Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for July 23-29, 2018: Hanoi Continues Crackdown on Local Dissent, Arresting Five Activists on Allegation of Subversion


Defend the Defenders| July 29, 2018


Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on local dissent, arresting five individuals on allegation of subversion.

Security forces in Ho Chi Minh reportedly arrested Vietnamese American Michael Nguyen Phuong Minh, former political prisoner Huynh Duc Thinh and his son Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, Tran Long Phi and a Facebooker Thomas Quoc Bao on July 7, and charged them with “Activities against the people’s government” under Article 109 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

The detainees are said to be held in the Phan Dang Luu No. 4 Temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Public Security. They will be likely held incommunicado for the next three months for investigation, and face life imprisonment or even death penalty, if are convicted.

In the past few years, Vietnam has arrested at least 25 activists on subversion allegation, and convicted 13 of them with lengthy imprisonment of between seven and 15 years in prison. Among arrested are businessman Luu Van Vinh, retired teacher Dao Quang Thuc, and humanitarian worker Tran Thi Xuan.

The People’s Court of Nghe An has decided to postpone the trial against pro-democracy advocate and anti-corruption campaigner Le Dinh Luong upon request of one of his lawyers. The trial, scheduled on July 30, but was delayed as lawyer Dinh Dang Manh asked due to his busy schedule.

Mr. Luong, a veteran of anti-China War, was arrested in late July last year on allegation of subversion.

On July 26, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling Vietnam to drop all politically motivated charges against Mr. Luong, and release him and other political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.

Prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynha well-known blogger with penname Mother Mushroom, has ended her hunger strike in Prison camp No. 5 after meeting with a representative from the US Embassy in Vietnam. Quynh, who is serving her ten-year imprisonment, conducted hunger strike on July 7-23 in a bid to protest the prison’s inhumane treatment.

On July 27-28, authorities in Hoa Binh province detained pro-democracy activist and independent blogger Bui Van Thuan for interrogation for many hours. Police confiscated his laptop and some T-shirts with logos of No-U (says No to China’s U-shapped line in the South China Sea) and objection to the government’s plan to set up three special economic zones which may benefit Chinese investors.

Authorities in the southern province of Dong Nai have prosecuted 20 locals who participated in peaceful demonstrations in mid-June on allegation of “causing public disorders.” Meanwhile, a court in the central coastal province of Binh Thuan convicted ten protestors for joining demonstrations on June 10, sentencing them to a total 27 years in prison, for the same allegation.

In the occasion of Vietnam’s UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scheduled in January 2019, Human Rights Watch has sent its submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in which the New York-based human rights organization said Vietnam’s government should release all political prisoners and uphold its pledges to respect basic civil and political rights. HRW said during its 2014 UPR review, Vietnam accepted 182 out of 227 recommendations it received from UN member countries but the Vietnamese government has done little to honor its commitment – and in some cases has made the situation worse.

===== July 23 =====

20 Peaceful Protestors in Dong Nai Prosecuted

Defend the Defenders: The People’s Procuracy in the southern province of Dong Nai has decided to prosecute 20 locals on allegation of “Disturbance or public order” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code for their participation in peaceful demonstrations on June 10.

According to their indictment, the accused individuals joined hundreds of others in the peaceful demonstrations in Bien Hoa city to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

State media reported that authorities in Dong Nai detained 52 protestors but released 32 and hold 20 for investigation on the allegation of causing public disorders.

The trial against the accused individuals is expected to be held soon and they face imprisonment of between three and two years in prison.


Binh Thuan Court Imprisons Additional Ten Protestors 

Defend the Defenders: On July 23, the People’s Court in Tuy Phong district, Binh Thuan province, convicted ten locals on allegation of “Disturbance or public order” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code for their participation in demonstrations on June 10.

The court gave a total 27 years in prison for the group. Mr. Pham Van Sang and Mr. Do Van Ngoc were sentenced to three years and six months in prison each while Mr. Ngo Van Dat and Mr. Nguyen Chuong- three years in jail each, while Mr. Ngo Duc Quyen, Mr. Pham Thanh Nam, Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Sang and Mr. Le Van Liem were given 30 months in prison each. Mr. Nguyen Van Meo and Mr. Nguyen Minh Kha got lightest sentences of two years in prison each.

