Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for July 19-25, 2021: Two Facebookers Convicted of Anti-state Posts with Lengthy Imprisonments

 

Defend the Defenders | July 25, 2021

 

Vietnam’s authoritarian regime continues to use the controversial charge “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code to jail local citizens and the latest is Nguyen Van Lam. Mr. Lam were convicted by so-called open trial but his relatives and friends were not permitted to attend.

The public has learned about his case from the state-controlled media after the  short trial which was carried out on July 20. Accordingly, 51-year-old Lam was given nine-year imprisonment followed by three-year probation by the People’s Court of Nghe An province, the hometown of late communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The state-controlled media reported that Mr. Lam was jailed because of his Facebook posting in 2017-2020 with content criticizing the communist regime’s socio-economic policies and advocating multi-party democracy.

On the same day, the People’s Court of Hanoi found Facebooker Tran Hoang Minh guilty of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. Mr. Minh, 31, was sentenced to five years in prison. According to the state-controlled media, Minh was imprisoned for his Facebook posts objecting the outcome of the Dong Tam case in which communal leader Le Dinh Kinh was brutally shot by police officers during the bloody attack of about 3,000 riot policemen in the commune on January 9 last year and his two sons were sentenced to death penalty and four other land petitioners were sentenced to lengthy imprisonments of between 12 years and life imprisonment as they were arbitrarily and injusticely convicted to have caused the controversial deaths of three police officers during the raid.

It is worth noting that both Lam and Minh were not popular dissident Facebookers and it is unknown when they had been arrested, probably last year. It is unclear whether they had legal support during their show-off hearings.

So far this year, Vietnam has convicted 15 activists and Facebookers of “conducting anti-state propaganda,” giving them imprisonments between five and 15 years. In addition, the regime has also detained seven others for the same allegation since the beginning of this year, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.

Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has also been using Article 331 to silence online critics. As of July 26, eleven Facebookers have been detained for “abusing democratic freedom” and three were jailed between two and five years for the charge.

The family of prominent human rights defenders Can Thi Theu is very concerned about her and her younger son Trinh Ba Tu who have been kept in the temporary detention center of the Hoa Binh province’s Police Department since their arrests in late June 2020. After their first-instance hearing on May 5, the 59-year-old mother and the 32-year-old son have been held incommunicado in tiny cells without fans amid the hot summer time. The inhumane treatment against Theu and her son is likely due to their brave behaviors during their trial on May 5 in which they claimed their innocence and blamed the communist regime for illegal land grabbing, human rights violations, and bad socio-economic policies of the communist party. The family sent its petition protesting the inhumane treatment against the two human rights advocates to Hoa Binh province’s state agencies and Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security but has received no response from them.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong– the older son of Mrs. Theu, was allowed to meet with his lawyers for the first time since his arrest on June 24, 2020 to prepare for his defense for the allegation per Article 117. The 35-year-old human rights campaigner reportedly remained silent during the pre-trial detention.

Nguyen Thi Tam, who was twice jailed for protesting illegal land seizure and was arrested in June last year for human rights advocacy by Hanoi police, was also permitted to meet with her lawyers for the first time in preparation for her defense. She was also charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Labor activist Hoang Duc Binh and many other prisoners of conscience in An Diem Prison camp in the central province of Quang Nam are reportedly denying food supplied by the prison for the last three months, consuming only the limited food provided by their families. Their acts aim to protest the injustice sentences imposed on them as well as other issues, said the family of the vice president of the unregistered Viet Labor Movement who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2019 for his peaceful and legal activities.

===== July 20 =====

Prisoner of Conscience Nguyen Thi Tam Meets Lawyers for First Time Since Being Arrested in June Last Year, Trial Expected Soon

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have allowed prisoner of conscience Nguyen Thi Tam to meet with her lawyer to prepare for her defense, according to her family.

She had been held incommunicado since her arrest on June 24, 2021 until July 20 when her lawyers were able to meet her in the Temporary Detention Center No. 1 operated by the Hanoi Police Department. She was reported to be mentally strong.

Tam, who twice was imprisoned for protesting illegal land grabbing of authorities of Hanoi and Ha Dong district in her Duong Noi commune, was alleged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for her Facebook posts and support given to other land petitioners. The first-instance hearing is expected to be carried out soon and she faces imprisonment of between seven and 12 years.

