Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for October 5-11, 2020: Prominent Dissident Pham Doan Trang Arrested, Charged with “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”


Defend the Defenders | October 11, 2020


In the late evening of October 6, Vietnam’s security forces arrested prominent human rights defender and well-known political blogger Pham Doan Trang while she was in her rent apartment in Ho Chi Minh City. Later, the Ministry of Public Security announced that the 42-year-old activist was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code.

On the next day, the 42-year-old activist was deported to Hanoi and transferred to a detention facility under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department. She will be held incommunicado for at least four months during the investigation, and face imprisonment of up to 20 years in prison if she is convicted.

The arrest was taken two weeks after she and her fellow Will Nguyen publicized the third edition of Dong Tam Report, a comprehensive report regarding the land dispute in Dong Tam and the police raid in Dong Tam commune in early January this year as well as the first-instance hearing against 29 land petitioners who were arrested during the bloody attack of thousands of riot police in the locality. Four other activists who covered the bloody raid named Nguyen Thi Tam, Can Thi Theu, and the latter’s two sons Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong were arrested on June 24 on the same allegation. They participated in the first and second editions of Dong Tam Report.

In response to Ms. Trang’s arrest, the US’s Embassy in Vietnam and a number of international human rights and civil organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned the Vietnamese government’s move and urged Hanoi to release her immediately and unconditionally.

Defend the Defenders and the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network on October 7 issued a joint statement requesting Hanoi to free Ms. Trang and drop all the charges against her.

A group of 20 Israeli educators has issued a joint letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz to request for intervention for the release of Vietnamese college musician lecturer Nguyen Nang Tinh, who is serving his 11-year imprisonment for his peaceful activities which aim to protect the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and raise his concerns regarding serious human rights violations, systemic corruption and widespread environmental pollution in Vietnam.

On October 8, more than 80 international politicians, civil organizations, and activists have signed in a joint open letter which is sent to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to raise their concerns about the first-instance hearing which tried 29 Dong Tam land petitioners on September 7-14. They said the trial was not fair and the rights of the defense lawyers were not ensured so the land petitioners were convicted unfairly. Vietnam’s communist regime should correct it to ensure justice for Dong Tam residents.

Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Manh Hung said that Facebook and Google have cooperated with the communist regime to remove articles and delete or suspend accounts of people considered as anti-government ones. The number of articles or videoclips, and suspended or deleted accounts has risen sharply recently.

The Vietnamese government has issued a decree to raise administrative fines imposing on individuals and agencies who disseminate information harmful to the regime and the country’s international relations but not serious enough for criminal persecution.

===== October 5 =====

20 Israeli Educators Call for Release of Vietnamese Musician Lecturer

On October 5, a group of 20 teachers and lecturers in music and musicology studies at universities and colleges, music academies, schools, and conservatories throughout the State of Israel submitted a joint letter to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister cum Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz to urge him to use the close ties between the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the communist regime in Vietnam and request the immediate release of a prisoner of conscience Nguyen Nang Tinh.

In their joint letter, the Israeli educators said for decades, Vietnam has been governed by a dictatorial regime of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the local citizens who dare to criticize the regime are attacked by security forces, arrested, severely tortured, and imprisoned while others are under constant surveillance and severe restrictions on their freedom of occupation and freedom of movement.

They also said in recent years Israel has been a major supplier of weapons and surveillance systems to Vietnam, including a rifle factory operating in Vietnam with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

The Israeli government and Ministry of Defense should use the close ties with the communist regime in Vietnam and request the immediate release of political detainee Mr. Tinh, the educators said.

Mr. Tinh was born in 1976 in Nghe Tinh province in central Vietnam. He acquired his academic education at the Academy of Music in the city of Hue and from 2003 he taught music theory and keyboard harmony at the College of Culture and Art of Nghe An until his arrest in late May last year. He was indicted for “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, due to critical posts about the regime on Facebook.

On November 15, 2019, Tinh was convicted in an expedited legal proceeding that did not meet international standards. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and another 5 years on probation. On April 20, 2020, the Supreme Court in the capital Hanoi upheld his imprisonment.

This is the second group of Israeli intellectuals voicing about Vietnam’s human rights violations recently. In September, 52 Israeli human rights activists urged Tel Aviv to stop exports of military weaponry and surveillance equipment to Vietnam because Hanoi may use them to suppress the local dissent instead of using them to protect the country’s sovereignty.

Mr. Tinh is among 261 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.

