Vietnamese Labor Activist, Environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison

Labor activist Hoang Duc Binh (right) and driver Nguyen Nam Phong at the trial on Feb 6, 2018

Defend the Defenders, February 6

On February 6, the People’s Court of Dien Chau district, Nghe An province sentenced environmentalist and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years in prison in a move to halt his activism which aims to protect workers’ rights and protest the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant blamed for the environmental disaster in the central coastal region in 2016.

During the one-day trial, the court found Binh guilty of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 and “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

The court also sentenced Nguyen Nam Phong, the driver of Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc, to two years in prison for allegation of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.”

Only the parents of Binh and the wife of Phong were allowed to enter the courtroom. Younger brothers of Binh and other relatives were detained when they were on their way to the court’s areas. Police brutally beat them and took them in custody where they were tortured and robbed before being released in late afternoon.

Authorities in Nghe An deployed a large number of police and militia to block all the roads to the court in Vinh city.

A group of four activists from Hanoi went to Vinh to support Binh and Phong, however, police detained them when they arrived in the city, beating them and deporting them back to Hanoi.

On May 15, 2017, authorities in Nghe An kidnapped Mr. Binh when he escorted Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from the Song Ngoc parish in Dien Chau district to Vinh city. Their car was stopped by police in Dien Chau district’s center and police violently removed Binh from the car. Later, police publicized an arrest order of Binh issued by the province’s People’s Procuracy two days earlier.

On November 28, 2017, police in Nghe An also arrested Nguyen Nam Phong, the driver, and accused him of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 as he denied police’s orders to open his car doors to allow them arrest Binh.

Binh is a vice president of the unsanctioned Viet Labor Movement.

Along with working to promote rights of workers, Binh is a well-known blogger who has covered news on the Formosa-causing environmental disaster in the central coastal region. He also assisted affected fishermen in seeking justice in the case by requesting the Taiwanese firm pay adequate compensation and take proper measures to clean the environment in the central coast.

In the press release of the Viet Labor Movement on his detention, the organization said the arrest aims to neutralize him because he has effectively assisted regional Catholic priests in helping thousands of victims of the environmental catastrophes caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant and Ho Ho hydropower plant.

The Taiwanese Formosa steel plant illegally discharged a huge amount of industrial waste into waters in the central coast, causing massive death of fisheries in April 2016.

Instead of asking the foreign investor to take measures to clean the water and compensate adequately for local fishermen, Vietnam’s government has suppressed the local Catholic community which strongly protested the Taiwanese firm.

Authorities from Dien Chau district and Nghe An province deployed thousands of police officers, militia and thugs to attack Catholic followers when they were on their way to Ha Tinh province to challenge the Taiwanese company, causing severe injuries for hundreds of people, including priest Dang Huu Nam.

The arrest and trial of Mr. Binh are part of Vietnam’s ongoing intensified crackdown on local activists which began from early 2016 when the new communist leadership was formed with many police generals being appointed in key posts gained power after the ruling communist party’s National Congress in January.

Last year, Vietnam arrested at least 45 activists and convicted 19 ones, giving them hard sentences of between three and 16 years, mostly on allegations in the national security provisions in the Penal Code.

Among convicted are human rights defenders and environmentalists Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Tran Thuy Nga and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa.

Vietnam is holding around 180 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ counting.