Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly December 4-10, 2017: Many Activists Harassed on Occasion of International Human Rights Day

Defend the Defenders | December 10, 2017

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Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have harassed local activists on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day (December 10), preventing them from gathering together to mark the day.

On December 8, police in Ho Chi Minh City disturbed a dinner of local activists, placing many under house arrest, including organizer former prisoner of conscience Pham Ba Hai, and requesting a restaurant owner to cancel his order and stop serving for other activists.

Authorities in the Vietnamese southern economic hub also sent many plainclothes agents to private residencies of other activists in recent days to block them from gathering. Police violently blocked Buddhist Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, the head of the demolished Lien Tri Pagoda, not allowing him to go out on October 10 when he tried to attend a vigil in Tho Hoa Catholic Church in Xuan Loc town, Dong Nai province at the invitation of priest Nguyen Duy Tan. Police also detained many Catholic priests of Sai Dong Redemptory Church.

Many activists in Hanoi reported that plainclothes agents were also sent to their houses.

Two Catholic priests were barred from leaving the country and authorities said their bans were based on national security reason. Both are outspoken priests who advocate for protection of human rights and environment.

[/themify_box]===== December 5 =====

Third Priest of Hanoi-based Thai Ha Redemptory Church Banned from Travelling Abroad

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have banned Catholic priest Joan Luu Ngoc Quynh from the Hanoi-based Thai Ha Redemptory Church from traveling abroad, citing national security as a reason for the ban.

On the evening of December 5, security forces in Noi Bai International Airport in the capital city of Hanoi stopped the priest at the border gate when he was going to take a flight to Paris where he was invited to participate in a religious event.

Priest Quynh is the third clergy of the Thai Ha Church barred from going abroad. In 2010, police in Hanoi also stopped priest Juse Nguyen Van Phuong from leaving the county and in June they did not permit priest Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong from going to Australia where he would take part in a religious training program.

The bans were reprisal of the Thai Ha Church’s opposition to Hanoi’s attempt to seize its properties, and the church’s vigils in which its priests call for protection of the country’s sovereignty and criticize the government about human rights violations, systemic corruption and economic mismanagement.

After taking power in 1954 in the northern region, Vietnam’s communist government borrowed many properties of Catholic churches, including the Thai Ha Redemptory Church for hosting hospitals and schools. Recently, the government has turned these properties into public facilities or private properties without returning them to churches. The property disputes between the churches and the government has not been solved for decades.

Along with taking various tricks to prevent local activists from meeting with foreign officials and diplomats, Vietnam’s government has bared hundreds of political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers from leaving country to attend training courses or meet with other activists from foreign countries.

National security is often used by police in these cases.

Vietnam, with a population of around 93 million, has over seven millions of Catholic followers.

Vietnam set the appeal hearing of human rights activist Tran Thi Nga to be held by the Hanoi Higher People’s Court on December 22. On July 25, Nga was convicted on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code and sentenced her to nine years in prison and four years under house arrest afterward.

Nga, who was arrested on January 21 this year, has not been allowed to meet her relatives, including her two kids at four and seven years. Authorities said the family visit was denied as she refused to admit wrongdoings and accept the decision of the People’s Court in the northern province of Ha Nam in the trial.

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

Vietnam Jailed Human Rights Activist Tran Thi Nga Yet to Be Allowed to Meet with Her Kids 10 Months after Arrest

By Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have yet to permitted imprisoned human rights defender Tran Thi Nga to meet with her kids and relatives since her arrest in late January and trial in July.

After her detention on January 21 on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code, police said she cannot meet with her two kids at four and seven years old, and other family’s members, the common practice in political cases.

However, after the trial in late July in which she was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison and four years under house arrest afterward, police have still refused the family’s request to meet with her.

Police reportedly told the family that she was denied because she didn’t confess “wrongdoings” as the court judged.

Nga’s case was reported to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which has communicated with Vietnam’s government on the case. The Vietnamese government reportedly responded by saying her family had only requested for food supplements but not eye-eye meeting.

Mr. Phan Van Phong, the father of her two kids, said that after her trial, her parents, brothers and sisters as well as her children went to the Ha Nam province’s detention facility where she is held to request for meeting with her, however, the authorities said she is not permitted to meet with them because she rejected the court’s ruling. She was disciplined as being placed in solitary cell, they said.

One month later, the Ha Nam province’s Detention facility advised her family to submit a request for meeting her to the Hanoi-based Higher People’s Court. Her younger brother made a request but he couldn’t get ratification from the authorities in his locality.

Mr. Phong said he successfully got the ratification and submitted the request to the Higher People’s Court on November 14 but his request remains unanswered.

Mrs. Nga has appealed the decision of the People’s Court in Ha Nam province and her appeal hearing is expected to be held soon.

Ms. Nga was a migrant worker in Taiwan. While working there, she assisted Vietnamese workers to demand Vietnamese brokers to take responsibility to ensure the rights of migrant workers.

Upon her return to Vietnam, about ten years ago, she assisted land petitioners who lost their land due to illegal seizure from local authorities.

She also participated in many anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi from 2011 to 2016 to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), as well as in peaceful gatherings to demand multi-party democracy.

Due to her activities, Vietnam’s communist government, particularly authorities in Ha Nam province constantly harassed and persecuted her and her two children. She was detained many times and was placed under de facto house arrest for most of the last two years.

