Eight Members of Constitution Group Convicted, Sentenced to Total 40.5 Years in Prison and 20 Years of Probation

Defend the Defenders, July 31, 2020


Vietnam’s communist regime has convicted eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) of “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s Criminal Code after nearly 23 months after kidnapping them and keeping them incommunicado for many months after that. Their conviction is the regime’s reprisal for their exercising the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

On July 31, after just one day reviewing, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City found them guilty and gave Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh– eight years in prison,  Mrs. Hoang Thi Thu Vang- seven, Ms. Doan Thi Hong- two and half years, Mr. Ngo Van Dung, Mr. Do The Hoa and Mr. Le Quy Loc- five years each, Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong- four and half years, and Mr. Tran Thanh Phuong- three and half years in prison.

In addition, Mr. Dung, Mr. Cuong, Mr. Phuong, and Ms. Hong were given two years of probation after serving their imprisonment. Four others were with a three-year probation.

Authorities in HCM City deployed hundreds of police officers, plainclothes agents, militia, and thugs to block all routes leading to the courtroom to prevent relatives and friends of the defendants from entering the courtroom to observe the so-called open trial. They forced the activists’ relatives and supporters to go away and attacked the sons of Mr. Dung. As a result, any relative of the activists was permitted to observe the trial inside but stayed far away from the courtroom.

Defend the Defenders has learned that only a diplomatic representative from the German Embassy in Vietnam was permitted to attend the trial while the requests from the diplomatic missions of the US and other countries were denied.

Hiến Pháp was established in 2017 with the aim to enhance civil rights among Vietnamese by disseminating the country’s Constitution approved by the communist-controlled parliament in 2013. The eight convicted members, together with others of the group were active during the mass demonstration in HCM City on June 10, 2018 in which tens of thousands of people from all social classes rallied on streets to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. The first is considered to favor Chinese investors to purchase land in Vietnam amid increasing concerns of Beijing’s intensifying aggressiveness in the East Sea (South China Sea). The second which was approved by the communist-controlled parliament and became effective from January 1, 2019, is considered an effective tool to silence online government critics.

They planned to hold the second peaceful demonstration in early September of the same year on the occasion of Vietnam’s Independence Day (September 2) to protest the socio-economic policies of the communist regime. However, they were abducted by security forces in Ho Chi Minh City a few days before the action date.

Their fate and whereabouts remained unknown for months as the police held them incommunicado without informing their families, and even after the families had been informed of the detention they have remained incommunicado for nearly a year.

The first two of the defendants, Ms. Hanh and Mrs. Vang were charged with Clause 1 of Article 118 with imprisonment of between seven and 15 years in prison while the remaining six are accused under Clause 2 of the same article with imprisonment between two and seven years.

A few months ago, Ms. Hong, who was detained when her daughter was about two years old, informed her family that she was held in very severe conditions. Since being arrested, she has been under physical and mental torture constantly, according to the information she gave her older sister.

In mid-April this year, Mr. Dung and Mr. Loc were brutally beaten by police officers while being held in Phan Dang Luu temporary detention center under the authority of HCM City Police Department. Due to the severe injuries, both were taken to a hospital for urgent treatment for ten days.

Despite doing nothing harmful for the country, Hiến Pháp group has been targetted by Vietnam’s communist regime. Two members of the group Pham Minh The and Huynh Truong Ca were convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” and “anti-state propaganda” with respective imprisonment of two years and five and half years in 2018-2019. Mr. The was released on July 10 this year, three months before his imprisonment term was set to end.

Three other members of the group fled to Thailand to seek political asylum to avoid being punished by the Vietnamese regime.

All imprisoned members of the group were considered prisoners of conscience by Defend the Defenders.

So far this year, Vietnam has convicted 15 activists to total 66.5 years in prison and 26 years of probation, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. In addition, the regime has also arrested 49 activists and charged them with controversial allegations in the national security provisions of the Criminal Code for their peaceful exercising their basic rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution and the international human rights treaties Vietnam has signed