Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 07-13, 2019: Appeal of Democracy Activist Luu Van Vinh and His Friends Set on January 21

Defend the Defenders | January 13, 2019

The Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City has decided to hold the appeal hearing of human rights defenders Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia and Phan Trung on January 21 after the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted them on allegation of subversion and sentenced them to a total 57 years in prison and 15 years under house arrest on the trial on October 5, 2018.

It is likely the court will uphold their senteces given the hard sentences in recent political cases as the communist regime wants to use tough measures to silence dissidents and discourage other activists.

Vietnam’s authorities continue to treat many prisoners of conscience inhumanely. Along with placing them in close cells without proper sunlight and ventilation, they force imprisoned activists to work hard.

Authorities in Prison camp No. 6 in Nghe An province are disciplining democracy activist Nguyen Van after he refused to make wrong confession and study the ruling communist’s policies. Police refuse to return his money confiscating when they arrest him.

Due to severe conditions in An Diem Prison camp in Quang Nam province, labor activist and environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh suffers a number of diseases, according to his letter sent to his family.

Meanwhile, authorities in Ba Sao Prison camp force imprisoned activist Nguyen Viet Dung and other prisoners of conscience to produce handicraft.

The People’s Court of Buon Ho town has not take its final decision on the case of local activist Huynh Thuc Vy, who was sentenced to 33 months in prison but with suspension due to her daughter’s age of 27 months. On January 4, the court asked her to come to the court to implement her sentence. 

On January 8, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City sent hundreds of police with heavy equipment, militia and dozens of bulldozers to Loc Hung garden to evic hundreds of local residents, demolishing their houses without legal documents. The area is a place hosting hundreds of families fleeing from the north during the end of the war against France and a shelter for many human rights defenders. According to several lawyers, the move of the city’s authorities is illegal and inhumane as it effectively made hundreds of families homeless less than a month prior to the Lunar New Year holiday.

On January 10, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on the EU not to take voting on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement after the communist regime in the Southeast Asian nation has made no human rights improvement.

===== January 7 ===== 

Family of PoC Nguyen Van Tuc Placed under Police Surveillance 

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the northern province of Thai Binh sent a group of around ten policemen to station near the private residence of prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Tuc, effectively placing his family’s member under house arrest from January January 4, his wife Bui Thi Re informed Defend the Defenders.

The police blockage may be related to him who is serving his 13-year imprisonment in Prison camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An, she said.

Mrs. Re said her husband is under the prison’s discipline due to his refusal to attend a political course of the prison which aims to force prisoners to study the communist party’s policies.

She said the prison’s authorities are not happy with him as he has been denying to make confession and admit wrongdoings as the courts stated. In addition, he refuses to wear clothes of the prison which labels Phạm Nhân (person who commits criminal acts).

She said police are still holding his VND2.53 million ($110) when he was arrested on September 1, 2017, and refused to return the money, saying he has to pay the appeal court’s fee of VND400,000 first. Meanwhile, Mr. Tuc refused to pay the fee, arguing that he is innocent and has no obligation to pay.

Mrs. Re said police als confiscated an ATM card with VND18 million of their son-in-law and still hold the card.

Mr. Tuc, 54, was arrested in September 2017 and charged with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” for his membership in the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy which was established by prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai.

In the trial on April 10, 2018, he was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison and five years under house arrest by the People’s Court of Thai Binh province. Five months later, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi upheld his sentence.

After losing his appeal, he was transferred to the current prison.

He has been suffering a number of serious diseases, including hemorroids due to severe conditions in Vietnam’s prisons and inhumane treatment against prisoners of conscience.

Speaking with Defend the Defenders on January 13, Mrs. Re said policemen stationed her her house in one week and left on January 11. She urged human rights groups to pay attention to her husband.


Prisoner of Conscience Hoang Duc Binh Suffers from Many Diseases Due to Severe Prison Conditions

Defend the Defenders:Labor activist and environmentalist Hoang Duc Binh has been suffering from a number of diseases while serving his 14-year imprisonment in An Diem Prison camp in the central province of Quang Nam.

According to his letter sent to his family, he is suffering from skin diseases, great pain in his spine while his eye sight capacity has been reduced drastically. 

Severe conditions of the prison are the causes of his diseases, he said in his letter dated January 5, adding he is placed in a closed room without proper ventilation and sunlight with high humidity.

Binh said he is held together with between five and seven other inmates in a small room.

Mr. Binh, a vice president of the unregistered group Viet Labor Movement, was arrested on May 15, 2017 and charged with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 and “Abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code.

