Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for December 7-13, 2020: Trial against Activist Tran Duc Thach Rescheduled on December 15, First-instance Hearing against Facebookers Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong Delayed to December 21
Defend the Defenders | December 13, 2020
One week after cancelling the first-instance hearing against local democracy campaigner Tran Duc Thach, due to his poor health, the People’s Court of Nghe An province has rescheduled the trial for December 15. After being hospitalized for one week for treatment of high blood pressure, the 68-year-old activist was taken to Nghi Kim temporary detention center but later admitted to a local hospital again. Being charged with subversion, it is unclear whether he will be fit for the trial in which he faces lengthy imprisonment if is convicted.
On December 7, the People’s Court of District 8 held a close trial against two Facebookers Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong who were alleged of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code, only informing their families of the trial after it had started. The defendants remain without legal consultation as the authorities have denied the lawyers hired by their families, likely under pressure from the local police. The hearing was stopped after Mr. Thuong asked for cancelation due to his health problem. The court has decided to move the hearing toDecember 21. The two Facebookers were arrested in mid-June due to their admin roles in an open group on Facebook in which participants discussed the country’s socio-economic issues.
According to his family, democracy activist Nguyen Trung Linh was convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to 12 years in prison in a secret trial without participation of a lawyer. His relatives were not informed. He was arrested in May 2018, and kept incommunicado for more than two years awaiting trial.
Prisoner of conscience Huynh Duc Thinh, serving his one-year imprisonment in a prison camp in Dong Nai province, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke a few weeks before his sentence is set to end and he is under critical conditions. The reason for his illness is unclear. On November 29, his ex-wife visited him in the prison and he was still healthy. Their son, Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of subversion in the same case.
The international community and local activists continue to pay attention to the ongoing hunger strike of prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc in the Prison camp No. 6 in Nghe An province where he is serving his 16-year imprisonment. On December 8, the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network and the Hanoi-based rights group Defend the Defenders issued a joint statement regarding Mr. Thuc’s fasting, calling on the Vietnamese authorities to review his case and free him according to the country’s laws, particularly the Criminal Code. One day earlier, dozens of international civil society organizations and numerous individuals signed a joint letter sent to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to urge him to pay attention to a number of prisoners of conscience including Mr. Thuc and Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen who are conducting hunger strikes to protest inhumane treatment in prisons.
On December 8, international organization CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world, revealed its 2020 Monitor report which tracks Civic Space worldwide. Regarding Vietnam, the report stated that “in Vietnam, where civic space is rated ‘closed’ … the authorities continue to harass those who criticize the one-party regime. Scores of individuals were arrested or jailed after summary trials under an array of restrictive laws for ‘abusing democratic freedoms’ and ‘anti-state propaganda,’ including activists, bloggers and Facebook users. Most recently, the Vietnamese authorities arrested human rights defender Pham Doan Trang– one of the nation’s most prominent independent journalists.”
One day later, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) releases a report titled “Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression and Information Online in Vietnam” in which the rights group details the deteriorating human rights environment online in the Southeast Asian nation. The ICJ calls on Vietnamese authorities to take swift measures to reform its laws and practices around the use of the internet and to stem the pattern of accelerating human rights abuse of individuals online. It further provides specific recommendations to the Vietnamese Government to safeguard in law and practice the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and information online as well as offline, in line with Vietnam’s international human rights obligations.
===== December 7 =====
Secret Trial Against Two Facebookers Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong Suspended, New Date Rescheduled on December 21
Defend the Defenders: On December 7, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City unexpectedly carried out the secret first-instance hearing to try two Facebookers Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong on the charge of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code.
However, the People’s Court of District 8 decided to postpone the trial and reschedule it for December 21 after one of the two defendants, Mr. Thuong, requested the suspension due to his poor health.
Mrs. Pham Bao Ngoc, wife of Mr. Khoa, told Defend the Defenders that the trial had started at 8 am on Monday, however, she did no receive a call until 8.15 am from the local police informing her that the trial against her husband had begun.
Mrs. Ngoc told Defend the Defenders that the two Facebookers have no lawyers who could provide legal consultation for them. She has signed a legal contract with a lawyer, however, it is likely that the police forced her husband to write a letter rejecting all legal services hired by his family lawyers.
