Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for October 12-25, 2020: HCM City Police End Investigation, Proposing to Prosecute Three Members of IJAVN on “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”

Defend the Defenders | October 25, 2020


The Security Investigation Agency of Ho Chi Minh City’s Police Department has concluded its investigation against President of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Dr. Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy,  and young member Le Huu Minh Tuan, proposing to prosecute them on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

The agency has transferred the case to the city’s People’s Procuracy and informed the detainees’ lawyers to contact the procuracy for defense affairs. Mr. Dung, who was arrested in November 2019, and Mr. Thuy and Mr. Tuan, who were detained in May-June this year, have been held incommunicado since their arrests. They face imprisonment of up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted.

It is expected their trial to be held in the coming months before the National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam scheduled for January next year.

Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on local dissent, arresting Mr. Nguyen Quang Khai, a 51-year-old resident of the southern province of Dong Nai for activity on Facebook regarding systemic corruption and human rights abuses, among others. Mr. Khai was charged with “Deliberate disclosure of classified information; appropriation, trading, destruction of classified documents” under Article 337 of the Criminal Code with potential imprisonment of between two and ten years.

Under the pressure of the police in Ho Chi Minh City, Quang Ninh province-based LHQ International Investment JSC which operates BEEHOME Building located in Tan Binh district has canceled its three-month renting contract with local activist singer Nguyen Tin just about three weeks after his family moved in. The firm has requested him to move out without the intention to pay back the deposits. Tin’s couple with a small kid has been forced to move from one to another place three times since his live concert in 2018 in which HCM City police interrupted and detained him and other activists including prominent activist Doan Trang. They were taken to a police station where police officers interrogated and beat them for hours before releasing them at midnight.

Prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen, a religious activist serving 11-year imprisonment on the charge of subversion, has been awarded the Stenfanus Prize 2020 by the Norwegian right group Stefanus Alliance International for his efforts to promote religious freedom over the years.

The international community continues to voice concerns about the arrest of prominent human rights defender and political activist Pham Doan Trang on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. German Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Ms. Barbel Kofler and a group of 12 US Representatives have urged Vietnam’s communist government to release her immediately and unconditionally, saying she has not violated Vietnam’s laws but exercised her basic rights guaranteed by Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution and the international treaties in which Vietnam is a signatory party, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

And other important news

===== October 19 =====

Singer-Activist Nguyen Tin Forced to Move out of His Apartment under Pressure of Ho Chi Minh City Police

Defend the Defenders: Activist Nguyen Tin, known for singing patriotic songs, has been forcibly evicted by his renal company following pressure from the Ho Chi Minh City’s police just three weeks after moving in due to his activism.

Tin said on October 15, his wife received a call from Quang Ninh province-based LHQ International Investment JSC which operates BEEHOME Building located in Tan Binh district, HCM City where Mr. Tin’s family is residing. A firm’s representative informed her that their family has to move out of their apartment within a week as the company was forced by the city’s authorities to cancel the three-month renting contract which was signed by the two sides less than a month earlier due to security reasons stated by the local police.

The couple, along with their 14-month baby, has been under de facto house arrest in recent days, Tin said, adding a group of several plainclothes agents have been stationed near their apartment blocking him and his wife from going out to seek a new place to live. In addition, the firm has refused to return their deposits of three months rental costs as well as refused any compensation for the early cancelation of the contract.

Mr. Tin often speaks out about the country’s issues. In August 2018, with supports from the local activists, he made a live show in a small bar in Saigon, however, the local police came and requested him to stop singing and asked the audience to leave. Later, police detained him, prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang and several others at a police station where police officers interrogated and beat them for hours before releasing them at night.

After that, HCM City police have been harassing Tin, blocking the family businesses, and pressuring landlords to expel them. In the past three years, Tin has been forced to move three times.

Along with arresting and convicting activists with controversial articles of the Criminal Code with lengthy sentences, Vietnam’s police forces have been applying a number of tricks against other activists such as summoning activists to police stations for questioning, placing them under house arrest, beating them or blocking them as well as pressuring landlords to expel them from their apartments, just for exercising their basic rights enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution and Vietnam’s commitments under international law.


Jailed Vietnamese Democracy Advocate Launches Third Hunger Strike in Two Years

RFA: Jailed Vietnamese democracy advocate Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has launched a hunger strike, his third in the last two years, demanding that his 16-year sentence for subversion be reduced in line with a law enacted after he was sentenced, sources say.

Thuc, who was jailed in 2010 under Article 79 of the country’s penal code for writing online articles criticizing the Vietnamese government, began his strike three days ago at the No. 6 Detention Camp in Nghe An province, Tran’s brother Tran Huynh Duy Tran told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Oct. 13.

He is demanding that the charges against him of working to overthrow the government be seen instead as having involved “preparation to commit a crime,” an offense now calling only for a five-year term of imprisonment under Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.

