Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 25-31, 2019: Environmentalist Cao Vinh Thinh Kidnapped, Interrogated by Police

Defend the Defenders | March 31, 2019

In the morning of March 27, security officers from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security abducted Hanoi-based environmentalist Cao Vinh Thinh when she was on her way to work. The kidnappers took her to a police station where they interrogated her about her activism until 10 PM. Police released her without returning her laptop and cell phone.

Police in Hai Phong harassed the family and relatives of former prisoner of conscience Pham Thanh Nghien when she and his husband, former political prisoner Huynh Anh Tu and their 14-month-old daughter visited her home city. Undercover police officers stationed near her parents’ house to closely monitor their activities and followed her niece as well as threatened one of her sisters.

The Ministry of Public Security said Mr. Truong Duy Nhat, who dissappeared in Bangkok in late January after registering as a political refugee to the UN High Commissioner on Refugee in Bangkok in late January, is being investigated for economic fraud in relation to selling state property. However, the ministry has avoided to answer the questions about the current situation of the former prisoner of conscience, whose family was informed by police that he is held in T16 temporary detention facility under the ministry. Meanwhile, international rights groups continue to call on Vietnam to make clear about his situation and release him unconditionally and immediately.

Prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Hoa resumed eating on March 6 after conducting 12-day hunger strike to protest inhumane treatment of An Diem Prison camp. His health is recovering well, he said in a letter sent to his family.

Imprisoned Le Anh Hung is disciplined and not allowed to be visited by his family after he refused to wear clothes marked with “Criminal) and be being handcuffed. Hung is under pre-trial detention after being arrested on July 5, 2018 on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Authorities in Ba Sao Prison camp have threatening to place prisoner of conscience Phan Kim Khanh in a sole cell if he continues to complain about refusal to review his appeal application. Since mid February, he has not been allowed to make phone call to his family and receive letters. After the trial in October 2017 in which he was sentenced to six years in jail and four years of probation, Khanh filled appeal, however, his petition has not been considered.

Authorities in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang had reportedly been striving to block followers of the independent Hoa Hao Buddhist Church from gathering to mark the 72th anniversary of the passing of Master Huynh Phu So (February 25 in the Lunar calendar or March 30 of the Western calendar).

===== March 25 ===== 

Police Say Truong Duy Nhat Involving in Criminal Cases Without Admiting His Arrest

Defend the Defenders:The Ministry of Public Security has said that former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat is involved in criminal cases of Phan Van Anh Vu, police senior lieutenant colonel who was accused of abusing power to purchase state properties at low prices.

During a press conference on March 25, Lieutenant General Tran Van Ve from the ministry’s Police Investigation Agency said that when he worked as the representative chief of the Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity) newspaper in the central city of Danang, Nhat used power to sell the newspaper’s property without bidding and led to great loss of the state assets.

However, Gen. Ve avoided to answer the questions related to Nhat’s situation, saying he couldnt give details because the case is under investigation.

Nhat, who submitted his application to the UN High Commissioner on Refugee (UNHCR)’s Office in Bangkok on January 25, is held in the T16 Temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security.

Last week, his family was informed that he is held there, however, his wife was not permitted to meet him but sent only food and some other neccessaries to him.

So far, no criminal charge nor arrest warrant against Nhat have been publicized.

His daughter claimed that her father had no plan to return to Vietnam after registering to the UNHCR, and if Nhat is in police’s custody, it is likely that he was abducted in Thailand and taken back to Vietnam.

After his disappearance in Bangkok on January 26, a number of international rights groups, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have used Thailand to investigate the case. They also requested the Vietnamese government to make clear situation of him and release him unconditionally and immediately.


Vietnam Will Soon Follow China’s Social Credit System?

The Vietnamese:Nguyen Anh Tuan, CEO of Boston Global Forum, during his presentation at the Vietnam Internet Forum 2019 recently took place in Hanoi on March 20-21, 2019, proposed that governments should use AI technology to grade their citizens’ social credit.

The online business newspaper Cafe Biz Vietnam reported, Nguyen Anh Tuan suggested that blockchain technology should be used to reward “good citizens.”

And while his definition of a “good citizen” described those who uphold the universal values of human rights and the rule of law under such standards set by the United Nations, the very idea of proposing a “social credit system” to grade citizens in a country like Vietnam worried people that it would be the same model China is currently implementing.