The situation is the same for Mr. Thuong, another defendant in the case.
Mr. Khoa and Mr. Thuong were arrested by security forces in HCM City on June 13 this year in relation to a group on Facebook in which its members held discussions about Vietnam’s socio-economic issues.
Mr. Khoa was arrested by the police of District 8 who took him back to his private residence for house searching. His wife Ngoc said the police did not find anything but confiscated his cell phone.
According to well-known blogger Le Nguyen Huong Tra who is lives in Germany, Khoa and Thuong are admins of a Facebook group named Bàn luận Kinh tế-Chính trị (Economic-Political Discussion) with 46,000 followers. However, the group was closed immediately after the arrests of its two admins.
As the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam prepares its 13th National Congress scheduled for January 2021, the regime continues its crackdown on local dissent and tightens control on social media, especially Facebook, the largest social network in Vietnam with around 60 million accounts.
So far this year, Vietnam has convicted five activists for their Facebook posting and imposed imprisonment of between nine months and eight years. In addition, the regime has imposed administrative fines up to VND15 million ($680) on hundreds of Facebookers nationwide for their online activities after requesting them to delete their posts.
Mr. Khoa and Mr. Thuong face imprisonment of up to seven years if they are convicted.
===== December 8 =====
Hanoi-based Democracy Campaigner Nguyen Trung Linh Secretly Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have convicted local democracy activist Nguyen Trung Linh of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code and sentenced him to 12 years in prison, Defend the Defenders has learned from his family.
According to his sister-in-law Ho Thi Lan, he was tried in a secret hearing in July this year by the Hanoi People’s Court in which his family was not invited to observe. His family was informed by the local police after the trial, Mrs. Lan told Defend the Defenders.
Mrs. Lan added that the lawyer his family hired to provide legal consultation for him was denied by the Hanoi’s authorities and Mr. Linh was without a lawyer during the hearing.
Before being tried and convicted, Linh had been taken to a mental facility so many believe that he had still been held there, like the case of Hanoi-based blogger Le Anh Hung, who has been placed under enforced mental treatment for months.
Mr. Linh, who posted a statement on his Facebook page on May 25, 2018 to call for peaceful demonstrations to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), was arrested by security forces in late May of the same year.
Mr. Linh was born in 1967 in the central province of Thanh Hoa and sent to the Czech Republic in mid 1980s to study in a bachelor program. Influenced by the democratic revolution in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, he worked for a student outlet established by Vietnamese pro-democracy activists in Prague.
After returning in Vietnam in the mid 1990s, he was detained by security forces but no charge was made. Later, he was arrested again because of his pro-democracy writing and attempts to establish an organization with other activists. He was sent to a mental health facility for a short time instead of jail.
Mrs. Lan said that in the past 20 years, Mr. Linh has been under constant persecution from Hanoi security forces who have maintained close surveillance on him. He has been arrested and placed in detention without being charged many times, she said.
He was assaulted many times by police who were assigned to follow him, when he met with other activists or took his two children to school, Lan said, adding that in one of these cases they knocked down his motorbike, causing serious head injuries to his older son.
Along with assaulting him, police threatened to take him back to mental health facilities if he continues to write to advocate multi-party democracy.
Hanoi police also disseminated the wrong information saying he is suffering from a mental disease in a bid to isolate him from other activists and people in his area. They have also blocked his economic activities.
Police have also threatened his relatives in order to prevent them from speaking out to support him, Lan noted, adding as a result, few people understand his situation.
Linh had called for the establishment of opposition parties, but police detected and arrested him, she said.
Along with using controversial articles in the national security provisions to arrest and convict political dissidents, Vietnam’s security forces have used other measures to persecute activists, including abduction, physical and mental torture, close surveillance, and blockage of economic activities. Many political dissidents have been arrested and placed in long detention without being charged and tried.
The conviction of Mr. Linh is part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and bloggers. Around 30 activists have been arrested and convicted this year in addition to 29 land petitioners in Dong Tam commune, Hanoi.
His sentence is the lengthiest for the charge “conducting anti-state propaganda.” Last year, college lecturer Nguyen Nang Tinh was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the same allegation.
===== December 9 =====
ICJ: Vietnam’s Online Human Rights Environment Deteriorated
On December 9, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) released a report tittled “Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression and Information Online in Vietnam” in which the rights group details the deteriorating human rights environment online in the Southeast Asian nation.