“According to the 2015 Penal Code, the maximum penalty should be only five years in prison, but my brother has been serving his sentence now for more than 11 years,” Thuc’s brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan said. “Therefore, my brother must be released from prison.”

Thuc’s family and lawyers have tried several times to petition authorities for his sentence to be reduced in line with the provisions of the new law, Thuc’s brother said.

Their requests have not been met, though, and the family has now begun to push again for his release.

Arrested in May 2009, Thuc is now serving a sentence on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. He was tried along with lawyer Le Cong Dinh, engineer Nguyen Tien Trung, and entrepreneur Le Thanh Long.

Thuc’s health in prison has been a continuing source of concern to his family following a hunger strike launched in July 2019 over poor conditions in detention, including the removal of electric fans from cells in the soaring summer heat, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

An earlier hunger strike in August 2018 left him exhausted and thin after he protested police pressure on him to admit his guilt to the offenses for which he was jailed.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent has deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists and publishers, as well as Facebook personalities, in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party conference in January.

Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely. Human Rights Watch says that authorities held 138 political prisoners as of October 2019, while rights group Defend the Defenders has suggested that at least 240 are in detention, with 36 convicted last year alone.

===== October 14 =====

15 Members of US Congress Concerned About Dong Tam Incident and Trial

US Representatives Harley Rouda (CA-48), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Lou Correa (CA-46), joined by 12 of their colleagues, have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing their concern about the Vietnamese regime’s violent action in the land dispute with Dong Tam villagers and the harsh sentences were given to 29 land petitioners.

In September 2020, 29 Dong Tam villagers were tried, two were sentenced to the death sentence, one received a life sentence.

In the letter, the representatives called on the State Department to quickly raise the Dong Tam matter with Vietnam and provide the US Congress with updated information about this case. They also called on Secretary Pompeo to demand Vietnam conduct an investigation into the killing of Dong Tam communal leader Mr. Le Dinh Kinh.

Attached to this letter to Mr. Pompeo was the Dong Tam report, co-authored by recently detained prominent activist Ms. Pham Doan Trang.

===== October 16 =====

Japan: Raise Rights on Trip to Vietnam, Indonesia

 HRW: Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, should press the governments of Vietnam and Indonesia to improve their deteriorating human rights records during his visit to the two countries, Human Rights Watch said today. Suga will visit Vietnam and Indonesia on his first foreign trip as prime minister, scheduled for October 18-21, 2020.

Human Rights Watch, in an October 16 letter, urged Suga to publicly and privately raise concerns about Vietnam’s widespread violations of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and movement. He should also criticize Indonesia’s clampdown on freedom of religion, press freedom, the rights to sexual orientation and gender identity, and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“Japan should use its significant leverage as a major donor to the Vietnamese and Indonesian governments to press both to stop violating human rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Prime Minister Suga should publicly and privately show that Japan is serious about its policy declarations to promote human rights abroad.”

People who criticize the Vietnamese government or the ruling Communist Party are subjected to police harassment, restricted movement, physical assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment. The police routinely detain political activists for months without access to legal counsel and subject them to bullying interrogation. Vietnamese authorities have also shut down access to politically independent websites and social media pages, while pressuring social media and telecommunication companies to remove content deemed critical of the government or the party.

Rights abuses under Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo include increasing violations of the rights to freedom of religion and belief. In 2020, at least 38 people have been arrested for blasphemy, including a man who was sentenced to three years in prison for tearing a Quran inside a mosque.

“Prime Minister Suga should make human rights a cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy in a way that his predecessors never did,” Robertson said. “Suga’s first foreign trip as head of the Japanese government is a great opportunity to urge the leaders of Vietnam and Indonesia to end abuses and protect the human rights of their people.”

===== October 18 =====

German Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Concerned about Pham Doan Trang’s Arrest

German Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Ms. Barbel Kofler has expressed her concerns about the arrest of Vietnamese prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang and called on Vietnam’s communist regime to free her immediately and unconditionally.

In her message on Twitter, Ms. Kofler urged Hanoi to respect the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Vietnamese 2013 Constitution and international treaties Hanoi has ratified.

“I am deeply concerned by the detention of author, human rights activist, and former scholar of Pham Doan Trang. I call upon the Vietnamese authorities to protect freedom of opinion, guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution and international conventions.”

===== 19/10 =====

Prisoner of Conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen Awarded with Stefanus Prize 2020

 Oslo-based organization Stefanus Alliance International has decided to award its Stefanus Prize 2020 to Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen for his efforts in promoting religious freedom and protecting ethnic-religious minorities.

The Vietnamese lawyer and human rights defender is serving his 11-year imprisonment after being convicted of subversion in 2018 together with five other members of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy.

Mr. Truyen has repeatedly endangered his own life and the safety of his family in his fight for the rights of people with a faith other than his own, says Ingvill Thorson Plesner, Chair of the committee that awards the Stefanus Prize.