On Feb. 6, 2018, the People’s Court of Nghe An province convicted him and sentenced him to a total 14 years in prison, seven years for each allegation. The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi upheld the sentence on his appeal on April 24, 2018.


Human Rights Defender Huynh Thuc Vy Submits Letter to Court

Defend the Defenders: Human rights defender Huynh Thuc Vy has submitted a letter about her maternity to the People’s Court of Buon Ho town.

In her letter, she said she is in pregnancy for their second child while taking care for her first child who is around 27 months.

The female activist went to the court on January 7 to hand over the document to the court one week after the court issued a decision requesting her to appear to the court regarding the implementation of her sentence.

After submitting her letter, she said she is not willing to ask the court to make any privilege on her case.

Mrs. Vy, 33, was convicted by the People’s Court of Buon Ho town on November 30 on allegation of “disrespecting the national flag” under Article 276 of the 1999 Penal Code for her act of painting the red flag with white pain in September 2017. She was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison but with suspended imprisonment due to her first baby under three years old. According to Vietnam’s law, a mother is not obligated to serve prison sentence if she is in taking cares of children under three years of age.

===== January 8 =====

Activist Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh’s Health Worsens, Investigation Extended

Defend the Defenders: Police in Ho Chi Minh City have likely extended the investigation period against female activist Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh who was arrested and kept incommunicado on allegation of “disrupting security” under Article 118 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

On January 8, her family from the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau went to Phan Dang Luu temporary detention facility under the authority of the city’s police to request to meet with her, however, the facility’s authorities denied, saying she is still in investigation and not allowed to meet with her family and lawyers.

Since Ms. Hanh was arrested on September 3 last year and the investigation period lasts four months, it is likely the investigation agency has extended her investigation period without informing her family.

Without explaining in details, the facility’s authorities told her family to supply her with medicine for blood circulation improvement and Calsium-containing products.

Ms. Hanh is a member of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) which was established in mid 2017 with aim to raise people’s about their political and civil rights by disseminating the country’s Constitution 2013. Its members were very active in the mass demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10 last year.

In early September 2018, police arrested and kidnapped nearly ten members of the group and charged them with different allegations in the national security provisions of the Penal Code. Ms. Hanh, Ms. Doan Thi Hong, Mr. Ngo Van Dung and Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong were charged with disrupting security and face imprisonment of up to 15 years while Mr. Huynh Truong Ca was convicted on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to five years and six months in prison and three years under house arrest while Mr. Le Minh The was charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Three members of the group named Do The Hoa, Tran Thanh Phuong and Hung Hung are still kept incommunicado without being officially charged.

All of them have not been permitted to meet with their families and lawyers, Defend the Defenders has learned.


Forced Eviction in Catholic Community of Loc Hung Leaves Hundreds of Families Homeless and Destitute, Including Many Political Activists

The 88 Project: 2019 started with a high-profile forced eviction against residents of Loc Hung vegetable garden, a Catholic residential neighborhood situated in the middle of Ho Chi Minh city. Hundreds of residents, many of them political activists, suddenly found themselves homeless, with neither compensation for the lost land nor the benefit of a resettlement program. They have become Dan Oan, or Victims of Injustice, a term that people whose land has been seized with little or no compensation call themselves.

Loc Hung vegetable garden is a six-hectare area that belongs to the Catholic Church of Vietnam in Ward 6, District Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City. That area has been in dispute between the local government and the households for nearly twenty years. The authorities prevented the Loc Hung residents from legalizing their land use right even though the residents have valid documents to support their claim. The Catholic residents have been living peacefully there since migrating to the South in the aftermath of the Geneva Accord in 1954 that divided the country, and their land use has not involved any dispute. The authorities have offered Loc Hung residents a low price for their six hectare area; the market price would be approximately hundred times higher. The legal basis of the government’s action is unclear, since a land recovery decision, legally required before a forced eviction could take place, has never been issued for Loc Hung.

The negotiation ended with the forced eviction on January 4. Early in the morning, the authorities mobilized a powerful force, including police, civil defense forces, and volunteer youth, with equipment such as bulldozers and firetrucks, to destroy around ten houses. Electricity and internet were cut off to prevent residents and activists from taking and sharing photos and videos on social media. The authorities also started to watch Saigon-based activists during the previous day, to prevent them from leaving their homes to show support at the forced eviction site. Nguyen Tri Dung, a son of Blogger Dieu Cay (Nguyen Van Hai), was even taken into custody right in front of his house and detained at the police station of Ward 8, District 3, from noon to 7:00 pm, as he left to go to Loc Hung. Before releasing him, a policeman reminded him to not go anywhere, especially during the following days. 

