Vietnam Court Holds Trial of Six Pro-democracy Activists on Alleged Subversion

Activists at the trial on April 5, 2018

Defend the Defenders, April 5, 2018

On April 5, the People’s Court of Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi holds the first-instance hearing of six pro-democracy activists members of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD) on allegation of subversion under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

The defendants are prominent human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai, Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, engineer Pham Van Troi, lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, veteran journalist and Vice President of the unregistered Viet Labor Movement Truong Minh Duc, and English teacher Le Thu Ha.

Nguyen Van Dai, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Trung Ton and Nguyen Bac Truyen established BFD in 2013 with aim to promote human rights and multi-party democracy. The latest left the online organization several years ago.

Mr. Nguyen Van Dai and Ms. Le Thu Ha were arrested in late 2015 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. When Vietnam’s authorities arrested the four others on July 30 last year, they charged the six human rights defenders with “carrying out attempts to overthrow the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the same code.

With exception of Ms. Le Thu Ha, the five remaining activists were former prisoners of conscience, had served between three and seven years in prison before being re-arrested for peaceful democratic activities. They have also been persecuted by security forces, including close surveillance, kidnap, torture and interrogation.

On the day of the trial, only five wives of the five male activists and the mother of Ms. Le Thu Ha were allowed to be in the courtroom while foreign diplomats were placed in a separate room to obseve the trial via TV screen.

The trial is expected to last two days and close on Friday.

Hanoi’s authorities have been deploying huge numbers of police, mobile police, plainclothes agents and militia to block all the roads leading to the court areas. They have also sent plainclothes agents to private residences of local activists in a bid to prevent them from going to the court’s areas to support the imprisoned activists.

In early morning, police arrested dozens of activists who tried to go to the court. Among detainees are Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Truong Minh Dung, former prisoner of consciences Can Thi Theu and Vu Thi Hai, and land petitioner Trinh Ba Tu.

BFD is the main target of the Vietnamese ongoing crackdown on local dissent. After the mass arrest in July last year, Vietnam has detained four other members of the organization namely Nguyen Van Tuc, Nguyen Trung Truc, Tran Thi Xuan and Vu Van Hung. The first three were charged with subversion while the latest was alleged with “inflicting injuries” under Article 34 of the 2015 Penal Code.

According to the current Vietnamese law, individuals accused of subversion may face life imprisonment or even death penalty if convicted.

Since the begining of 2017, Vietnam has detained nearly 50 activists and convicted around 20 of them, giving them lengthy sentences of between three and 16 years in prison. Among convicted activists are female human rights defenders Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, who have kids in a school age. Quynh was sentenced to ten years in prison while Nga was given nine years in jail and five years under house arrest.