Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weeky Report for February 11-17, 2019: Crackdown on Local Dissent Continues with Arrest and Abduction

Defend the Defenders| February 17, 2019

In response to growing social dissatisfaction, Vietnam’s communist regime continues its crackdown on local dissent as the security forces have carried out a number of arrest and abduction.

On February 28, plainclothes agents went to Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City to detain its medical worker Huynh Thi To Nga, a single mother with two children. The abduction is likely related to her posts on her Facebook accounts accounts Diệu HằngandSelena Zenabout human rights and multi-party democracy. Her situation is unknown for her family and friends.

Two days earlier, police also arrested Mr. Huynh Minh Tam who has his Facebook account Huynh Tri Tam. It is unclear the charge(s) against Mr. Tam.

Authorities in Ben Tre have interrogated a number of local residents for their online activities. The victims include Phan Tri Toan, Tran Ngoc Phuc and Dang Tri Thuc. While the last was fined with VND15 million ($650), it is unknown discipline for the first two as the local police say they are still investigating the two cases.

On February 17, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Vietnam’s six northernmost provinces, Vietnam’s security forces detained a dozen of activists and placed tens of others under house arrest in a bid to prevent them from gathering to mark the event.

Mr. Huynh Truong Ca, a member of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution), has been tortured while serving his imprisonment of five years and six months in Cao Lanh temporary detention facility under the authority of the Dong Thap province’s Police Department. He told his family that he is placed in a dark room with criminals who repeatedly beat him, and the prison’s authorities provide little food. He also said that during the pre-trial detention, he was forced to make false confession against other members of his group.

Meanwhile, Mr. Phan Kim Khanh, who was sentenced to six years in prison on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for his online posts, said he will question authorities in Thai Nguyen province for not accepting his appeal. The prisoner of conscience is now held in Ba Sao Prison camp in the northern province of Ha Nam.

Ms. Vo Nhu Huynh was the first protester partiticating in the peaceful demostration in mid June last year to be released after eight months of imprisonment. She was arrested on June 10, 2018 and charged with “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the 2015 Penal Code for protesting two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. Around 100 protesters in mid June 2018 were sentenced to up of 54 months in prison for their participation in the mass protest last year.

===== February 10 ===== 

First Mid-June Peaceful Protester Released after Eight Months of Imprisonment

Defend the Defenders: Ms. Vo Nhu Huynh, who was convicted for participation in peaceful demonstration in mid June last year, was released on February 10 after completing her eight-month imprisonment.

Ms. Huynh, a resident from the southern province of Dong Nai, was arrested on June 10, 2018 while participating in the peaceful street protest to oppose two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in Bien Hoa City. The former was believed to favor Chinese investors at the expense of Vietnam’s sovereignty, and the latter would muzzle online critics.

On that day, security forces in Bien Hoa City arrested dozens of protesters. Later, they charged 20 of them with “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the 2015 Penal Code.

On July 30 last year, a court in the city convicted them, sentenced Huynh and 14 others to between eight and 18 months in prison, and gave one-year probation to the remaining five. In their appeal several months later, the People’s Court of Dong Nai province upheld their sentences.

During their pre-trial detention and after their conviction, the protesters have been beaten and inhumanely treated by police forces. Their lawyers were also attacked by unknown individuals.

Vietnam arrested hundreds of protesters in mid-June last year, sentencing more than 100 of them up to 54 months in prison on allegation of causing public disorders.

===== February 12 =====

JailedHRD Huynh Truong Ca Tortured in Detention

Defend the Defenders: Prisoner of conscience Huynh Truong Ca has been being tortured in the temporary detention facility under the authority of the Dong Thap province’s Police Department, his family has informed Defend the Defenders.

Mr. Ca, a 48-year-old member of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution) which aims to educate the public about the human rights they are entitled to under Vietnam’s 2013Constitution,was arrested in early September 2018 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code. In late 2018, he was convicted and sentenced to five years and six months in prison and four years of probation.

