Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly December 11-17, 2017: Catholic Community in Central Vietnam Harassed while Preparing for Upcoming Christmas Celebration

Defend the Defenders | December 17, 2017

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Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have been harassing local Catholic community, disturbing their preparation for the upcoming Christmas celebration.

In early of this week, authorities in Dien Chau district have intimidated the Dong Kieu parish in Dien My commune, Dien Chau, not allowing the local parishioners to build a Christmas cave in their church on the occasion of Christmas and New Year celebration.

Authorities Nghen An have sent numerous police officers to the parish in a bid to convince them not to construct a cave for the holiday occasion. However, the local Catholic community rejected the request, saying they have a right to build a temporary cave for the occasion.

Plainclothes agents were reported to attack some followers, causing severe injuries to them, and demolished some properties of many families.

On December 14, the European Parliament issued a public statement condemning the imprisonment of blogger Nguyen Van Hoa and calling for immediate and unconditional release of all citizen bloggers detained for exercising their freedom of expression and end all restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders. The statement was welcomed by many international and domestic NGOs.

Vietnam’s authorities will try three activists Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc on allegation of “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code next month. The trio of the Chan hung Nuoc Viet (Reviving Vietnam Campaign) will be challenged under Clause 1 of Article 88 and they will face imprisonment of between three and twelve years if convicted.

Human rights defender and pro-democracy activist Luu Van Vinh will face heavy sentence if he is convicted on allegation of subversion in a court in near future, according to his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng.

The investigation against Vinh and his fellows was ended and their case was transferred to Ho Chi Minh City’s People Court. The trial against them may be held soon.

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===== December 11 =====

Vietnamese Bloggers, Activists Honored on International Human

RFA: Writers and democracy advocates jailed in Vietnam for the peaceful expression of their opinions were honored in absentia by an exile group in a ceremony held in California on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.

Recipients of the award, the Vietnam Human Rights Award, included the well-known blogger Mother Mushroom, blogger Anh Ba Sam, Protestant pastor Y Yich, and the online Brotherhood For Democracy advocacy group.

Speaking at the ceremony, Nguyen Kim Binh—representing the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network—called those honored in Sunday’s ceremony in Westminster city “among the bravest of our people.”

“All through the present crackdown by the Communist Party, there have been people willing to sacrifice their lives to fight for human rights and for the [Vietnamese] people,” Binh said.

“Some of them have passed away, and there are others who are still very young but are already serving prison terms of from five to ten years,” he said, adding that among those now jailed in Vietnam are veterans from both sides of the Vietnam War and many who were born after the war ended.

“All have paid a heavy price,” he said.

“Each year, our laureates are either prisoners of conscience or former prisoners of conscience. Some are still on probation and are living under intimdation,” Binh said.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Dinh Ngoc Thu—a former associate of blogger Anh Ba Sam, also known as Nguyen Huu Vinh—said that to counter authoritarian rule in Vietnam, “the people must be provided with information.”

“This is the only way to change their perception, with changes in perception leading to changes in behavior,” he said.

Punishing dissent

Anh Ba Sam, a former police officer and son of a late government minister, was handed a five-year prison term in March 2016 after publishing writings critical of Vietnam’s government on his Ba Sam blog site.

He had been convicted on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state” under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code.

His assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy was given three years in prison on the same charge. The two had been in prison since their arrests in May 2014.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known by her blogger handle Mother Mushroom, is currently serving a 10-year prison term for publishing politically sensitive material online.

She had blogged about human rights abuses and corruption for more than a decade, and more recently voiced criticism over Vietnam’s policy toward China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

She has also criticized the government’s response to a 2016 toxic waste spill by a Taiwanese firm that destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Vietnamese living in four coastal provinces.

Pastor Y Yich, a resident of Gia Lai province in Vietnam’s central highlands, was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to six years in prison for his role in demonstrations demanding land and freedom of religion for Vietnam’s Montagnard people.

