Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for February 1-21, 2021: Journalist of State-run Newspaper Arrested for Denouncing Senior Officials’ Corruption and Wrongdoings


Defend the Defenders | February 21, 2021


Vietnam celebrated the Lunar New Year 2021 or Tet for a week starting from February 8. Due to the one-week festival, there were a few developments regarding human rights situation in the Southeast Asian country.

However, the communist regime’s repression against free press continues with the arrest of Phan Bui Bao Thy, head of the representative office of the state-run Giao Duc & Thoi Dai newspaper in Danang City, and his partner Le Anh Dung on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code for their posts on Facebook. On February 10, the security police agency of the central province of Quảng Tri announced the arrest of the duet after the continous interrogation in several days prior to the official detention. Police have reportedly conducted private residence search of journalist Thy and confiscated a number of items and datas.

Responding to the arrests, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have issued separate statements urging Vietnam’s government to drop all charges against journalist Thy and his partner Dung and release them immediately and unconditionally.

One week after being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to seven years in prison, in late January, female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy fell in very bad health and she was taken to a hospital for urgent treatment. After spending in a civil medical facility in Hau Giang province, she recovered and was taken back to a temporary detention facility under the authority of the province’s Police Department. She is likely to be transferred to a prison camp where she will serve her seven-year imprisonment.

Blogger Le Anh Hung, who was arrested in mid-2018 on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” for his posts and denunciations against a number of senior officials, has been held in isolation in Hanoi’s Central Mental Hospital No. 1 for months where he is in forced observation and treatment. He has not been denied family’s visits since being admitted to the facility in April 2019.

On February 3, prominent prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment in Prison camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An, ended his lengthy hunger strike which started from November 24 last year and aimed to request the Vietnamese communist regime to review his case. According to his family, his health has recovered well after stopping fasting.

Vietnam’s human rights situation will likely not be improved in the coming years after the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam ended its 13th National Congress in early February with many conservative senior leaders such as General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and former police general and incumbent Head of the party’s Central Commission for Organization Pham Minh Chinh being re-elected to the Politburo and will take the three highest positions of the regime while Minister of Public Security General To Lam seems to remain his position.

===== February 3 =====

Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc Ends Hunger Strike after 70 Days Fasting, Jailed Female Activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy Hospitalized

Defend the Defenders: Prominent prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment in Prison camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An, has ended his lengthy hunger strike while jailed female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, who was sentenced to seven years on January 20, has been admitted to a hospital in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang for urgent emergency, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Mr. Thuc started receiving food on February 3 after 70 days of fasting beginning on November 24 last year, according to his family. In his phone call to his family earlier this week, he informed his relatives that he has taken small volume of milk since last week so he has recovered very fast and his health is relatively good now.

The 55-year-old democracy campaigner and human rights activist was arrested in 2010 on the allegation of subversion. He later was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Since 2018, he has petitioned that for preparation of anti-state activities, he should be imprisoned up to 5 years according to the Criminal Code which became effective on January 1, 2018. However, the communist regime remains silent to his petition, forcing him to conduct a number of hunger strike which aims to request the regime to respect the country’s law in his case.

During a conversation with his family, Thuc said he ended his hunger strike after gaining his own goal. He vows to continue his legal battle to fight for his freedom.

Meanwhile, Ms. Thuy, a 39-year-old single mother, fell in very bad health situation in late January while being held in a temporary detention center under the authority of the Hau Giang Police Department. She has suffered from vestibular balance disorder, heart valve regurgitation, and severe insomnia, partly due to severe living conditions in the detention facility, according to her family.

Thuy was taken to a hospital in Hau Giang province for urgent treatment. She is under close police surveillance but still allowed to meet with her son and relatives.

It seems that Ms. Thuy will not appeal her sentence given by the People’s Court of Hau Giang province at the show trial on January 20. Like prominent independent journalists Pham Chi Dung and Nguyen Tuong Thuy who were convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” by the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh on the show first-instance hearing on January 5, she has lost her belief in having a fair trial in Vietnam so she considers appeal useless.

She told her relatives that being held in the detention facility makes her crazy due to inhumane treatment and poor living conditions there, and she wants to be transferred to a prison camp where she may be better treated.

Vietnam is holding at least 256 prisoners of conscience in critical living conditions and inhumane treatment, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.

===== February 10 =====

Journalist of State-run Newspaper Arrested and Charged with “Abusing Democratic Freedom” for Defaming Corrupted High-ranking Officials 

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Tri have arrested Mr. Phan Bui Bao Thy, the office chief of the state-run newspaper Giao Duc va Thoi Dai (Education and Times), and Mr. Le Anh Dung on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code.

Citing the province’s Police Department, the state-controlled media reported that the two guys will be held at least two months for investigation their online crimes aiming to defame senior officials including former provincial communist leader and incumbent Vice Minister of Culture-Tourism and Sport Nguyen Van Hung and incumbent province’s chairman Vo Van Hung.

The two guys were reportedly detained by the local police from February 5 for interrogation, and they were officially charged on February 10. Police also conducted search in their private residences and confiscated a large amount of data related to their online activities, according to the state-controlled media.

