Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 28- February 03, 2019: New Wave of Arrest Targeting Online Activists


Defend the Defenders| February 3, 2019

Vietnam’s authorities have been intensifying online crackdown, using the new Cyber Security Law to silence local dissidents with arrest and interrogation four activists within few weeks after the law became effective in early January.

On January 26, security forces in Dong Nai province detained local resident Huynh Minh Tam and searched his private residence. They took him away without giving arrest warrant and informing his family about the cause of the arrest nor the charge(s) against him. It is likely the detention is related to his posts on his Facebook account Huynh Tri Tam.

Four days later, authorities in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong made the same moves with local female activist Duong Thi Lanh after summoning her to a local police station for interrogation about her relations with Facebookers Uyen Thuy and Mai Bui, one of those is a member of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution) which has been targetted with the arrest of eight members since early September last year.

The crackdown continues with the interrogation of university student Tran Ngoc Phuc by security officers from the Ben Tre province’s Police Department about his online activities on February 1. Phuc was alleged to participating in online forums and posting and sharing articles on his Facebook account Ngoc Phuc which are distorting policies of the ruling Communist Party and its government. It is unclear the punishment against the young activist as the investigation is reported to continue.

On January 23, authorities in Binh Duong also detained local technician Tran Van Quyen, accusing him of being member of the California-based group Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan) which is labelled as a terrorist group. Quyen is held incommunicado while his family has yet received arrest warrant nor being informed about the charge against him.

Former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat is reportedly missing in Bangkok after he registered for an assylum seeker to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugee. The blogger imprisoned for his online articles criticizing the communist government and released in 2015 is said to be detained by Vietnam’s secret agents. He was said to flee to Thailand on January 19, one week after dissappeared. 

And other important news.

===== January 28 ===== 

First Vietnamese Facebooker Arrested after Cyber Secyrity Law Becomes Effective

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have reportedly arrested Dong Nai province-based Facebooker Huynh Tri Tam for his online posts criticizing the communist government, nearly one month after the Cyber Security law became effective.

According to local activists, security forces in Dong Nai province stumped in the private residence of the Facebooker whose real name is Huynh Minh Tam, in the morning of January 26. Police took him to the headquarters of the provincial Police Department and conducted search of his house.

It is unclear the charge the Facebooker is facing, however.

According to his Facebook account, his writing and shared articles are about criticizing China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), bad government economic management, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution and nationwide human right abuse.

He has wife with two children in primary school age.

Mr. Tam is the first Facebooker being arrested for his posts on the social network with over 40 millions accounts in Vietnam after the Cyber Security law became effective on January 1, 2019, and the second activist being detained so far this year.

In mid January, police in Ho Chi Minh City detained Nguyen Van Vien, 48, a member of the banned group Brotherhood for Democracy, and charged him with subversion under Article 109 of the 2015 Penal Code.

In mid June, two days before the communist-controlled parliament approved the law, tens of thousands of people from different social groups went on major streets in Hanoi, HCM City, Danang, Nha Trang, Bien Hoa, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan and other localities to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. The first is considered to favor Chinese investors but ignore the country’s sovereignty while the second one is the effective tool for silence online dissent, according to foreign and domestic experts and activists.

It is likely that Vietnam continues its crackdown on local activists. In 2018, the communist regime detained at least 27 activists and convicted 41 activists, mostly on allegations in the national security provisions of the Penal Code, and sentenced them to a total 301 years and nine months in prison and 69 years of probation.

===== January 30 ===== 

Second Vietnamese Facebooker Arrested After Cyber Security Law Becomes Effective

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Dak Nong have arrested local resident named Duong Thi Lanh for her online activities, Defend the Defenders has learned from her family.

According to her husband, in the morning of January 30, Mrs. Lanh received an summoning letter from the province’s Police Department asking her to go to the Nhan Co communal building in Dak Rlap district for interrogation about her relationship with Facebookers Uyen Thuy and Mai Bui.

The husband said after she went there, a group of dozens of police officers came to search his private house, confiscating some pairs of army clothes they bought from open markets and three cell phones.

Police reportedly informed him about his wife’s detention without saying in details, so the husband is not unclear about the charge(s) the wife is facing nor where she is held.

Mrs. Lanh, 36, is an activist participating in a number of peaceful demonstrations, including the mass street protest on June 10, 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City. She was detained on June 11 but released after several hours of interrogation.