Arrested again in 2013, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

‘Don’t lose hope’

In August and September of this year, six members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, an online advocacy group founded in 2013, were arrested and jailed under vaguely worded provisions of Vietnam’s penal code used to silence dissenting voices in the country.

In May, jailed human rights attorney and activist Nguyen Van Dai, a founding member of the group, received an award in absentia from the German Association of Judges, the Deutscher Richterbund, honoring him for his work in human rights.

Speaking in an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese Service, EU Special Envoy for the Promotion of Religious Freedom Jan Figel urged the people of Vietnam, a one-party communist state, not to lose hope in their work for greater freedom.

“Communism in Europe collapsed because it was unsustainable. People stopped believing in it,” Figel, a native of Slovakia, said.

“We need free and fair societies, and this is a dream that I hope will sooner or later, but surely, be achieved in Vietnam and by everyone in the world.”

===== December 12 =====

Three Activists of Reviving Vietnam Campaign Likely to Be Tried Next Month: Lawyer Son

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities will try three activists Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc on allegation of “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code next month, their lawyer Ha Huy Son has said.

The three activists of the Chan hung Nuoc Viet (Reviving Vietnam Campaign) will be challenged under Clause 1 of Article 88 and they will face imprisonment of between three and twelve years if convicted, said the Hanoi-based lawyer, who is among few lawyers participating in political cases.

Mr. Thuan and Mr. Dien were arrested in early March while Mr. Phuc was detained on Jul 3. They were firstly kidnapped by Hanoi police who later prosecuted them with anti-state propaganda, one of controversial articles in the national security provisions in the Penal Code often used to silence peaceful activists.

In several months before being arrested, Mr. Thuan and Mr. produced and posted on their Facebook pages tens of video clips in which Mr. Thuan as a speaker criticized the Communist leaders and their government for human rights violations, corruption, and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

Late President Ho Chi Minh and incumbent General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong are among figures criticized by Mr. Thuan. Their clips were viewed by millions of Vietnamese Internet users.

Young activist Phuc was also accused of “possessing materials, producing and posting videos on internet critical of the government.”

The trio was held incommunicado since their arrests until recently when they were allowed to meet with lawyer Son to prepare for their defense. However, they have been yet to be permitted to meet with their families.

After their arrests, some members of the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet had also been summoned to police stations for questioning. However, other members of the campaign continue their live streams on Facebook to provide independent TV channels to describe social situations in the country, especially in land grabbing, miscarriage of justice, human rights abuse, and corruption. Their programs have attracted hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their trust in the state media.

The arrests and trials of the three members of the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers.

So far this year, Vietnam has detained nearly 30 activists and charged them with serious accusations such as “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 and subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code.

Many activists have been held in pre-trial detentions, including prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, his assistant Le Thi Thu Ha, pro-democracy activist Luu Van Vinh and online blogger Dr. Ho Hai.

Vietnam has also convicted human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, anti-corruption activist Phan Kim Khanh, and bloggers Nguyen Van Oai and Nguyen Van Hoa. All of them received heavy sentences ranging from five years to ten years in prison.

Hanoi also expelled pro-democracy activist Pham Minh Hoang to France.

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, Vietnam has shown little tolerance to local dissent.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding around 90 prisoners of conscience while the BPSOS and 14 other international and domestic human rights organizations in their Now! Campaign placed the number of prisoners of conscience as high as 165 prisoners.

Hanoi always denies imprisoning any prisoner of conscience but only law violators.

===== December 13 =====

Vietnam Catholic Parish Requested to Demolish Christmas Cave

 

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have requested the Catholic community in the Dong Kieu parish in Dien My commune, Dien Chau to demolish its Christmas cave the local followers have built to celebrate the upcoming Christmas and New Year holiday.

Earlier this week, police came to the church to demand followers to destroy the cave within 24 hours, otherwise they will come back and impose administrative fine, local bloggers announced.

