Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 11-17, 2021: Hau Giang to Try Environmental ActivistDinh Thi Thu Thuy on January 20
Defend the Defenders | January 17, 2021
On January 20 authorities in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang will hold the first-instance hearing for local environmental activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, just five days prior to the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.
The 39-year-old single mother faces lengthy imprisonment given the hard sentences in many recent cases, in which activists were sentenced to between eight years and 15 years in prison for the same charge. On January 5, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted three members of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and sentenced them to a combined total 37 years in prison and nine years of probation, Dr. Pham Chi Dung, co-founder and president of the group was given 15 years in prison.
Ms. Thuy, who was arrested on April 18 last year and held incommunicado until November, was accused of posting and sharing dozens of articles with the content distorting the regime’s policies and defaming its leaders on Facebook.
On January 14, the UN Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a press release in which four UN Special Procedures condemn Vietnam’s conviction of IJAVN’s President Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy and young member Le Huu Minh Tuan. The Special Procedures also expressed deep concern, “at the continued use of Article 117 of the Penal Code which is overly broad and appears to be aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others,” and urge Vietnam’s communist regime to revise Article 117 of the Criminal Code. They called on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.
One day earlier, the New York-based Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2021 in which the rights group said Vietnamese authorities increased restrictions on basic political and civil rights in 2020, especially freedom of expression and association. The tightening of restrictions on free expression appears to be linked to the National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, scheduled for January 2021, it said. In 2020, the Vietnamese government frequently punished people for criticizing the government or for joining groups to promote democracy or human rights, it noted, adding Vietnam’s authorities arbitrarily arrested or prosecuted at least 24 people for violations of overbroad and vague national security crimes, such as “conducting anti-state propaganda” or “abusing rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
Prominent democratic advocate Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, serving a 16-year sentence for subversion for online criticism of Vietnam’s one-party communist state, has been hospitalized in Nghe An province after reaching the 50-day mark in a hunger strike. This is the information his family received from the US Embassy in Vietnam. Vietnam’s authorities have yet responded to his family’s request for his health information.
Democracy activist Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for subversion but allowed to return to his home in the US in October last year, said while imprisoned he had witnessed Vietnamese Australian Chau Van Kham being subjected to long hours of hard labor in Thu Duc Prison camp in Vietnam’s central province of Binh Thuan. Chau Van Kham, 71, is serving a 12-year imprisonment. Mr. Kham is a member of the banned US-based Viet Tan opposition party. In early 2019, he was arrested in Saigon and later convicted of terrorism while his Vietnamese fellows Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen were handed terms of 11 and ten years, respectively.
===== 13/01 =====
Vietnam: Rights Violations Intensify
Human Rights Watch: Vietnamese authorities increased restrictions on basic political and civil rights in 2020, especially freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2021.
The tightening of restrictions on free expression appears to be linked to the National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, scheduled for January 2021. In 2020, the Vietnamese government frequently punished people for criticizing the government or for joining groups to promote democracy or human rights. The authorities arbitrarily arrested or prosecuted at least 24 people for violations of overbroad and vague national security crimes, such as “conducting propaganda” against the state, or “abusing rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
“It was another abysmal year for human rights in Vietnam,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “Through 2020, the police arrested several vocal dissidents and detained numerous others for speaking their minds and exercising their basic free expression rights.”
In the 761-page World Report 2021, its 31st edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth argues that the incoming United States administration should embed respect for human rights in its domestic and foreign policy, in a way that is more likely to survive future US administrations that might be less committed to human rights. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, other governments stepped forward to champion rights. The Biden administration should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort.
The Vietnamese authorities also blocked access to politically independent websites, and pressured social media accounts to take down accounts, posts, or video clips critical of the government.
In April, the government throttled access to Facebook’s local cache servers, demanding that the company remove pages controlled by dissidents. Facebook, bowing to pressure, agreed to restrict access to the pages within Vietnam, setting a worrying precedent. In early September, the Ministry of Information and Communications praised Facebook and YouTube for their “positive change in collaborating with MIC to block information that violates Vietnam’s law.”
Also in April, the police arrested a former political prisoner, Tran Duc Thach, for being affiliated with a pro-democracy group called Brotherhood for Democracy. He was charged for subversion under article 109 of the penal code.
In May and June, the police arrested two members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. In June, the police arrested three contributors of the Liberal Publishing House, Can Thi Theu, also a former political prisoner, and her sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu. In October, police arrested the co-founder of the Liberal Publishing House, prominent independent blogger Pham Doan Trang. All of them were charged with conducting propaganda against the state under article 117 of the penal code.
“The Vietnamese government fears democracy, an independent media, and freedom,” Sifton said. “Donors and trade partners need to publicly raise concerns about the government’s abysmal rights record and to press Vietnam to meet its international human rights obligations.”
Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc Hospitalized after 50 Days of Hunger Strike
Defend the Defenders: Prominent democracy advocate Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, serving a 16-year sentence for subversion for writing online criticism of Vietnam’s one-party communist state, has been hospitalized with failing health at the Vietnam-Poland Hospital in Nghe An’s Vinh City after reaching the 50-day mark in a hunger strike. He is held in Prison camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An.
The US Embassy in Hanoi provided the information to his family in mid-January, said Mr. Thuc’s younger brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan.
The exact date of Tran’s admission to hospital is still unclear while hospital staff denied to confirm his hospitalization. The family said his health was very poor on January 9 during the prison visit.
Arrested in May 2009 because of his writings online, 55-year-old Thuc was convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.
He is now calling for the charges against him to be changed to involvement in “preparations to commit a crime,” an offense calling only for a five-year term of imprisonment under Vietnam’s revised 2015 Criminal Code, and his family and lawyers have petitioned authorities several times for his sentence to be reduced in line with the new law.
===== 14/01 =====
Vietnam: Arrests Send Chilling Message Before Key Party Meeting – UN Experts
Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights: UN human rights experts said today that the heavy sentences handed down against three Vietnamese journalists and human rights defenders, just weeks ahead of a key meeting of the ruling Communist Party, sends a chilling message to human rights defenders and those working in the media.
“The sentences given to Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan are part of a rising trend in prosecutions, arbitrary detention, reprisals, ill treatment and unfair trials targeting independent journalists, bloggers, pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders in Viet Nam,” UN Special Rapporteurs said.
“Coming just weeks ahead of the National Congress of the Communist Party, the convictions and long sentences are not only a blatant suppression of independent journalism but also a clear attempt to create a chilling effect among those willing to criticise the government.”
The Congress sets the country’s key policies for the next five years.
Pham Chi Dung, the founder of Independent Journalist Association of Viet Nam (IAJVN), was arrested on 21 November 2019, 11 days after signing a letter urging the European Union to delay the approval of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until Vietnam improved its human rights record.
Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, Vice Chair and Member of the IAJVN, were arrested on 23 May 2020 and 12 June 2020 respectively, after they published commentaries on democracy and advocated for freedom of expression. On 5 January 2021, Mr. Dung was sentenced to 15 years in jail, and the other two were given 11-year terms.
The Special Rapporteurs expressed particular concern that the journalists had been charged under Article 117 of the Penal Code for offences related to “propaganda against the State”.
“We are deeply disturbed at the continued use of Article 117 of the Penal Code which is overly broad and appears to be aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others,” the human rights experts said.
“Although the Government of Vietnam has said that it only prosecutes and puts on trial those breaking the law, it is clear that Article 117 is not in line with the international human rights obligations of Vietnam and should be revised,” they added.
They called for the immediate and unconditional release of Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. They also called for the release of all others currently detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, such as Le Anh Hung, another IJAVN member and until his arrest in July 2018 a prominent contributor to the Voice of America Vietnamese service.
The Special Rapporteurs are in contact with the authorities on this matter.
===== January 15 ======
Trial against Activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy Scheduled on January 20, Five Days Before 13th National Congress of Ruling CPV
Defend the Defenders: On January 20, authorities in Vietnam’s southern province of Hau Giang will hold the first-instance hearing for local human rights defender and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy. The trial comes nine months after her arrest and just five days before the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam in whichtop leadership for the next five years is determined.