Ten more residents were also detained on that day in different places. In an interview by Amen TV, some of them said they were harshly beaten both before and after their arrest. Mr. Chanh, a representative of the Loc Hung people, reported that he was suddenly arrested while demanding to have a dialogue with the representative of the authorities. In the police station of Ward 10, Tan Binh District, police accused him of “disturbing the public order” and forced him to sign documents. Although all of them were released and came home safely on the same day.

In the early morning of January 8, the authorities continued to destroy many houses. The forced eviction started at 5:50 am with the authorities mobilizing forces to isolate Loc Hung. When the residents were praying in front of a Virgin Mary statue, police turned up their speakers, causing noise harassment.

At 6:00 am, police arrested Cao Ha Truc when he called for emergency support. His wife was also arrested at around 9:00 am before police destroyed their house. Truc is one of the leaders of the residents of Loc Hung, representing the community in the negotiations with the authorities the past 20 years. Thuc was only released at 2:00 am January 9.

Elderly and disabled veterans of the former Republic of Vietnam were also direct victims of this forced eviction, as they were living in Loc Hung garden and relying on the Redemptorist Church’s tribute program. They are not recognized as veterans by the government after the communist government took over the South, and thus do not receive any public benefits. On January 8, the authorities forcefully removed them from the service house they lived in, before destroying it. One of the disabled veterans, Vo Hong Son, arrived safely at the Office of Justice and Peace, an agency of the Redemptorist Church, while the situation of the others was unknown.

Authorities also destroyed the house of former political prisoners Pham Thanh Nghien and Huynh Anh Tu. The couple just completed building their new house in Loc Hung with their ten-year savings, only to see that house destroyed a week after. Pham Thanh Nghien managed to leave to bring her one-year-old daughter to a safe place thanks to a friend’s support, while Huynh Anh Tu stayed behind and witnessed the destruction of their house at 4:25 pm. Tu and Nghien’s family is now in a particularly precarious situation: as a former refugee in Thailand and long-term political prisoner, Huynh Anh Tu does not have any identification papers, so they are unable to rent. Nghien and Tu’s toddler has asthma and they need a home with electricity for her to have access to a functioning nebulizer aspirator.

As a matter of fact, Loc Hung vegetable garden was home, permanently or temporarily, to many political activists. Besides Nghien and Tu, Pham Doan Trang was also living in the area at the time of the forced eviction, and many political activists before them had found refuge from government’s persecution in this community. Some activists thought this could be a reason why the area became an urgent target for the government’s land seizure.

In socialist Vietnam, land belongs to “the ownership of the entire people represented and uniformly managed by the State” (Article 53 of the 2013 Constitution), whereas organizations and individuals are only entitled to “land use rights.” However, the Constitution also requires that the state can only “recover land used by organisations and individuals in imperative cases provided by the law for the purposes of national defence, national security and socioeconomic development in the national and public interests,” and that “the recovery of land must be public, transparent and compensations must be provided in concordance to the law” (Article 54 of the 2014 Constitution).

In reality, however, as real estate prices have skyrocketed in the past decades, land disputes have became the most controversial political issue. In the name of vaguely defined “public interest,” local authorities often carry out land grabs in illegal manners, failing to comply with legal requirements of consultation and fair compensation. These grabs have fueled many large-scale public protests and violent reactions from affected landowners, many of them farmers.

This forced eviction in the very first days of 2019 is the continuation of this trend of illegal land seizures in a one-party country where there are no venues for the victims to hold public authorities accountable, since the whole state apparatus and judicial system are controlled by the only political force – the Communist Party of Vietnam. In fact, many victims of injustice and land rights activists became political activists, as they came to realize that the underlying cause is not just the legal system, but the political system that produces those laws and policies.

Please contribute to this crowdfunding campaign, initiated by trusted activist Nancy Hanh Vy Nguyen. All funds raised will be sent to the office of Justice and Peace of the Redemptorist Church in Ho Chi Minh city to support the residents of Loc Hung.

===== January 10 ===== 

Appeal of Democracy Activist Luu Van Vinh and His Friends Set on Jan 21

Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City will hold the appeal of democracy activists and human rights defenders Luu Van Vinh, Tran Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia and Phan Trung on January 21, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Mr. Le Thi Thap, the wife of Mr. Vinh, said that she has learned the news from Saigon-based lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng, who defended the activists in their trial and will continue to provide legal counseling in their appeal.

The appeal is open for the public, howeverm Mrs. Thap said she will apply for a permit to attend the appeal because in many political cases, relatives of defendants are often not allowed to enter the courtrooms to observe the trials.

