Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for December 3-9, 2018: Female Activists Doan Thi Hong, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh Investigated for Disrupting Security


Defend the Defenders | December 9, 2018


Police in Ho Chi Minh City have said that they are investigating a case of “disrupting security” in which involved female activists Doan Thi Hong and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh.

The duo are members of the unsanctioned group Hien Phap (Constitution) which aims to educate citizens’ rights by disseminating Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution. They were kidnapped in early September, and have been kept incommunicado since then. The accusation is very serious and they face imprisonment of up to 15 years in prison if they are convicted.

Seven other members of the group are in police custody on different allegation, including “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117, “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 and “disrupting security” under Article 118 of the 2015 Penal Code, with imprisonments vary from seven years to 15 years in prison.

Along with holding them incommunicado, police in Ho Chi Minh City are reportedly harasing their families. Le Thi Khanh, the wife of Tran Thanh Phuong said she and her 13-year-old daughter have been summoned to police station for interrogation about Phuong’s social activities.

In the evening of December 7, a group of four activists in Ba Ria-Vung Tau were attacked by dozens of plainclothes agents when they went to Dong Nai to visit families of imprisoned Mid-June protesters. The attackers threw big stones and bricks to their car for a hour, breaking glasses and injuring two activists. The activists were forced to return in order to avoid being killed.

Jailed pastor Nguyen Trung Ton is being punished by authorities of Gia Trung Prison camp for refusing to make false confession. Prison authorities are forcing him to sit separately from the other inmates as he reviews prison rules because they are worried that he may influence the others.

===== December 3 =====

Female Activists Doan Thi Hong, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh Investigated for Disrupting Security, Facing Lengthy Sentences

Defend the Defenders: Female activists Doan Thi Hong (Facebooker Xuan Hong) and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh (Facebooker Tran Hoang Lan) may be charged with the allegation of “disrupting security” under Article 118 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The two activists, detained in early September this year, are held incommunicado by the police of Ho Chi Minh City for investigation. They have been not permitted to meet with lawyers or families since being kidnapped on September 2-3.

Having legal contract with the family of single mother Hong, the Hong Duc Law firm of attorney Dang Dinh Manh had contacted with the city’s Police Department  to request for meeting with her, however, the police said she will not be allowed to meet with lawyers during the investigation period which may be from four months to 16 months, according to the 2015 Crimimal Code Procedure.

Police said Hanh was the head of the group which is accussed of disrupting security.

According to the 2015 Penal Code, the people accused of “disrupting security” may face imprisonment of up to 15 years if are convicted.

Ms. Hong and Ms. Hanh are among nine members of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution) kidnapped or arrested in early September. The 18-member group established in mid 2017 works to promote human, political and civil rights in the one-party nation by disseminating Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution to educate citizens on their rights.

Between September 1 and October 10, security forces in Vietnam arrested Mr. Huynh Truong Ca and Mr. Le Minh The, and kidnapped Mr. Do The Hoa, Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong, Mr. Tran Thanh Phuong, Mr. Hung Hung, and Mr. Thao Pham. The last one was released after several days of interrogation.

Police have charged Mr. Ca of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117, Mr. Cuong and Mr. Dung with “disrupting security” under Article 118, and Mr. Le Minh The with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Penal Code.

The remaining five are without formal charges. However, police have yet to inform their families about their arrest and detention.

The arrests and detention of nine members of the Hien Phap are part of the intensified crackdown on local dissent after the mass demonstration in mid June in which tens of thousands of people from different social groups rallied in major cities such as HCM City, Hanoi, Danang, Bien Hoa, Nha Trang, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

Other activists and bloggers arrested in late August and early September included shrimp farmer Nguyen Ngoc Anh, safe food campaigner Hoang Thi Thu Vang, bloggers Truong Dinh Khanh, Nguyen Hong Nguyen, Nguyen Dinh Thanh, Doan Khanh Vinh Quang and Bui Manh Dong. Mrs. Vang was charged with Article 118 while others were alleged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Some activists said a number of other government critics have been arrested and held incommunicado since September, however, Defend the Defenders couldn’t verify their cases.

