Vietnam Court Upholds Lengthy Sentences of Five Members of Pro-democracy Group

Five members of the Vietnam National Coalition in their trial in October 2018

Defend the Defenders, March 18, 2019

The Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City has rejected appeals of five members of the to-be-established Vietnam National Coalition, upholding the lengthy sentences given by the People’s Court of HCM City in the trial on October 5 last year.

In the appeal hearing on March 18, the Higher People’s Court said there is no evidence for sentence reduction for Mr. Luu Van Vinh, Mr. Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Mr. Nguyen Van Duc Do, Mr. Tu Cong Nghia and Mr. Phan Trung, who were convicted and sentenced to a total 57 years of prison and 15 years of probation by the lower court.

During the appeal, security forces blocked the relatives of the defendants from entering the courtroom despite their strong protest. Later, they permitted only Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thap, the wife of Mr. Vinh, to sit in the room and sent others to another room so they could watch the appeal via TV screen only.

In their last words, the defendants affirmed their innocence and strongly protested the final decision of the court, said Dang Dinh Manh, one of their lawyers.

The five human rights defenders and democracy activists were beaten and arrested in early November 2016 for their plan to set up the Vietnam National Coalition which aims to work to promote civil and political rights of the citizens and end the political monopoly of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam which rules the country for decades. Later, they were charged with “conducting activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code with the maximum punishment is death penalty.

After lengthy incommunicado detention, they were tried on October 5, 2018: Mr. Vinh was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mr. Hoan- 13 years, Mr. Do- 11 years, Mr. Nghia- ten years and Mr. Trung- eight years. In addition, every has to serve three-year probation after completing their imprisonment.

Before the trial and the appeal hearings, many international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and democratic governments issued statements calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to release the five activists immediately and unconditionally, saying they carried out peaceful activities to promote human rights and democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had issued a resolution saying the arrest of Mr. Vinh was illegal and requested his release.

The arrests and convictions of the five activists are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent amid incrasing public disatisfaction on socio-economic issues, especially systemic corruption, widespread human rights abuse and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has requested the security forces not to allow the formation of opposition. Hundreds of activists have been kidnapped, arrested and convicted of allegations per controversial articles in the National Security provisions of the Penal Code.

According to NOW! Campaign, a coalition of 15 domestic and international civil organizations including Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Defend the Defenders and Boat People’s SOS (BPSOS), Vietnam is holding over 250 prisoners of conscience.

Hanoi always denies of holding prisoners of conscience, saying it imprisons only law violators.