Mr. Vinh and his four friends were arrested in early November 2016 and charged with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code due to their plan to set up an group called Vietnam National Coalition which aims to request the right for Vietnamese citizens to have their roles in solving the country’s issues.

Upon their arrest, Mr. Vinh and others were brutally beaten. In addition, Mr. Do was beaten several months ago after the trial.

In their trial on October 5 last year which lasted one day and failed to meet international standards for fair trial, the People’s Cout of Ho Chi Minh City convicted them, sentencing them to a total of total 57 years in prison and 15 years of probation. Particularly, Mr. Vinh was sentenced to 15 years, Mr. Hoan- 13 years, Mr. Do- 11 years, Mr. Nghia- ten years and Buddhist monk Trung was given eight years. In addition, each was given three years of probation afterward.

During the trial, Mr. Vinh and Mr. Do reaffirmed their innocence while Mr. Hoan and Mr. Nghia said they were forced to make false confession during interrogation, said lawyer Dang Dinh Manh.

On October 4, one day prior to the trial, Human Rights Watch issued a statementcalling Vietnam’s communist regime to release them without conditions.

This prosecution shows there is no end in sight when it comes to the government stamping down on calls for political pluralism, democracy, or respect for rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These five advocates are heading to prison for a long time simply for daring to criticize the Communist Party.”

In late April, 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention officially saidthat the arrest of Luu Van Vinh was arbitrary and urged the Vietnamese government to release him and compensate him for illegal arrest and detention in accordance with international law.

The arrests and detentions of Vinh and his four friends are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent amid increasing social disatisfaction.

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, the security forces are striving not to allow the formation of opposition parties. Dozens of activists who advocate for multi-party election have been sentenced to lengthy imprisonments for subversion allegations.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested 24 activists and sentenced 38 human rights defenders with a total 282.5 years in prison and 81 years of probation.

The communist nation is holding 244 prisoners of conscience, according to NOW!Campaign, a coalition of 14 domestic and international NGOs, including Defend the Defenders, Boat People SOS (BPSOS), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) and Front Line Defenders (FLD).


HRW Calls on EU to Postpone Vote on Vietnam Free Trade Agreement

HRW-DTD: The European Parliament and the European Council should postpone the ratification of the proposed EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until the Vietnamese government takes concrete steps to improve its increasingly abusive human rights record, Human Rights Watch said in its statementon January 10.

The statement was made one week prior to a plan of the 28-nation block to make procedural votes on the agreement and one week after the new draconian cybersecurity law, the latest move of the Vietnamese communist regime to restrict rights, came effective.

The European Commission, mandated to negotiate an economic agreement with Vietnam, presented a final version of the deal in October 2018, planning for the European Council and Parliament to give their final approval – necessary for the agreement to enter into force – before European Parliament elections in May.

 “Rushing through approval of the free trade agreement with Vietnam would be a grave mistake,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “It would reward Vietnam for doing nothing, and send a terrible message that past European Union pledges to use trade as a tool to promote human rights around the globe have no credibility.”

“The European Council and European Parliament need to send a clear message that this agreement cannot be adopted until the Vietnamese government gets serious about addressing human rights concerns,” Sifton said. “Vietnam should understand that if Europe delays the agreement, it will have been Hanoi’s fault, not Brussels’.”

===== January 11 ===== 

Democracy Activist Nguyen Viet Dung Forced to Work while Serving His Sentence

Defend the Defenders: Human rights defender and democracy activist Nguyen Viet Dung is forced to work while serving his six-year imprisonment in Ba Sao Prison camp in the northern province of Ha Nam, according to his family.

Dung is forced to produce handicraft every day, said his father Nguyen Viet Hung after his first visit on January 11. The father has not unveil what the product his son was to make.

Mr. Hung said the prison’s authorities allowed him to send medicines and home-made food for the activist.

Policemen were closely watching the talks between the father and the activist, he said.

Dung, the founder and president of the unregistered Democratic Party of Vietnam, was kidnapped by Nghe An province’s security forces on September 27, 2017 and later charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code for his activities which aimed to promote human rights and multi-party democracy as well as assist Formosa-affected fishermen.

After months of being held incommunicado, he was convicted by the People’s Court of Nghe An province in the trial on April 12, 2018 and sentenced to seven years in prison and three years of probation. Four months later, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi reduced his imprisonment to six years.

Afterthe appeal hearing, he was sent to Ba Sao Prison camp, around 300 km from his native province of Nghe An.

Dung said he was tortured by Nghe An police who forced him to make false confession against democracy activist Le Dinh Luong, who was later sentenced to 20 years in prison and five years of probation on charge of subversion.