She has used her Facebook account SG Ngọc Lanto write and share statuses about human rights and democracy.

Meanwhile, Uyen Thuy is a Facebook account of Nguyen Thi Thuy, a member of the unregistered group Hien Phap. Since early September 2018, security forces have arrested eight members of the group due to its members’ participation in the mass demonstration on June 10 in HCM City. Ms. Thuy herself was forced to go into hiding to avoid being arrested.

Mrs. Lanh is the second Facebooker being arrested after the Cyber Security Law went into effect on January 1, 2019.

On June 26, police in Dong Nai province arrested Huynh Minh Tam (Facebooker Huynh Tri Tam) and searched his house. They took him away without informing his family about the charge against him.

Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on local dissent amid rising social dissatisfaction regarding the governments’ weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty, systemic corruption, widespread human rights abuse and police torture as well as nationwide environmental pollution.

Last year, Vietnam arrested at least 27 activists and convicted 41 human rights defenders, sentencing them to a total 301 years and nine months in prison and 69 years of probation, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.

Vietnam is holding around 250 prisoners of conscience, according to NOW!Campaign, a coalition of 15 international and domestic independent organizations working for release of all prisoners of conscience. 

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===== February 1 ===== 

EU Parliament’s Members Ask Vietnam To Release Activist Hoang Duc Binh, Reiterate Human Rights Benchmark for EV-FTA

The Vietnamese: A group of nine EU Parliament’s members from different political parties, jointly sent a letter to Vietnam’s President Nguyen Phu Trong, asking for the unconditional release of environment and labor rights defender, Hoang Duc Binh.

The letter reminded Vietnam that “the promotion and protection of fundamental rights must remain a common benchmark” for the continuing negotiation of the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Vietnam.

According to the MEPs’ letter:

The EVFTA commits the European Union and Vietnam to respect and effectively implement such principles and fundamental rights as provided in the ICCPR.

The European Council has delayed the EV-FTA’s ratification process due to “technical reasons” according to two other MEPs, Jude Kirton-Darling and Ramon Tremosa. They released a video clip on January 22, 2019, demanding that Vietnam improves its human rights records for the EV-FTA to proceed.

Almost one year ago, on February 6, 2018, a court in Central Vietnam convicted Hoang Duc Binh on two separate charges, “resisting officers acting under their duty,” and “abusing freedoms and democratic rights to infringe upon the State’s interest or the rights and interests of other entities and individuals.” (Articles 257, 258 of the 1999 Penal Code, amended as 330, 331 under the 2015 Penal Code).

Binh was sentenced to the maximum term of 7 years for each of the offenses, which meant that the court found his conduct to be “seriously harmful” to the public according to the sentencing guidelines.

Binh maintained his innocence, stating that all he did was accompanying a group of fishermen and a Catholic priest to travel from Nghe An to Ha Tinh to file their civil suits against Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation.

Formosa Ha Tinh was the main culprit that had paid 500M USD to settle the damages they caused in the environmental disaster which affected four coastal provinces in Central Vietnam back in 2016.

In recent months, Hoang Duc Binh’s family has raised concerns about his deteriorating health conditions after each visitation.

The letter was signed by Barbara Lochbihler (Greens/EFA), Wajid Khan (S&D), Petras Austrevicius (ALDE), Anne-Marie Mineur (GuE), Ana Gomes (S&D), Karoline Graswander-Hainz (S&D), Reinhard Bütikofer(Greens/EFA), David Martin (S&D), and Marietje Schaake (ALDE).

The MEPs asked that Hoang Duc Binh “to be immediately and unconditionally released” and that he will be “allowed to remain inside his home country, Vietnam, and not forced into exile as a precondition for his release.”


Former Political Prisoner, Truong Duy Nhat, Disappeared In Thailand After Seeking Refugee Status With UN

The Vietnamese: Last Friday, January 25, 2019, former political prisoner, Truong Duy Nhat, was last seen at the office of the UN HCR – The Refugee Agency in Bangkok, Thailand.

Nhat was there to register himself as an asylum seeker after leaving Vietnam earlier in the month.

According to his family and friends, no one had heard from him since last Saturday, and they could not contact him.

Nhat has left Vietnam for Thailand for about 21 days, said his family.

The family was able to confirm that Nhat was not held by Thailand’s IDC (Immigration Detention Center). They also obtained further information today that Thai authorities, up to this point, did not arrest Nhat either.

Nhat’s phone number in Thailand is not turned off, but no one answered the calls. His wife and daughter are worried about his safety and well-being as they are still unable to get in touch with him.

Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to two-year-imprisonment in 2014 under Article 258 of the 1999 Penal Code. Nhat was arrested in May 2013 and held in detention until his trial.

The government alleged some of his blog entries on the Blog “Another Point of View” (Một Góc Nhìn Khác) was “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interest of the state”.

His blog was indeed critical of the government and the leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

One of the entries published in April 2013 was calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the VCP’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong for their perceived political and economic mismanagement.

After his release in 2015, Nhat continued with his blogging and resided in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Nhat’s wife is still in Vietnam, but his daughter is studying in Vancouver, Canada. They are asking members of the public to come forward with any useful information regarding his whereabouts.


Prisoner of Conscience Tran Hoang Phuc under Inhumane Treatment in Binh Phuoc

Prisoner of conscience Tran Hoang Phuc, who is serving his six-year sentence on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, is reportedly under inhumane treatment by the authorities of An Phuoc Prison camp in Binh Duong province.

His mother said on January 5 she sent him medicine to treat his Hep-C disease, however, on January 31, he still did not receive it. It is likely the medicine is still waiting to be carefully checked by the prison’s authorities.

Phuc told his mother that the prisoners at An Phuoc prison are given 1 blanket each, made of fabric cutting waste. The blankets are very hairy and dusty, causing skin allergy in summer, chest infection in winder due to hairy and dusty particles. 

He said that he had requested prison officials to provide prisoners with new blankets however his request had not been replied to as of January 31. 

Phuc told his mother to inform international rights organisations about the harsh treatment of prisoners in Vietnamese prisons if his request for new blankets still did not receive any reply in one more month.

===== February 2 ===== 

Student Tran Ngoc Phuc Interrogated for Facebook Posting amid Increasing Online Crackdown

Defend the Defenders:Authorities in Vietnam’s southern province of Ben Tre have summoned university student Tran Ngoc Phuc for interrogation about his writing on Facebook, according to the local online newspaper Dong Khoi.

Accordingly, police have found his original and shared statuses on his Facebook account named Ngoc Phuc harmful for the ruling Communist Party and its government. He was summoned to the Security Investigation Branch of the province’s Police Department for questioning on February 1.

Phuc was said to join a number of online forums and write or share many statuses which distort policies of the party and its government.

However, it is unclear Phuc got arrested or not. He may face charge with “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Mr. Phuc, 21, is a resident of Tan Phu commune, Chau Thanh district. He is a student of Ton Duc Thang University headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City.

Phuc may become the third Facebooker being arrested since the beginning of 2019 when the Cyber Security Law became effective. Many foreign democratic governments and international human rights have been criticizing Vietnam for the law which is considered as an effective tool to silence online dissent.

Last year, Vietnam arrested five activists on the allegation under Article 117 and convicted two of them, Huynh Truong Ca and Nguyen Dinh Thanh with imprisonment sentences of 5.5 years and seven years.

As many as 28 activists being imprisoned or investigated for the allegation. The highest imprisonment for the charge is 14 years and the lightest is three years in jail, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.

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===== 03/02 ===== 

Activist Tran Van Quyen Arrested in Relation with Viet Tan

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have reportedly arrested Tran Van Quyen due to his membership in the California-based Vietnamese group named Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan), the organization listed as a terrorist group by the communist regime in the Southeast Asia.

According to Saigon-based lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, Quyen’s brother informed him that Quyen was arrested on January 23, 2019 by security forces while he was taking a coffee in a cafeteria in Di An town, Binh Duong province.

Later, police conducted a house search in his private residence. No arrest warrant nor house search was given to the detainee’s family. The family was told that he was arrested because of being a member of Viet Tan.

Quyen, a 20-year-old technician is held in the B34 temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security in Cu Chi district, Ho Chi Minh City.

His family is allowed to supply food and other stuffs for him once a month.

Quyen has been the second member of Viet Tan being arrested so far this year. In mid January, Vietnam’s security forces arrested Vietnamese Australian Chau Van Khiem together with a local citizen named Nguyen Van Vien, member of the banned group Brotherhood for Democracy.

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