Mrs. Tam is a land rights activist, fighting against the authorities of her commune Duong Noi grabbing the land of her family and people in her village since 2008. She was detained and held in pre-trial detention from June 11 until November 20, 2008. In 2014, she was re-arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison for “resisting on-duty state officials” while protesting land seizure.

After being released, she continues to appeal the land grabbing carried out by the Duong Noi commune’s authorities who seized the agricultural land of the local farmers to sell to property developers at prices much higher than the compensation price given to the farmers. In addition, she has also provided assistance for Dong Tam commune’s farmers whose land was also taken by the My Duc district authorities and given to the army’s Viettel company for property project development.

Also on June 24 last year, Hanoi police arrested Duong Noi-based human rights activists and land petitioner Trinh Ba Phuong with the same allegation. Mr. Phuong has also been held incommunicado since the arrest. On the same day, police in Hoa Binh province arrested Phuong’s mother- former prisoner of conscience and land rights activist Can Thi Theu and his younger brother Trinh Ba Tu. On May 5, the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province convicted Mrs. Theu and Mr. Tu of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced each to eight years in prison and three years of probation. Their convictions were condemned internationally.

Like Mrs. Tam, Mrs. Theu and her two sons were arrested for their advocacy given to Dong Tam land petitioners and reports the bloody attack of around 3,000 riot policemen to the commune in the early hours of January 9, 2020 in which police shot dead Dong Tam communal leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested more than 30 villagers with charges of “murder” and “resisting on-duty state officials.” In September last year, the People’s Court of Hanoi convicted two sons and one grandchild of Mr. Kinh and three others of “murder” for causing the deaths of three police officers during the raid although the authorities have not showed solid evidence of the farmers’ acts against the police as well as the remainings of the police officers. Two of them were sentenced to death, one with life imprisonment and the three others between 12 years and 16 years.

In February this year, the UN’s Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a statement saying the arrests of five human rights defenders Pham Doan Trang and four activists from Duong Noi who were arrested and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” due to their supports to Dong Tam land petitioners and reports about the bloody raid in the commune were arbitrary and requested Vietnam’s authoritarian regime to release them immediately and unconditionally. However, Vietnam’s communist regime affirmed that Dong Tam land petitioners were responsible for the incident and the five human rights defenders were investigated not for their activism but their violations of the country’s law.

The arrests of four human rights defenders in Duong Noi commune were part of the intensified crackdown on the local political dissidents and social activists prior to the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam which ended on February 1 with many conservative senior officials being re-elected to the country’s leadership for the next five years, including General Secretary cum State President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Minister of Public Security To Lam who were responsible for the bloody attack in Dong Tam last year as well as the political persecution starting in late 2015.

===== July 21 =====

Well-known Human Rights Activists Can Thi Theu and Her Son Trinh Ba Tu Placed in Hard Prison Conditions Amid Hot Weather after Brave Objection in First-instance Hearing 

Defend the Defenders: In order to revenge for their brave behavior during their first-instance hearing on May 5, authorities in Vietnam’s northern province Hoa Binh have imprisoned well-known human rights advocates Mrs. Can Thi Theu and her second son Mr. Trinh Ba Tu in hard prison conditions, Defend the Defenders has learned.

According to their family, Theu and Tu have been kept in tiny isolated cells in a temporary detention facility under the authority of the Hoa Binh Police Department since being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code more than two months ago. They were placed in small closed cells without ventilators or fans amid the hot summer weather in Vietnam’s northern region with the temperature goes above 40 Celsius degrees most of the daytime, her daughter Trinh Thi Thao told Defend the Defenders.

When the family questioned about the inhumane treatment against the 59-year-old mother and the 32-year-old son, the Hoa Binh Police Department and the detention facility said they act under instruction of the Ministry of Public Security.

It is worth noting that prisoner of conscience Dao Quang Thuc was also held inhumanely for months in this detention facility and he died shortly after being moved in the Gia Trung Prison camp.

The family has sent petitions to many state agencies including the Ministry of Public Security to question the inhumane treatment against the mother and the son, however, they have not received responses from them.