In a most recent visit, he told his family that he was locked up in a dark cell with prisoners on criminal offences. These prisoners, backed by the police, abuse himas they continously beat him.

He was not given enough food, at times he was left hungry. In the weekend, he was only given plain rice soup.

These maltreatments happened after he told his family in a visit in January 2019 that the police forced him to confess and implicate others after his arrest in Sept 2018, but he refused to do so.

His family has been harassed and closely monitored by Dong Thap police who banned them from contacting or receiving support from others.

His daughter posted on her Fb “My father is innocent.”. After that, local police summoned her and her mother and interrogated them from early morning till early afternoon that day. The police also told them they would be jailed if they continued to use Facebook to post information about him.They requestedthe girl not to make friends with others, and grabbed their cell phones to delete their information, the family said.

His family said he is in bad health. He reportedly suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney stones, however the prison refused to accept the medicine his family sent in for him.

Mr. Ca is one of eight members of the Hien Phap group being arrested in early September last year due to their participation in the peaceful demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10 to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

Three of them named Ngo Van Dung, Doan Thi Hong, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Ho Dinh Cuong were charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 while Le Minh The, who was detained on October 10, 2018, was alleged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code. The remaining three named Do The Hoa, Tran Thanh Phuong and Hung Hung are without charge. All of them have been held incommunicado by the police of Ho Chi Minh City since being arrested.

All of them are considered as prisoners of conscience by NOW!Campaign, a coalition of 15 international and domestic rights groups, including Defend the Defenders, BPSOS, Civil Rights Defenders and Front Line Defenders.

===== February 13 ===== 

Authorities in Ben Tre Province Intensify Crackdown on Local Facebookers

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s southern province of Ben Tre have intensified crackdown on local government critics, interrogating a number of Facebookers for their online activities.

The state-run media has reported that police had summoned Mr. Phan Tri Toan, a 35-year-old resident of My Thanh An commune, Ben Tre city to question him about his posts on his Facebook account Phan Rio. Accordingly, his posts aim to incite anti-state protests.

On February 1, the province’s police also interrogated Tran Ngoc Phuc, a 21-year-old student of Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh City. The resident of Tan Phu commune, Chau Thanh district, was accused of using his personal account to propagandizing against the Communist Party of Vietnam and its government.

The state media also reported that authorities in Ben Tre have imposed an administrative fine of VND15 million ($650) on 55-year-old Dang Tri Thuc, a resident of Hoa Loc village, Mo Cay Bac district, for using his Facebook account to call for people to join street protests.

It is worth noting that local shrimp grower Nguyen Ngoc Anh was arrested on August 30, 2018 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

While Mr. Anh is held incommunicado in pre-trial detention and faces imprisonment of between three to 12 years in prison, it is unclear the charges against Mr. Toan and Mr. Phuc. The local police say they are still investigating their cases.

Related article: Vietnamese Police Continue Questioning People Over Facebook Activities

===== February 14 ===== 

Medical Worker Still Missing After Being Kidnapped in Late January

Defend the Defenders: Medical worker Huynh Thi To Nga is still missing after being kidnapped in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City in late January, according to her relatives.

Ms. Nga, 36, is a laboratory worker in Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital. On January 28, a group of plainclothes agents came to the medical clinics to detain the single mother of two child.

The detention is reportedly related to her posts on her Facebook accounts Diệu Hằngand Selena Zenabout human rights and multi-party democracy.

Ms. Nga has been among a number of Facebookers being harassed recently for their critical posts about the country’s hot issues, including human rights abuse, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution and China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

In mid June last year, the rubber-stamp parliament passed the bill on Cyber Security despite nationwide protest of tens of thousands of people. The law became effective on January 1 this year, is considered as an effective tool to silence online critics.

One week prior to the abduction of Ms. Nga, Vietnam’s security forces detained two other Facebookers named Huynh Minh Tam (Facebooker Huynh Tri Tam) and Duong Thi Lanh (Facebooker Ngoc Lan Saigon) without publicizing the charges against them. Police also failed to give arrest warrants to their families.

