Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for June 17-30, 2019: Communist Regime Intensifies Crackdown Ahead of Signing Two Economic Deals with EU


Defend the Defenders | June 30, 2019


Vietnam’s communist regime is intensifying its persecution against the country’s dissent ahead of signing the European Union–Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU–Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA) scheduled on June 30, imprisoning five activists with a total 50 years in jail and 17 years of probation and arresting blogger Pham Van Diep on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

On June 24, in the first-instance hearing, the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City convicted Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen, Huynh Duc Thanh Binh and Tran Long Phi of subversion, sentencing them to 12 years, ten years and eight years in jail, respectively. Binh’s father, Mr. Huynh Duc Thinh, a former prisoner of conscience, was given one year of imprisonment for misprision.

Four days later, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh convicted Mr. Truong Huu Loc of “disruption of security” for his peaceful participation in the mass demonstration to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018. The court sentenced him to eight years in prison.

In addition, former government official Tran Cong Khai was sentenced to eight years in prison and three years of probation for the allegation of subversion. He was accused of being associated with the exiled provisional government of Vietnamese American Dao Minh Quan.

On June 29, authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa arrested local blogger Pham Van Diep and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” for his peaceful activities including blogging to criticize the communist government and participating in peaceful demonstrations on various issues.

On June 10, six prisoners of conscience including Truong Minh Duc, Dao Quang Thuc, Nguyen Van Tuc, and Tran Phi Dung, started their hunger strike in Prison camp No. 6 to protest the inhumane treatment of the prison. They are refusing to eat after the prison’s authorities removed all electrical fans in their cells amid extremely hot summer in the area. According to their families, they continue their hunger strike now.

Many independent civil society organizations and hundreds of dissidents and social activists as well as ordinary people have signed in an open letter condemning the inhumane treatments against prisoners of conscience in prions across the country, especially in Prison camp No. 6 located in Nghe An province, requesting Vietnam’s leadership to improve prison conditions and punish the perpetrators.

And other important news.

===== June 20 =====

Vietnamese PoCs in Hunger Strike to Demand for Fans amid Super Hot Summer

Defend the Defenders: Many Vietnamese prisoners in Prison camp No. 6 in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province have been conducting hunger strike for the 10th day to demand the prison’s authorities improve living conditions of the prisoners held in the facility, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Particularly, the hunger strike started after the prison’s authorities removed all electrical fans from the cells amid extreme hot summer in the central region in which the highest temperature may hit 50 Celsius degrees, said Mrs. Nguyen Kim Thanh, the wife of prisoner of conscienceTruong Minh Duc.

During her visit to the prison on June 20, Mrs. Thanh found her husband very weak. “Duc walked into the visiting room unsteadily. He told me, with tears in his eyes, the temperature [in prison cells] is so hot, perhaps I won’t have the chance to reunite with you [outside prison].”

Mr. Duc, who is serving his 13-year imprisonment term, asked his wife to urgently pass on the message to international rights organizations, foreign embassies…  that the temperature in the prison cells was extremely hot [50 degrees Celsius], prisoners of conscience held in there are of advanced age, yet the prison did not provide electric fans, those who have heart diseases can fall dead at any time.

In Nghe An province, the temperature outside is over 40°C, it was extremely hot, and said that in the prison cell, there was no fan, the cell has a low ceiling with corrugated iron roof, the heat was extreme.

There were some fans in cells before, but recently the prison dismantled them, saying all the fans were out of order.

Duc said he and his fellows made written requests for electric fans but prison officials only gave excuses.

Mr. Duc’s health is very bad, said Thanh. He rambled on and on like a crazy man, he asked his wife the same question three times, that caused her so much concern! She asked him whether he is mentally confused and he said he was exhausted.

Mr. Duc, 58, is a vice president of the two unregistered independent organizations named Brotherhood for Democracy and Viet Labor Movement. He was arrested on July 30, 2017 and charged with subversion.