Mrs. Theu, who was imprisoned twice for a total 35 months in the 2014-2018 period for protesting Hanoi’s authorities’s seizure of farming land from her family and other farmers in Duong Noi commune, Ha Dong district, was arrested on June 24 last year together with her two sons Tu and his older brother Trinh Ba Phuong. The trio was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” for their advocacy for lan rights, human rights, and multi-party democracy, especially their support for land petitioners in Dong Tam commune, Hoai Duc district, Hanoi, before and after the bloody attack of 3,000 riot policemen in the commune on January 9, 2020 in which police brutally killed local spiritual leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested about 30 others most of whom later were sentenced to heavy imprisonment and two were given the capital punishment as they were found responsible for controversial deaths of three police officers during the raid.

During the trial on May 5, both Theu and her child said that they are innocent and did nothing wrong according to Vietnam’s Constitution and the international human rights treaties in which Vietnam is a signatory party. They reportedly also blamed the communist regimes for all the social unrest in the country, including the land grabbing nationwide.

Meanwhile, 36-year-old Phuong is still held incommunicado by the Hanoi Police Department, together with land petitioner Nguyen Thi Tam, who is also a human rights defender and being arrested on the same day on the same allegation. He reportedly keeps his right of silence during the 13 months of detention. Last week, he was permitted to meet with his lawyers to prepare for his defense in the first-instance hearing which may be held soon.

The family of Mrs. Tam said they have not been allowed to meet her in detention since the arrest in late June last year. The investigation ended and the trial against her would be carried out in coming weeks.

In order to suppress the support of local activists given for land petitioners in Dong Tam, Vietnam’s authorities arrested a number of people, including prominent political blogger and world-recognized human rights defender Pham Doan Trang, human rights advocate Nguyen Thuy Hanh who set up and managed the 50K Fund, and four human rights campaigners Theu, Phuong, Tu, and former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Thi Tam, all the four from Duong Noi commune, Ha Dong district, Hanoi.

Since their arrests, many foreign governments and international human rights organizations have condemned the Vietnamese government’s acts and urged Hanoi to release them immediately and unconditionally. However, Hanoi claims that they were not arrested for their human rights activities but crime activities harmful for the regime. Two days ahead of their trial, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging Vietnam’s authoritarian regime to free them, saying Hanoi should not imprison those who tell the trust like Theu and her sons.

In order to ensure its absolute political dominance for long term, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime continues its crackdown on the local dissent after the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam in late January and the meaningless elections of the country’s rubber-stamped parliament and the People’s Councils at the provincial, district, and communal levels on May 23. Along with imprisoning well-known political dissidents and human rights defenders, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has also put behind bars many Facebookers who have limited influence in social media.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested 19 activists, raising the number of prisoners of conscience to 261, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Since the beginning of this year, the regime has convicted 19 activists, journalists, and Facebookers with a total imprisonment of 145 years and six months followed by 34 years of probation.

===== July 22 =====

Objecting Injustice, Labor Activist Hoang Duc Binh and Many Other Prisoners of Conscience in An Diem Prison Camp Refuse to Eat Prison Food, Only Consume Family Supplies

Defend the Defenders: Labor activist Hoang Duc Binh and many other prisoners of conscience in An Diem Prison camp in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Nam are denying food supplied by the prison for months, consuming only the food provided by their families, his family has told Defend the Defenders.

In his telephone conversation on July 21, Mr. Hoang Duc Binh told his family that he and three others named Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh, Mr. Le Duc Dong, and Mr. Phan Cong Hai have stopped eating prison food nearly three months ago in a bid to protest the injusticed sentences imposed on them.

However, the food supplied to them by their families is not enough as they are allowed to receive a maximum six kilograms of food and VND1.5 million ($65) which will be used to purchase groceries from the prison’s canteen at prices much higher than the market prices. Due to the food shortage, Hoang Duc Binh’s health has reportedly worsened seriously.

Mr. Hoang Duc Binh, 38, is a vice chairman of the unregistered group Viet Labor Movement. He was arrested in May 2017 amid the crackdown on activists demanding investigation against the Taiwanese giant firm Formosa in dumping its industrial waste in Vietnam’s coast which caused a catastrophic environmental disaster in the central coastal region in 2016. Later, he was convicted of “resisting on-duty state officials” and “abusing democratic freedom,” and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh and Mr. Le Duc Dong, two member of religious group An Dan Dai Dao, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on the fabricated allegation subversion in 2012 while Mr. Phan Cong Hai was given give years in prison after being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for his Facebook posts in 2020.

===========================