It is probably a bit unrealistic at the moment to expect the government of Vietnam – who is among the worst violators of citizens’ rights in the world – to uphold international standards on human rights and the rule of law.

For further reading: Vietnam Will Soon Follow China’s Social Credit System?

===== March 26 ===== 

Blogger Le Anh Hung Disciplined in Police Temporary Detention

Defend the Defenders:Political blogger Le Anh Hung, who is held in pre-trial detention in the Temporary detention facility No. 2 under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department, has been disciplined by the facility’s authorities.

Specifically, he has not been permitted to meet with his relatives after refusing to wear clothes marked with “Criminal” and being handcuffed.

Hung, who is under investigation of “abusing democratic freedom” since his arrest in July 2018, said he is not convicted so he has no duty to accept these things.

According to Vietnam’s regulations, individuals being held in police custody for criminal investigation have a right to family’s visit twice a month.

Mr. Hung, 45, was arrested on July 5 last year for his denunciations against senior officials of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. He filled over 100 denunciation letters to state agencies in which he accuses General Secretary of the party and State President Nguyen Phu Trong and Hanoi party chief Hoang Trung Hai of being corrupted and selling the country’s sovereignty to China.

Along with participating in many peaceful demonstration against China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), Hung has a number of articles about democracy and human rights on the Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Voice of America (VOA).

Hung is also a member of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN).

Authorities in Hanoi have yet to publicize their plan to take him to a court after more than eight months of detention. He will face longest imprisonment of seven years if is convicted.

Amnesty International and the NOW! Campaign consider Hung as a prisoner of conscience.


Imprisoned Blogger Nguyen Van Hoa Resumes Eating after 12-day Hunger Strike

Defend the Defenders:Prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Hoa, who is serving his seven-year jail sentence in An Diem Prison camp, has resumed taking food after hunger strike which lasted 12 days.

According to his letter sent to his family, he stopped fasting on March 6. He started hunger strike on February 22 to protest prison’s inhumane treatment.

He informed his family that his health is recovering after the fasting.

However, Hoa is still not allowed to make a call to his family, the right every inmate has.

In his letter, Hoa said he was visited by Ms. Jessica Farmer, political officer of the US Embassy in Vietnam.

===== March 27 =====

Vietnamese Environmentalist Kidnapped, Questioned for Her Activism

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have kidnapped a female environmentalist, interrogating her during one-day detention about her activism, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Ms. Cao Vinh Thinh, a key member of the independent group Green Trees, was detained by undercover police officers in the morning of March 27 when she was on her way to her shop named Zero Waste Hanoiwhich is selling environment-friendly products in the capital city of Hanoi.

The kidnappers confiscated her laptop and cell phone and took her to an office of the Security Investigation Agency of the Ministry of Public Security located in Nguyen Gia Thieu street, Hoan Kiem district where she was questioned by officers about activities of her and her group Green Trees which aim to protect the country’s environment.

Police also deployed IT specialists to try to get access to her equipment because she refused to give them the passwords for her laptop and cell phone.

Police released Thinh at 10 PM of Wednesday but still keep her equipment.

Thinh is one of the most active members of Green Trees which was established by activists in 2015 to protest a plan of Hanoi’s leadership to chop down thousands of aged trees in the capital city’s main streets. The group played key roles in the mass protest in Hanoi that year which forced the city’s leadership to stop its plan.

The group also involved in a campaign in 2016 which protests the Taiwanese Formosa Steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh after hundreds of tons of fish died in the central coastal region due to Formosa’s discharge a huge volume of industrial waste into the sea. In October of 2016, the group released its comprehensive report about the environmental disaster caused by Formosa.

Recently, the group launched a film named Đừng Sợ (Dont Be Afraid about Vietnam’s independent civil society organizations. The film is expected to be projected across Vietnam in early April to mark the 3rd anniversary of Formosa’s environmental disaster.

In Vietnam, the ruling Communist Party is striving to control all organizations and does not welcome the formation of independent ones. All activities of Green Trees are considered as anti-government, police officers told Thinh.

===== 26/3 =====

Family of Former PoC Pham Thanh Nghien under Police Intimidation

Defend the Defenders: The family and relatives of former prisoner of conscience Mrs. Pham Thanh Nghien has been harassed and besieged by police in Hai Phong City when she and her husban former political prisoner Huynh Anh Tu and their daughter visited her home city in Dong Hai 1 ward, Hai An district.

