Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report September 25-October 01, 2017: Vietnam Continues Crackdown, Arresting Activist Nguyen Viet Dung

Defend the Defenders | October 01, 2017

Vietnam’s communist government has continued its crackdown on local dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers ahead of the party’s Plenum slated in October and APEC Summit scheduled in the central city of Danang in November.

On September 27, police in the central province of Nghe An kidnapped former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung and later charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

Mr. Dung has been the 18th activist arrested and charged with controversial articles in the national security provisions of the Penal Code so far this year.

In August, authorities in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong issued an arrest warrant for former prisoner of conscience Tran Minh Nhat, accusing him of failing to executive imprisonment” under Article 304 of the Penal Code.

Le Minh Son, a student of the University for Banking in Ho Chi Minh City said he was kidnapped and interrogated by police for three days last week.

And other news

===== September 25 =====

Student Activist Says Police Kidnap Him and Force Him to Confess Anti-state Activities

Le Minh Son, a student of the University for Banking in Ho Chi Minh City said police came to the university’s campus to kidnap him and took to a police station where he was forced to commit stumped-up anti-state activities.

Son said he was held in a facility of the Office of the Ministry of Public Security at 235 Nguyen Van Cu, ward Nguyen Cu Trinh, District 1 where he was questioned by police officers on September 21-23.

Mr. Son, who is a member of the unsanctioned Vietnamese Students for Human Rights Association, also blamed the university’s leadership, especially its Students Affairs Department of assisting the police in kidnapping and interrogating.

The university even threatened to expel Son, a monitor of his class.

Son is among young activists voicing about human rights and environment. Along with taking part in social and community activities, he has also participated in charity works to support vulnerable people.

For details: Police kidnap university student, forcing him to confess with the collaboration of the school

Related article: Hanoi-based Activist Detained, Tortured in HCM City

===== September 27 =====

Police Kidnap Activist Nguyen Viet Dung, Charging Him with Anti-state Propaganda

Defend the Defenders: On September 27, police in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An kidnapped Nguyen Viet Dung, the president and founder of the unsanctioned Republican Party of Vietnam, and later charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

Mr. Dung, a former prisoner of conscience, was taken in hostage by a group of around ten plainclothes agents while he was taking lunch in a small restaurant near Song Ngoc Catholic church in Quynh Ngoc commune, Quynh Luu district.

The kidnappers came with three motorbikes and a seven-seat car. They beat Dung and his friends upon the hostage, forcibly taking him into the car and left the scene. No warrant was showed.

The kidnappers acted so fast that any local people can react. In hurry, the kidnapers left one of their motorbikes with some documents.

Local residents said the kidnappers are completely strange to them.

On the afternoon of the same day, the Police Investigation Agency in Nghe An released a press announcement saying they had conducted urgent arrest of Mr. Dung and charged him under Article 88. On the same day, police in Quynh Luu came to Song Ngoc to ask to take back the motorbike the kidnappers left but local residents refused to give them.

Police said they carried out the arrest on line with Vietnam’s law, adding Mr. Dung will be held for investigation which will last at least four months. During the investigation period, Dung will be placed incommunicado, the common practice applied in political cases.

Dung will face imprisonment of up to 20 years if convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Dung is a former political prisoner. He was arrested in 2014 after participating in a peaceful demonstration on environmental issues in Hanoi. Later, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison on allegation of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code.

After being released in July 2015, Dung has continued to work to promote human rights and posted on his Facebook account to advocate for multi-party democracy.

He was kidnapped and beaten by security forces many times, including the detention prior to the visit of then U.S. President Barack Obama to Vietnam in May last year. (see our archives:

The arrest and charge of Mr. Dung are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local activists amid increasing social dissatisfaction caused by systemic corruption, human rights violations, poor economic performance, serious environmental pollution, and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, Vietnam’s government is striving to silence local activists to prevent the formation of opposition parties. It has targeted civil organizations, especially Brotherhood for Democracy.

Since the beginning of 2017, Vietnam has arrested 17 activists and charged them with controversial articles such as 79, 88, and 258 of the national security provisions in the Penal Code. Five of them are members of the online group Brotherhood for Democracy which is considered by the communist party as its potential threat for its political monopoly..

Vietnam also added allegation of subversion to prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, who were arrested on December 16, 2015 and initially charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

In July-September, Vietnam has convicted three activists with heavy sentences: Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh with ten years in prison, Tran Thi Nga with nine years in prison and five years under house arrest, and Nguyen Van Oai with five years in jail and four years of probation.

Many other activists have been harassed, detained, tortured and robbed while others are under close surveillance of local police.

According to international human rights organizations, Vietnam is holding over 100 prisoners of conscience while Hanoi always denies, saying it imprisons law violators only.

Related articles:

Kidnapped Activist Nguyen Viet Dung Charged with Anti-state Propaganda

Leader of Unregistered Republican Party of Vietnam Kidnapped While Taking Lunch in Home Province

===== September 28 =====

Vietnam Holding Hoa Hao Hermit in Solitary Confinement: Religious Freedom Group

RFA: Authorities in Vietnam have held a member of an unsanctioned sect of Hoa Hao Buddhism in solitary confinement since his arrest in May, according to a group that promotes religious freedom in the country, which said detaining him amounted to a violation of the country’s constitution.

