Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for May 3-9, 2021: Prominent HRD Can Thi Theu and Her Second Son Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Sentenced to Total 16 Years in Prison


Defend the Defenders | May 9, 2021


Vietnam’s authoritarian regime continues to use the controversial charge “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code to silence local human rights defenders. During the week, the regime convicted two activists and detained the third for the allegation.

After 11 months holding them in pre-trial detention, most of the time incommunicado, on May 5, authorities in the northern province of Hoa Binh took former prisoner of conscience and land right activist defender Can Thi Theu and her second son Trinh Ba Tu to a court. After one day of hearing which failed to meet international standards for a fair trial, the People’s Court of Hoa Binh found Mrs. Theu and her second son guilty and gave each of them eight years in prison and three years of probation.

During the hearing, Mr. Tu, 32, accused Hoa Binh province’s authorities of threatening him and slandering him as well as treating his mother inhumanely during pre-trial detention. Both the mother and the son affirmed their innocence and they did nothing wrong while objecting illegal land grabbing and advocating for other victims of legal miscarriage and land seizure.

Only Mrs. Theu’s daughter and daugher-in-law, the wife of imprisoned HRD Trinh Ba Phuong, were permitted to attend the first-instance hearing while her husband Trinh Ba Khiem, who is also a former prisoner of conscience, and dozens of other land petitioners were barred from entering the courtroom.

Two days prior to the trial, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging Vietnam’s regime to drop all the charges against Mrs. Theu and her two sons, saying Hanoi should not imprison brave human rights defenders Theu and her sons.

A few hours after the trial ended, many international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Article 19condemned Vietnam’s move and demanded for their immediate and unconditional release. Defend the Defenders (DTD) and the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNHRN) also issued a joint statement slamming the conviction and requested release of them and other human rights activists.

On the same day, authorities in the central province of Phu Yen publicized the arrest of Mr. Nguyen Bao Tien on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” in relations with the unsanctioned group Liberal Publishing House (LPH). Tien was said to have shipped dozens of unsanctioned books printed by LPH to different readers. His arrest may be related to the persecution against world-recognized human rights defender and prominent political blogger Pham Doan Trang, who was arrested in early October last year on the allegations under Article 88 of the Penal Code and Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.

In its press release on May 6, LPH affirmed that Mr. Tien was among its contributors, helping the uncensored publisher distribute its books to its readers across the nation. However, the publisher failed to contact him since October 2019, and it suspects that Vietnam’s security forces had detained him then and held him in secret until now.

With the convictions of Mrs. Theu and her son, Vietnam has imprisoned 14 activists so far this year, mostly on allegations of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedom,” and sentenced them to a total 106 years in prison and 21 years of probation. Meanwhile, with the arrest of Mr. Tien, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has arrested at least 11 activists since the beginning of this year, according to Defend the Defenders’s statistics.

Currently, Vietnam is holding at least 261 prisoners of conscience in severe living conditions.


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

Defend the Defenders: 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 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 12 activists and sentenced them to a total 90 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.”

According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam holds at least 260 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience but only law violators.

===== May 6 =====

Vietnam Arrests Shipper of Liberal Publishing House, Charging Him with “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have arrested Mr. Nguyen Bao Tien, a shipper and a collaborator of the unregistered Liberal Publishing House (LPH), and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

According to the state-controlled media, the Police Department of the central province of Phu Yen publicized the arrest and the criminal probe on May 5. The security forces were said to conduct a house search and confiscated dozens of books printed by LPH but considered harmful for the authoritarian regime in Vietnam.

According to the Phu Yen police, Mr. Tien, 35, participated in distribution of books illegally printed by LPH in August-October 2019. He was said to have received 68 postal boxes containing the illegally-printed, of which he handed over 24 to readers.

Phu Yen police said he was arrested recently while tried to send the books in a post office in Phu Yen province.

One day after the Phu Yen province’s police announced the arrest of Mr. Tien, LPH issued a statement confirming that Tien was among its collaborators, once time distributing its books when Vietnam’s authorities launched a campaign to halt activities of the unsanctioned publisher. It lost contact with him since early October 2019 while his Facebook and Whatsapp accounts were likely locked. The publisher suspected that the Phu Yen police arrested Tien in early October two years ago and kept him in police custody without informing his family.

Similar to other political cases, Mr. Tien will be held incommunicado for at least next four months.

LPH was established in February 2019 by a group of activists including prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang who wrote a series of dissident books. It printed a dozens of books considered harmful to Vietnam’s authoritarian regime as their content is about human rights and democracy as well as bad nature of communism and communist regimes worldwide. Its uncensored products met great interest of Vietnam’s public. Due to its great work, in 2020, it was honored with Prix Voltaire of the International Publishers’ Association.

However, it met strong persecution from Vietnam’s security forces which detained several contributors of the publisher for interrogation. Some of them were brutally tortured in police custody and they were forced to relocate after being released or escaped from police. In October 7, Vietnam’s police arrested Ms. Pham Doan Trang on charges of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code (1999) and Article 117 of the Criminal Code (2015).

Tien’s arrest may be linked to the detention of Ms. Trang who may face imprisonment of between seven to 12 years in prison, even to 20 years. Due to fierce suppression of the Vietnamese government and its internal issues, LPH was forced to suspend its operation in 2020.

If Tien was truly arrested on May 5 as the Phu Yen police said, he would be 11th activist being detained so far this year and the 5th alleged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” while other six were charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics. As of May 5, Vietnam’s regime has convicted 14 activists and sentenced them to a total 106 years in prison and 21 years of probation.

With his arrest, the number of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam rose to 261, the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders showed.