In 2018, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years of probation. He is listed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

===== June 21 =====

Jailed Pro-democracy Campaigner Phan Kim Khanh Continues to Persist in Requesting for Appeal

Pro-democracy activist Phan Kim Khanh, who is held in Ba Sao Prison camp after being convicted and sentenced to six years in prison in the first-instance hearing in October 2017, is seeking to appeal the court’s decision.

After the trial, Khanh filed an appeal, however, his request was ignored. Since then he has made several efforts to request for an appeal trial according to the laws.

Khanh’s family thought Khanh decided not to appeal because of the communication difficulties. Now they think the law enforcement agency of Vietnam has blatantly acted to “squat on the law” of the legal system.

Mr. Khanh’s family is very concerned about the appeals being denied without proper procedures, and they also think it is possible that Khanh is being abused in prison.


Vietnam, Cambodia Fall in Rank in Annual US Human Trafficking Report

RFA: The U.S. State Department downgraded Vietnam and Cambodia to its next-to-lowest ranking in an annual report on human trafficking released today, pointing to what it called both countries’ continuing failure to make “significant efforts” to combat the trade.

The Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report ranks countries around the world as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3, in descending order based on whether they meet the minimum standards to combat trafficking set by U.S. law.

Stalled for years without improvement at Tier 2, Vietnam finally fell to Tier 2 Watch List on this year’s report because “the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period,” the State Department said in its report.

Vietnamese authorities this year identified “significantly fewer trafficking victims” than in previous years, and anti-trafficking efforts were often blocked in the provinces by officials’ lack of familiarity with anti-trafficking laws or victim-protection mechanisms, the State Department said.

Media reports showed adults were forced to labor in government-run drug treatment centers despite government assertions the practice had been ended, and children as young as six were exploited in garment factories or forced to beg in the streets, the report said.

Lack of interagency coordination was also blamed for hindering efforts to enforce the laws against trafficking and for failing to identify and rescue victims, according to the report.

“[And] despite continued reports of official complicity, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking offenses,” the State Department said.

Reports of corruption

Cambodia, also previously ranked at Tier 2, fell to Tier 2 Watch List for the first time since 2016 because of a drop in the number of government attempts to “adequately collect or share key information on law enforcement efforts,” the TIP report said.

“Corruption continued to impede law enforcement operations, criminal proceedings, and victim service provision,” the State Department said, pointing at the same time to “credible reports of official complicity with unscrupulous business owners who subjected thousands of men, women, and children throughout the country to human trafficking via debt-based coercion.”

Suspects brought to trial in Cambodia for trafficking were frequently convicted on lesser charges, the State Department said, and sex trafficking cases were often concluded by the payment of out-of-court settlements to victims’ families, “further complicating prosecutions.”

Meanwhile, Laos—previously ranked at Tier 3—was moved up to Tier 2 Watch List for having made “key achievements” during last year’s reporting period, including the direct provision of services to trafficking victims and the establishment of anti-trafficking committees in the provinces and at other local levels.

Training programs and awareness-raising were also increased at the local level to support anti-trafficking efforts, the State Department said.

However, the government “continued to struggle to identify Lao and foreign victims of trafficking within Laos,” according to the report, and exploitation for labor and sex remained a problem in special economic zones, agricultural plantations, and large-scale infrastructure projects across the country.

Poor coordination among government departments and constraints on the work of nongovernmental organizations also “continued to impede effective protection efforts and the implementation of Laos’ national action plan to combat trafficking,” the State Department said.

Ranked at the bottom

Three other countries covered by RFA—China, Myanmar, and North Korea—received Tier 3 rankings unchanged from last year’s report, with none making “significant efforts” to fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, according to the report.

Chinese authorities took “some steps” during the reporting period to cooperate with international authorities in rescuing foreign women and girls forced into false marriages in China, the report said.

“However, state-sponsored forced labor intensified under the government’s mass detention and political indoctrination campaign against members of Muslim ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.”

And in Myanmar, called Burma in the report, though authorities continued to prosecute and convict traffickers, “there were reports that government officials were complicit in both sex- and labor-trafficking, including by hindering law enforcement efforts against the perpetrators,” the State Department said.

