Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for December 14-20, 2020: Activist Tran Duc Thach Convicted of Subversion, Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison
Defend the Defenders | December 20, 2020
On December 15, during the short trial which lasted only three hours, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Nghe Tinh convicted human rights defender and democracy campaigner Tran Duc Thach of subversion due to his membership of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy.
Ignoring the defense of Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son which claims his client’s innocence, the court sentenced the 68-year-old activist to 12 years in prison and three years of probation.
The People’s Procuracy of Ho Chi Minh City has decided to hold the first-instance hearing on January 5 next year to try three members of the unsanctioned professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN)- President Dr. Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and editor Le Huu Minh Tuan on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Clause 2 of Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code. The trio face imprisonment of between seven to 12 years in prison, even 20 years if they are convicted.
On December 16, authorities in the Mekong Delta’s hub of Can Tho City arrested freelance Truong Chau Huu Danh, a famous Facebooker with 168,000 followers, and charged him with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. The 38-year-old Facebooker is active in reporting human rights abuse in a number of cases, including the injusticed death sentencing of Ho Duy Hai. He is among the most active figures opposing illegal collection of road fees by wrongly-placed BOT toll booths.
Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have summoned local leading democracy activist and human rights defender Dr. Nguyen Quang A to question him about his charity activities given to activists-at-risks nationwide. According to his post on Facebook, the Hanoi Police Department summoned him three times from December 9 to December 15 to request him to appear at the Security Investigation Bureau Office for interrogation. In the last time, they asked him to be questioned on the morning of December 18. However, he denied their requests.
On Monday next week, authorities of HCM City will resume the first-instance hearing to try two Facebookers Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong who were alleged of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. The trial, set on December 7, was suspended due to Mr. Thuong’s poor health. 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.
On December 14, the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a report saying Vietnam is among the first countries in the world holding the largest number of journalists and Facebooker, together with China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Particularly, Vietnam holds seven journalists and 21 Facebookers behind the bar, and is listed at the 175th place among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also listed Vietnam among the global biggest prisons for journalists with 15 journalists being imprisoned.
===== December 15 =====
Democracy Campaigner Tran Duc Thach Convicted of Subversion, Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison and Three Years of Probation
Defend the Defenders: On December 15, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An convicted try local human rights defender and democracy fighter Tran Duc Thach on allegation of subversion under Article 109 of the Criminal Code, sentencing him to 12 years in prison and three years of probation.
The first-instance hearing lasted only three hours, said Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son, adding Mr. Thach’s wife and younger brother were permitted to be in the courtroom to obseve the trial. It is likely no foreign diplomats have been in the hearing.
The 68-year-old activist did not admit his wrongdoing but declared to appeal the court’s verdict, saying he just exercised his basic rights to protect the country amid China’s increasing aggressiveness in the East Sea (South China Sea) and voice against human rights abuse.
He has not fully recovered from high blood pressure and other diseases, said attorney Son who visited him one day prior to his trial in police custody. His trial was initially scheduled on November 30 but it was cancelled due to his poor health.
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.
Mr. Thach is not the last activist being convicted and sentenced this year. Vietnam’s communist regime has a plan 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. Mr. Khoa and Mr. Thuong were arrested by security forces in Ho Chi Minh 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. The two guys 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.
According to well-known blogger Le Nguyen Huong Tra who 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. Their trial was planned on December 7 but suspended due to health issue of one of the two defendants.
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 17 activists of subversion, “conducting anti-state propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedom” or “causing public disorders,” sentencing them to a total 90 years and three months in prison and 29 years of probation.
The regime is holding 31 other activists in pre-trial detention, most of them have been kept incommunicado since their arrest. Among them are prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang, President of the professional group Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Pham Chi Dung and his deputy Nguyen Tuong Thuy.
Vietnam is the biggest prison for prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia. Amnesty International said the number of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam is 170 while according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, the number is 251 as of December 15.
===== 16/12 =====
Independent Journalist, Well-known Blogger Truong Chau Huu Danh Arrested, Charged with “Abusing Democratic Freedom”
Reuters: Police in Vietnam have arrested a well-known Facebook user over allegations of abusing democratic freedom and publishing posts against the state, state media reported on Thursday.
Truong Chau Huu Danh, 38, a former journalist, will be detained for three months for posts that the police said were abuses of freedom of speech and infringements on state interests, the Ho Chi Minh City police newspaper reported.
“Danh owns a Facebook page with nearly 168,000 followers and has got several anti-state posts, causing division of national unity,” the report added.
Danh’s arrest comes as the Vietnam government steps p a crackdown on activists ahead of a key party congress in January next year. Despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party tolerates little criticism.
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.
In November, Reuters exclusively reported Vietnam had threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it did not bow to government pressure to censor more local political content on its platform.
Vietnam has been widely rebuked for its tough moves to curb online dissent as public appetite for the Internet soars and Web users turn to blogs to read about issues that state-controlled media avoids.
Related articles of RFA: Vietnam Arrests Journalists for Tollbooth Scheme Criticism
===== December 17 ======
Vietnam to Try Three Independent Journalists for “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” on January 5, Lengthy Imprisonments Expected
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City has decided to hold the first-instance hearing on January 5 to try three members of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), Dr. Pham Chi Dung, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Clause 2 of Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.
According to the decision dated December 15, the trial will be open and held at the headquarters of the People’s Court of HCM City. Two lawyers Nguyen Van Mieng and Dang Dinh Manh will provide legal assistance for the trio while some of their relatives and some HCM City-based activists are invited to the hearing as witnesses.
According to the current Vietnamese law, the trio are facing imprisonment of between seven and 12 years, even 20 years if they are convicted.
Dr. Dung, 54, is co-founder and incumbent president of IJAVN while Mr. Thuy, 70, is its vice president. Mr. Tuan, 31, is said to be an editor of the organization’s website vietnamthoibao.org.
Mr. Dung was arrested on November 21 last year while Mr. Thuy was detained on May 23 this year and Mr. Tuan 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. One month ago, they were allowed to meet with their lawyers for the first time to prepare for their defense.
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 vietnamthoibao.org. 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 EU, the US and other foreign governments as well the international community including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Defend the Defenders and 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. In early December, the CPJ and RSF listed Vietnam among global biggest prisons for journalists, holding 28 journalists and Facebookers behind bar. On December 16, authorities in the Mekong Delta hub Can Tho arrested well-known independent journalist and famous Facebooker with 168,000 followers Truong Chau Huu Danh on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code with highest imprisonment of seven years.
Currently, Vietnam is holding at least 251 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. Among them is prominent human rights defender and well-known political blogger Pham Doan Trang.
In July this year, the People’s Court of Hanoi convicted democracy campaigner Nguyen Trung Linh of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 and sentenced him to 12 years in prison, the toughest sentence given for the charge so far.
===== December 18 =====
Prominent Democracy Activist Dr. Nguyen Quang A Summoned for His Charity Affairs
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have summoned local leading democracy activist and human rights defender Dr. Nguyen Quang A to question him about his charity activities given to activists-at-risks nationwide.
According to his post on Facebook, the Hanoi Police Department summoned him three times from December 9 to December 15 to request him to appear at the Security Investigation Bureau Office for interrogation. In the last time, they asked him to be questioned on the morning of December 18.
Dr. A rejected to obey by the summoning request and filed a petition to ask the city’s authorities to clarify the reasons for summoning and abide by the country’s laws.
Two weeks ago, the same agency summoned human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder and operator of 50K Fund which aims to support activists-at-risks and their families.
Hanoi’s police have summoned and kidnapped Dr. A over 20 times in order to prevent him from participating in social events and meeting with foreign diplomats. But this time, their move aims to halt his activities in Prisoners of Conscience Fund in which he has an important role.
See Dr. Nguyen Quang A’s profile on Front Line Defenders: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/nguyen-quang
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