Vietnam Court Upholds Sentences of Four Members of Constitution Group, Sending Them Back to Prison

Eight members of Hiến Pháp group convicted in July last year

Defend the Defenders, January 8, 2021

On January 8, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City rejected the appeals of four members of the unsanctioned group Hiến Pháp (Constitution), upholding the sentences given by the People’s Court of HCM City at the first-instance hearing on July 31 last year, Defend the Defenders has learned.

According to the court’s decision, Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh has to serve eight years in prison and three years of probation while Mr. Ngo Van Dung, Mr. Le Quy Loc and Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong have to spend next five years behind bar followed by two years of probation each. They were arrested in early September 2018 on the allegation of “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the Criminal Code.

Nearly five months ago, at the first-instance hearing, the People’s Court of HCM City convicted eight members of the unsanctioned group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) of “disruption of security” for their active participation in the mass demonstration to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in HCM City on June 10, 2018 and their plan to hold peaceful protests in early September of the same year. After just one day review, the court 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 given three-year probation.

After the trial, four of them, Ms. Hanh, Mr. Dung, Mr. Loc and Mr. Cuong protested the court’s decisions and appealed.

Hiến Pháp was established in 2017 with the aim of enhancing civil rights in Vietnam by disseminating the country’s Constitution which was ratified 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 bill 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.

Members of the group 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 HCM 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, possibly rising to the level of enforced disappearance under international law, and even after the families had been informed of the detention they remained incommunicado for nearly a year.

In mid-April last 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 targeted 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 last 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.

Ms. Le Thi Binh became the latest activist being arrested last year, got detained on December 22 and charged with “abusing democratic freedom.” Binh is also a member of the Hiến Pháp group.

All of them are listed as prisoners of conscience by Defend the Defenders. According to the Hanoi-based human rights group, Vietnam’s communist regime is holding at least 258 prisoners of conscience.