Myanmar armed forces meanwhile subjected civilian adults and children to forced labor during the reporting period and recruited child soldiers, with the government later taking “punitive action” against former child soldiers for deserting or for speaking out about their experiences.

Thousands of Muslim Rohingya and other minority group members were also left vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation when they were driven from their homes by armed clashes between the national military and ethnic armies, the report said.

In North Korea, also ranked at Tier 3, “the government did not demonstrate any efforts to address human trafficking,” the State Department said, adding that money raised by state-ordered forced labor in the country’s prisons and the public sector was used to support government functions and “other illicit activity.”

Vietnam, Cambodia Fall in Rank in Annual US Human Trafficking Report

===== June 22 =====

‘Unholy alliance’? SE Asian authorities accused of trading exiled activists

Reuters– Three Thai policemen approached Vietnamese refugee Nguyen Van Chung at his home in Bangkok in January and asked him whether he was in touch with another Vietnamese man, Truong Duy Nhat, who had fled to Thailand.

Chung said no, he had never met Nhat, a writer and critic of Vietnam’s communist government who previously had spent two years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms”. He only knew of Nhat from his Facebook posts.

But during a subsequent interrogation, Chung was surprised to notice a man who seemed to be a Vietnamese official, and Thai police then confirmed he was indeed from Vietnam.

“Somehow, discreetly, police of Vietnam and Thailand worked together and knew everything,” Chung told Reuters from a third country, where he fled soon after.

He resurfaced in a Vietnamese jail.

U.N. envoys, in letters to Vietnam and Thailand, raised suspicion of an “enforced disappearance” and expressed “grave concern”. Both Thailand and Vietnam declined to comment.

Nhat’s case is not the only one in recent months.

For further reading:

===== June 24 =====

Vietnamese American and His Two Friends Convicted of Subversion, Sentenced to Total 30 Years in Prison

Defend the Defenders: On June 24, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and his two Vietnamese friends Huynh Duc Thanh Binh and Tran Long Phi of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s Penal Code, sentencing them to a total 30 years in prison, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Particularly, Mr. Nguyen was given 12 years in prison while Binh was sentenced to ten years and Phi got the remaining eight years. In addition, Nguyen will be deported back to the US right after the trial while two young activists will have to serve three-year probation each right after completing their jail sentences.

Mr. Huynh Duc Thinh, former political prisoner and the father of Binh, was given one-year imprisonment for misprision under Clause 1 of Article 390 of the same code.

Nguyen, Binh and Phi were said to be linked to an independent group named Quốc nội Quật khởi (Internal Struggling) which aims to overthrow the communist government. They were kidnapped by the security forces in Ho Chi Minh on July 7 last year, and were held incommunicado until recently, a few weeks prior to the trial. Meanwhile, Mr. Thinh was detained one day later, also held incommunicado but released on bail several months ago. He was requested to go to the police’s station to report every week. His seedling shop in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong was confiscated as the police said it was used for the gathering of “reactionary individuals.”

Phi and Binh participated in the mass protests against two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in HCM City and Dong Nai province in mid-June last year. However, Michael came to visit Vietnam in late June 2018.

Their arrests were part of the ongoing crackdown on Vietnamese activists. Last year, Vietnam arrested at least 27 activists and convicted 41 human rights defenders, political dissidents, and bloggers with total imprisonment of 303 years in prison and 69 years of probation. In addition, more than 100 participants in peaceful demonstrations in 2018 were sentenced to between eight months and four years and a half in jail.

According to Defend the Defenders’ statistics, Vietnam is around holding 220 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators.

The communist regime has arrested at least 20 activists this year, charging most of them with serious allegations in the national security provision in the Penal Code such as subversion, terrorism and “conducting anti-state propaganda.”


Trial of Anti-tollbooth Fraud (ATF) Activist Mr. Ha Van Nam Postponed

Defend the Defenders: Authorities of the northern province of Bac Ninh province have decided to postpone the first-instance hearing of Ha Van Nam and six other anti-tollbooth fraud (ATF) activists in July.

The reason for the delay is unclear, according to his fellows who said the trial was scheduled on June 25. The seven activists were charged with “’causing public disorder” under Article 318 of the Penal Code in a trump-up case. They face imprisonment of between two to seven years if convicted.

Mr. Nam, who was arrested on March 5, holds a master in business management and is the owner of a business.

In January, he was kidnapped and savagely bashed by a group of people in civilian clothing.

See Amnesty International’s statement on anti-tollbooth fraud activist Mr. Ha Van Nam

Vietnam has nearly 100 BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) toll booths, many intentionally placed at wrong locations so investors can collect more tolls, including from those who don’t use the BOT facilities. All illegal BOTs have the backing of authorities.

===== June 27 =====

Facebooker Tìm Tự Do Accused of Conducting Terrorism

Defend the Defenders: Political activist Vo Thuong Trung who has Facebook account Tìm Tự Do (Quest for Freedom) has been officially charged with “’engaged in terrorist acts against the people’s government” under Article 113 of the Penal Code.

Dong Nai province authorities informed his family from An Phuoc village, Long Khanh district, that they are holding him in Dong Nai province police temporary detention center.

Mr. Trung participated in the peaceful mass protest against the Special Economic Zones and the cybersecurity bills in June 2018.

He shared and live streamed articles, opinions critical of the Vietnamese communist regime, including human rights violations, corruption, etc. on his Fb page.

He faces 12 – 20 years jail, a life sentence or a death penalty if convicted.

He was arrested on  April 25 and is held incommunicado for at least four months. During this time he is not allowed to meet relatives and legal representatives.

He was considered as having a connection with two other activists Nguyen Dinh Khue and Doan Viet Hoan, who have been detained by Dong Nai police and subject to an investigation, having been accused of “disrupt national security.”

Vietnam’s communist regime is targeting individuals or organizations who have the capacity to mobilize people for street protests.


Vietnam, EU to Sign EVFTA in Hanoi on June 30

The European Council announced on June 25 that it has approved the European Union–Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU–Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA), and assigned the EU to sign the deals with Vietnam in Hanoi on June 30.

After being signed, the two deals will be submitted to the European Parliament (EP) for consent.

The EVFTA is expected to be approved by the EP later this year or early 2020.

Meanwhile, it will take at least two years for the EVIPA to be ratified by the EP and member parliaments.

EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers’ rights. Behind the smiles and handshakes, the signature of the EU-Vietnam trade and investment deals – being agreed on Tuesday (June 25) and to be signed at the end of this week – have dire consequences for human well-being and our ability to prevent climate and ecological breakdown.

EU officials might affirm they aim to foster sustainable development in Vietnam but the reality behind those words is that they foster corporate greed.

While their leaders congratulate themselves on a done deal, European and Vietnamese citizens should not lose sight of the real winners of this investment agreement: big business and rich individuals, whom the EU enables to hijack justice and democracy for their profits.

Additional reading: EU-Vietnam: Council adopts decisions to sign trade and investment agreements

===== June 28 =====

Vietnamese Peaceful Protester Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for “Disruption of Security” 

Defend the Defenders: On June 28, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City unexpectedly held the first-instance hearing to try Truong Huu Loc on allegation of “distruption of security” under Article 118 of the Penal Code for his involvement in the mass demonstrationin the city in mid-June last year.

In the short trial which lasted several hours, Mr. Loc, 56, was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was accused of conducting live streams on Facebook to criticize the ruling communist party and its government and call for peaceful demonstrations to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

He was also alleged to participate in the peaceful demonstration in HCM City on June 10 and provided bread and drinking water for other protesters.

He was arrested on June 11 last year and held incommunicado, not permitted to meet with his relatives and lawyer.

He is among over 100 peaceful protesters being persecuted last year. Most of them were tried on allegation of “causing public disorders” and sentenced to between eight months and 54 months in prison.

Dozens of others are still held in pre-trial detention for months, and most of them were charged with “disruption of security” with the maximum sentence of 15 years in jail.

Vietnam is holding around 220 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. So far this year, the communist regime has arrested around 20 activists and convicted eight human rights defenders and bloggers with a total of 48 years in jail and 17 years of probation.


Vietnamese Activists Condemn Inhumane Treatment against Prisoners of Conscience, Demanding for Jail Condition Improvement

Defend the Defenders: Five Vietnamese independent and non-profit civil society organizations and dozens of activists have signed a joint letter condemning the inhumane treatment against prisoners of conscience and requesting the Vietnamese government to improve jail conditions, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The open letter was released on June 28 and its initiators say they will collect more signatures before sending it to senior Vietnamese leaders and foreign governments as well as international human rights groups in early July.

The letter was made on the 18th day of the hunger strike of four prisoners of conscience named Mr. Truong Minh Duc, Mr. Nguyen Van Tuc, Mr. Dao Quang Thuc and Mr. Tran Phi Dung while serving their lengthy sentences in Prison camp No. 6. The facility, located in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province, is under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security.

According to their families, the four jailed activists started their hunger strike on June 10 after the prison’s authorities removed all fans in their cells amid the extremely hot summer in which the temperature is over 40 Celsius degrees for most of the time. The cells for prisoners of conscience were constructed in the way that they are very hot in summer and cold in winter, said former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), who was held in the camp before being released in October 2014.

In the open letter, activists said the move of the authorities in Prison camp 6 mounts to torture and inhumane treatment, violating the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in which Vietnam is a signatory party.

The activists urge Vietnam’s authorities to suspend inhumane treatment against all prisoners of conscience in prison camps across the country, especially Prison camp No. 6, investigate who have committed the violations and bring the responsible before the law.

They also call on the international community to pay attention to prisoners of conscience in Vietnam who are subjects of persecution of the communist regime.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding 128 prisoners of conscience while Defend the Defenders’ statistics shows that the number is around 220. Hanoi always denies of imprisoning any prisoner of conscience but only law violators.

===== June 29 =====

One More Vietnamese Blogger Arrested amid Increasing Persecution against Local Dissent

Defend the Defenders: On June 29, authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Thanh Hoa arrested local resident Pham Van Diep, accusing him of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code.

The state media has reported that police carried out searching his private residence in Quang Tien ward, Sam Son city and confiscated a computer and a lot of documents related to his activities.

According to the province’s police investigation agency, he will be held in the next four months for investigation. During the investigation period, he will not be permitted to meet with his relatives and lawyers.

He is alleged of using Facebook to conduct anti-state propaganda and will face imprisonment of between five and 12 years if is convicted.

Mr. Diep studied his bachelor degree in Russia. He stayed for years there and obtained Russian nationality. Due to his online posts criticizing the Vietnamese government in various issues such as environmental pollution, weak response to China’s violations in the East Sea (South China Sea) and human right abuse, he was reportedly barred from coming back to his home country.

Once he was denied to enter in Vietnam when he arrived in Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi several years ago. He went to Laos and was arrested by the Lao security forces after distributing leaflets protesting the denial of the Vietnamese authorities. He was sentenced to 21 months to prison for “using the Lao territory to oppose its neighbor country.”

After being released, he came back to Thanh Hoa and lives with his parents.

The state media also reported that since March 2019, he has posted a number of articles and conducted many livestreams on Facebook to call for public demonstrations against Sam Son city’s plan to build a sea square.

Activists said he participated in the peaceful demonstration to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in Hanoi on June 10, 2018, and was detained by security forces for several hours.

He has been under constant harassment of police in Thanh Hoa province, who summoned him for interrogation many times in the past few years.

The arrest of Diep is part of the ongoing crackdown of the Vietnamese communist regime on local dissent. In the first half of this year, Vietnam has arrested at least 20 human rights defenders, social activists, and bloggers, mostly on allegations in the national security provisions of the Penal Code, and convicted nine activists with a total 50 years in prison and 17 years of probation.

Last week, Vietnam convicted four activists, sentencing them to between one and 12 years in prison.

Vietnam is holding at least 220 prisoners of conscience, according to the Defend the Defenders’ statistics while Amnesty International said the number is 128.