Along with official arrests, Vietnam’s security forces have carried out a number of abduction and the detainees have been kept incommunicado. The victims include eight members of the unregistered Hiến Pháp (Constitution) which strives to promote civil and political rights by disseminating Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

Vietnam is holding around 250 prisoners of conscience, according to NOW!Campaign, a coalition of 15 Vietnamese and international rights groups, including Defend the Defenders, BPSOS, Civil Rights Defenders and Front Line Defenders, to work for immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in the Southeast Asian nation.

===== February 17 ===== 

Many Activists Detained, Dozens Other under House Arrest on 40th Anniversary of Chinese Invasion

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces detained a dozen of local activists and placed tens of others under house arrest on the 40th anniversary of China’s invasion of the country’s six northernmost provinces.

In order to block local activists from gathering in cities’ centers to mark the 40th annyversary of the invasion of the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) and commemorate the fallen soldiers and civilians killed by the northern invaders, authorities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and other localites sent plainclothes agents to their private residences in recent days, effectively placing them under house arrest.

Some activists such as Nguyen Chi Tuyen, Dang Phuoc Bich, Le Hong Hanh, Hoang Ha from Hanoi and some from HCM City were arrested when they were on their way to King Ly Thai To Memorial in Hanoi and General Tran Hung Dao Memorial in the southern economic hub. They were held in police stations for hours before being freed.

Retired army officer Pham Tri Dinh from Hanoi went to King Ly Thai To Memorial to pay attribute for fallen soldiers. When he arrrived, pro-government thugs tried to block him to the site. Later, two plainclothesn agents forced him to leave the area.

Few activists successfully came to the site to mark the event.

The situation is similar in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s biggest economic hub. The local authorities placed many garbage trucks around General Tran Hung Dao Memorial and took its incensory away in a bid not to allow local residents to come to pay attribute to the fallen ones during the Chinese invasion.

Earlier this week, the state-run media for the first time in decades publicized many articles about the invasion of the PLA 40 years ago However, it failed to mention China as the invaders and the military conflict was decribed as “border clashes.”

The Vietnamese government treatment against local activists regarding China’s invasion is not new one. In previous years, on the occasions of the Chinese invasion of the Hoang Sa (Paracels) on January 19, 1974 or the loss of Gac Ma (South Johnson Reef) in the Truong Sa (Spratlys) on March 14, 1988, commemorations organized by activists were barred and participants were suppressed.

In order to keep their regime, Vietnam’s communist leaders are striving not to make Chinese communist regime angry even in issues concerning the country’s sovereignty. They also try not to allow the formation of opposition and persecute all activists and independent groups. 

China was one of the biggest donors for the Vietnamese communists during the wars against France and the US. However, the relationship between Hanoi and Beijing became hostile when Vietnam found the former Soviet Union as its new political ally. After Vietnam invaded Cambodia and defeat the China-backed Rough Khmer regime led by Pol Pot, Beijing angered and on February 17, 1979, it sent around 600,000 soldiers to attack six northernmost provinces of Vietnam. Before withdrawing one month later, the PLA killed tens of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and destroyed all infrastructures there.

Vietnam and China normalized bilateral relations in late 1990s and Hanoi considers Beijing as its closest political ally. In exchange, a large Vietnamese land, including Nam Quan Port and the larger part of Ban Gioc Waterfall, now are in China’s territory. Many Vietnamese major infrastructure projects have been carried out by Chinese investors.

Many Vietnamese activists who oppose China’s expansionism in the East Sea (South China Sea) have been imprisoned or harassed by the Vietnamese communist regime.

In mid June last year, Vietnam’s security forces brutally suppressed peaceful demonstrations of tens of thousands of people who rallied on streets in HCM City, Hanoi and many other cities to protest two draft laws on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. The first bill seems to favor Chinese investors and ignore the country’s sovereignty while the second bill aims to silence local online dissent.