According to their indictment, the ten men participated in demonstrations against two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in Phan Ri. The peaceful demonstrations turned into violent after the intervention of local police, as protestors attacked police, burned their vehicles and threw stones and bricks as well as Molotov bombs at some local government buildings.

Vietnam’s government sent special units to suppress the protests and took full control in the areas on June 11.

On July 12, Binh Thuan authorities sentenced seven protestors to between 18 months and 30 months in prison.

===== July 24 =====

Jailed Vietnamese Blogger Mother Mushroom Said to Have Ended

RFA:Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of the best-known of her country’s nearly 100 political prisoners and also known as Mother Mushroom, has ended a hunger strike begun earlier this month in the prison where she is being held, and though tired is “in good spirits,” a Vietnam-based activist group says.

Quynh, now serving a 10-year prison term following her June 2017 conviction for her online writings criticizing Vietnam’s government, said she would again take food following a July 23 visit by a U.S. embassy representative, the Vietnam Bloggers Network said on Wednesday.

Quynh began her hunger strike on July 6, citing authorities’ refusal to transfer her to a cell away from a hostile and threatening cellmate. She then continued to refuse food despite being moved to another cell, saying her new cell lacks privacy, with even the toilet visible to guards.

After 16 days without food, Quynh appeared tired but was in good spirits, the Network said in its July 25 statement.

Contacted for confirmation, the U.S. State Department declined comment.

Call for attention

In an earlier statement on July 24, the Network had called on friends and supporters, the UN Human Rights Council, rights groups, and foreign embassies in Vietnam to pay urgent attention to Quynh’s case.

The Network urged that visits be organized to Quynh’s prison in Thanh Hoa province to demand information about her condition, adding that “letters of encouragement” should be sent to the jailed blogger and foreign governments persuaded to apply pressure on Vietnam to secure her release.

Quynh had blogged about human rights abuses and official corruption for more than a decade. She had also criticized the government’s response to a 2016 toxic waste spill by the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group that destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Vietnamese living in four coastal provinces.

Authorities have long targeted activist writers and bloggers in an ongoing crackdown in one-party Communist Vietnam, where dissent is not allowed.

Rights group Amnesty International estimates that at least 97 prisoners of conscience are currently held in Vietnam’s prisons, where many are subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

===== July 27 =====

Trial against Pro-democracy Campaigner Le Dinh Luong Postponed

Defend the Defenders: Theo People’s Court of Nghe An has decided to postpone the first-instance hearing of pro-democracy campaigner Le Dinh Luong scheduled on July 30, according to Mr. Ha Huy Son, one of his lawyers.

The Hanoi-based attorney told Defend the Defenders that he received a notice from the court via telephone on July 27 that the trial against Mr. Luong will not be carried out next week as Dinh Dang Manh, the second lawyer has requested.

Mr. Manh is currently in his trip to the US so he had filled a request for the trial cancelation.

Mr. Luong, a 53-year-old resident from Yen Thanh district, was arrested on July 24 last year on allegation of subversion under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

He has been held incommunicado since being arrested until last week when his lawyers got approval from the People’s Procuracy to meet with him in Nghi Kim detention facility under the authority of the Nghe An province’s police to prepare for his defense.

Mr. Son conducted a meeting with his client on July 23 while Mr. Manh has yet to be able to come to the detention facility due to his busy schedule.

Mr. Luongis a veteran in the war against China’s invasion of Vietnam’s northern region in 1980s. State media reported that Mr. Luong is an extremely dangerous element belonging to the U.S.-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) which is labeled by Vietnamese authorities as a terrorist organization.

According to the Nghe An police, Mr. Luong once called for boycotting the elections of the parliament and local People’s Councils while capitalizing on the environmental disasters caused by Formosa to cause social disorders and instigate demonstrations.

Mr. Luong himself was attacked by under-covered policemen in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong in August 2015 when he visited Tran Minh Nhat, who then completed his sentence on alleged subversion. Many other activists were also beaten in that incident.After his detention, his relatives were also brutally beaten by police forces twice.

The arrest of Luong is part of Vietnam’s intensified crackdown on local political dissidents, human rights advocates, social activists and online bloggers.Since 2017, more than 50 activists have been arrested and charged with vague articles in the national security provisions such as subversion and “conducting anti-state propaganda” of the Penal Code. Most of them have been convicted and sentenced to severe imprisonments up to 16 years in prison.

Among convicted are prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of probation, human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a well-known blogger with penname Mother Mushroom, who was given ten years in prison, and environmentalist and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

If convicted, Luong face imprisonment of up to life imprisonment or even death punishment, according to the current Vietnamese law.

On July, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to drop all politically-motivated charges against Mr. Luong and release him immediately and unconditionally.

“Vietnamese authorities frequently employ fabricated political charges to punish activists for being affiliated with non-communist groups or parties critical of the government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Le Dinh Luong is facing prison for protesting the dumping of toxic waste and other environmental disasters that the government should be doing something about,” he noted.

“Vietnamese police routinely deprive detained rights activists and bloggers of access to lawyers and family members for months, and then only give their lawyers a very short time to prepare the case before trial,” Robertson said, adding “Fundamental change is needed in Vietnam’s justice system, but for the needed reform there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”

===== July 28 =====

Hoa Binh Police Detain Pro-democracy Campaigner, Independent Blogger Bui Quang Thuan, Confiscating His Laptop, T-shirts

Defend the Defenders: Police in Vietnam’s northern province of Hoa Binh have detained pro-democracy campaigner and independent blogger Bui Quang Thuan for hours, confiscating his laptop and some T-shirts, the victim told Defend the Defenders.

Mr. Thuan, 40, told Defend the Defenders that he was detained at around 4 PM of July 27 when he was staying in his friend’s residence in Bảo Hieu commune, Yen Thuy district.

Security officers from Hoa Binh province’s Department of Public Security stormed in his friend’s house, searching the house without approval from the local Procuracy.

They confiscated his laptop and several T-shirts with logos which protest the bill on Special Economic Zone and China’s U-shapped line in the East Sea (South China Sea).

Later, police officers took him to a local police station where they interrogated him about his T-shirts until 9 PM.

On July 28, police forced him to go to the district police headquarters for interrogation about from where he got the T-shirts. The activist replied that some of his friends gave him but he forgot their names.

Police released Thuan at the noon of July 28 but did not return his laptop and T-shirts.

Mr. Thuan is a member of the online group Brotherhood for Democracy, one of the main targets of the ongoing government crackdown on local dissent.

Thuan is a former teacher from the Muong ethnic minority. He is also an independent blogger making daily news bulletins about Vietnam on his Facebook account Thuan Van Bui. His bulletins are informative and critical to Vietnam’s government, observers said.

The Vietnam-China relations are complicated. Vietnam’s communist regime consider China as their closest political ally which provided huge support to Vietnamese communists in the two wars against France and the US in the 20th century.

After taking over the South Vietnam and reunited the country in 1975, Hanoi went under support of Moscow and turned away from Beijing.

On January 17, 1979, China sent around 600,000 soldiers to invade the six northernmost provinces of Vietnam, killing tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians and demolishing all infrastructures there before withdrawing two months later.

China also invaded some islands controlled by Vietnam in the Truong Sa (Spratlys) in 1988. In recent years, China has turned these islands into artificial islands where Beijing deployes heavy military weaponry, including jet fighters and long-range missiles.

Along with militarizing the East Sea, China has also attacked Vietnamese fishermen who are working in their traditional fishing grounds. China claims nearly the entire East Sea based on its historic ground which was turned down by International Court of Arbitrary in The Hague in 2016.

Vietnam has verbally protested China’s violations of its sovereignty in the East Sea. At the same time, Hanoi has suppressed activists who protest China’s expansionism in the resource-rich sea.

Tens of anti-China activists have been harassed and imprisoned in recent years.

Last month, tens of thousands of Vietnamese rallied on streets in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Danang, Nha Trang, Binh Thuan and other localities to protest the Vietnamese regime’s plan to create three special economic zones in three strategic locations. Activists said it would allow China to take Vietnam’s land because the communist government wants to give long-term land lease to foreign investors.

In response, Vietnam’s government brutally dispersed the peaceful demonstrations, arresting and barbarically beating hundreds of protestors. Tens of protestors have been convicted on charges of “causing public disorders” or “resisting state officials on duty.”

===== July 29 =====

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

Defend the Defenders: 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 authorities have yet to publicize the arrests while the state media has yet to cover the news on the case.

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.