Particularly, journalist Thy and his partner Dung were said to use a number of Facebook accounts such as Quảng Trị 357, “Lý Tú Dương,” “Thu Hà,” “Hoàng Lê,” and “tin Quảng Trị 246” to publish numerous articles, photos, and videos to accuse Quang Tri province’s leaders of wrongdoings and corruption in local infrastructure and property projects.

Mr. Thy is among dozens of journalists and independent bloggers being arrested and jailed for their critical writings against the communist regime and its senior leaders. They include prominent human rights defender and world-recognized political bloggers Pham Doan Trang and Pham Chi Dung, and Radio Free Asia blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy. Ms. Trang is held incommunicado since her arrested in early October last year while Mr. Dung and Mr. Thuy were convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” in early January this year and sentenced to 15 years and 11 years in prison, respectively.

In mid-December last year, Vietnam’s authorities also arrested well-known Facebooker Truong Chau Huu Danh and charged him with “abusing democratic freedom” for his anti-corruption posts.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s statistics show that as of December 31, 2020, Vietnam is detaining seven professional journalists and 21 bloggers after the government launched a new wave of arrests before the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam which ended on Feb 1. On its  2020 Press Freedom Index, RSF placed Vietnam at the 175th out of 180 countries in the world.

The New York-based group Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) has also listed Vietnam among world’s biggest prisons for journalists.

===== February 17 =====

Jailed Vietnamese Blogger Isolated in Mental Hospital, Family Visits Denied

RFA: A Vietnamese blogger held in a mental hospital while awaiting trial for criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state was refused a visit from supporters on Wednesday, with authorities saying he is being kept in isolation as a “political case.”

Le Anh Hung, a member of the online Brotherhood of Democracy advocacy group who blogged for Voice of America, was arrested on July 5, 2018 on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code.

He was later transferred in April 2019 from jail to Hanoi’s Central Mental Hospital No. 1 for “observation and treatment.” If convicted at trial, he could serve up to seven years in prison.

Fellow activist Vu Hung and a group of friends attempted on Feb. 17 to bring gifts to Le at his hospital to celebrate Tet, the start of the Lunar New Year, but were denied permission to visit, Vu told RFA on Thursday.

“Yesterday was the day that the hospital re-opened after Tet, and so we went to see our friend Le Anh Hung and tried to give him New Year gifts,” Vu said.

“But a hospital official told us that Le Anh Hung had been involved in politics, and therefore we were not allowed to meet with him.”

The officer told Vu and his friends that Le was in good health but was being held under “extremely strict conditions,” Vu said, adding, “So we left our gifts for Le Anh Hung and left the hospital.”

Also speaking to RFA, Le’s mother Tran Thi Nhiem said on Thursday she had received a phone call from her son the previous day and was assured he was in good health.

“Yesterday, my son borrowed a cell phone and called me from the hospital to tell me was doing well. He is still completely lucid,” Tran said.

“My son had previously been severely beaten and tortured by the hospital’s officials, but now he does not argue with them anymore. At the same time, I’ve recently been able to send him some money, so his situation is better now,” she said.

Beaten, forcibly injected

Le had been forced in his first years in hospital to take drugs to treat his supposed mental illness, and had once been beaten with a metal folding chair, tied to his bed, and injected with a sedative that left him unconscious, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Tran called on authorities in June 2019 to release her son from his forced stay in the mental hospital, where she said he was being forced to take medicine and was suffering “both mentally and physically.”

Le, in his mid-30s, had lost weight and looked ragged, gaunt, and depressed, Tran told RFA following a May 2019 visit to her son in the hospital, adding that he had undergone psychiatric assessments twice between October 2018 and April  without his family being informed

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Around 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.

===== February 18 =====

Vietnamese reporter Phan Bui Bao Thy detained over critical Facebook posts

CPJ: Vietnamese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy and stop jailing reporters for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On February 10, police in Vietnam’s central Quang Tri province arrested Thy, bureau chief of the state-run Giao Duc Va Thoi Dai (Age and Education) news magazine, and charged him with violating Article 331 of the country’s penal code, a provision which criminalizes “abusing democratic freedoms,” according to news reports.

The charges accuse Thy and his associate, Le Anh Dung, of maintaining several pseudonymous Facebook pages on which they allegedly posted original commentary, photos, and videos accusing provincial leaders of corruption, news reports said. Authorities ordered Thy to be detained for two months, pending an investigation, according to those reports.

“Journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy should be released immediately and all pending charges against him should be dropped,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam must stop treating journalists as criminals, and should allow members of the press to cover topics of public interest without fear that they will face years in prison.”

Police officers confiscated data related to Thy’s online activities at the time of his arrest in Da Nang city, reports said.

One of the Facebook pages those news reports cite as being run by Thy and Dung, “Quang Tri 357,” has about 2,300 followers and features posts accusing Quang Tri provincial leaders of misusing funds meant for local infrastructure and property projects.

If convicted of violating Article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code, Thy could face up to seven years in prison.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

CPJ’s latest prison census found that Vietnam held at least 15 journalists behind bars for their work as of December 1, making the nation the second-worst jailer in Asia, behind only China.