On the evening of December 13, thugs supported by police came to the parish, attacking followers and demolishing many properties of local followers.

Thugs were reportedly to use iron bars to destroy houses of parishioners, fired teacher Lien with gun and attacked Mr. Thuan from Dong Trang village with a sword when he passed the parish. They also demolished his motorbike.

Due to the assaults, Lien and Thuan suffered serious injuries in their heads and bodies, local parishioners said.

Local authorities are deploying many plainclothes agents to the areas near the parish, ready to suppress followers.

The attacks are part of ongoing suppression of authorities of Nghe An province against local Catholic community which is strongly protesting the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant which caused environmental disaster in the central coast by discharging huge amount of toxic industrial waste in the waters. Due to the illegal discharge carried out by the Taiwanese company, massive death of marine species occurred in April last year, making tens of thousands of fishermen in five central coastal province to become jobless.

In recent days, numerous police officers have been sent to the Dong Kieu parish with aim to force followers to demolish the cave while the parishioners are challenging the request, saying they have the right to build it for Christmas.

The Catholic community in Vietnam has around seven millions out of the country’s total population of around 93 million. It is a subject to discrimination by the communist government.

===== December 14 =====

European Parliament Calls on Vietnam to Release Imprisoned Outspoken Activists

The European Parliament calls for the release of Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, sentenced on 27 November to seven years in prison on charges of producing propaganda against the state. Mr Hoa reported on the environmental disaster that took place in the Ha Tinh Province in April 2016, when toxic waste spilled into the ocean by Taiwanese firm Formosa Ha Thinh killed huge numbers of fish and made people ill.

The Vietnamese authorities should release all citizens detained for exercising their freedom of expression and end all restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders, say MEPs. They also call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Vietnam, as a first step towards abolishing capital punishment.

The move was widely welcomed by many international human rights bodies.

Further reading:

European Parliament Adopts Resolution Condemning Lack of Freedom of Expression in Vietnam

European Parliament condemns the deterioration of civil and political rights in Vietnam 

===== December 15 =====

Subversion-charged Activist Luu Van Vinh Faces Heavy Sentence

Defend the Defenders: Human rights defender and pro-democracy activist Luu Van Vinh will face heavy sentence if he is convicted on allegation of subversion in a court in near future, according to his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng.

Lawyer Mieng said his client will be tried for Clause 1 of Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code in coming months after the People’s Procuracy in Ho Chi Minh City passed the case to the city’s People’s Court and advised the court to prosecute him on allegation of “Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

The clause states that “Organizers, instigators and active participants or those who cause serious consequences shall be sentenced to between twelve and twenty years of imprisonment, life imprisonment or capital punishment.”

Mr. Vinh, 50, was detained on November 6, 2016 and had been held incommunicado for over a year until last month when he was allowed to meet with his wife and two kids for 15 minutes.

Vinh, is a handyman, electrician and plumber from the northern province of Hai Duong who moved to HCM City several years ago. His family, including three children aged between six and 19-year-old, joined him in 2015.

Vinh participated in many peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi and HCM City to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the Taiwanese Formosa’s discharge of huge amount of toxic industrial waste into sea waters in the central province of Ha Tinh which caused massive death of fisheries in four central coastal provinces last year.

He had been detained and beaten many times, including the three-day arrest in May 2016 after he took part in a peaceful demonstration on environmental issue.

Vinh was beaten and detained in his private residence in the city during the lunch on November 6 while his friend Nguyen Van Duc Do was arrested after visiting Vinh’s house earlier on the same day. Police also detained between nearly ten others related in the same case on the same day but released them after torturing and interrogating them for several days, the victims said after being released.

The arrests were said to be linked to the Coalition for Self-determined Vietnamese People. Mr. Vinh founded the coalition in mid-July last year and became the president of the organization which aims to end the communists’ political monopoly. According to the organization’s founding statement, all major issues of the country should be decided by the people via referendums.