The open hearing in which Ms. Thuy will be tried on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code will be carried out by the People’s Court of Hau Giang in its headquarters in Vi Thanh city, according to the court’s notice sent to her lawyers Nguyen Van Mieng and Trinh Vinh Phuc.
It is likely Ms. Thuy will be convicted and sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment given the recent convictions of a number of activists who were charged with the same allegation as the communist regime strives to silence local dissent ahead of the upcoming National Congress of the ruling party. For example, on January 5, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced three members of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) President Dr. Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy and young writer Le Huu Minh Tuan to a combined total 37 years in prison and nine years of probation. She faces imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison, even 20 years in prison if is convicted, according to Vietnam’s current law.
Ms. Thuy, a 39-year-old engineer majoring in the environment, was arrested on allegation of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.
The local police said that Ms. Thuy had created a number of Facebook accounts to disseminate numerous articles to distort the communist regime’s policies and defame its leadership. She was also accused of criticizing the communist regime’s measures in dealing with COVID-19.
Thuy had participated in the mass peaceful demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018 which aimed to protest two bills on Special Economic Zone and Cyber Security. The first seeks to favor Chinese investors, despite the two countries disputing East Sea (South China Sea) demarcation, while the second bill which became law in 2019 strives to silence online government critics. She was detained, beaten and interrogated, and fined before being released.
In recent years, she has been under constant persecution by local police who often summoned her to their station for interrogation about her posts on Facebook.
She was held incommunicado for seven months from the day of arrest until November last year when she was permitted to meet her relatives in police custody. One month later, in December, she was allowed to meet her lawyers for the first time to prepare for her defense after the local police completed their investigation in her case.
Her lawyers said her health is very poor due to her incommunicado detention since her arrest on April 18. She wishes to meet her 9-year-old kid as well as other relatives more often.
While she has not denied her postings on Facebook and engagement in peaceful activities, she claims her activities are not anti-state and protected under basic rights, including the right to the freedom of expression as enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution and the international treaties Vietnam’s communist regime has ratified.
Thuy’s family also informed Defend the Defenders that her father has also been fined VND2.5 million ($110) for a poem in which she mentioned former Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Chu Hao and police Major General Truong Gia Long. The first advocates for multi-party democracy and civil rights while the second stated that a number of senior state officials of the communist regime are working as Chinese agents.
Thuy is among 66 activists and land petitioners arrested in 2020, 22 of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 or “Abusing democratic freedom under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. Among them is prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang.
Vietnam is holding at least 258 prisoners of conscience, 30 of them are held in pre-trial detention which may last more than two years, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.
In its press release on January 14, the United Nations’ Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights condemned Vietnam’s communist regime of using Article 117 of the Criminal Code to silence the local dissent. The UN’s agency also urges Hanoi to revise the article since it aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others, and is not in line with the international human rights obligations of Vietnam.
===== January 16 =====
Jailed Vietnamese Australian forced to hard labor while serving 12-year imprisonment in Vietnam
RFA: An Australian citizen jailed in Vietnam on charges of engaging in terrorism is meanwhile being subjected to long hours at hard labor in prison, Australia’s ABC news service said on Wednesday, citing information received from a former prison inmate.
Chau Van Kham, an ethnic Vietnamese resident of Sydney, Australia, and member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party, was sentenced on Nov. 11, 2019 to a prison term of 12 years, while his colleagues Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen were handed terms of 11 and 10 years respectively.
Labeled a terrorist group by Vietnam in October 2016, Viet Tan describes itself instead as committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle to promote democracy in Vietnam.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has raised Chau’s case nine times between January 2019 and June 2020 over humanitarian concerns, but Chau’s family and lawyers have criticized the Australian government for what they say has been a ”lack of urgency” in pursuing the case, ABC reported.
Rights activists and relatives of political prisoners in Vietnam called this week for sanctions to be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a U.S. law, on Vietnamese officials deemed responsible for torture and other abuses in the country’s jails, as criticisms of Hanoi’s repression of critics and dissenters mounts around the world.
The call comes as authorities in Hanoi prepare for the Jan. 25 launch of the 13th ruling Communist Party Congress, cited by activists and rights experts as the reason Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply in 2020 with the round-up of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook commentators.
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