In May 2014, she was attacked by plainclothes agents in Hanoi who broke her right leg and caused a number of severe injuries to her body.

Police in Ha Nam also targeted her kids, throwing dirty sauce containing decaying shrimp at them. Her private residence in Phu Ly city was attacked with paint and dirty substances many times.

Ms. Nga is among six distinguished women human rights activists in Southeast Asia the London-based NGO Amnesty International recognized their works on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8) this year. Nga, Sirikan Charoensiri from Thailand, Maria Chin Abdullah from Malaysia, Tep Vanny from Cambodia, Leila de Lima from Philippines and Wai Wai Nuwho from Myanmar have faced harassment, threats, imprisonment, and violence for standing up for human rights in the region.

Since her arrest and prior to her trial, many foreign governments and a number of international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders called on Vietnam’s communist government to immediately and unconditionally release her and other activists who have been imprisoned just because of exercising the right of freedom of expression which is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.

The arrest and conviction of Nga are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested, tried and expelled abroad nearly 30 activists. Ten of them have been charged with subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code and face capital punishment, many others are charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda with imprisonment up to 20 years.

On November 30, Vietnam upheld the 10-year sentence of prominent human rights campaigner Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who is well-known blogger with a penname Mother Mushroom. Two weeks earlier, the communist government also convicted blogger Nguyen Van Hoa and sentenced him to seven years in prison and three years under house arrest. Like Nga, the two activists were also convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda,” one of many controversial articles of the national security provisions in the Penal Code the communist government is using to silence local activists.


Anti-Formosa Priest Barred from Going to Australia to Attend Vietnam Human Rights Hearing

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have not allowed Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc, one of outspoken priests regarding Formosa issues, to go to Australia where he is invited to attend a hearing on human rights situation in the Southeast Asian nation.

Priest Thuc was stopped by security forces in the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City on December 6 when he was to take an international flight to Australia.

The hearing, carried out by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights of the Australian Parliament, was scheduled on December 7.

The border security officers said the travel ban of Priest Thuc was based on the proposal of the Nghe An police regarding national security.

Priest Thuc is among many priests voicing against the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group after its affiliate Hung Nghiep Formosa illegally discharged a huge amount of toxic industrial waste into Vietnam’s central coastal region last year and caused the biggest environmental catastrophe in the country for decades. The environmental disaster massively killed marine species and affected livelihood of tens of thousands of local fishermen in the five central provinces from Nghe An to Thua Thien-Hue.

Instead of forcing the Taiwanese firm to clean environment and pay sufficient compensation for fishermen, Hanoi has suppressed environmentalists and affected people, arresting a number of them and charged with serious allegation in the national security provisions in the country’s Penal Code.

Priest Thuc is the second priest barred from leaving the country this week. On December 5, police in Hanoi also stopped priest Joan Luu Ngoc Quynh from the Hanoi-based Thai Ha Redemptory Church when he was on his way to France.

===== December 8 =====

Activists in HCM City not Allowed to Gather to Mark International Human Rights Day

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have not permitted local activists to hold meeting to mark the International Human Rights Day (December 10), placing a number of them under house arrest several days ahead of the day.

Former prisoner of conscience Mr. Pham Ba Hai, who is founder of Defend the Defenders, said he invited around 30 activists to participate in a dinner at a local restaurant on the occasion on the evening of December 8 to talk about human rights issues. However, local police came to his private residence on the afternoon of Friday, telling him not to go out for any reason.

Police also ordered the restaurant owner to cancel Hai’s order, and stop serving for other activists who managed to came to the restaurant.

Prominent political dissident Dr. Nguyen Dan Que arrived in the restaurant but police requested him to go home immediately. They escorted him to his private residence and told him not to go out in the next several days.

Dr. Que said local authorities have deployed many plainclothes agents to station near his home, effectively placing him under de facto house arrest.

Despite police harassment, some activists in Hanoi and HCM City still held meetings in different locations to mark the International Human Rights Day.

Vietnam’s human rights situation has worsened in recent years, with arrests and trials of over 50 activists who were charged with serious allegations in national security provisions in the country’s Penal Code.

===== December 10 =====

Religious Clergies Harassed on International Human Rights Day

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have harassed many religious clergies and activists, not allowing them to gather to mark the International Human Rights Day (December 10).

Police detained Catholic priests of the Ky Dong Redemptory Church, taking them to a police station in Ward 6, District 3.

Plainclothes agents attacked Buddhist Venerable Thich Khong Tanh when he tried to leave Giac Hoa Pagoda to go to Xuan Loc town, Dong Nai province where he was invited to attend a vigil of the Tho Hoa Catholic Church.

Plainclothes agents request the monk not to leave the area. Police also confiscated a cell phone of his assistant when he tried to film the assault.

Ven. Tanh is the head of Lien Tri Pagoda which was demolished earlier this year by the city’s authorities for property project development.

Ven. Tanh and priests of Ky Dong Redemptory Church were invited by priest Nguyen Duy Tan to attend the vigil of Tho Hoa Church.

Many other activists in HCM City and Hanoi also reported that their private residencies were surrounded by numerous plainclothes agents who blocked them from going out or closely followed them when they left their houses.

Other activists were forced to meet in secret to mark the International Human Rights Day.