Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for April 19-25, 2021: Two Activists Convicted, Three Anti-corruption Journalists Arrested amid Increasing Suppression



Defend the Defenders | April 25, 2021

After forming the new leadership for the next five years with many conservative figures such as General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and Minister of Public Security To Lam remaining in their positions while former police general Pham Minh Chinh being placed to the government leader post, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime continues its persecution against the local dissent. During the week, the regime convicted two female activists and detained three anti-corruption journalists and the allegations against them were mostly based on their posts on Facebook.

On April 22, the People’s Court of Binh Thuy district of the Mekong Delta hub of Can Tho found local democracy campaigner and human rights defender Le Thi Binh guilty of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code for her Facebook posts. The 45-year-old activist was sentenced to two years, like her brother Le Minh The three years ago who completed his imprisonment in July last year.

One day later, the People’s Court of the central province of Phu Yen convicted independent journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the same code and sentenced her to eight years in prison. She was accused to post 24 articles on Facebook with the content distorting the regime’s policies and defaming communist leaders.

Authorities in the northern province of Hoa Binh have decided to bring land rights activists and human rights advocates Mrs. Can Thi Theu and her younger son Trinh Ba Tu to court to try them on the allegation “conducting anti-state propaganda” for their efforts to protest land grabbing in their Duong Noi commune and other localities across Vietnam, and provide assistance and advocacy for Dong Tam land petitioners. The mother and the son were arrested on June 24 last year and were held incommunicado until recently when they were permitted to meet with their lawyers to prepare for their defense. Theu’s older son Trinh Ba Phuong who was arrested on the same day with the same allegation is still held incommunicado by the Hanoi Police Department. It is likely Theu and her son will receive lengthy sentences.

Vietnam’s regime always affirms that it is applying measures to deal with corruption without barries, however, the regime has arrested a number of anti-corruption journalists and the latest victims were members of a group called Báo Sạch (Clean Newspaper). The state-controlled media reported that Mr. Nguyen Thanh Nha, Mr. Doan Kien Giang, and Mr. Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao were arrested on April 20 on the allegation “abusing democratic freedom” and their detentions were related to the arrest of the group’s leader Truong Chau Huu Danh who was arrested in mid December last year and charged with the same allegation. The group is well-known for their efforts to mobilize drivers to protest wrongly-placed tolls booths in many provinces and cities as well as their reports showing wrongdoings of police and procuracy in the case of death-row inmate Ho Duy Hai. After their arrests, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Vietnam’s move and urged Hanoi to drop all the charges against them and free them immediately and unconditionally.

On April 21, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual reports on religious freedom globally. Regarding Vietnam, the agency says the situation remains unchanged from 2020 with systemic violations in the field. It has urged the US’s government to re-designate Vietnam in the list of countries of particular concerns (CPC).

On the same day, in its global annual report, RSF says in Vietnam there is no press freedom with dozens journalists and Facebookers being imprisoned for telling true. In the Global Index for Press Freedom in 2021, Vietnam is placed at the 175th place among 180 surveyed nations, unchanged from last year.

===== April 19 =====

Trial against HRDs Can Thi Theu and Her Younger Son Trinh Ba Tu Scheduled on May 5, Heavy Sentences Expected

Defend the Defenders,: Vietnam’s authoritarian regime plans to hold the first-instance hearing on May 5 to try land rights activists and human rights defenders Can Thi Theu and her younger son Trinh Ba Tu on the allegation “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code, according to her family.

Mrs. Do Thi Thu, the wife of Mrs. Theu’s older son Trinh Ba Phuong who has been held incommunicado in pre-trial detention for the same charge since their arrest in mid-June last year, informed Defend the Defenders that the trial against her mother-in-law and brother-in-law will be carried out by the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province in its headquarters.

Mrs. Theu’s family started their activism a decade ago when they objected to the Hanoi city’s authorities to grabbing their agricultural land at very low prices to give it to property developers. Due to their protest, the authorities have suppressed the families for years, including imprisoning Mrs. Theu twice and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem once with imprisonment of between 15 and 20 months in 2015-2018.

Along with taking part in democracy campaigns, the family has provided valuable assistance and advocacy for other victims of legal miscarriage as well as land petitioners whose number hits tens of thousands, especially farmers in Dong Tam commune, Hanoi before and after the bloody attack of around 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 local farmers.

In order to suppress the support of local activists given for land petitioners in Dong Tam, Vietnam’s authorities arrested a number of people, including prominent political blogger and world-recognized human rights defender Pham Doan Trang, human rights advocate Nguyen Thuy Hanh who set up and managed the 50K Fund, and four human rights campaigners Theu, Phuong, Tu, and former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Thi Tam, all the four from Duong Noi commune, Ha Dong district, Hanoi.

Mrs. Theu and Mr. Tu were arrested on June 24, 2020 by the police of Ha Son Binh province while Mr. Phuong was detained by the Hanoi Police Department on the same day. The mother and the younger son were held incommunicado since their arrests until a few months ago when they were permitted to meet their lawyers to prepare for defense while Mr. Phuong has yet to be allowed to meet with his relatives or lawyers.

Since their arrests, many foreign governments and international human rights organizations have condemned the Vietnamese government’s acts and urged Hanoi to release them immediately and unconditionally. However, Hanoi claims that they were not arrested for their human rights activities but crime activities harmful for the regime.

