Prominent Dissident Pham Chi Dung Decides not to Appeal His 15-year-imprisonment Sentence

Dr. Pham Chi Dung at an anti-China protest in Ho Chi Minh City in 2011

Defend the Defenders, January 24, 2021


Prominent dissident Pham Chi Dung, a co-founder and the president of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), has decided not to appeal the decision of the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City at the first-instance hearing on January 5 in which he and his two fellows were convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to a combined total 37 years in prison and nine years of probation.

Dr. Dung made this written statement to announce his decision on January 18 in Chi Hoa Detention Center where he has been held since his arrest in November 2019, nearly two weeks after being convicted and two days prior to the deadline for the appeal submission. His two lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng witnessed his signing the document which is posted on IJAVN’s website.

In his statement, Dr. Dung said he will not appeal, but that he does not accept this unjust and very harsh sentence. He thinks it is likely he would not be freed nor get a lighter sentence given the fact that there is no independent judicial system in the communist-ruled Vietnam so in most political cases, the verdicts were predetermined prior to the first-instance hearings and upheld in appeal hearings.

The 55-year-old activist used this occasion to express his profound appreciation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union, the US State Department, the German Federal Foreign Office, the international diplomatic corps, and all domestic and foreign organizations and individuals who have voiced sympathy for him and his two fellows Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan in the same case. The first is IJAVN’s vice president and a blogger of the Radio Free Asia (RFA).

He also thanked his two attorneys for passionately defending the trio though the results did not come out as expected.

Dung was said to have advised 71-year-old Thuy and 32-year-old Tuan to appeal their sentences. Both were sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years of probation.

Mr. Dung was arrested on November 21, 2019 while Mr. Thuy was detained on May 23 last year and Mr. Tuan was taken into police custody one month later. They were charged with “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.The trio was held incommunicado for months following their detention and their families were allowed to provide additional food and basic stuff only. In December last year, they were allowed to meet with their lawyers for the first time to prepare for their defense.

Dr. Dung’s sentence of 15 years in prison and three years of probation is the toughest for the charge “conducting anti-state propaganda” in Vietnam’s history. Last year, the record heavy sentence for the charge was given to Hanoi-based political dissident Nguyen Trung Linh, who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 12 years in prison in the secret trial unknown for public and his family was informed after the hearing. In addition, they were also imposed to administrative fines of between VND180 million ($7,760) and over VND1 billion for receiving foreign financial support for writing many articles harmful for the communist regime and operating IJAVN’s website.

The arrest and prosecution of the three members of the IJAVN is a part of the Vietnamese communist regime’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent which has intensified since late 2015. Hundreds of activists have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted with heavy sentences under controversial articles in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code, which the international community has called on Vietnam to remove as they have been used to silence the local activists.

IJAVN was established in 2014 to fight for freedom of the press in Vietnam where the communist regime has tight control over the official media. Thousands of articles of independent journalists covering the country’s issues such as human rights violations, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, the government’s weak response to China’s violation of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), and other socio-economic problems have been posted on the organization’s website The three journalists have a number of articles criticizing the communist government for failing to properly address the country’s issues as well as giving interviews to foreign media.

Vietnam’s security forces have also harassed and intimidated other members of IJAVN in recent years. A number of its members in Hanoi, HCM City, and other localities have been summoned for interrogation for their membership in the organization and their writing. Police have also blocked them from gathering or meeting with foreign guests or diplomats since the organization’s establishment while its website is regularly attacked and still placed under a firewall for the local readers.

Since their arrests, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, the EU, the US and other foreign governments as well the international community including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Defend the Defenders and local activists have called on the Vietnamese regime to free the three activists immediately and unconditionally and drop the charges against them. In its press releaseon January 4, HRW also urged Vietnam to release the trio.

Defend the Defenders, together with the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network and the Australia-based Human Rights Relief Foundation issued a joint statement calling on the Vietnamese communist regime to respect its international commitments and release all prisoners of conscience, including the three members of the association.

On January 21, the European Parliament adopted the resolution expressing concerns about Vietnam’s limitations to freedom of expression, both online and offline, as reflected in increasing cases of intimidation, arrest, detention and sentencing of journalists and human rights defenders who express their opinions. It said the case of sentencing the three IJAVN’s members show a deterioration of the civil and political rights situation. The 27-country bloc has called on Vietnam’s authorities to respect fundamental rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution and in international conventions to which Vietnam is a party.

Ruled by the Vietnamese Communist Party for decades, Vietnam is listed at the bottom of the RSF’s Freedom Press Index for many years, ranked at 175th among 180 countries in 2020. In early December, the CPJ and RSF listed Vietnam among global biggest prisons for journalists, holding 28 journalists and Facebookers behind bar.

Currently, Vietnam is holding at least 258 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Among them, 49 bloggers and activists have been arrested or convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code 1999 or Article 117 of the Criminal Code 2015. Among them is prominent human rights defender and well-known political blogger Pham Doan Trang.