The Interfaith Council of Vietnam said in a statement issued Wednesday that police had taken Buddhist hermit Vuong Van Tha into custody along with his son and two of his cousins after laying siege to the family’s home in southern Vietnam’s An Giang province on May 18.

At the time, the council said, hundreds of people—including police, plainclothes officers, and thugs—used a water cannon to attack Tha’s house, where nine members of his family were staying, including a man older than 80, a six-month-old child, three women and three young boys.

The assault sent the women and children to the hospital to get treatment for their injuries, it said, while authorities in An Giang’s An Phu district arrested Tha, his son Vuong Van Thuan, and his cousins Nguyen Nhat Truong and Nguyen Nhat Thuong.

The family was not notified of the whereabouts of Tha and his three relatives until receiving an announcement more than three months later, informing them that they had been detained at Bang Lang Prison, in An Giang’s Long Xuyen district.

Speaking on Thursday, Hoa Hao Buddhism representative of the Interfaith Council of Vietnam Nguyen Van Dien told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that his organization had contacted the An Giang provincial police about Tha’s status, but that the authorities were “keeping it a secret” and “wouldn’t give us any information.”

“Other detainees told their relatives who came to visit them that Tha had been put in solitary confinement and was complaining that he couldn’t take it anymore,” Dien said, adding that the relatives had then informed Tha’s family.

In its statement on Wednesday, the Interfaith Council of Vietnam called the measures taken by authorities against Tha and his family “unnecessary” and “in violation of the freedoms of speech and expression granted to Vietnamese citizens according to Vietnam’s constitution and international law.”

Tha was released from prison in August 2016 after serving a three-year sentence for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Prior to his arrest in May, Tha had used a loudspeaker to speak out against what he called the “mistakes and crimes” of Vietnam’s government. Since the May attack, authorities have cut off the electricity and water to his home and subjected his family members to frequent harassment.

Catholic petition

The report on Tha’s arrest and detention followed a petition sent last week by a group of Catholic priests from the Vinh Diocese in Nghe An’s Dong Thap district, calling on authorities to restore stability to the area of Dong Kieu parish, in nearby Dien Chau district.

The petition, dated Sept. 22, said there had been a “misunderstanding” over banners hung on two pillars in the parish that led to a group of thugs attacking the homes and businesses of parishioners with guns and rocks from Sept. 1-20, and causing substantial property damage.

On Sept. 20, the petition said, a group of people carrying Vietnam’s national flag and banners, and shouting slogans, marched into the area around Dong Kieu church, demanding that its priest Nguyen Ngoc Ngu leave the area. The mob “smashed and shot holy articles with guns,” it said.

According to the priests, the events of Sept. 1-20 constituted an “abuse of religious freedom” according to Vietnam’s Constitution, as well as a violation of international laws on human rights.

The petition called on the authorities of Nghe An province and Dien Chau district, as well as all related departments, to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice in order to restore stability to the area and put an end to the “physical and emotional terrorism” endured by the parishioners.

Speaking on Thursday, Father Peter Nguyen Van Liem, one of the petition’s signatories, told RFA that there had been no official response to their request.

“Usually, they will send a notice or invite us to a meeting to resolve the problem,” he said.

“However, in the case of Dong Kieu parish, we have seen nothing done yet.”

Harsh controls

Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Catholic and Hoa Hao religions but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups that do not follow state-sanctioned branches.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2016 International Religious Freedom Report, released last month, Vietnam continued to harass religious groups last year, though the severity of their treatment “varied from region to region and among the central, provincial, and local levels.”

Government authorities continued to restrict the activities of religious groups, assaulting and detaining church members, restricting their travel, and confiscating church land for development projects, the report said.

===== September 29 =====

Vietnam Issues Arrest Warrant for Former Prisoner of Conscience Tran Minh Nhat

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Lam Ha district, Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Lam Dong have issued an arrest warrant for former prisoner of conscience Tran Minh Nhat, who is under the three-year probation after completing a four-year imprisonment.

In a warrant order dated on August 4, the Investigation Agency in Lam Ha district said Mr. Nhat failed to execute judgments under Article 304 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

The warrant is effective nationwide, the police said.

Mr.Nhat is a Vietnamese journalist and human rights activist. In late August 2011, he was arrested and charged with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of Penal Code due to his writings in favor of free speech and a pluralist political system in Vietnam.

Later, Nhat was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison with an additional three years of probation. He was released in late August 2015.

After being released and placed under house arrest, he has been harassed many times by local police who summoned him to police station for interrogation and torture.

In many occasions, other activists coming to visit him in Lam Ha were also beaten and harassed by police. Among victims are Tran Thi Nga, who was sentenced to nine years in prison and five years under house arrest in July and allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88, and Le Dinh Luong, who was arrested in July and charged with subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code.

More details about harassment of Mr. Nhat:

If Nhat is arrested and convicted, he will face imprisonment of up to three years, according to Vietnam’s current law.

In a similar case, Nguyen Van Oai, a former prisoner of conscience in the central province of Nghe An, was sentenced to five years in prison by a court in Hoang Mai town on September 18. Oai, who was arrested on January 19 this year, was convicted of “failing to execute judgments” under Article 304 which brought him two years, and “Resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 which gave him other three years in jail.