Vietnam Court Upholds Prison Sentences for Six Religious Activists

Mr. Bui Van Trung at their trial on February 9, 2018

Defend the Defenders, May 24, 2018


On May 24, the People’s Court in Vietnam’s southern province of An Giang rejected the appeals of six local Hoa Hao Buddhist followers for their peaceful activities to exercise the right to freedom of religion and beliefs.

The court upheld the prison sentences given to Bui Van Trung and his son Bui Van Tham and his wife Le Thi Hen, Nguyen Hoang Nam, Bui Thi Bich Tuyen, andLe Hong Hanhby the lower court in their first-instance hearing on February 9 this year.

Three months ago, the lower court of An Giang found Trung and his son Tham guilty of  “causing public disorders” under Article 245 and “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257in the 1999 Penal Code and gave them six years in prison each. It also convicted the four othersof “causing public disorders” under Article 245, and gave four-yearimprisonment toNguyen Hoang Nam, three-year imprisonment to Bui Thi Bich Tuyen and Le Hong Hanh andtwo-year probation toLe Thi Hen.

Ms. Bui Thi Tham, the daughter of Mr. Trung and also wife of Mr. Nam, said during the hearing day, police blocked all roads leading to the court area to prevent Hoa Hao Buddhist followers from attending the appeal hearing. Relatives of the defendants hardly came to the courtroom.

The trial did not mean international fair trial standards,as “the judges let the witnesses talk a lot, and when the lawyers asked them questions, the judges told the witnesses not to answer them,” she said., adding her father considered the trial on February 6 was the act of An Giang province’s authorities violating the right to freedom of religions and beliefs.

The religious activists were arrested in late June 2017, two months after they protested persecution by local authorities who had sent police and thugs to block the private residence of Bui Van Trung in late April, not allowing other independent followers to gather in his house in An Phu district to attend the anniversary commemoration of Bui Van Trung’s mother’s death.

Trung and the sentenced activists are from an independent Hoa Hao Buddhist sect who refuse to practice their religion under the control of the state.

The arrests and convictions of the six activists are part of Vietnam’s crackdown on independent religious groups, including Hoa Hao and Cao Dai Buddhist sects in southern Vietnam.

On February 8this year, Human Rights Watch issued a statementcalling on Vietnam’s government to drop charges against the group and release them immediately and unconditionally.

“This appears to be the latest instance of official persecution of members of this religion,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The government should stop harassing and arresting those who belong to unsanctioned religious groups and leave people to practice their faith as they see fit,” he said.