Appeal Hearing of Environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh Set on April 24

Activists Nguyen Nam Phong (left) and Hoang Duc Binh at trial on Feb 6, 2018

Defend the Defenders, April 21, 2018

The People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An will hold an appeal hearing of environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh on April 24, according to its letter sent to the activist’s lawyer.

The hearing will be started at 8 AM of the coming Tuesday, said the court’s announcement sent to Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son.

Binh, who is a vice president of the unsanctioned Viet Labor Movement, was kidnapped on May 15 last year by police in Dien Chau district when he travelled in a car with Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from the Song Ngoc parish in Dien Chau district to Vinh city.

Later, police announced his arrest and charges 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.

On February 6, the People’s Court of Dien Chau district found Hoang Duc Binh guilty and sentenced him 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.

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” as he rejected to open car’s doors when undercovered policemen kidnaped  Binh.

During the one-day trial two months ago, 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 after the trial ended.

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.

Since being arrested in May last year, Binh has been kept incommunicado and his family is allowed to provide him with some clothes and food but not meet with him. The family is permitted to provide food three times a month, with the value of the food being below VND50,000 ($2.2) for every time.

Binh and Phong are among many activists protesting the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant which discharged a huge amount of toxic industrial waste into the central coastal region and massively killed fisheries in April 2016. On April 12, the People’s Court of Ha Tinh, where the Formosa steel mill is located, sentenced Tran Thi Xuan to nine years in prison and five years under house arrest on allegation of subversion.

It was reported that security forces in Ha Tinh are striving to arrest Mai Van Tam, a member of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, who is active in assisting local fishermen affected by the environmental disaster caused by Formosa. Police have summoned him for questioning about his peaceful and legal activities.

It is likely the People’s Court of Nghe An will uphold the sentences of Binh and Phong given the fact that in recent years, many Vietnamese activists have been sentenced to lengthy imprisonment.

Vietnam has convicted nine activists so far in April, giving them a total 89 years in prison and many years of probation after serving their jail sentences.

Since the begining of 2018, Vietnam has imprisoned 19 activists with a total 156 years and six months in prison and 46 years under house arrest, eight of them from the unregistered Brotherhood for Democracy.