Vietnamese HRDs Can Thi Theu and Her Younger Son Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison and 3 Years of Probation Each Amid Intensified Crackdown

HRDs Can Thi Theu and her two sons Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong


Defend the Defenders, May 5, 2021


Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has convicted land rights activists and human rights defenders Can Thi Theu and her second son Trinh Ba Tu of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code for their peaceful activities which aim to protest illegal land seizure in their locality and human rights advocacy for other victims of legal miscarriage.

The conviction was made by the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province in the first-hearing instance on May 5. The conviction was made by the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province in the first-hearing instance on May 5. The court sentenced them to eight years in prison and three years of probation each.

The province’s government deployed large numbers of riot policemen, police, plainclothes agents and militia to block all roads leading to the court areas. Only Theu’s daughter and daughter-in-law were allowed to enter the courtroom while her husband Trinh Ba Khiem and dozens of other land petitioners were kept in streets far from the court areas.

According to Saigon-based human rights lawyer Dang Dinh Manh who provided legal assistance for the mother and the son, when the judge asked their identity, both answered that they are victims of land grabbers and the communist regime.

Tu, 33, said he was insulted by procuror Vu Binh Minh during the pre-trial detention while Mrs. Theu said she was placed in a 7-square-meter cell with 9 others some of them are infected with HIV in the Hoa Binh temporary detention facility operated by the province’s Police Department.

The procuracy representative in the trial said Theu and Tu posted a number of video clips on their Facebook accounts with the content causing confusion among the public, however, the two activists said any ordinary people have been confused but only the regime’s officials who were involved in land grabbing. Their posts aim to tell the truth about illegal land seizure in Vietnam and the regime’s persecution against farmers who protest the land grabbing so the general public and the international community understand the ongoing situation in the country.

This will be the third time Mrs. Theu was convicted of controversial allegations. In 2014-2018, she was twice imprisoned for a total 35 months for protesting Hanoi’s authorities to grab farming land in Duong Noi commune, Ha Dong district where her family lives. She was imprisoned for “resisting on-duty state officials” or “causign public disorders.” Her husband Khiem was also jailed for “resisting on-duty state officials.”

After her release in 2016, Theu and her family including two sons Tu and  Trinh Ba Phuong involved in advocacy for other land petitioners nationwide whose number mounts to thousands and gather in Hanoi to daily go the government agencies to submit their petitions. Before and after the bloody attack of 3,000 riot policemen in Dong Tam commune on January 9, 2020, the trio provided great support for Dong Tam land petitioners, including posting news on the case, meeting with foreign diplomats to update information, and calling for financial supports for the families of detainees after the raid.

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. Two days ahead of their trial, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging Vietnam’s authoritarian regime to free them, saying Hanoi should not imprison those who tell the trust like Theu and her sons.

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. Vietnam’s human rights records are unlikely to be improved in coming years after former police general Pham Minh Chinh gained power to become the government leader while other former police generals continue to hold leading positions in the procuracy and the court systems.

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 14 activists and sentenced them to a total 106 years in prison and 21 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.”

According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam holds at least 261 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators.