Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly July 10-16, 2017: Vietnam to Try Human Rights Activist Tran Thi Nga in Late July, Heavy Sentence Expected

Defend the Defenders | July 16, 2017

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Vietnam’s authorities will hold an open trial for human rights activist Tran Thi Nga on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code on July 25-26 and she will face imprisonment of up to 20 years in jail if is convicted.

The trial, to be conducted by the People’s Court of the northern province of Ha Nam, will be held after over six months of the arrest of Ms. Nga who is among six distinguished women human rights activists in Southeast Asia the London-based NGO Amnesty International recognized their works on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8) this year.

The arrest and trial of Nga is part of the ongoing intensified crackdown against local political dissidents, human rights defenders and social activists. In late June, Vietnam sentenced prominent human rights advocate and well-known blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to ten years in prison on the same charge.

International community is calling Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. Amnesty International launched a campaign urging international community to write letters to Vietnam’s leadership to demand her freedom while ARTICLE 19 asked Hanoi to free her and respect its international commitments on human rights.

On July 15, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City detained a group of environmental activists who planned to go by foot from the biggest southern economic hub to the central coastal province of Binh Thuan to protest the dumping of over one million cubic meters of solid waste by the China-invested Vinh Tan 1 thermal power plant into the local coast. Police interrogated them for hours and released them in late night of the same day. Police confiscated their personal documents and cell phones and some were released without getting their items back.

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===== July 12 =====

Vietnam to Try Human Rights Defender Tran Thi Nga on July 25-26: Lawyer

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities will hold an open trial for human rights defender Tran Thi Nga on July 25-26, her lawyer Ha Huy Son announced today [July 12].

The trial, to be conducted by the People’s Court of the northern province of Ha Nam, will be held after over six months of the arrest of Ms. Nga on charges of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

If convicted, Ms. Nga, who has four children, two of them are seven and four years old, will face imprisonment of up to 12 years in jail, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Ms. Nga was a migrant worker in Taiwan. While working there, she assisted Vietnamese workers to demand Vietnamese brokers to take responsibility to ensure the rights of migrant workers.

Upon her return to Vietnam, about ten years ago, she has assisted land petitioners who lost their land due to illegal seizure from local authorities.

She also participated in many anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi from 2011 to 2016 to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), as well as in peaceful gatherings to demand multi-party democracy.

Due to her activities, Vietnam’s communist government, particularly authorities in Ha Nam province have constantly harassed and persecuted her and her two children. She was detained many times and was placed under de facto house arrest for most of the last two years.

In May 2014, she was attacked by plainclothes agents in Hanoi who broke her right leg and caused a number of severe injuries to her body.

Police in Ha Nam have also targeted her kids, throwing dirty sauce containing decaying shrimp at them. Her private residence in Phu Ly city was attacked with paint and dirty substances many times.

Ms. Nga is among six distinguished women human rights activists in Southeast Asia the London-based NGO Amnesty International recognized their works on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8) this year. Nga, Sirikan Charoensiri from Thailand, Maria Chin Abdullah from Malaysia, Tep Vanny from Cambodia, Leila de Lima from Philippines and Wai Wai Nuwho from Myanmar have faced harassment, threats, imprisonment, and violence for standing up for human rights in the region.

Many international human rights organizations have called for her immediate and unconditional release since her detention on January 21, few days ahead of the Lunar New Year Festival or Tet.

Three days after she was detained, the Southeast Asia Regional Office of the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner released a statement criticizing Vietnam’s government over her arrest.

Nga has not been allowed to meet with her offspring since her detention.

The arrest and trial of Nga is part of Vietnam’s increasing crackdown against local political dissidents, human rights advocates, social activists and independent bloggers.

In late June, Vietnam sentenced government critic Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to ten years in jail for her peaceful activities which aim to promote human rights and environmental protection and protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

Since late 2015, Vietnam has arrested and tried dozens of local activists, including prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and well-known blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh. According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding over 100 political prisoners.

Last month, Vietnam also revoked the Vietnamese citizenship of government critic Pham Minh Hoang and deported him to France.

