highest imprisonment of eight years while Ms. Doan Thi Hong received the lightest sentence of two years and six months in prison. In addition, four of them were given three years of probation, and the remaining- with two years of probation following imprisonment. Relatives and friends of the defendants were barred from entering the courtroom to observe the so-called open trial. Plainclothes agents even attacked the family of one of the convicted activists.
With the conviction of these eight activists, the number of the convicted political dissidents so far this year has mounted to 15, with total imprisonment of 66 years and three months, and 26 years of probation. In the first seven months of 2020, the communist regime arrested 49 activists and charged them with controversial articles in the national security provisions in the Criminal Code. According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam is holding 274 prisoners of conscience, including 54 being kept in pre-trial detention.
One day earlier, the People’s Court of Hanoi reduced prison sentences of two anti-corruption activists Dang Thi Hue and Bui Manh Tien by three months only although the duo claimed their innocence and requested immediate release. With the court’s decision, Ms. Hue has to serve 39 months while Mr. Tien will have to spend 15 months in prison for their peaceful activities opposing the illegal fee collection of a number of build-operate-transfer (BOT) toll booth stations across the nation, including the Northern Thang Long-Noi Bai.
Authorities in many provinces and cities continue to suppress local citizens’ efforts to spread information on the reoccurrence of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. At least four Facebookers have been requested to remove their posts and pay administrative fines of VND7.5 million ($32) in recent days as their posts are considered fake or unverified. A few months ago, more than 600 Facebookers across the nation were fined between VND5 million and VND15 million for the same allegation.
On July 30, rights group CIVICUS released its report on Vietnam’s human rights in the first seven months 2020, saying “Ahead of the ruling Communist Party national congress in early 2021, the crackdown on critics has escalated. A targeted campaign against dozens of individuals connected with the Liberal Publishing House has persisted. Members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) – the last independent journalist organization in the country – have been arrested and prosecuted. Online government critics are being pursued while Facebook has been accused of being complicit in the censorship of critical posts. Human rights defenders have also been arrested and convicted.”
===== July 28 =====
Three Facebookers Fined for Posting Fake Statement of Senior Official Regarding Covid-19 Pandemic
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have punished three local Facebookers for posting a fake statement of Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam regarding the ongoing reoccurrence of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
The state-run media reported that Ms. Nguyen Thi Hoa, who is a famous singer under the name Hoa Minzy residing in Ho Chi Minh City, is one of the three Facebookers. Others are Ms. V.T.T.H. from the central province of Thua Thien Hue with the Facebook account Vương Huyền Túi and Ms. Dang Thi Thu Sen from the northern province of Quang Ninh who has the Facebook account Mốt Ngọc Sen. They were requested to delete their posts and pay administrative fines of VND7.5 million ($32) each.
All three Facebookers were summoned to local police stations for questioning about their posts in which they shared the statement they believed coming from Mr. Dam, who is heading the National Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control. The “fake statement” calls on Vietnamese nationwide to be cautious regarding the new wave of Coronavirus in the country and advises all not to go to Danang, the epicenter of the deadly virus reoccurrence.
Citing police information, newspapers reported that the three Facebookers admitted their wrongdoing and pledged not to repeat it in the future.
They are among hundreds of Facebookers across the country who have been interrogated and fined between VND5 million and VND15 million for their posts on their Facebook accounts regarding the transmission of Coronavirus and its consequences in their localities or others from March this year. Among punished individuals are famous singer Dam Vinh Hung and actors Ngo Thanh Van and Cat Phuong.
Meanwhile, after about 100 days having no new Covid-19 infection, Vietnam seems to suffer a new wave of the transmission, starting from the central city of Danang, where dozens of smuggled Chinese citizens were detected while the virus outbreak reoccurs in the giant northern neighbor.
So far, new infections of Covid-19 have been detected in nine cities and provinces, including Hanoi and HCM City. Authorities have imposed partial blockades in Hanoi and Danang while medical workers have been deployed to conduct disinfection sprays in areas where infected individuals were detected.
Vietnam’s authorities vow to apply all measures, including online crackdown, to cope with the Covid-19 reoccurrence. Authorities have used the government decree (Decree 15/2020/ND-CP) on the regulations of administrative punishment on communication and cyber technology to deal with online posts regarding the Covid-19 occurrence and spread which are considered harmful for the communist regime.
===== July 30 =====
Hanoi Court Reduces Sentences of Two Anti-corruption Activists Dang Thi Hue and Bui Manh Tien by Three Months Each
Defend the Defenders: After two days of evidentiary review between July 29-30, the People’s Court of Hanoi has decided to reduce the imprisonment of two anti-corruption activists named Dang Thi Hue (Facebooker Huệ Như) and Bui Manh Tien by three months each.
On July 30, the court announced its decision to reduce Mr. Tien’s sentence to 15 months in prison and Ms. Hue to 39 months. Both were convicted of “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the country’s Criminal Code by the lower People’s Court of Soc Son district in May. In the first-instance hearing on May 8, the two were sentenced to 18 months in prison each, and Ms. Hue was given an additional 24 months in prison due to her probation sentence in the previous case.
Ms. Hue and her fellow Bui Manh Tien were arrested in mid-October last year when they were trying to block the Bac Thang Long-Noi Bai BOT (build operate transfer) toll booth to protest its illegal fee collection. Their actions were protected free expression and assembly but considered by authorities in Hanoi as criminal activities since the BOT toll booths belong to companies backed by senior state officials.
In the appeal hearing, Ms. Hue was defended by five human rights lawyers including Saigon-based attorney Dang Dinh Manh and Hanoi-based attorneys Ha Huy Son and Le Van Luan. Her fellow, Mr. Tien was also protected by one lawyer.
Lawyer Manh said their clients did not ask for sentence reduction but the two activists claimed their innocence and requested the court to drop the charge against them.
Hue and Tien among dozens of activists speaking up against fee collection by wrongly-placed BOT toll booths in many places in Vietnam, including the Bac Thang Long-Noi Bai BOT.
Five months before being arrested, Ms. Hue was beaten by plainclothes policemen in Soc Son district. Due to te assault, she suffered a miscarriage.
Many anti-BOT activists have been persecuted by plainclothes agents and thugs in recent years. Last year, Mr. Ha Van Nam and six others were convicted and sentenced to between 18 months and 36 months on the allegation of “disturbing public orders.”
Ms. Hue, Mr. Tien, Mr. Nam, and his fellows are considered as prisoners of conscience by Defend the Defenders and other international human rights groups, including Amnesty International.
===== July 31 =====
Eight Members of Constitution Group Convicted, Sentenced to a Total of Over 40 Years in Prison and 20 Years of Probation
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime has convicted eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) of “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s Criminal Code after nearly 23 months of incommunicado detention. Their conviction is the regime’s reprisal for their exercising the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
On July 31, after just one day of review, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City found them guilty and gave Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh eight years in prison, Mrs. Hoang Thi Thu Vang- seven, Ms. Doan Thi Hong two and half years, Mr. Ngo Van Dung, Mr. Do The Hoa and Mr. Le Quy Loc five years each, Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong four and half years, and Mr. Tran Thanh Phuong three and half years in prison.
In addition, Mr. Dung, Mr. Cuong, Mr. Phuong, and Ms. Hong were given two years of probation after serving their imprisonment. Four others were given three-year probation.
While human rights attorney Dang Dinh Manh and his colleagues defended their clients by noting that the defendants were only exercising their rights to peaceful protest, the court accused them of plotting to disrupt security, and that they were planning street demonstrations in early September 2018 to make trouble and obstruct state-owned organizations.
Authorities in HCM City deployed hundreds of police officers, plainclothes agents, militia, and thugs to block all routes leading to the courtroom to prevent relatives and friends of the defendants from entering the courtroom to observe the so-called open trial. They forced off the activists’ relatives and supporters and attacked the sons of Mr. Dung. As a result, no relatives and friends of the activists were allowed to observe the trial inside the courthouse but forced to stay away from the court areas.
Defend the Defenders has learned that only a diplomatic representative from the German Embassy in Vietnam was permitted to attend the trial while the requests from the diplomatic missions of the US and other countries were denied.
Hiến Pháp was established in 2017 with the aim of enhancing civil rights in Vietnam by disseminating the country’s Constitution approved by the communist-controlled parliament in 2013. The eight convicted members, together with others of the group were active during the mass demonstration in HCM City on June 10, 2018 in which tens of thousands of people from all social classes 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, is considered an effective tool to silence online government critics.
They planned to hold the second peaceful demonstration in early September of the same year on the occasion of Vietnam’s Independence Day (September 2) to protest the socio-economic policies of the communist regime. However, they were abducted by security forces in Ho Chi Minh City a few days before the action date.
Their fate and whereabouts remained unknown for months as the police held them incommunicado without informing their families, possibly rising to the level of enforced disappearance under international law, and even after the families had been informed of the detention they remained incommunicado for nearly a year.
The first two of the defendants, Ms. Hanh and Mrs. Vang were charged with Clause 1 of Article 118, which carries imprisonment of between seven and 15 years, while the remaining six were accused under Clause 2 of the same article with imprisonment between two and seven years.
About five 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 this year, 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.
Three other members of the group fled to Thailand to seek political asylum to avoid being punished by the Vietnamese regime.
All imprisoned members of the group are considered prisoners of conscience by Defend the Defenders.
So far this year, Vietnam has convicted 15 activists to a total 66.5 years in prison and 26 years of probation, according to Defend the Defenders. In addition, the regime has also arrested 49 activists and charged them with controversial allegations in the national security provisions of the Criminal Code for their peaceful exercise of basic rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution and the international human rights treaties ratified by Vietnam, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
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