Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 15-21, 2021: Trial against Freelance Journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu Set on March 22, Appeal Hearing of Democracy Campaigner Tran Duc Thach Scheduled on March 24
Defend the Defenders | March 21, 2021
Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Phu Yen have scheduled the first-instance hearing on March 22 to try local freelance journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu on March 22 while the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi has set to carry out the appeal hearing of democracy campaigner and human rights activist Tran Duc Thach two days later.
Ms. Dieu, 33, was arrested on August 21 last year and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison if she is convicted. After leaving the province’s official newspaper Phu Yen, she has blogged on the country’s serious issues, including human rights abuse, systemic corruption, widespread pollution caused by factories, etc. Police in Phu Yen said she has posted numerous articles on her Facebook accounts with content defaming communist leaders and distorting policies of the ruling party and its government.
Meanwhile, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi plans to conduct the appeal hearing of Mr. Thach on March 24. The 69-year-old activist was arrested on April 23 last year on the charge of subversion due to his involvement in the unsanctioned group Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD) and his writings with content to report human rights abuse and speak out about the country’s issues. In the first-instance hearing on December 15, 2020, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison by the People’s Court of Nghe An province. There is no hope for release or sentence reduction given the fact that many conservative senior officials of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam were re-elected to the party’s leadership in the 13th National Congress last January for the next five years.
Police in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have moved imprisoned human rights defender and land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong from its Temporary Detention Center No. 1 where Mr. Phuong had been held incommunicado since his arrest on June 24 last year. When his wife came to the facility on March 19 to provide additional food for him, police officers told her that he was transferred to another place. The city police refused to inform Phuong’s family where he is held and his relatives are very concerned about him given the fact that torture is still rampant in prison camps and temporary detentions facilities across the nation even after the regime signed the UN Convention against Torture in 2014. It is worth noting that his mother Can Thi Theu and younger brother Trinh Ba Tu were also arrested by the Hoa Binh province’s police on the same allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” on the same day. The investigation was reportedly completed and the mother and her son would be brought to court soon.
Authorities in Xuan Loc Prison camp have continued to keep labor activist Nguyen Van Duc Do in a solitary cell since May 2020 despite his protest. They even use hunting dog to threaten him. A year ago, Do requested the prison wardens to allow him and other prisoners of conscience to go out more often for sunbathing, however, they denied and disciplined him as putting him in solitary confinement in a cramped cell and not allowing him to meet with his relatives as well as receiving additional food and stuff from his family. He said the food provided by the prison is not safe. His health has worsened very much due to severe living conditions in the prison.
===== March 16 =====
Authorities Sic “Hunting Dog” on Vietnamese Political Prisoner in Tiny Cell
RFA: Prison wardens in southern Vietnam unleashed a hunting dog on a political prisoner serving an 11-year sentence for subversion to silence his complaints about solitary confinement in a cramped cell, his family told RFA.
Democracy advocate Nguyen Van Duc Do has been incarcerated since late 2018 at the Z30A detention center in Xuan Loc district of Dong Nai province for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government.”
Arrested in November 2016, Do and four other activists were convicted on Oct. 5, 2018 in a Ho Chi Minh City court after being found guilty in a one-day trial of involvement in the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, a group that authorities deemed to have challenged Vietnam’s Communist one-party system.
Do’s inability to exercise in the small eight-square-meter (about 87 square feet) cell resulted in his physical condition deteriorating to the point where he often had chest pains and difficulty breathing, his brother said.
“My brother told me that yesterday, March 15, he banged on the door of his cell to call for help because he had pains in his chest and back that made it hard for him to breathe,” Do’s younger brother, Nguyen Van Duc Hai told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“He said that the prison was very large, so no one can hear you if you don’t shout. This is why he banged on the door shouting ‘Prisoners of conscience also need to live!’” said Hai.
This is when Do said the guards brought in a hunting dog to silence him.
“My brother said the dog was about to pounce on him, so he jumped back inside. Though it didn’t bite him, the dog barked loudly at him while standing at the door,” Hai said.
RFA attempted to contact the prison for comment but telephone calls went unanswered.
Do’s group had been charged under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, one of a set of vague provisions in the law used to detain writers, activists, and bloggers, and had been held without trial for almost two years.
The group had previously been active in protesting the government’s handling of a massive chemical spill in April 2016 that devastated the country’s central coast, leaving fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four central provinces.
Group leader Luu Van Vinh was given 15 years. Nguyen Quoc Hoan was sentenced to 13 years, Tu Cong Nghia to 10 years, Phan Trung to 8 years, and Nguyen Van Duc Do to 11 years.
Nguyen Van Duc Hai said his brother Do had been in solitary confinement since May 2020, and since then had not been allowed to go out, even for exercise.
Hai also said that Do was being pressured by prison staff to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.
“My brother Do said they often bring him papers to file a guilty plea and asked him to sign, but he responded ‘I am innocent. The verdict was wrong. Am only a patriot!’” Hai said.
“They told him that if he pleads guilty, they can reduce his sentence by two months for every five years. But my brother said ‘I am innocent. How can I plead guilty? I was convicted wrongfully,’” said Hai.
Do also told Hai that prisoners at Xuan Loc are often beaten to the point of serious injury.
RFA reported in June 2020 that Do’s family had filed a petition demanding better treatment at Xuan Loc after he told them he had been physically assaulted, spent two days shacked in solitary confinement, then fed prison rations mixed with feces.
In October 2019 RFA reported that Do had joined other prisoners of conscience held at Xuan Loc who had also stopped eating to call for beater treatment at the facility.
According to a friend interviewed in that report, political prisoners at Xuan Loc were being charged four or five times higher for food than other prisoners there.
According to the 88 Project, an Illinois-based NGO that tracks political prisoners, Vietnam is currently holding 240 prisoners of conscience.
===== March 17 =====
Phu Yen to Try Freelance Journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu on Charge of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Phu Yen will hold the first-instance hearing on March 22 to try local freelance journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, according to her lawyer Nguyen Kha Thanh.
The People’s Court of Phu Yen will carry out the trial in its headquarter in Tuy Hoa city, said the notice of the court to the lawyer. The 33-year-old journalist faces imprisonment of between five and 12 years in prison if she is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.
Ms. Dieu, a former journalist of the Phu Yen newspaper- the official outlet of the province’s authorities, was arrested on August 21 last year. She has been held incommunicado in three months and was allowed to meet her attorney for defense preparation from November last year.
Ms. Dieu graduated journalism from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City). Later, she worked for Phu Yen newspaper, the official voice of the province’s Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV)’s Committee. However, she left the newspaper and focused on criticizing the communist regime’s socio-economic issues such as systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, human rights violations, and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
Phu Yen province’s police have accused her of using Facebook accounts “Tuyết Diệu Babel” and “Trần Thị Tuyết Diệu Journalist” as well as Youtube channel named Tuyết Diệu Trần to disseminate hundreds of articles and videoclips to defame communist leaders, including late President Ho Chi Minh, and distort the party’s policies.
In recent years, she has been harassed many times by the police forces. Once she was kidnapped by police in the central province of Nghe An who tortured her.
She is among dozens of independent journalists and Facebookers being arrested and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” last year, one of many controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code. The United Nation Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and many democratic governments as well as international rights groups have called Vietnam’s communist regime to remove Article 117 from the code because it is used to silence government’s critics.
In early January this year, Vietnam convicted three members of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and sentenced them to a total 37 years in prison and nine years of probation. Its President Dr. Pham Chi Dung was given 15 years in prison and three years of probation while Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy and young member Le Huu Minh Tuan were sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years of probation each.
Last year, pro-democracy activist Nguyen Nang Tinh was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years of probation while human rights defender Nguyen Trung Linh was given 12 years in prison for the same allegation.
As many as 77 activists were convicted and still being imprisoned while 13 others are held in pre-trial detention for “conducting anti-state propaganda,” according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. Among them are prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy.
Facebooker Tran Quoc Khanh is the latest activist being arrested of the charge. He was detained on March 10, just a few days after he declared to run as an independent candidate for the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the upcoming election scheduled in late May.
===== March 18 =====
Appeal Hearing of Democracy Campaigner Tran Duc Thach Scheduled on March 24
Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi has scheduled to hold the appeal hearing of democracy activist and human rights defender Tran Duc Thach on March 24, three months after he was convicted of subversion under Article 109 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years of probation by the People’s Court of Nghe An province.
During the first-instance hearing which lasted only three hours on December 15 last year, the 68-year-old activist did not admit his wrongdoing but declared to appeal the court’s verdict, saying he just exercised his basic rights to protect Vietnam’s sovereignty amid China’s increasing aggressiveness in the East Sea (South China Sea) and voice against human rights abuse.
Mr. Thach is a former prisoner of conscience from the central province of Nghe An, the home of late communist leader Ho Chi Minh. He is a founding member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD) which has many key members being convicted of subversion and sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison in recent years.
He was arrested for the first time in 2009 and sentenced to three years in jail and three years of probation on a charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code for claiming Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys), the two archipelagos also claimed by China, and demanding human rights improvement in the communist nation. Particularly, Thach, together with activists Vu Van Hung and Nguyen Xuan Nghia hang out a banner which states “Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belong to Vietnam” at Mai Dich Bridge in the capital city of Hanoi. His fellows were also jailed with lengthy sentences.
He was re-arrested on April 23, 2020 on allegation of conducting “Activities against the people’s government” underArticle 109 of the Criminal Code for his involvement in BFD. The Nghe An province’s police also conducted searching for his house, confiscating a laptop, cell phones, a camera as well as VND9 million ($380) and $400, according to his family.
In the first-instance hearing, Mr. Thach was also accused of posting and sharing numerous articles on Facebook with content to distort the regime’s policies with the aim to trigger social disorders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thach was an officer of the communist army participating in the Vietnam War. After leaving the communist army in 1975, Thach wrote a memoir named “Obsessive mass grave” to describe how communist soldiers assaulted innocent civil people while invading South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. In 1976, he self-immolated to protest unfair policies of authorities in Nghe An province and Dien Chau district. Due to the act, his face was deformed.
Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified its crackdown on local dissent from late 2015 when the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam began to prepare for its 12th National Congress which was carried out in January 22016. Since then, more than 200 activists have been arrested and charged with controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Penal Code 1999 or the Criminal Code 2015, many of them were sentenced to lengthy imprisonments of between five and 20 years.
The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam conducted its 13th National Congress on February 1 with many conservative figures being re-elected to its most powerful 18-member body Politburo such as General Secretary cum State President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Minister of Public Security To Lam. After the congress, the security forces continue crackdown on local dissent, arresting three Facebookers on the allegations of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedom” with imprisonment of between three and 12 years if they are convicted.
It is a little hope for Mr. Thach to get freed or sentence reduction in his upcoming appeal hearing. In January, prior to the party’s congress, Vietnam convicted four activists of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code and sentenced them to between seven and 15 years in prison. President of the professional group Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Dr. Pham Chi Dung was sentenced to 15 years in prison while his deputy Nguyen Tuong Thuy was given 11 years in prison. The two activists were given additional three years of probation.
The People’s Court of Phu Yen province plans to hold the first-instance hearing on March 22 to try local freelance journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for her online posting. She was arrested on August 22 last year, and faces imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison if is convicted.
Vietnam is the biggest prison for prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia. Amnesty International said the number of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam is 170 while according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistic, the number is 258as of March 15.
===== March 19 =====
Hanoi Police Detention Facility Says Prisoner of Conscience Trinh Ba Phuong Was Moved Away Without Telling His Family New Detention Place
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in the Temporary Detention camp No. 1 under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department has informed the family of prisoner of conscience Trinh Ba Phuong that he has been taken away from the facility but refused to tell the family the new detention facility in which he is held.
This information was provided by his wife Do Thi Thu who conducted a prison visit to the Temporary Detention camp No. 1 located in Nam Tu Liem district on March 19 to provide additional food and medicines for him. The 36-year-old human rights defender has been held incommunicado since being arrested on June 24 last year on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.
Police officers in the Temporary Detention camp No. 1 told his wife that he was transferred two-three weeks ago.
Mrs. Thu and her family are concerned about the fate of her husband given the fact that torture is still rampant in Vietnam although the communist regime ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 2014 with dozens of criminal suspects and inmates being killed in prison camps and temporary detention facilities across the nation every year.
Mr. Phuong and Mr. Trinh Ba Tu are sons of former prisoners of conscience Mrs. Can Thi Theu and Mr. Trinh Ba Khiem, who were jailed for objecting land seizure carried out by the Hanoi city’s authorities. They have also assisted other land rights activists and victims of legal miscarriage, especially land petitioners in Dong Tam, and reported human rights abuse to the international community.
On June 24 last year, Vietnam’s security forces violently detained Mrs. Theu and her two sons as well as land rights activist Nguyen Thi Tam who is also from Duong Noi commune, Ha Dong district. All the four were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” and face imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison if they are convicted. They have been held incommunicado since being arrested.
While Phuong was arrested by Hanoi police, his mother and young brother were detained by the Hoa Binh province’s police which reportedly completed their investigation and handed over the investigation results to the province’s Procuracy and People’s Court with a proposal to prosecute them.
Their arrests are linked to their advocacy and support given to Dong Tam land petitioners before and after the bloody raid of 3,000 riot policemen to the commune on January 9 last year, in which police shot to death communal leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested around 30 villagers.
Phuong and three other human rights defenders in Duong Noi are among 90 activists being imprisoned and charged of “conducting anti-state propaganda.” Many of them have been sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison in recent years.
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