In this paper, the ICJ provides an update on how Vietnamese authorities have expanded abuse of legal provisions and the legal system to violate rights online, and piled pressure on technology companies to comply with their demands for online censorship through the imposition of onerous rules and penalties. Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, expression and information online have also been disproportionately curtailed purportedly to protect public health.
The paper monitors cases which have continued to emerge in 2020, highlighting cases which reflect how infringement of the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and information online is often accompanied by violation of other rights, including the rights to liberty and security of the person, fair trial, association, assembly, security, life and health. The Dong Tam dispute and trial is highlighted as an emblematic case study.
The ICJ calls on Vietnamese authorities to take swift measures to reform its laws and practices around the use of the internet and to stem the pattern of accelerating human rights abuse of individuals online. It further provides specific recommendations to the Vietnamese Government to safeguard in law and practice the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and information online as well as offline, in line with Vietnam’s international human rights obligations.
Prisoner of Conscience Huynh Duc Thinh Suffers from Hemorrhagic Stroke Few Weeks Before His One-Year Imprisonment Ends
Defend the Defenders: Prisoner of conscience Huynh Duc Thinh, who is serving a one-year imprisonment in a prison camp in Dong Nai province, suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke a few weeks before his imprisonment was set to end.He is under critical conditions.
After being treated ineffectively in a hospital managed by the Ministry of Public Security, Mr. Thinh was transferred to Hospital 115, a private medical facility in Ho Chi Minh City upon request of his former wife Nguyen Thi Hue, who is taking care for him along with conducting regular prison visits to their son Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, a young democracy activist being imprisoned in Xuan Loc Prison camp in Dong Nai.
Ms. Hue told Defend the Defenders that her ex-husband is still under close surveillance by a group of police officers. She said the police have not provided the information about the cause of his illness, adding when she met him in the prison camp on November 29, he was totally healthy.
Mr. Thinh, 68, a former political prisoner, was arrested on July 7, 2018 by security forces in Ho Chi Minh City after they kidnapped Mr. Binh, Thailand-based democracy campaigner Mr. Tran Long Phi and Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen. Mr. Thinh was charged with “misprision” under Clause 1 of Article 390 of the Criminal Code while the three others were held on suspicion of subversion.
In June 2019, the People’s Court of HCM City convicted the four to a total 30 years in prison. Particularly, Mr. Nguyen was sentenced to 12 years, Mr. Binh- ten years, Mr. Phi-eight years, and Mr. Thinh- one year.
In an appeal hearing in November last year, the Higher People’s Court in HCM City upheld the sentence of Mr. Thinh and he was taken to police custody.
Meanwhile, Mr. Nguyen was freed and deported to the US while Mr. Binh was transferred to Xuan Loc Prison camp and Phi was taken to Gia Trung Prison camp in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.
Vietnam has the highest number of prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia, according to a report released by Amnesty International on December 1. In prison camps and detention facilities across the country, prisoners of conscience are being treated inhumanely, subjected of physical and mental torture carried out by police officers or criminal inmates backed by police.
===== December 12 =====
Trial against Democracy Campaigner Tran Duc Thach Rescheduled on December 15, Hard Sentence Expected
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An has rescheduled the first-instance hearing to try local human rights defender and democracy fighter Tran Duc Thach on allegation of subversion under Article 109 of the Criminal Code on December 15.
Initially, the trial was set for November 30 but it was suspended due to Mr. Thach’s poor health. He was hospitalized for about a week for treatment of high-blood pressure prior to the scheduled trial.
It seems that the activist overcame his health problem and will attend the first-hearing on Tuesday next week. The 68-year-old activist faces life imprisonment or even death penalty if he is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.
Mr. Thach, born in 1952, is a 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 (BFD).
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, Article 117 under the current 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. 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 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 began to prepare for its 12th National Congress. More than 100 activists were 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 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 the organization.
After Thach’s arrest, Vietnam’s communist regime has detained a number of activists and bloggers and charged them with controversial crimes 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. All of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” for their posts critical to the communist regime.
Vietnam has the highest number of prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia, holding at least 262 activist, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. More trials are expected in the coming weeks as the ruling party is preparing for its 13th five-year congress slated for January 2021.
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