Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for April 5-11, 2021: Prominent HRD Nguyen Thuy Hanh Arrested on Allegation “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”

Defend the Defenders | April 11, 2021

Shortly after forming its new leadership for the next five years with many conservative senior officials being promoted to leading positions of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and its government, on April 7, Vietnam’s communist regime arrested prominent human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh for her great efforts in assisting defenders-at-risks in many years. Mrs. Hanh, 58, will be held incommunicado for at least four months for investigation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code. She is facing tough imprisonment of between seven and 12 years if is convicted. The Hanoi-based activist is well-known for the 50K Fund she established in 2018 to receive donations from Vietnamese in the country and abroad and provide small grants for families of prisoners of conscience as well as activists seriously suffering from the government persecution.

Mrs. Hanh’s arrest came after series of interrogation in police stations in the past few years, especially regarding the donations given to the family of elderly Dong Tam communal leader Le Dinh Kinh who was shot to death in his bedroom during the bloody raid of around 3,000 riot policemen to Hoanh village on January 9 last year. Vietnam’s regime requested Vietcombank to freeze her account with around VND523 million ($22,700) donations for Dong Tam land petitioners and forced her to close her fund in late 2020.

She is the 6th activist being arrested for helping Dong Tam land petitioners. Last year, Vietnam arrested prominent human rights defender and well-known political blogger Pham Doan Trang, land rights activists and human rights advocates Nguyen Thi Tam, Can Thi Theu, Trinh Ba Phuong, and Trinh Ba Tu. All of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” with imprisonment of up to 20 years.

Right after the arrest of Mrs. Hanh, Defend the Defenders issued a press release affirming her detention is arbitrary and illegal, and calling on Vietnam’s government to release her immediately and unconditionally. One day later, Amnesty International issued a statement saying her arrest is a blatant and politically-motivated attempt to silence one of the most respected human rights advocates in the country.

Four laureates of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) named Tomasz Piatek from Poland, Swati Chaturvedi from India, Inday Espina-Varona from the Philippines, and Can Dündar from Turkey have launched a joint campaign to support jailed Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang who has been under police custody since her arrest on October 7 last year.

Vietnamese Facebookers have reported that authorities in the central province of Binh Thuan had arrested three local activists named Nguyen Van Son Trung, Tran Duc Tin, and Luong Quang Bao while two others named Nguyen Tuyet Na and Vo Van Tung went missing. These activists were said to be members of a Facebook group which aims to support independent candidacy of Khmer activist Nguyen Quoc Huy (aka Dong Chuong Tu) in the upcoming election of the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly scheduled on May 23. Mr. Huy was held in police station for five days, from April 6 and April 10. Police pledged to summon him further in future. The Binh Thuan province’s authorities have yet publicized the arrests and the charges against the activists mentioned above.

===== April 7 =====

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

Defend the Defenders: 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.

Related article: Vietnamese Activist Who Aids Jailed Dissidents’ Families Arrested For ‘Anti-State Documents’