“We are very happy with the decision of the committee to award the Stefanus Prize to Nguyen Bac Truyen. He has experienced how difficult it is both to be a minority and to stand up for the rights of religious minorities in Vietnam. He is a well-deserved winner of the award,” says Ed Brown, secretary-general of Stefanus Alliance International.

In January 2019, Stefanus Alliance International organized a letter campaign to encourage Nguyen Bac Truyen in prison. Hundreds of letters were sent. But officials at An Diem prison stopped all the letters. Nguyen Bac Truyen received none of the greetings.

Nguyen Bac Truyen is supported among others by Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the US Congress and by US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Stefanus Alliance International was among the advocates for religious freedom and human rights that September 28 signed a call for Nguyen Bac Truyens release.

The Stefanus Prize was established by the Norwegian missions- and human rights organization Stefanus Alliance International. It is awarded to a person or persons who have made a great contribution to the human right of freedom of religion and belief.

===== October 21 =====

Police of Ho Chi Minh City Propose to Prosecute Three Independent Journalists for “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Trial Expected Soon

 Defend the Defenders: Police of Ho Chi Minh City have concluded their investigation and transferred the case to the city’s People’s Procuracy, who is proposing prosecution for three members of the unregistered Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), Dr. Pham Chi Dung, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan accused of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.

The information was included in a notice of the Security Investigation Agency of HCM City’s Police Department sent to Saigon-based human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, who is hired by the families of Dr. Dung and Mr. Thuy to provide legal assistance for the duo. Dr. Dung, 54, is co-founder and incumbent president of the organization while Mr. Thuy, 70, is its vice president.

Mr. Dung was arrested on November 21 last year while Mr. Thuy was detained on May 23 this year and Mr. Tuan, 31, was taken into police custody one month later. The trio was held incommunicado since their detention and their families have been allowed to provide additional food and basic stuff only.

It is expected authorities in HCM City will hold the first-instance hearing in the coming weeks to try them before the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam slated for January next year. They are facing imprisonment of up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

The arrest and prosecution of the three members of the IJAVN is a part of the Vietnamese communist regime’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent which has intensified since late 2015. Hundreds of activists have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted with heavy sentences under controversial articles in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code, which the international community has called on Vietnam to remove as they have been used to silence the local activists.

The IJAVN was established in 2014 to fight for freedom of the press in Vietnam where the communist regime has tight control over the official media. Thousands of articles of independent journalists covering the country’s issues such as human rights violations, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, the government’s weak response to China’s violation of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), and other socio-economic problems have been posted on the organization’s website The three journalists have a number of articles criticizing the communist government for failing to properly address the country’s issues as well as giving interviews to foreign media.

Vietnam’s security forces have also harassed and intimidated other members of the IJAVN in recent years. A number of its members in Hanoi, HCM City, and other localities have been summoned for interrogation for their membership in the organization and their writing. Police have also blocked them from gathering or meeting with foreign guests or diplomats since the organization’s establishment while its website is regularly attacked and still placed under a firewall for the local readers.

Since their arrests, the international community including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), as well as local activists have called on the Vietnamese regime to free the three activists immediately and unconditionally and drop the charges against them.

Ruled by the Vietnamese Communist Party for decades, Vietnam is listed at the bottom of the RSF’s Freedom Press Index for many years, ranked at 178th among 180 countries in 2020.

Currently, Vietnam is holding at least 260 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Among them, 47 bloggers and activists have been arrested or convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code 1999 or Article 117 of the Criminal Code 2015.


Vietnamese Facebooker Arrested, Accused of Disclosing State Secret Information

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai have arrested local resident Nguyen Quang Khai on the allegation of “Deliberate disclosure of classified information; appropriation, trading, destruction of classified documents” under Article 337 of the Criminal Code with potential imprisonment of between two and ten years.

According to the notice sent to his family dated October 21, the Security Investigation Agency of the Dong Nai province’s Police Department detained Mr. Khai in an urgent case for the act of copying and disseminating state secrets on his Facebook account Khai Nguyen.

Mr. Khai’s family said that the Dong Nai police detained him at a police station in the morning of October 20 for interrogation and kept him overnight. The next day, police came to his private residence and handed over a notice of arrest to his family. Currently, the 51-year-old freelance worker is held in a temporary detention facility under the authority of the province’s Police Department.

Mr. Khai’s wife has a small food outlet and he helps her run the facility. He often shares and comments on the statuses of other Facebookers, mostly focusing on the corruption of state officials at different levels. He has also participated in charity events to support vulnerable people in their locality.

It is unclear what information he has shared can be classified as state secret information.

Dozens of Vietnamese Facebookers have been arrested or convicted with lengthy imprisonment for their online posts since the communist regime passed the Cyber Security in early 2018, according to Defend the Defenders’ observation.

Related article from RFA: Vietnam Facebook User Arrested For ‘Sharing State Secrets’ in Posts Criticizing Government