However, Vinh was reported to have left the coalition few days before being detained.

After Vinh’s detention, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s government to immediately and unconditionally release him and his friend Do.

In November last year, the UN Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia called on Vietnam to release three rights advocates who were detained by the government and to investigate allegations that the trio were tortured while in custody. The UN agency said prominent blogger Ho Van Hai and two political activists pushing for greater freedoms Vietnam, Vinh and Do, should be granted unconditional release.

The arrests of Vinh and other activists are part of Vietnam’s intensifying crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders amid increasing public awareness about the country’s socio-economic problems, including systemic corruption and widespread environmental pollution.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested and tried or expelled 25 activists in the ongoing hardest campaign against government critics.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding around 90 prisoners of conscience while the BPSOS and 14 other international and domestic human rights organizations in their Now! Campaign placed the number of prisoners of conscience as high as 165 prisoners.

Hanoi always denies imprisoning any prisoner of conscience but only law violators.

===== December 16 =====

Rights Groups Welcome EU Resolution, Call for Release of Vietnamese Human Rights Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai

International human rights organisations welcome the European Parliament’s decision to pass a resolution addressing the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression in Vietnam.

With a notable mention to the case of imprisoned video journalist Nguyen Van Hoa who was sentenced to 7 years prison and 3 years house arrest two weeks ago, the European Parliament expressed its concerns regarding the rise of bloggers and human rights defenders who have been arrested over the past year. At least 25 peaceful activists have been arrested, issued arrest warrants or exiled this year in Vietnam.

The European Parliament resolution comes days before the second anniversary of Nguyen Van Day’s arrest. The prominent human rights lawyer and blogger was arbitrarily detained on December 16, 2015 while on his way to meet with the European Union delegation to Vietnam.

Nguyen Van Dai was initially charged with “conducting propaganda against the State” under the Vietnamese Penal Code. Authorities have now changed the sweeping charges to “attempting to overthrow the State.” At least seven of Nguyen Van Dai’s colleagues from the Brotherhood for Democracy were also arrested this year and charged under these vague national security laws.

The EU Resolution also mentioned that draconian laws in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam were in “breach of international human rights law”, and that national security concerns should not be “used as a pretext for the suppression of human rights”.

A coalition of international and Vietnamese organisations — including Lawyers for Lawyers, Reporters Without Borders, and Viet Tan — launched a campaign “Stop the Crackdown in Vietnam” following wrongful convictions and unjust lengthy prison sentences against peaceful Vietnamese bloggers and human rights defenders. We congratulate the European Parliament for addressing the troubling crackdown in Vietnam and encourage EU member states to continue pressing for the unconditional release of all Vietnamese political prisoners. We urge European embassies in Hanoi to reach out to the families of political prisoners and to publicly raise their cases.

The signatories include Defend the Defenders, ACAT, Bau Bi Tuong Than Association, Brotherhood for Democracy, Chan Hung Nuoc Viet, English PEN, Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Reporters Without Borders, Viet Labor Movement, and Viet Tan.

===== December 17 =====

Ke Gai Parishioners Attacked by Pro-government Thugs While Building Church

Defend the Defenders: In the morning of December 17, authorities in Hung Nguyen district in central province of Nghe An sent hundreds of police and militia as well as thugs to brutally assault Catholic followers of Ke Gai parish when they were building a local church.

Thugs and member of the Red Flag group supported by police attacked many followers, including female and elders, local activists said.

Due to their assaults, may followers suffered severe injuries.

Nghe An province is one of many localities in Vietnam where local authorities are using violent acts to suppress local Catholic community.

Earlier this week, authorities in Dien Chau district also harassed Catholic community in the Dong Kieu parish in Dien My commune, asking local parishioners to demolish their Christmas cave the local followers have built to celebrate the upcoming Christmas and New Year holiday. Their request met strong protest from followers.