===== 06/10 =====

Vietnam Leading Human Rights Defender Pham Doan Trang Arrested and Charged with “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” as Communists Hold Plenum to Prepare for 13th National Congress

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have detained prominent human rights defender and democracy campaigner Pham Doan Trang as the communist government has tightened control to clear all political opposition while the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is preparing for its 13th National Congress scheduled for early 2021.

Ms. Trang was arrested in the late night of October 6, few hours after the 24th Annual Human Rights Dialogue between the US and Vietnam opened in Hanoi, when she was in a rent apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, the southern economic hub she has lived in the past three years while being chased by the Vietnamese security forces. According to her landlord, during the arrest, police officers showed the arrest warrant on which she was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison if she is convicted.

The state-controlled media has yet covered the arrest. It is expected that the Ministry of Public Security will announce the information about her detention soon as she is among high-risk human rights defenders in the Southeast Asian nation.

Ms. Trang, 42, is a former journalist for the official streamlined newswire VietnamNet. She left the outlet and went to study in the US and involved in activism, becoming one of the leading figures working for human rights and multi-party democracy in Vietnam.

She is a prominent and outspoken journalist, activist, and blogger whose writing covers a wide range of topics including LGBT rights, women’s rights, environmental issues, the territorial conflict between Vietnam and China, police brutality, suppression of activists, and law and human rights. Her book, Chính trị Bình dân (Politics for the Common People), a kind of primer for budding activists, was published in samizdat form in September 2017. She has produced a number of political books such as Phản kháng phi bạo lực (Non-violent Resistance), Politics of Police State, and Cẩm nang nuôi tù (Handbook for Prisoners’ Families). She is one of the authors of Việ Nam & Tranh chấp Biển Đông (Vietnam and the Conflict on the East Sea), published by Tri Thuc Publishing House in Vietnam.

On September 25, she and Vietnamese American Willian Nguyen publicized the 3rd edition of Dong Tam Report, the comprehensive report about the bloody attack of Vietnam’s security forces in Dong Tam commune, Hanoi on January 9 this year and the first-instance hearing to try 29 land petitioners who were charged with “murders” of three police officers and “resisting on-duty state officials” during the raid. It is worth noting that three out of the five co-authors of the first and the second editions of Dong Tam Report, former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu and her two sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu were arrested on June 24, also charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Trang is also a street activist who is committed to peaceful protest. She has joined demonstrations outside police stations and at airports when fellow activists were detained, participated in nationalist protests about China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), and pro-environmental marches. She has been beaten and detained many times in the past five years.

Trang is the editor for the website Vietnam Right Now, which aims to distribute “objective, accurate, and timely information on the current social and political conditions in Vietnam today.” She is also a co-founder and an editor of the Vietnam Legal Initiative, a US-based NGO working to promote human rights, civil rights, and democracy in Vietnam.

Her writing and activism have addressed a broad human rights agenda, from the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and other rights, including the right to remain silent. As a journalist and blogger, she also focuses on the role of media in social and political life and remains especially concerned with freedom of information on the internet and freedom of the press.

In 2018, Trang was awarded the Homo Homini Award by the Czech-based human rights organization People In Need which considers her “one of the leading figures of the contemporary Vietnamese dissent. She uses plain words to fight the lack of freedom, corruption, and the despotism of the communist regime.”

Last year, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) presented her with Award For Work to Improve Journalistic Freedom. In March this year, the Liberal Publishing House under her leadership was honored with Prix Voltaire by the International Publishers’ Association.

Responding to her arrest, Phil Robertson, deputy chief of Southeast Asia Office of Human Rights Watch stated “Vietnam’s scorched earth response to political dissent is on display for all to see with the arrest of prominent blogger and author Pham Doan Trang. Despite suffering years of systemic government harassment, including severe physical attacks, she has remained faithful to her principles of peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy. Her thoughtful approach to reforms, and demands for people’s real participation in their governance, are messages the Vietnam government should listen to and respect, not repress. Human Rights Watch strongly condemns Vietnam’s arrest of Pham Doan Trang. Every day she spends behind bars is a grave injustice that violates Vietnam’s international human rights commitments and brings dishonor to the government. Governments around the world and the UN must prioritize her case, speak out loudly and consistently on her behalf, and demand her immediate and unconditional release.”

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam’s Central Committee is conducting the 13th Plenum in Hanoi on October 5-10 to prepare for the party 13th National Congress slated in early January. Months ahead of the congress which takes for every five years, Vietnam’s security forces have tightened social security and intensified crackdown on political dissidents, social activists, and human rights defenders.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested 25 activists and 29 Dong Tam land petitioners, raising the number of prisoners of conscience to 261, according to the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders.

===== 07/10 =====

Communist Vietnam Intensifies Crackdown on Press Freedom, Increasing Administrative Fines in Journalism and Printing

Vietnam’s state-controlled media reported that the communist regime has raised the administrative fines up to VND200 million ($9,000) and a possible suspension of 12 months for violations in journalism and printing in its effort to tighten control over the press.

This is the new administrative fines stated in the Government Decree 119/2020 issued on October 7 and will be effective on December 1 this year. Particularly, the government will impose administrative fines of between VND150 million and VND200 million for the acts of providing the information against the state or harmful for the country’s international relations and the violations which are not serious enough for being criminalized.

The newly-issued decree has controversial articles such as “Posting or disseminating the information unsuitable for the interests of the nation and people” may face administrative fines of VND150 million-VND200 million, or “providing untrue information or distort and defame individuals and organizations may face administrative fines of between VND30 million and VND40 million.

Vietnam is considered as “enemy of freedom of the press” or “have no freedom of the press” by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and listed at the bottom of its annual Index for Press Freedom.

===== 08/10 =====

US Calls on Vietnam Respect Its International Commitments regarding Human Rights

In response to Vietnam’s detention of prominent human rights defender and well-known political blogger Pham Doan Trang, the US Embassy in Vietnam has called on Hanoi to ensure its activities and laws consistent with Vietnam’s international commitments in human rights.

In the morning of October 8, two days after Vietnam’s security forces arrested Ms. Trang on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda,” Spokeswoman Rachael Chen of the US Embassy in Vietnam said the arrest may affect the right to freedom of expression in Vietnam and the US is closely monitoring the case development. She affirmed that freedom of the press is the base for transparency and responsible management.

One day earlier, Vietnam and the US wrapped up their 24th annual Human Rights Dialogue, which started on October 6 in Hanoi, in which the US said the human rights issue is among the prioritized fields of the bilateral relations.

Also on October 8, US Representative Alan Lowenthal told the Radio Free Asia (RFA) that he is very concerned about the arrest of Ms. Trang. He said Vietnam’s communist regime intensifies crackdown on the local dissent while the US politicians are focusing on the Presidential election and the mid-term elections of the Senate.

Representative Lowenthal said he will work and advocate for suspension of the US’s support for Vietnam in the future as well as for approval of the Vietnam Human Rights Act.

Two days after Trang’s arrest, many international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as well as the International Publishers’ Association issued statements condemning the detention and urged Vietnam to release her immediately and unconditionally.


More Than 80 International Politicians, NGOs, and Activists Demand Justice for Dong Tam Land Petitioners

More than 80 international politicians, civil organizations, and activists have signed in a joint letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to express their concern about the first-instance hearing in Hanoi on September 7-14 to try 29 land petitioners from Dong Tam.

In the letter prepared by the Lawyers for Lawyers, dozens of members of the European Parliaments, and the Parliaments of the EU’s countries, many civil organizations and activists said during the trial last month, the rights of the defense attornies were violated. The defense lawyers were permitted to meet with their clients after the investigation ended and their meetings were under close police surveillance, and they were allowed to have access to the case files just a few days prior to the trial. In addition, 19 out of 29 defendants admitted that they were tortured for coercive confession.

The signatories of the letters urged Vietnam’s PM to ensure the rights of the defense lawyers before, during, and after the trial. They said a country cannot develop sustainably without fair and independent trials.


Facebook and Youtube Cooperating with Communist Vietnam to Tighten Internet Freedom

Facebook and Youtube have cooperated with Vietnam’s communist regime to suppress Internet freedom in the Southeast Asian nation by blocking political advertisements from fan pages and accounts belong to groups listed as “reactionary” or “terrorist” organizations by Hanoi.

According to the report of Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication to the country’s parliament regarding information and communication, Minister Nguyen Manh Hung said Facebook has removed 286 accounts considered fake ones by Vietnam’s communist regime. As many as 50 of those are fake accounts of Vietnamese senior leaders and the remaining are accounts disseminating information harmful to the regime.

Along with deleting users’ accounts, so far this year, Facebook has taken down more than 2,000 posts with the contents against the communist regime.

Not only Facebook but also YouTube removed 11,000 videos in the first nine months of this year.

According to Google’s Transparent Report, from July 2019 to December 2019, Vietnam’s Ministry of  Public Security and Ministry of Information and Communication have asked the US firm to delete 25 videos on Youtube have a speech of a retired general of the Vietnam People’s Army.

Facebook’s Transparency Report said Facebook has lowered the accessibility for Vietnamese uses to reports and articles shared by the local Facebookers.