Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for June 29-July 12, 2020: Facebooker Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for Online Posts


Defend the Defenders | July 12, 2020


On July 7, the People’s Court of the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong convicted local resident Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code for his posts on Facebook which are considered harmful for the communist regime.

His relatives and local activists were placed under de facto house arrest on the day of the trial although local authorities had claimed that the first-instance hearing was open for the public. After a few hours, the court sentenced him to eight years in prison and three years of probation. His participation in the peaceful mass demonstration against the then Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity Bills in Ho Chi Minh City two years ago was used as a factor increasing the length of his sentence.

With his conviction, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has sentenced seven activists so far this year to a total of 26 years in jail and six years of probation, five of them were convicted for making anti-state posts on Facebook.

In late June, when US Ambassador Danial Kristenbrink visited the central province of Thanh Hoa, the local authorities harassed the family of prisoner of conscience Nguyen Trung Ton in a bid to prevent them from communicating with the diplomat. The police in the Quang Xuong district placed the family under house arrest, even locking the gate of their house at night. On June 30, they detained his wife at a local wet market and attacked his son when the youth went out to look for his mother. Due to the police blockade, the son failed to make an interview meeting for a new job in Hanoi.

Due to continuous persecution against members of the unsanctioned Liberal Publishing House, harassment which started nearly as soon as they founded in February last year, prominent dissident and co-founder Pham Doan Trang announced in a Facebook post that she is leaving the independent publisher. She said she is responsible for publishing and disseminating a series of books printed by the publisher in the past few years, and calls on Vietnam’s security forces not to persecute other members. Ms. Trang was honored with the RSF’s Impact Prize while the Liberal Publishing House was granted with the Prix Voltaire 2020 by the International Publishers’ Association.

Two prisoners of conscience Le Minh The and Ho Van Hai (Ho Hai) were freed before the end of their sentences. Mr. The, who was arrested on October 10, 2018 and sentenced to two years in prison, was released on July 10. Three months earlier, on April 17, Mr. Hai came home after more than three years in prison. Hai was arrested in early November 2016 and sentenced to four years in prison and three years of probation for “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code 1999 (now Article 117).

On July 7, the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network and the Hanoi-based Defend the Defenders issued a joint statement calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to drop all charges against 29 land petitioners in Dong Tam commune and four human rights defenders in Duong Noi, and carry out an investigation against officials responsible for the brutal attack in Hoanh village in which the police killed local community leader Le Dinh Kinh and beat dozens of the local farmers. The two human rights groups said that failure to investigate those responsible for the Dong Tam incident and ongoing prosecution of the 29 local land rights defenders with false allegations of “murder” and “resisting on-duty state officials,” as well as the arrest of four human rights defenders in Duong Noi with vague accusations of “propaganda against the state” are serious human rights abuses that violate both Vietnamese national law and its binding commitments under international law. Vietnam has real obligations to investigate these credible abuses and hold accountable those responsible. Failure to do so only further erodes the hallow excuses of the rule of law and shines a light on the criminality of the Vietnamese ruling Party.

On July 1, a group of activists issued a statement declaring the establishment of the Vietnamese Independent Union (VIU) with aim to promote and protect the workers’ rights in the country. It is the third independent labor organization in Vietnam. Others are Viet Labor and Viet Labor Movement.

===== June 30 =====

Family of Prisoner of Conscience Harassed When US Ambassador Visits Locality

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Thanh Hoa have harassed the family of prisoner of conscience Nguyen Trung Ton, who is serving 12-year imprisonment, preventing them from communicating with the US Ambassador on a visit to the locality, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Mrs. Nguyen Thi Lanh told Defend the Defenders that on June 26, the Quang Xuong district police came to her private house to inform the family they were prohibited from going out over the next five days from June 27 until June 30. The house arrest was to apply to any circumstance, including shopping or exercise. The police informed them that they would be under increased surveillance during the period without explanation.

One of the district police officers, named Nhon, threatened that they would not take responsibility if the family members went out and were hit by someone, an apparent veiled threat.

Lanh said she found it difficult to follow their instruction because she works as a grocery seller in a local wet market to feed her family which includes her elderly mother-in-law and two children, one of whom is disabled.

On the evening of June 28, police returned and again instructed the family not to go out in the next two days, Monday and Tuesday, Lanh said.

She said that due to the request, her son could not go to Hanoi for an interview for a new job which was scheduled on June 30.

On the morning of Tuesday, Lanh decided to go to work at the local market but she found that they had locked her gate from outside. She and her son Nguyen Trong Nghia had to cut the lock.

While Mrs. Lanh was selling groceries in the local wet market, a client intentionally quarreled with her, accusing her of selling substandard goods. She knew it was a trick and offered to return the money and take back her goods from the client but he did not agree and wanted to take her to the local communal authorities.

Being informed by the trouble for his mother, Nghia left his house for the communal headquarters. However, he was stopped on the way by uniformed police and plainclothes agents who beat him brutally until he collapsed on the road. None of the police intervened to stop their colleagues.  Later, they took him to a communal clinic for treatment of injuries caused by the assault.

Since the arrest of Mr. Ton, president of the unregistered Brotherhood for Democracy in July 2017, the local authorities have constantly harassed and intimidated his family. His son Nghia has faced persecution by local security forces since returning to the country from the Philippines where he participated in a training course for civil society empowerment. Due to police harassment, he cannot find a job to support his mother and younger sisters.

Ton, who was brutally beaten by plainclothes agents in April 2017 before being arrested. One of his legs is still affected by the attack but he has received no assistance from the police for treatment of the injury.

His wife has to supply him with medicines for the injury but sometimes, the prison authorities have suspended the family’s supply.

Related article: Family of Vietnamese Political Prisoner Detained During U.S. Ambassador Visit

===== July 1 =====

Labor Activists Establish Vietnamese Independent Union Aiming to Protect Workers’ Rights

 Defend the Defenders: On July 1, a group of labor activists has declared to establish the Vietnamese Independent Union (VIU) with goals to protect the rights of workers nationwide.

Its debut statement said that VIU’s members are from various backgrounds but all share the same purpose of forming free unions in different industries. It is willing to cooperate with the state-controlled Vietnamese General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) as a supplementing force to protect the employees and guarantee their full interests as their fellows in other member states of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA).

VIU calls for the support and involvement of employees, free labors, and intellectuals of all fields. It pledges to guide workers to form the unions for their real interests.

The statement also notes that both CPTPP and EVFTA require the Vietnamese government to respect the legitimate rights and interests of its laborers, especially the right of employees at the grassroots level, on their voluntary basis to establish unions (or syndicates) representing themselves in the labor relations.

The VIU’s Executive Board consists of five members including President Bui Thien Tri, Vice President Tran Nghia Quan, and General Secretary Benn Dang. Dissident writer Nguyen Nguyen Binh is its adviser.

With the establishment of VIU, Vietnam has three independent unions. Two others are Viet Labor and Viet Labor Movement. The latest organization has been suffered serious persecution of Vietnam’s communist regime as its three leaders Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, Doan Huy Chuong and Do Thi Minh Hanh were imprisoned between four years and nine years for their peaceful activities.

===== July 7 =====

Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for Peaceful Posts, 5th Facebooker Convicted So Far This Year 

Defend the Defenders: On July 7, the People’s Court of Lam Dong province convicted local Facebooker Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong 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 Criminal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned.

During the short first-instance hearing lasting only a few hours, the court sentenced him to eight years in prison and three years of probation for using his Facebook account Vượng Nguyễn to conduct 98 video live streams and posted 366 status updates, amounting to content that the authorities claim distorts the regime and defames the communist leadership.

Nguyen Quoc Doanh, an older brother of Vuong, said the local authorities sent uniformed policemen and plainclothes agents to the areas near his family several days prior to the trial date in order to block the family members from attending the hearing, which was supposed to be open to the public. Vuong’s family only learned about the court’s decision from his lawyer’s SMS.

Vuong’s friend, Pham Van Luc, who is also a human rights defender, told Defend the Defenders that he and other activists in Lam Dong were barred from leaving their houses on Tuesday.

Recently, prior to the trial, authorities in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong said there are increasing activities of reactionary forces in the locality while the ruling party is preparing for its local and National Congressslated for January next year, so they would punish Mr. Vuong hardly to silence others. And the outcome of the trial has proved it.

Mr. Vuong, born in 1991, was arrested on September 23, 2019. He was kept incommunicado during the investigation period and was only permitted to meet his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng nearly a month before the trial to prepare for his defense.

Vuong is a human rights defender, who participated in the mass demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018 in which tens of thousands of people from different social groups rallied against two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. He was detained and fined VND750,000 ($32) before being released.