From March 25, all her family members were monitored, said Nghien who moved to Ho Chi Minh City after married to Mr. Tu, who spent 14 years in prison in 1999-2014.

Nghien said in the morning of March 26, police in Hai Phong kidnapped former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Ngoc Tuong Thi when he was standing outside the house of Nghien’s parents. Thi, who accompanied Nghien’s couple from HCM City, was brought to the ward police office for a 2-hour-interrogation before being released.

Due to the harassment, Mr. Thi left Hai Phong next day to return to HCM City, dropping his plan to stay longer in the city.

Plainclothes police set up a temporary point near her parents’ house to monitor her family as well as families of her older brother and two older sisters. Undercover policemen also followed one of her nieces and threatened one of her sisters, saying they will request her sister’s employer to sack her.

Faced with the terror unleashed on them by Hai Phong police, Mrs Nghien and her family were extremely fearful and worried.

Mrs Nghien was convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to four years in jail for conducting an in-house sitting protest and hanging a banner inside her house that read “The Spratlys archipelago belongs to Vietnam.” She was also targeted for helping the fishing community whose members were shot at and killed by Chinese ships when they operated in their traditional fishing area in the East Sea (South China Sea).

In January 2019, authorities in HCM City destroyed several hundred houses in Loc Hung Vegetables Garden including Nghien couple’s newly built house. They had to rent a place to stay and had to move several times since.

===== March 28 =====

Followers of Hoa Hao Buddhist Sect Barred from Gathering on 72th Anniversary of Master’s Death 

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang had reportedly been striving to block followers of the independent Hoa Hao Buddhist Church from gathering to mark the 72th anniversary of the passing of Master Huynh Phu So (February 25 in Lunar calendar or March 30 of the Western calendar).

They sent plainclothes agents to station near private houses of senior officials of the Central Committee of the independent Hoa Hao Buddhist Church from March 28, said Mr. Nguyen Van Cuong, a member of the committee. Police and militia barricaded the two ends of the street leading to the main ceremony location in Long Giang commune, Cho Moi district, he added.

The police mounted strict control over nearby ferries terminals to prevent people from other localities to come for the ceremony, Cuong noted.

At the ceremony location in the private house of Mr. Tam Hien, only members of his family were allowed to freely move about. Others, including local residents, were not allowed to enter.

Senior officials of the church from other localities in the Mekong Delta such as Messrs Lê Văn Sóc, Bùi Văn Luốt in Vinh Long province and Mr Nguyen Van Tho in Dong Thap province, have also been summoned by authorities in their areas who requested them not to go to An Giang for commemorating the death of the sect’s leader who was assasinated by communists in 1947. Followers are not permitted to hang the Church flag or banners mentioning the main ceremony, said police.

While the independent Hoa Hao Buddhist Church is subject to harassment and suppression, the state-sanctioned Hoa Hao Buddhist Church is allowed to operate and expand. In many localities, the latter took over the former’s buildings and assets, and members of the latter even physically assaulted members of the former.

Hoa Hao followers believe Master Huynh Phu So was kidnapped and killed by communist-controlled anti-French Viet Minh organisation in 1947 because he refused to join them.

===== March 31 =====

PoC Phan Kim Khanh Threatened after Questioning about Not Accepting His Appeal Petition

Defend the Defenders:Authorities in Ba Sao Prison camp have been threatening prisoner of conscience Phan Kim Khanh, who is serving his six-year imprisonment in the prison located in the northern province of Ha Nam.

According to his younger sister, the prison’s authorities have threatened him since mid February when he filled his complaint to question why authorities in Thai Nguyen province denied his right to appeal the sentence given by the People’s Court of Thai Nguyen.

Police have not allowed him to make telephone call to his family and receive letters. They have threatened that they would place him alone in a cell. Currently, Khanh shares his room with other inmates.

Earlier this week, Ms. Truong Thi Ha from Ho Chi Minh City complained that her letters sent to Khanh were returned as the authorities in Ba Sao Prison camp refused to hand them over to him.

Khanh told his family that his relatives may face difficulties in regular prison visits and the prison’s authorities may not allow them to meet him. He would be in danger if they will block all means of communication with his family, he noted.

Mr. Khanh, 36, was arrested in March 2017 on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code for his online postings. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison on October 25, 2017.

After the trial, he submitted his appeal, however, the People’s Court of Thai Nguyen did not review his petition for an appeal. His family never received any documents acknowledging the appeal that Khanh had submitted.


Report for March 18-24, 2019: