Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for July 5-11, 2021: Activist Do Nam Trung Arrested, Political Blogger Pham Thanh Convicted
Defend the Defenders | July 11, 2021
In order to ensure its absolute political dominance for long term, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime continues its crackdown on the local dissent after the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam in late January and the meaningless elections of the country’s rubber-stamped parliament and the People’s Councils at the provincial, district, and communal levels on May 23. During the week, authorities arrested democracy campaigner and human rights defender Do Nam Trung and convicted political writer blogger Pham Chi Thanh (aka Pham Thanh), both on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.
On July 6, Mr. Trung, 40, was arrested by Nam Dinh province’s police on his way to work in the capital city of Hanoi where he stays for years. Police confiscated his keys and used them to break into his private residence in Hanoi where he lives together with his girl-friend, and took away a number of items. It is likely he will be held incommunicado for at least four months, like in other political cases, and faces imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison, even 20 years, if convicted. Trung is a member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy which suffered a huge loss in recent years with a ten of key members being jailed on subversion. He is a former prisoner of conscience, spending 14 months in prison after being convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code in 2014 when he and democracy activist Pham Minh Vu just visited the southern areas where tens of thousands of workers carried out violent anti-China demonstrations to attack China-invested companies.
On July 9, after 14 months of detention, the People’s Court of Hanoi held the first-instance hearing to try local political writer Pham Chi Thanh for his books and posts on his blog Bà Đầm Xoè which have content criticizing the regime and its leaders, including incumbent communist chief Nguyen Phu Trong. After two and half hours, the court sentenced the 69-year-old writer to five and half years in prison followed by five years of probation. His wife and relatives were not permitted to enter the courtroom and they could see him from far away only when they took him from the court area to the detention facility.
With the arrest of Mr. Trung, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has arrested 19 activists so far this year, mostly on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedom,” according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. Also according to the latest statistics of the Hanoi-based rights organization, Vietnam is holding at least 259 prisoners of conscience as of July 11. So far this year, Vietnam’s authorities have convicted 17 activists and sentenced them to a total 275 years and six months in prison and 31 years of probation.
One day ahead of the trial, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s authorities to release Mr. Pham Chi Thanh immediately and unconditionally. HRW says “There are no allegations that he has committed a recognizable offense under international human rights law.”
Due to increasing persecution against journalists, bloggers, and Facebookers, incumbent General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam was included in the list of 35 world biggest predators of press freedom in 2021 of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
===== July 6 =====
Democracy Campaigner Do Nam Trung Arrested, Charged with “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authoritarian regime continues its crackdown on the local dissent even after the country’s new leadership for the next five years has been formed and the latest victim is former prisoner of conscience and democracy campaigner Do Nam Trung.
According to his girlfriend, Mr. Trung was caught by security officers of Nam Dinh province when he was on his way to a workplace in the morning of July 6. Later, police used his keys to break into his rent apartment in Hanoi which he shares with his girlfriend when she was sleeping. She reported on Facebook that around 20 police officers broke into their private residence, conducting house searches and confiscating some personal items.
Like in other political cases, Mr. Trung will be held incommunicado for at least four months. During the investigation period which may last two years or longer, he will not be permitted to meet with lawyers or his relatives.
According to the police notice, the 40-year-old human rights advocate and democracy campaigner is charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with potential imprisonment between seven years and 12 years, even to 20 years in prison.
Trung is among active participants in peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi in the last decade to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and demand human rights and multi-party democracy in the Southeast Asian country.
In 2014, while visiting southern provinces during the anti-China demonstration wave, Trung and two other activists was arrested and charged with “causing public disorder.” Later, he was convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison.
Trung is a member of Brotherhood for Democracy, an organization co-founded by prominent human rights activist Nguyen Van Dai, who was forced to live in exile in Germany in 2018 after being sentenced to 15 years in prison. The organization was the main target of the persecution of the authoritarian regime in 2015-2020, with a dozen of key members being arrested and convicted of subversion and later were sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison.
In the past few years, Trung was under constant harassment of security forces both in Hanoi and his home province of Nam Dinh.
Trung has been the 18th activist being arrested since the beginning of this year. Seven of them, including prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Thuy Hanh, were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.” The remaining 11 were alleged of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code, with potential imprisonment up to seven years.
According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam is holding at least 259 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators.
===== July 9 =====
Political Blogger Pham Thanh Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Sentenced to Five Years and Six Months in Prison
Defend the Defenders: On July 9, the People’s Court of Hanoi found political blogger Pham Chi Thanh (aka Pham Thanh) guilty of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code for his online posts criticizing the country’s authoritarian regime.
After two and half hours, the first-instance hearing ended with the final judgment of five and half years imprisonment followed by five years of probation, his lawyer Ha Huy Son said on his Facebook page.
According to the indictment, Mr. Thanh’s writing including a book titled Thế thiên hành đạo hay Đại nghịch bất đạo (Holder of Mandate of Heaven or Great Immoral Traitor) and other posts on his blog Bà Đầm Xoè contains the information defaming the authoritarian regime’s leaders and distorting the regime’s policies.
In his defense statement, lawyer Son pointed out a number of shortcomings of the state agencies involved in the case, including the Hanoi City’s Department of Information and Communication which verificated the content of Mr. Thanh’s writing. However, the judge did not pay attention to the lawyer’s defense statement.
Mr. Thanh is a retired reporter and editor of the state-controlled Voice of Vietnam Radio (VOV). He has written several books critical of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and its leaders, including late President Ho Chi Minh and incumbent General Secretary cum President Nguyen Phu Trong. His posts on his blog Bà Đầm Xoè are mainly critical of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and its leader Trong. His latest book Holder of Mandate of Heaven or Great Immoral Traitor talked about activities of incumbent General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, which according to the author are harmful for the nation and beneficial for the red China.
On his blog Bà Đầm Xoè, Thanh also posted his writings on politics and social issues, including China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the weak response of the Vietnamese Communist regime, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, human rights violations, etc.
His arrest on May 21 last year is part of Vietnam’s intensified crackdown on local dissent before and after the 13th National Congress of the ruling party.
One day before the trial, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s authoritarian state to release Mr. Thanh immediately and unconditionally since Mr. Thanh peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.
Mr. Thanh is the 17th activist being sentenced in 2021, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. Among others are President Pham Chi Dung and Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam who were also convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to 15 years and 11 years in prison, respectively.
According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is the largest jailer of prisoners of conscience with 170 activists being jailed while the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders shows that Hanoi is holding at least 258 prisoners of conscience. Reporters Without Borders regularly ranks Vietnam among the worst five countries on press freedom withhigh number of jailed bloggers. Vietnam’s communist government always denies it has any prisoners of conscience, saying it imprisons only law violators.
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