Vietnam Arrests US Citizen, Four Locals on Subversion Allegation amid Growing Social Disatisfaction

From left to right: Tran Long Phi, Nguyen Phuong Minh, Quoc Bao and Hoang Duc Thanh Binh

Defend the Defenders, July 28, 2018


Vietnam’s security forces have likely arrested a Vietnamese American and four other locals on allegation of “Activities against the people’s government” under Article 109 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The arrested individuals are Michael Nguyen Phuong Minh, a US’s citizen from California, former political prisoner Huynh Duc Thinh and his son Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, Tran Long Phi and a Facebooker Thomas Quoc Bao.

Minh, Binh and Phi went to visit Hue City in early July and when they returned to Ho Chi Minh City on July 6, they went missing. Some sources said they had been detained by security forces on July 7.

On the same day, police arrested Mr. Thinh. Initially, police told Thinh’s wife that they summoned him to work on activities of his son, but later, it was likely he was also arrested in the same case.

All of the detainees are reportedly being held in the temporary detention facility under the authority of HCM City’s Department of Public Security, located at Phan Dang Luu street No. 4.

Vietnam’s state media has yet to cover the news on their arrests.

Mrs. Hue, the wife of Mr. Thinh and mother of Mr. Binh said she has hired Ho Chi Minh City-based lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng to provide legal assistance for Binh. However, police in HCM City have denied the lawyer’s request for meeting with his client, saying Binh is arrested for subversion and will be held incommunicado during the investigation period which lasts three months at least.

When the trio visited Hue City, they met with female activist Le My Hanh. On July 21, police in Hue expelled her from the city, forcing her to get in a inter-city bus which headed to Ho Chi Minh City. Hanh later escaped and went into hiding after feeling that security forces try to detain her. Hanh told Defend the Defenders that she has not involved in any activity of the trio but just met them for coffee and went together to visit some historical places in the old capital city.

Some sources claim that Binh is a member of the Vietnamese Students for Human Rights established by imprisoned young intellectual Tran Hoang Phuc whose six-year jail term was upheld by the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi on July 10. However, the organization has not confirmed the information.

Mr. Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, 54, is advocating for connection of all people to work for human rights and against the authoritarian regime as well as protect the country’s sovereignty amid growing China’s aggressiveness in the East Sea (South China Sea), according to one of his Facebook’s posts.

His family claimed that he went to visit Vietnam in June and was scheduled to return to the US on July 16via American Airlines. According to American Airlines, he was never on the flight.

Some sources said the detainees participated in demonstrations in mid-June against two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. The first was postponed to the next sitting of the National Assembly in October while the second was approved by the rubber-stamp parliament on June 12 and will be effective on January 1 next year.

Article 109 (amended from Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code) is among several controversial articles of the national security provisions of the Penal Code that Vietnam’s communist regime uses to silence local dissent.

At least 20 activists have been charged with subversion in the past few years, according to the statistics of Defend the Defenders. Activists alleged with subversion face life imprisonment and even death penalty, if are convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Since 2017, 13 activists have been convicted to lengthy imprisonment of between six and 15 years in prison.

Many democratic governments and international and domestic human rights organizations have called on Vietnam to remove Article 109 and other articles in the national security provisions of the Penal Code.