In addition, dozens of Vietnamese activists have been brutally beaten by police and thugs since the beginning of 2016 and Human Rights Watch documented 36 physical attacks against Vietnamese activists during the period between January 2016 and April 2017.

The Communist Party of Vietnam has ruled the country for decades and it has no desire to share power with others in the near future.

===== July 13 =====

Amnesty International Calls for Release of Mother Mushroom

Defend the Defenders: On July 12, the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International launched a campaign to call on international community to write letter to Vietnam’s leadership to request the communist regime in the Southeast Asian nation to immediately and unconditionally release prominent human rights advocate and government-criticizing blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh or Mother Mushroom.

The campaign was initiated two weeks after the human rights defender and environmental activist was sentenced to ten years in prison on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code in an unfair trial carried out by the People’s Court in the central province of Khanh Hoa.

Quynh was held in pre-trial detention from the time of her arrest on October 10, 2016 and not granted access to a lawyer until June 20, 2017, nine days before her case was heard at the court. At the trial, she and her lawyer were prevented from presenting a full defense against the charges and were reportedly frequently cut off by the Judge when they attempted to speak.

According to the indictment, Quynh was charged for her activities on Facebook and other social media, including writing, uploading and sharing articles and video content critical of the ruling Communist Party of Viet Nam and the state; for producing, editing, and sharing a report titled “Stop Police Killing Civilians” that listed 31 people who, the report claimed, had died in police custody; for giving interviews with foreign media that “distorted” the situation in Vietnam; and for her possession of a poem collection and compact disc recording that were deemed critical of the Communist Party of Viet Nam and the state. The charges violate the right to freedom of expression as provided in international human rights law, which binds Viet Nam. Amnesty International considers Quynh a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for her peaceful activities promoting and defending human rights, said Amnesty International in its statement.

Amnesty International urged international community to write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or other languages calling on Vietnam’s authorities to:

– Release Quynh immediately and unconditionally as she is a prisoner of conscience held solely for her peaceful activities defending and promoting human rights;

– Immediately reveal the whereabouts of Quynh and ensure that she has access to a lawyer, her family, and adequate medical care;

– Ensure that until she is released, she is treated in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and specifically is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

The appeal should be sent to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Minister of Public Security To Lam and Deputy Prime Minister cum Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh before August 23, 2017, Amnesty International said.

Original call: Urgent Action: Ten Years in Prison for Human Rights Defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh

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ARTICLE 19 Requests Vietnam to Release Mother Mushroom

Defend the Defenders: On July 4, ARTICLE 19, an independent human rights organization with headquarters in London, issued a statement urging Vietnam’s government to free Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh whose 10-year imprisonment was based on Article 88 of the Penal Code, a provision that runs contrary to international human rights standards on freedom of expression.

The organization also urged the communist government to appeal Article 88 and reform the Penal Code to bring it into line with international human rights standards.

The detention and sentencing of blogger Quynh run counter to Vietnam’s international and domestic commitments, ARTICLE 19 said.

Vietnam ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1982, Article 19 of which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. This fundamental right has been echoed in Article 25 of Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

However, Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, which criminalizes propaganda, defamation, and making or storing of materials against the state with up to 12 years imprisonment, falls far outside of the permitted limitations to freedom of expression allowed under Article 19 of the ICCPR, and allows the state worrying scope to repress expression by human rights defenders and others.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Vietnamese government to quash the conviction of Quynh and release her from prison. Furthermore, the Vietnamese government should take immediate steps to revise the vaguely-worded and repressive Penal Code, which is often used to criminalize free expression, and end its crackdown on political dissent.

The London-based ARTICLE 19 works so that people everywhere can express themselves freely, access information and enjoy freedom of the press.

Details: Vietnam: Free human rights blogger “Mother Mushroom”

===== July 14 =====

Detained Tran Hoang Phuc Wants to Serve Vietnam: Mother

Defend the Defenders: All he wanted was to serve the country, society, bring knowledge to the people and make Vietnam a strong nation, Mrs. Huynh Thi Ut said about her son Tran Hoang Phuc, who was arrested on June 29 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

Speaking in an interview posted on Youtube, Mrs. Ut said her son is a very good kid, very hard working and studious. He is someone with empathy, he wants to share, to help others.

Phuc was involved in charity work, in the rescue effort of flood victims in the central region last year, the mother said. When fish died massively in the central coast in April 2016, he was very moved and affected, she noted.

Phuc wrote a petition to then U.S. President Obama, asking for his help in finding a way to restore and improve the affected sea areas in the central coastal region. He did all this out of his kind heart, he cared for everyone, Ut said.

Now the police charged him under Article 88, which is too vague, I don’t understand, she said, noting her son dedicated himself for the betterment of society, of the community; he did not do anything contrary to common morality.

What she wants now is to be able to see her son right now, she can no longer wait, she said.

“I want to see him so I know about his health situation, is he safe in that jail. I want him to be free. He hasn’t done anything contrary to common morality.”

She calls on the Vietnamese community in the country and overseas, and international rights organizations, to pay attention to his case and request the Vietnamese government to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Phuc, born in 1994, is a member of Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) founded by President Obama. He is in his last year of Ho Chi Minh City Law School.

Phuc is held at Detention facility No. 1 under the management of the Hanoi city Police. He faces imprisonment of up to 20 years jail according to the current law.

===== July 15 =====

HCM City Police Detain Environmentalists Who Protest Waste Dumping in Binh Thuan Shore

Defend the Defenders: On July 15, security forces in Ho Chi Minh City detained a group of environmental activists when they were walking by foot from the southern metropolitan city to the central coastal province of Binh Thuan in a bid to raise public concern over dumping a huge volume of solid waste into the sea off the local coast.

The group of several activists led by teacher Ngô Thị Thứ (Facebook account Ngo Thu) were with banners “Protect our Environment,” “Không thể đổ chất thải xuống biển” (translated: Waste should not be dumped into sea waters) or “Chúng tôi đi Bình Thuận ôm biển” (translated: We go to Binh Thuan to hold waters).

However, police in HCM City manipulated the walking activists, making some troubles for them and later detaining them to a police station in Tan Phu ward, District 9.

In the police station, police confiscated all belongings of the activists, including their personal documents and cell phones. They interrogated the activists for hours and forced them to sign letters to confess that they were causing public disorders before releasing them in late night of the same day.

Ms. Ngô Thị Thứ said police have not returned her ID and cell phones while Ms. Tran Huynh Nhu Uyen got back her items.

Police and thugs also threatened other activists when they came to the police station to support the detainees.

In June, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment granted a license to Vinh Tan 1 Power Company, investor of Vinh Tan thermal power plant, to dump 1.5 million cubic meters of mud and waste into the sea in the locality, which was eight kilometers from Hon Cau MPA. The mud was collected from dredging canals and quay, where a 100,000 ton-port is being built to welcome coal ships from Indonesia and Australia to serve three Vinh Tan thermal power plants.

Established in September 2012, the Hon Cau MPA is one of 16 marine protected areas in Vietnam, based on the approval of the government.

Mud dumping in the ocean is disapproved by experts and the public, who fear that the dredging and dumping will impact the marine ecosystem, compromise the MPA’s integrity and affect marine resources and local aquaculture production.

Environmental issues are problematic in Vietnam while environmental activists are suffering from the government’s persecution. As Oliver Ward said in his recent article in ASEAN Today, “the Vietnamese government’s decision to crack down on protestors shows their appetite to endorse foreign governments, not the activists.”

In late June, Vietnam sentenced human rights defender and well-known blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to ten years in prison. Part of the indictment against her was her involvement in protests against the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant in north-central Vietnam, which was linked to a catastrophic fish die-off in 2016.

“Mother Mushroom’s prominent ties to the anti-Formosa movement, which the government is increasingly viewing as a security challenge to its authority, means she became the ideal candidate for a heavy sentence designed to sideline her and intimidate others,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

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