So far this year, the communist regime has sentenced seven activists to a total of 26 years in prison and six years of probation. Two other Facebookers Nguyen Van Nghiem and Phan Cong Hai were sentenced to six and five years, respectively, also under the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Two others named Chung Hoang Chuong and Ma Phung Ngoc Phu were found guilty of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the same code, and sentenced to 18 months and nine months in jail, respectively.

As many as 12 other activists, including prominent journalists Pham Chi Dung and Nguyen Tuong Thuy, the president and the vice president of the unregistered Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, are held and being investigated on allegation under Article 117. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

===== July 10 =====

Prominent Dissident Pham Doan Trang Forced to Give up Her Role in Liberal Publishing House 

Defend the Defenders: Under the increasing pressure of Vietnam’s security forces, prominent writer and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang has announced on Facebook that she is halting her activities with the unregistered Liberal Publishing House, which was honored in June with the Prix Voltaire prize by the International Publishers’ Association for printing and disseminating books of political dissidents.

In her statement on Facebook, Ms. Trang said her decision was made due to her exhausted health and the constant threat of the police against all members of the publisher. She also said that she consulted other members before making the important decision.

Trang, who herself was honored with the Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s  Prize for Impact for her work, said that from July 10 she will end her affiliation with the Liberal Publishing House.

She also admits that she is fully responsible for publishing a number of dissident books such Chính trị bình dân (Politics for Everyone), Phản kháng phi bạo lực (Nonviolent struggle), Cẩm nang nuôi tù (Guidelines for visiting prisoners), Politics of a Police State, and Cánh đồng Sênh: Báo cáo về vụ tấn công Đồng Tâm (Senh field: Report on Dong Tam’s attack.

She requests Vietnam’s security forces to stop persecution against other members of the publishers and their families, although she does not expect they will give up chasing them.

Trang said since the Liberal Publishing House’s establishment in February 2019, its members have been under constant police harassment. Two of its members were kidnapped by security officers who took them to police stations where they tortured them physically and mentally. Due to the intensifying crackdown, all members have been forced to go into hiding prior to the last Lunar New Year (early February 2020) in order to maintain publishing activities. They have had to move the printing equipment many times from one to another place in order to avoid being tracked by secret agents.

In the past few years, Trang, who also co-founded the online legal magazine Luat Khoa and edits another web-based rights journal called The Vietnamese. For her exercise of the right to freedom of expression and human rights defense, she has been forced to relocate dozens of times within the country. She has not been able to return to her elderly mother’s house in the capital city for years. Her mother is also a subject of police harassment.

Together with several independent civil society organizations such as the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy and Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, the Liberal Publishing House is the main subject of constant police persecution as the ruling communist party seeks to ensure its iron fist rule of the country under the one-party regime. Any individual or organization that engage in independent information is branded as a threat to the Party and faces severe reprisal. Although Vietnam has signed a number of international treaties and conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which established the freedom of onion and expression and the right to information, the regime has never implemented its obligations, punishing with severe imprisonments those who exercise their rights.

According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam is holding at least 276 prisoners of conscience as of June 30. Most of them have been convicted of or charged with controversial articles in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators. But the law in Vietnam is crafted merely as a tool to preserve the power of the Party and fails basic international rule of law standards.

Related article: Acclaimed Vietnam Journalist Pham Doan Trang Quits Publishing House After Harassment


Activist Le Minh The Freed Three Months Before His Imprisonment Ends

Defend the Defenders: Mr. Le Minh The, a member of unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) was released from prison on July 10, three months before his two-year imprisonment was set to end.

The, 57, was arrested on October 10, 2018 and charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code for his posts on Facebook criticizing socio-economic policies of the ruling communist party. In March 2019, he was convicted by a court in Can Tho City and sentenced to two years in prison.

It is unclear why his sentence was reduced by three months.

Meanwhile, another eight members of Hiến Pháp are still in pre-trial detention in Ho Chi Minh City. They were arrested in early September 2018, three months after participating in the mass demonstration in HCM City to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security, as they had a plan to organize a protest on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day (September 2). Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, Hoang Thi Thu Vang, Ngo Van Dung, Tran Thanh Phuong, Ho Van Cuong, Doan Thi Hong, Ngo The Hoa and Le Quy Loc were charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the Criminal Code, with imprisonment of between three and 15 years in prison if convicted. The first-instance hearing against them was set in early 2020 but canceled due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, medical doctor Ho Van Hai (Facebooker Ho Hai), who was arrested in November 2016 and sentenced to four years in jail on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code 1999, (Now Article 117) was released on April 17 this year. He was freed more than six months before his imprisonment term ends.