Vietnam Convicts Three Human Rights Defenders, Sentencing Them to Total of 20 Years and Six Months in Prison

Pro-democracy activists Vu Quang Thuan (left) and Nguyen Van Dien (rights) at a meeting with political officer David Muehlke of the US Embassy in Hanoi

Defend the Defenders, January 31, 2018

On January 31, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi convicted three activists Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc of “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code, giving them total of 20 years and six months in prison and 13 years under house arrest afterward.

During the one-day trial, the judge concluded Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien were found guilty of conducting anti-state activities under Clause 1 of Article 88, particularly for producing and disseminating 17 video clips which defame the ruling communist party and its leaders while Mr. Phuc was said to assist the two activists in making and posting three of them on Internet.

Well-educated activist Tran Hoang Phuc

Mr. Thuan was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison and additional five years of probation while Mr. Dien was given six years and six months of jail and four years of probation. Phuc received the lightest sentence of six years in jail and additional four years of probation.

One of their lawyers said that during the trial, Mr. Thuan requested the judge to use a computer to show the trio’s video clips as evidences against them for discussion but the judge denied, arguing that the court has not been equipped with such device. The judge also rejected the proposal of Thuan who said he is willing to donate a sum of VND50 million (around $2,200) for the court to purchase a modern set of computer and screen for the purpose.

Relatives of the trio were not allowed to enter the courtroom of the so-called open trial, the mother of Mr. Phuc told Defend the Defenders, adding they were kept far from the court area while all the roads leading to the court were blocked by numerous police officers and militia.

A diplomat from the EU told Defend the Defenders that the 28-nation bloc’s Delegation in Vietnam and also on behalf of some members countries such as Germany, Sweden and France had made a request to sending representatives to observe the trial, but the request was denied.

Many activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City complained that local authorities sent plainclothes agents and militia to their private residence to station nearly from early morning of Wednesday in a bid to prevent them from gathering near the court areas to support the activists who are members of the Chan hung Nuoc Viet (Reviving Vietnam Campaign).

Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien were arrested in early March while Mr. Phuc was detained on July 3 last year. They were firstly kidnapped by Hanoi police who later prosecuted them with anti-state propaganda, one of controversial articles in the national security provisions in the Penal Code often used to silence peaceful activists.

In several months before being arrested, Mr. Thuan and Mr. produced and posted on their Facebook pages many video clips in which Mr. Thuan as a speaker criticized the Communist leaders and their government for human rights violations, corruption, and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

Late President Ho Chi Minh and incumbent General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong are among figures criticized by Mr. Thuan. Their clips were viewed by millions of Vietnamese Internet users.

The trio was held incommunicado since their arrests until recent months when the investigation was completed. They were allowed to meet with lawyers to prepare for their defense. However, they have been yet to be permitted to meet with their families.

After their arrests, some members of the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet had also been summoned to police stations for questioning. However, other members of the campaign continue their live streams on Facebook to provide independent TV channels to address social issues of the country, especially in land grabbing, miscarriage of justice, human rights abuse, and corruption. Their programs have attracted hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their trust in the state media.

The Chan Hung Nuoc Viet was established by technocrat and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment after being convicted guilty on allegation of subversion in 2010.

The arrests and conviction of the three members of the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers which started in early 2016 when the Communist Party of Vietnam selected its new leadership with many police generals being appointed to senior positions of the party and its government.

The political persecution was severe last year as Vietnam detained at least 45 activists and charged most of them with serious accusations such as “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 and subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code 1999.

Last year, Vietnam convicted at least 19 activists, including human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, anti-corruption activist Phan Kim Khanh, and bloggers Nguyen Van Oai and Nguyen Van Hoa. All of them received heavy sentences ranging from five years to ten years in prison.

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, Vietnam has shown little tolerance to local dissent.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding around 100 prisoners of conscience while BPSOS, Civil Rights Defenders, and Defend the Defenders and 11 other partners said in their Now!Campaign in November last year that the number is 165 at least.

Hanoi always denies imprisoning any prisoner of conscience but only law violators.