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam conducted its 13th National Congress on January 25-February 1 this year to select the country’s leadership for the next five years. With many conservative figures of the regime such as General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc now becoming state president, and Minister of Public Security To Lam, it is likely the crackdown on the political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders which has been intensified since late 2015 will continue.

Since the beginning of this year, Vietnam has arrested at least ten activists, mostly on controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code. So far, it has convicted 12 activists and sentenced them to a total 905 years in prison and 15 years of probation. The toughest imprisonment of 15 years in prison and three years of probation was given to PhD. Pham Chi Dung, the president of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam who was convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Based on these facts, Defend the Defenders forecasts that Mrs. Theu and her son Mr. Tu would be convicted with lengthy imprisonments as the regime wants to eradicate all peaceful activities, including those advocating for victims of legal miscarriage.

===== April 20 =====

Three Vietnamese Journalists Arrested Over Reporting on ‘Toll Booth’ Schemes

RFA: Police in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho city on Tuesday arrested three independent journalists connected with the publishing of articles online last year criticizing tollbooths set up under a controversial infrastructure funding program, state media sources said.

Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao—all writers for the popular Facebook page Clean Newspaper, which discusses Vietnamese social issues—were taken into custody in connection with an investigation into the activities of journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh, who was arrested in December.

Danh, another contributor to Clean Newspaper, had posted criticisms online of build-operate-transfer (BOT) highways that Vietnam has adopted in recent years, sparking rare protests over toll collections described by motorists as unfair.

He was detained by police in Can Tho, a province-level city in the country’s Mekong Delta, on charges of “abusing democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of other individuals and/or organizations,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.

The Clean Newspaper page was taken offline, presumably by state authorities, at around the time of Danh’s Dec. 10, 2020 arrest and prosecution.

The decision this week to charge and arrest Nha, Giang, and Bao was approved by the People’s Procuracy of Can Tho City, and authorities raided the journalists’ homes and seized many items and documents related to the case under investigation, state media said.

Harsh forms of persecution

With Vietnam’s media all following Communist Party orders, “the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution,” the press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index.

Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its report, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year’s.

“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.

Also ranked low in this year’s survey were Vietnam’s neighbors Laos at 172, Cambodia at 144, and Myanmar, whose ranking at 140 represents a one-point drop from last year’s score, RSF said.

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. But arrests continue in 2021.

===== April 22 =====

Activist Le Thi Binh Found Guilty of “Abusing Democratic Freedom,” Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

Defend the Defenders: On April 22, the People’s Court of Binh Thuy district in the Mekong Delta hub of Can Tho found Ms. Le Thi Binh guilty of “abusing democratic freedom” and sentenced her to two years in prison for her Facebook posting.

Ms. Binh, who was arrested on December 22 last year, is a member of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) which disseminated Vietnam’s Constitution 2013 in a bid to educate ordinary people about their rights. Ten members of the group were sentenced to between two years and eight years in recent years for their peaceful activities, including participation in the peaceful mass protest in Ho Chi Minh City on June 6, 2018 to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

The indictment said Binh had used her Facebook page from October 2019 to November 2020 to livestream, post, and share posts “conveying bad and reactionary viewpoints and ideas” aimed at opposing and defaming Vietnam’s Communist Party and the regime leaders.

Binh was said to have also “seriously insulted” Communist Vietnam’s founding leader Ho Chi Minh in her posts and called for a multiparty and pluralistic state to replace the current political regime.

===== April 23 =====

Freelance Journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison

Defend the Defenders: On April 23, the People’s Court of Phu Yen province convicted local freelance journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, sentencing her to eight years in prison, Defend the Defenders has learned.

According to the case indictment, she was found guilty of producing and sharing a total of 24 articles and livestreams on social networks Facebook and Youtube with the content defaming the country’s senior leaders and distorting policies of Vietnam’s authoritarian regime.

Ms. Dieu, a 38-year-old former journalist of the Phu Yen newspaper- the official outlet of the province’s authorities, was arrested on August 21, 2020. She has been held incommunicado in the first three months and was allowed to meet her attorney for defense preparation from November last year. 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 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 and tortured by police in the central province of Nghe An.

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 Vietnam’s Criminal Code. The UN Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and many democratic governments as well as international rights groups have called Vietnam’s authoritarian regime to remove Article 117 and other allegations 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 the highest imprisonment record of 15 years in prison for the charge 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 39 activists were convicted and still being imprisoned while 14 others are held in pre-trial detention for “conducting anti-state propaganda,” according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Among them are prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy.

Her conviction is part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders after the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and prior to the elections of the country’s rubber-stamped legislative body National Assembly. The persecution seems to continue for years after many conservative figures of the regime were re-elected to hold senior positions of the country’s leadership in the next five years. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Minister of Public Security To Lam remain their positions, former government leader Nguyen Xuan Phuc was switched to the new state president while his prime minister post was held by former police general Pham Minh Chinh.

Mr. Trong, who has held the party’s chief since 2011, is listed as one of the global biggest predators of Internet and press freedom by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) while Vietnam is among world biggest prisoners of journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

In its global report on press freedom in 2021 released on April 21, RSF says there is no freedom of press in Vietnam and the Southeast Asian nation was ranked at the 175th position among 180 surveyed countries, unchanged from 2020.