Prominent HRD Nguyen Thuy Hanh Arrested after Vietnam’s Leadership for Next Five Years Forms

HRD Nguyễn Thuý Hạnh

Defend the Defenders, April 7, 2021


On April 7, Vietnam’s authorities arrested Hanoi-based prominent human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code, a few days after the communist regime completed the formation of its leadership for the next five years.

According to her husband Huynh Ngoc Chenh who was not at home during the arrest, a group of around 30 police officers and local officials came to her private residence in Hanoi to take her out and sealed the apartment. They reportedly took her to an office of the Security Investigation Agency of the Hanoi Police Department.

Some local activists said people staying in the same residential area confirmed the arrest. In the late afternoon of the same day, some state-controlled newspapers covered the news on the arrest carried out by the city’s police.

Mrs. Hanh, 59, is among leading human rights activists in Vietnam in recent years. She is a member of the unsanctioned group Brotherhood for Democracy which has been under persecution of the communist regime in recent years with a dozen of its key members being arrested on subversion and other charges with lengthy imprisonments.

A few years ago, Mrs. Hanh formed the 50K Fund which provides small financial support for prisoners of conscience and defenders-at-risks in the country. She was forced to close the fund several months ago under the pressure of the communist regime.

Last year, her fund received around VND523 million ($22,700) from Vietnamese in the country and abroad who donated for the family of killed-by-police communal leader Le Dinh Kinh and other land petitioners in Dong Tam commune, My Duc district, Hanoi who were arrested after the bloody attack of around 3,000 riot policemen in the locality on January 9. However, the communist authorities request Vietcombank to freeze her account with an argument that the money is for terrorist groups. The bank is still holding the sum despite her request to return the money so she could hand it over to the regime’s victims in Dong Tam.

Due to her assistance to hundreds of prisoners of conscience and defenders-at-risks, Mrs. Hanh has been under constant persecution of the Vietnamese authorities in recent years, including summoning to police station for interrogation about her activism, placing her de facto under house arrest in many occasions, and defaming her in the state-controlled media.

Her arrest is part of the ongoing crackdown on the local political dissidents, social activists, Facebookers, and human rights defenders which started in late 2015 and was intensified before and after the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) which took place on January 24-February 1 this year.

According to the common practice in political cases, Mrs. Hanh will be held incommunicado for the next four months for investigation which may be extended to two years. She is facing a tough imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if she is convicted.

During the National Congress of the ruling party, many conservative figures of the regime such as General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, former police general and Head of the Central Commission on Organization Pham Minh Chinh, and Minister of Public Security To Lam were re-elected to the Politburo, the most powerful political body of the part for the 2021-2026 tenure. In the last session of the 14th National Assembly, Phuc was formally elected to the state president while Chinh took the government’s leader position for the next five years. More arrests and severe imprisonments are expected in the coming years.

According to Defend the Defender’s statistics, Vietnam is holding at least 257 prisoners of conscience as of April 7 while Amnesty International says the number of Vietnamese prisoners of conscience was 173 in December last year. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators.