Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for November 16-22, 2020: Authorities in Nghe An to Try Local Activist Tran Duc Thach on November 30 on Charge of Subversion
Defend the Defenders | November 22, 2020
Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An has scheduled to hold the first-instance hearing to try local activist Tran Duc Thach on the allegation of subversion under Article 109 of the Criminal Code with the highest punishment of death sentence.
Mr. Thach, 68, is a member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy. The former prisoner of conscience was arrested on April 23 this year. It is unclear whether his family is permitted to attend the so-called open trial which will be carried out by the Nghe An province’s People’s Court. In most of the political cases, family members, friends, and fellows of the defendants were blocked from entering the courtrooms while on a few occasions, foreign diplomats were allowed to monitor the hearings in another room adjacent to the courtroom with loudspeakers sometimes being muted.
It is expected the court will give lengthy imprisonment for Mr. Thach, given the fact that the communist regime has imposed hard punishment on the local activists in recent years. In 2018, Mr. Le Dinh Luong was sentenced to 20 years in prison and five years of probation on the same charge by the same court.
Vietnam’s authorities have remained silent to the questioning of five Special Rapporteurs of the United Nation regarding its persecution against a number of local activists, two months after they jointly issued a letter on this matter. The activists mentioned in the letter included Dr. Pham Chi Dung and Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, the respective president and vice president of the unsanctioned professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), and prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang.
According to Reuters, Vietnam has threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it does not bow to government pressure to censor more local political content on its platform. The US-based giant company is said to have complied with the Vietnamese government request in April to significantly increase its censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users, but Hanoi asked the company again in August to step up its restrictions of critical posts.
On November 21, the California-based group Vietnam Human Rights Network announced the winners of the Vietnam Human Rights Award 2020 named the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), college lecturer Nguyen Nang Tinh and independent journalist Nguyen Van Hoa, two prisoners of conscience who are serving their lengthy imprisonment in Vietnam.
The winners were selected carefully from a dozen of individuals and organizations endorsed by independent groups and activists in Vietnam and foreign countries, according to Vietnam Human Rights Network.
Three of IJAVN’s members and the other two laureates are imprisoned for the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
===== November 17 =====
Vietnam’s Communist Regime Still Remains Silent to Questioning of Five UN Special Rapporteurs Regarding Persecution against Local Activists
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have remained silent to the questioning of five Special Rapporteurs of the United Nation regarding its persecution against a number of local activists, two months after they jointly issued a letter on this matter.
On September 9 this year, Mandates of Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders sent the letter to Vietnam’s Government to express their concerns about the alleged arbitrary detention of four journalists affiliated with the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and acts of harassment, including cyberattacks, against the Liberal Publishing House (LPH), and surveillance, intimidation, property seizures and alleged arbitrary detention of its members and readers, as well as intimidation of their family members.
The letter also named suppressed activists IJAVN’s President Dr. Pham Chi Dung and Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy, prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang who was arrested one month later from the letter’s issuance and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda,” blogger Le Anh Hung who was sent to a psychiatric facility for enforced mental treatment, and activist Ho Sy Quyet, who was arbitrarily detained for short time and having equipment confiscated.
On many occasions, Vietnam’s communist regime denies arresting local activists, saying it has only imprisoned those who violate Vietnam’s law.
According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam is holding at least 259 prisoners of conscience in inhumane living conditions in detention facilities and prisons across the nation.
===== November 18 =====
Authorities in Nghe An to Hold First-instance on November 30 to Try Activist Tran Duc Thach on Subversion Charge
Defend the Defenders: The authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have scheduled to hold the first-instance hearing on November 30 to try local activist Tran Duc Thach on allegation of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s Criminal Code.
According to his lawyer Ha Huy Son, the trial will be open for public. However, it is unlikely his family members and friends as well as local activists will be permitted to attend the hearing, like in other political cases in the past.
Mr. Thach, born in 1952, is former prisoner of conscience from the central province of Nghe An, the home of late communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Thach is a founding member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy.
On April 23, security forces arrested Mr. Thach on allegation of conducting “Activities against the people’s government,” with the highest punishment of 20 years in prison or even death penalty. Police conducted searching for his house, confiscating a laptop, cell phones, a camera as well as VND9 million ($380) and $400, according to his family.
The state-controlled media reported that Mr. Thach has been continuously posting and sharing numerous articles on Facebook with content to distort the regime’s policies with the aim to trigger social disorders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was arrested for the first time in 2009 and sentenced to three years in jail and three years of probation on a charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code for claiming Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys), the two archipelagos also claimed by China, and demanding human rights improvement in the communist nation. Particularly, Thach, together with activists Vu Van Hung and Nguyen Xuan Nghia hang out a banner which states “Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belong to Vietnam” at Mai Dich Bridge in the capital city of Hanoi. His fellows were also jailed with lengthy sentences.
Thach was an officer of the communist army participating in the Vietnam War which ended in 1975 as the communist troops invaded the southern Vietnam Republic. After leaving the communist army in 1975, Thach wrote a memoir named “Obsessive mass grave” to describe how communist soldiers assaulted innocent civil people while invading South Vietnam during the Vietnam War in which the communist soldiers with the support of China and the Soviet Unions as well as the communist bloc in Eastern Europe defeated South Vietnam backed by the US and its allies and unified the country in 1975. In 1976, he self-immolated to protest unfair policies of authorities in Nghe An province and Dien Chau district. Due to the act, his face was deformed.
Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified its crackdown on local dissent from late 2015 when the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam prepared for its 12th National Congress. More than 100 activists have been arrested and charged with controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Penal Code 1999 or the Criminal Code 2015, many of them were sentenced to lengthy imprisonments of between five and 20 years.