So far this year, Vietnam arrested 25 human rights defenders and convicted 39 democracy activists with a total 294.5 years in prison and 66 years of probation. As many as 21 activists are held in pre-trial detention.

Vietnamese communists have rulled the country for decades and their government has little tolerance with critics. According to Now!Campaign, a coalition of Defend the Defenders and 13 other domestic and international NGOs, Vietnam is holding at least 248 prisoners of conscience.

Hanoi always denies of holding prisoners of conscience, saying it is imprisoning law violators only.

===== December 4 =====

HCM City Police StillWant to Interrogate Wife and Daughter of Arbitrarily-detained Activist Tran Thanh Phuong 

Defend the Defenders: Security officers of Ho Chi Minh City’s Police Department are still striving to interrogate the wife and the older daughter of democracy activist Tran Thanh Phuong, who was arbitrarily detained by the city’s police in early September this year.

Mrs. Le Khanh has informed Defend the Defenders that she and her daughter are targetted by the city’s police who are willing to summon them for questioning about activities of her husband. Mr. Phuong is still held incommunicado by the city’s police since his detention on September 2.

On December 3, when she went to the city police’s Temporary detention facility where her husband is held to provide him with food, investigation officers told her that they were willing to ask her about her husband’s activities.

Police officers also told her that they will summon her daughter Tran Le Thanh Hato a police station for the same purpose. Her daughter is only 13 years old. In mid October, police sent a summoning letter to request the kid to go to a local police station for interrogation about her father, however, she did not obey by the police’s request.

Mr. Phuong is a member of the unregistered group of activists named Hiến Pháp (Constitution) which is striving to educatepeople abouthuman rights as well as political and civil rights by disseminating Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution among citizens. Its members were key figures in the mass demonstration on June 10 in HCM City which aimed to protest the Vietnamese parliament’s plan to approve two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

In the first week of September, in order to prevent public demonstrations during the three-day holiday on the occasion of the Vietnamese Independence Day (September 2) amid online calls for public gathering, security forces in HCM City arrested and kidnapped many government critics, including nine members of the Hiến Pháp group.

The police in HCM City havekidnapped Mr. Phuong and took him into custody without informing his family about his arrest and detention. Six other members of the group are also kept in the same facility.

So far, only four members of the group were charged with controversial articles of the national security provisions in the 2015 Penal Code. Two activists Ngo Van Dung and Ho Van Cuong were accused of “disruption of security” under Article 118, Huynh Truong Ca was alleged with “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 while Le Minh The was said to had abused democratic freedom under Article 331.

Police released Hung Hung but still hold Doan Thi Hong, Tran Hoang Lan, Do The Hoa and Tran Thanh Phuong without announcingformal charges against them.

Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified its relentless crackdown on local dissent which started in early 2016 when the ruling communist party elected its new leadership with many police generals holding senior posts in the party and state apparatuses.

In 2016-2017, Vietnam arrested around 50 activists. So far this year, Hanoi has detained 27 human rights defenders and democracy campaigners and convicted 39 individuals, sentencing them to a total 294.5 years in prison and 66 years of probation.

In addition, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were beaten, detained and tortured. As many as 56 of them were sentenced to between eight and 54 months in prison due to their participation in the mid-June protest.

===== December 5 =====

Jailed Hoa Hao Buddhist Vuong Van Tha at Risk, Family Denied Visit for 11 Months

Vietnam’s authorities have denied the family of jailed Hoa Hao Buddhist Vuong Van Tha of meeting with him for the past 11 months, said his daughter Vuong Ngoc Thao.

Thao has called for international and domestic attention for her father in a letter from Thailand where she is seeking asylum.

In the letter dated December 5, Thao said for over 11 months now, every time the family went to An Phuoc prison in the southern province of Binh Duong to conduct regular visits to see Mr. Tha and give him supplies, their request was denied.

The police at the prison told them their father didn’t want to see them or receive family supplies. This did not sound right, as Mr. Tha always sticks to a vegetarian diet and so he has great need for vegetarian food sent in by his family.

Ms. Thao said the family suggested for the prison authorities to give them [a statement] with Mr. Tha’s signature confirming he doesn’t want to receive family supplies, but this was not approved. They told them that Mr. Tha is still healthy and very fat so he doesn’t need family help.

Mr. Tha was arrested on May 18, 2017 for making and flying the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam. He was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. Later, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

His son and two nephews were also arrested and imprisoned.

===== December 6 =====

Jailed Vietnam Activist Punished for Not Pleading Guilty

RFA: Vietnamese activist Nguyen Trung Ton, currently serving a 12-year jail sentence, is being punished by prison authorities for maintaining his innocence of charges he plotted to overthrow his country’s communist government, his wife said on Friday.

Shortly after visiting her husband in prison, Nguyen Thi Lanh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that prison authorities are forcing him to sit separately from the other inmates as he reviews prison rules because they are worried that he may influence the others.

“They are trying to force him to write a confession every day and accept the accusations against him, but he refuses,” Nguyen Thi Lanh, said.

“He told them he is fighting for democracy so that people can enjoy all the freedoms specified by the international convention on human rights,” she said, adding, “My husband is very firm, and he accepts his imprisonment [over falsely pleading guilty].”

Arrested on July 30, 2017 by Vietnamese security officers because of his connection with the Brotherhood for Democracy group, Nguyen was accused of plotting to overthrow the government and charged under Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code.

Taken into custody at around the same time were fellow Brotherhood for Democracy members Nguyen Van Tuc, Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc, and Nguyen Bac Truyen, according to information provided by relatives and the website of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security.

Judicial authorities in Hanoi handed down harsh prison terms to Nguyen and five other Brotherhood for Democracy members on April 5, 2018, earning the condemnation of international rights groups who had called for the charges of subversion to be dropped.

Vietnam’s one-party communist government is currently detaining at least 130 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

It also controls all media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.

===== December 7 =====

Four Activists Brutally Attacked by Thugs During Visit to Families of Jailed Mid-June Protesters

Defend the Defenders: Thugs supported by police have brutally attacked a group of four activists during their visit to families of imprisoned mid-June protesters in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai, the victims informed Defend the Defenders.

In early evening of December 7, four activists named Huynh Tan Tuyen, Nguyen Thanh Hai, Vo Ngoc Trai and Ms. Ngoc Anh travelled with a car from their native province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau to Dong Nai in a bid to pay visits to some families of 15 local people who were convicted and imprisoned on charge of “causing public disorders” due to their participation in peaceful demonstration in Bien Hoa city on June 10.

The victims said their journey was closely monitored by security forces. Firstly, trafic police stopped their car for administrative check and dozens of plainclothes agents followed their vehicle.

When they were on their way about thirty kilometers to Bien Hoa city, plainclothes agents started their attack against the activists’ vehicle. Thugs riding on motorbikes threw big stones to their car, breaking the vehicle’s glasses and injuring the travellers.

One of stones injured Ms. Ngoc Anh’s head while Mr. Trai got severe injury. He lost a lot of blood but activists were forced to keep going because they felt that thugs would kill them if they stopped.

Later, the activists decided to turn their car to return to Vung Tau and arrived in Phuoc Buu pagoda at 10.30 PM. Until then, Mr. Trai received necessary aid for his injury. Nearly all glasses of Mr. Hai’s car were broken.

Mr. Tuyen, who was beaten by security forces and lost three teeth while participated in the mass demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City in mid-June, said it was nightmare and they luckily escaped the thugs’ attack without being killed. Ms. Ngoc Anh said she still feels great pain on her head.

After the peaceful demonstration in Bien Hoa city on June 10, local authorities arrested dozens of participants. On July 30, they convicted 20 protesters on allegation of “disrupting public orders” under Article 318 of the 2015 Penal Code, sentencing 15 of them with between eight months and 18 months in prison and giving probation for remaining five. In an appeal hearing on November 9, the imprisonment sentences were upheld.

One week prior to the appeal hearing, thugs also assaulted three lawyers named Dang Dinh Manh, Nguyen Van Mieng and Trinh Vinh Phuc from Ho Chi Minh City on their way to meet with Bien Hoa city-based jailed protesters to prepare for their defense.