Vietnam Court Upholds 14-year Sentence for Environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh

Environmentalist and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh on the appeal hearing on April 24, 2018

Defend the Defenders, April 24, 2018

On April 24, the People’s Court in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An rejected appeal of environmentalist and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, upholding the 14-year sentence given by the lower court in the first-instance hearing on February 6.

Mr. Binh, who was arrested on May 15 last year, was convicted by the People’s Court of Dien Chau district two months ago on allegation 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 the appeal hearing, despite the oral promise to allow five members of his family to enter the courtroom, security forces said they would permit his parents to observe the hearing but not his brothers. Concerned about possibility of their sons being beaten by security forces, Binh’s parents denied to go inside but stay outside with his brothers.

In the first-instance, only the defendant’s parents were allowed to enter the courtroom while his brothers and many other relatives and friends were detained, beaten and robbed by undercovered policemen during detention.

During the appeal hearing, Mr. Binh, vice president of the unsanctioned organization Viet Labor Movement, told his lawyer Ha Huy Son that during the pre-trial detention, he was forced to share the same cell with death-sentenced criminals who regularly beat him without being punished.

Binh also rejected the accusation of the district court, saying he just assisted Formosa-affected fishermen in seeking adequate compensation for the consequences of the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwanese steel plant which discharged a huge volume of toxic industrial waste into the central coastal waters as well as request the Taiwanese company to clean the affected areas.

Speaking in an interview with citizen journalists after the appeal hearing, lawyer Son said that both the first-instance hearing and the appeal hearing failed to meet international standards for fair trial. The court’s decisions were based on statements of police officers whie the judge rejected the requests of the defendant and his lawyer to use the video clips made by Binh and his fellows which can prove that the activist had done nothing to be accused of resisting on-duty officials as well as abusing the right to freedom of democracy as evidents of the hearing.

He had been kept incommunicado in months until late March when he was permitted to meet with his lawyer to prepare for his defense. His family has been yet to be allowed to meet him since his arrest in May last year, and was permitted to provide food three times a month and the food is worth less than VND50,000 ($2.2) for every time.

The arrest and conviction of Binh are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and bloggers. Since early 2017, Vietnam has arrested around 50 activists, charging them with vague articles in the national security provisions of the Penal Code.

Dozens of activists have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy imprisonments of between three and 16 years. Among convicted are prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of probation, and many senior members of the unregistered organization Brotherhood for Democracy.