BFD is the group that suffered the most from the ongoing persecution campaign of the communist regime. Its nine key members were sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison, and only two of them, human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha were freed but forced to live in exile in Germany. Thach’s latest arrest is related to BFD. In 2017, when Vietnam’s police arrested six key members of the group, he was summoned to a police station and interrogated for days about his activities in it.
After Thach’s arrest, Vietnam’s communist regime has detained a number of activists and bloggers and charged them with controversial accusations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code. The detainees included Vice President of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Nguyen Tuong Thuy and its young editor Le Huu Minh Tuan, well-known blogger Pham Chi Thanh (aka Pham Thanh), and prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang, who was taken into custody on the day Vietnam and the US conducted the 24th Annual Human Rights Dialogue.
With the new arrests, Vietnam is holding at least 260 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. More arrests are expected in the coming months as the ruling party is preparing for its 13th five-year congress slated in early 2021.
===== November 19 =====
Vietnam Threatens to Shut Down Facebook Over Censorship Requests – Source
Reuters: Vietnam has threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it does not bow to government pressure to censor more local political content on its platform, a senior official at the U.S. social media giant told Reuters.
Facebook complied with a government request in April to significantly increase its censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users, but Vietnam asked the company again in August to step up its restrictions of critical posts, the official said.
“We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the subject.
“They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam. We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.”
The official said the threats included shutting down Facebook altogether in Vietnam, a major market for the social media company where it earns revenue of nearly $1 billion, according to two sources familiar with the numbers.
Facebook has faced mounting pressure from governments over its content policies, including threats of new regulations and fines. But it has avoided a ban in all but the few places where it has never been allowed to operate, such as China.
In Vietnam, despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, the ruling Communist Party retains tight control of media and tolerates little opposition. The country ranks fifth from bottom in a global ranking of press freedom compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in response to questions from Reuters that Facebook should abide by local laws and cease “spreading information that violates traditional Vietnamese customs and infringes upon state interests”.
In its biannual transparency report released on Friday, Facebook said it had restricted access to 834 items in Vietnam in the first six months of this year, following requests from the government of Vietnam to remove anti-state content.
Facebook, which serves about 60 million users in Vietnam as the main platform for both e-commerce and expressions of political dissent, is under constant government scrutiny.
Reuters exclusively reported in April that Facebook’s local servers in Vietnam were taken offline early this year until it complied with the government’s demands.
Facebook has long faced criticism from rights group for being too compliant with government censorship requests.
“However, we will do everything we can to ensure that our services remain available so people can continue to express themselves,” the spokeswoman said.
Vietnam has tried to launch home-grown social media networks to compete with Facebook, but none has reached any meaningful level of popularity. The Facebook official said the company had not seen an exodus of Vietnamese users to the local platforms.
The official said Facebook had been subject to a “14-month-long negative media campaign” in state-controlled Vietnamese press before arriving at the current impasse.
Asked about Vietnam’s threat to shut down Facebook, rights group Amnesty International said the fact it had not yet been banned after defying the Vietnamese government’s threats showed that the company could do more to resist Hanoi’s demands.
“Facebook has a clear responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world and Vietnam is no exception,” Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for campaigns, said. “Facebook are prioritising profits in Vietnam, and failing to respect human rights.”
===== November 21 =====
IJAVN, Two Prisoners of Conscience Honored with Vietnam Human Rights Award 2020
Defend the Defenders: On November 21, the California-based group Vietnam Human Rights Network organized an online conference to announce the winners of the Vietnam Human Rights Award 2020 named the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), college lecturer Nguyen Nang Tinh and independent journalist Nguyen Van Hoa, two prisoners of conscience who are serving their lengthy imprisonment in Vietnam.
The winners were selected carefully from a dozen individuals and organizations endorsed by independent groups and activists in Vietnam and foreign countries, according to Vietnam Human Rights Network.
IJAVN was established in 2014 working for freedom of the press in communist-ruled Vietnam. It has dozens of members in the country and abroad as well as more than 100 contributors who often address the country’s issues in their articles posted on the organization’s website vietnamthoibao.org. Due to its frank criticism, the communist government has suppressed the organization and its members since its debut six years ago. Currently, its President Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy and young editor Le Huu Minh Tuan are in police custody and prosecuted for “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with potential imprisonment of between ten and 20 years in prison.
Educator Nguyen Nang Tinh was arrested in 2019 and convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” earlier this year for his activities which aim to protect the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) amid China’s increasing aggressiveness in the resource-rich sea, promote human rights and fighting for multi-party democracy in Vietnam. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years of probation by a court which failed to meet basic international standards for a fair trial.
Independent journalist Nguyen Van Hoa was very active in covering news related to the environmental disaster in the country’s central coast in 2016 caused by the waste discharge of the Taiwanese Formosa Steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh and the mass demonstration of the local residents against the Taiwanese investor. He was arrested by the local authorities on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code which was replaced by the Criminal Code in early 2018. Hoa has been treated inhumanely by police during the pre-trial detention and after being sentenced to seven years in prison.
Vietnam Human Rights Award was established in 2002 to honor Vietnam-based individuals and organizations having a great contribution to promoting human rights and democracy in the Southeast Asian nation. So far, the prize has been awarded to 50 individuals and groups, among them are prominent human rights defender Pham Doan Trang, land rights activist Can Thi Theu, democracy campaigner Nguyen Dang Minh Man, labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, and late democracy pioneer Hoang Minh Chinh.
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