Five Pro-democracy Campaigners Sentenced to Total 57 Years in Prison amid Intensified Crackdown on Dissent

Mr. Luu Van Vinh (left) and Mr. Nguyen Van Duc Do

Defend the Defenders, October 5, 2018

The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City has convicted five pro-democracy campaigners namely Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Phan Trung (Venerable Thich Nhat Hue) and Tu Cong Nghia on subversion allegation, sentencing them to a total 57 years in prison and 15 years of probation.

In the first-instance hearing which started at 8:00 AM and ended at 3:10 PM on October 5, the court found the five activists guilty of “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

Particularly, Mr. Vinh was sentenced to 15 years, Mr. Hoan- 13 years, Mr. Do- 11 years, Mr. Nghia- ten years and Buddhist monk Trung was given eight years. In addition, each was given three years of probation afterward.

Pro-democracy campaigner Luu Van Vinh in a courtroom of the trial against him and four other activists on October 5, 2018

In the so-called open trial for public, only one relative of every defendant was allowed to enter the courtroom. Nguyen Thi Yen Nhi, the niece of Mr. Do, and her husband Pham Ngoc An were detained by police when they were on their way to the court areas. All the roads led to the court areas were blocked by police.

The US’s Embassy and the EU’s Delegation in Vietnam had requested permission to send their diplomatic representatives to attend the trial, however, their requests were denied, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Vinh and his four friends were arrested in November 2016 and held in pre-trial detention since then. Their arrests and detentions were linked to their plan to establish the Vietnam National Coalition which is expected to work for multi-party democracy and fair election to end the political monopoly of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.

Vinh and Do were reportedly beaten during their arrests.

In June 2016, Vinh, 51, set up the Vietnam National Self-determination Coalition and become its president. However, he left the organization several days before being arrested.

Some activists said he and other activists had a plan to launch the Vietnam National Coalition. However, he was arrested before the group’s debut.

All the five activists were held incommunicado around one year after being detained.

Vinh and Do were allowed to meet with their lawyers few weeks prior to their trial while under pressure of police, the three others were said to deny the attorneys on their choices.

Mr. Hoan rejected the appointed lawyer, said Dang Dinh Manh, the lawyer of Mr. Vinh.

During the trial, Mr. Vinh and Mr. Do reaffirmed their innocence while Mr. Hoan and Mr. Nghia said they were forced to make false confession during interrogation, said the Saigon-based lawyer.

On October 4, one day prior to the trial, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling Vietnam’s communist regime to release them without conditions.

This prosecution shows there is no end in sight when it comes to the government stamping down on calls for political pluralism, democracy, or respect for rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These five advocates are heading to prison for a long time simply for daring to criticize the Communist Party.”

In late April, 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention officially said that the arrest of Luu Van Vinh was arbitrary and urged the Vietnamese government to release him and compensate him for illegal arrest and detention in accordance with international law.

The arrests and detentions of Vinh and his four friends are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent amid increasing social disatisfaction.

In order to keep the country under a one-party regime, the security forces are striving not to allow the formation of opposition parties. Dozens of activists who advocate for multi-party election have been sentenced to lengthy imprisonments for subversion allegations.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested 24 activists and sentenced 38 human rights defenders with a total 282.5 years in prison and 81 years of probation.

The communist nation is holding 246 prisoners of conscience, according to NoW!Campaign, a coalition of 14 domestic and international NGOs, including Defend the Defenders, Boat People SOS (BPSOS), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) and Front Line Defenders (FLD).