Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 4-10, 2019: Social Activist Ha Van Nam Arrested in Trumped-up Allegation of “Causing Public Disorders”

Defend the Defenders | March 10, 2019

Defend the Defenders| March 10, 2019

Vietnam’s authorities have arrested social activist Ha Van Nam in a trumped-up case, accusing him of “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the 2015 Penal Code.

In early morning of March 5, a group of police from the northern province of Bac Ninh came to his private residence in Hanoi to take him away without showing arrest warrant to his wife. Police later informed his family that he was detained due to his activities on January 31 which aimed to protest illegal collection of road fee by the Pha Lai toll booth in Que Vo district, Bac Ninh province.

The arrest aims to silence activities of social activists who are launching campaign to protest toll booths which were wrongly placed in many localities in Vietnam. Many of them have been persecuted by police or thugs sent by road developers in recent months.

Human rights activist Bach Hong Quyen who is living in Bangkok as a political refugee said he is in dangerous situation as the Royal Thai Police and the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand are seeking to arrest him in relations with former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat. Mr. Nhat went missing in Bangkok on January 26 while Quyen is the only witness of Nhat’s presence in Thailand two months ago. Quyen is calling international rights groups and foreign media to pay attention to his case to avoid being arrested and deported to his native country.

The Higher People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City set to carry out the appeal hearing of five human rights defenders Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia and Phan Trung on March 18. In October 2018, five activists were convicted of subversion and sentenced to between eight and 15 years in prison for their plan to establish the Vietnam National Coalition which aims to work for promoting civil and political rights of all citizens.

The People’s Court of Binh Thuy district in Can Tho City has postponed the first-instance hearing of local activist Le Minh The on March 20. Initially, the court planned to hold the trial on March 6. Mr. The was arrested on October 10 last year and accused of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code for his online activities and participation in peaceful demonstration on June 10, 2018.

And other important news

===== March 4 =====

Vietnamese Citizen Cleared of Involving in Missing of Former PoC Truong Duy Nhat But Faces Deportation from Thailand

Defend the Defenders: Thai authorities have transferred Vietnamese citizen Cao Lam to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) where holds foreigners illegally stay in the country.

The move was made after a trial on March 4 in which Mr. Lam was convicted of working illegally in Thailand. He will face deportation according to the Thai law.

It seems that the Royal Thai Police couldn’t find clues that Mr. Lam had involved in the missing of former Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat who disappeared on January 26, one day after heregistered as an asylum seeker to the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok.

About ten days after Mr. Nhat dissappeared, Bui Thanh Hieu, a political blogger staying in Germany wrote in his Facebook account blaming secret agents of the General Department of Intelligence of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) of conducting abduction of Mr. Nhat in a trade center named Future Park in Bangkok’s outskirt. Hieu also said that several Vietnamese citizens in Thailand including Mr. Lam and a Vietnamese with penname Kami had assisted the group of ten of secret agents involved in Nhat’s kidnapping.

After Nhat’s dissappearance, many international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) called on the Thai government to investigate the case.

According to Hieu, Nhat was taken to Vietnam and currently held in B14 temporary detention facility under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security.

The Vietnamese government has yet to make any comment in the case.

Vietnam’s security forces have applied abduction to detain political dissidents in the country and abroad. In 2017, they kidnapped former senior official Trinh Xuan Thanh in Berlin when he was seeking political asylum there. The kidnapping of Thanh is among reasons that Germany revoked its strategic partnership with Vietnam while the EU is taking longer time to consider approval of the EU-Vietnam Trade Agreement.

===== March 5 ===== 

Anti-corruption Activist Ha Van Nam Arrested with Trumped-up Allegation

Defendthe Defenders: Authoritiesin Vietnam’s northern province of Bac Ninh have arrested Hanoi-based anticorruption activist Ha Van Nam on allegation of “causing public disorders” in a trumped-up case in a bid to silence his effort to deal with corruption related to road upgrading under BOT (build-operate-transfer) form.

Nam’s family had reported that in early morning of March 5, a group of police officers came to his private residence in Hanoi to take him away. The police officers had not show an arrest warrant to his family, just saying he was accused of “causing public disorders” on January 31 this year in Pha Lai payment toll in Que Vo district, Bac Ninh province.

Currently, Nam is held in the temporary detention facility under the authority of Que Vo district’s police. He is likely kept incommunicado for two months for investigation.

The Bac Ninh province’s police have reportedly denied to meet his family’s request to allow him meet with his lawyer. 

With the accusation, Mr. Nam faces imprisonment of up to seven years if is convicted.

Mr. Nam, 38, is among social activists opposing road tolls which are wrongly placed in a bid to collect fees from drivers who even have not used services provided by road developers. The road developers are reportedly backed by senior officials from the Vietnamese regime which is among most corrupted governments in the world.

In order to deal with the social activists who strive to oppose the wrongly-placed road tolls and demand suspension of money collection, the developers, with support of police, are using thugs to attack the activists.

A number of anti-BOT activists have been harassed in different forms, including abduction or physical attacks or even imprisonment in their vehicles for hours.

On January 29, Mr. Nam was kidnapped by a group of unknown individuals when he was sitting near his house in Hanoi. The kidnappers took him in their van, taking him away and beating him. Finally, they threw him in a road in Dan Phuong district about 20 km from Hanoi’s center. He suffered a number of injuries, including broken ribs.

===== March 6 ===== 

Trial against Facebooker Le Minh The Postponed, Re-scheduled on March 20

Defend the Defenders: A court from the Mekong Delta hub of Can Tho has re-scheduled the first-instance hearing of local Facebooker Le Minh The on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” on March 20 after receiving a request from his lawyer.

Initially, the People’s Court of Binh Thuy was assigned to carry out the trial on March 6, however, lawyer Nguyen Van Duc asked the court to postpone the hearing so he will have more time to prepare for his client’s defense.

Mr. The, 56, is a member of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) which aims to promote civil and political rights among citizens by disseminating the country’s Constitution 2013. He has conducted numerous live streams on his Facebook account calling for promoting human rights and multi-party democracy.

Due to his online activities and participation in the peaceful mass demonstration in Ho Chi Minh on June 10, 2018 which aimed to protest two bills on Special Economic Zone and Cyber Security, he was arrested on October 10, 2018 and charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

He had been kept incommunicado since being arrested five months ago until recently.

From early September last year, Vietnam’s security forces arrested ten members of the Hiến Pháp and eight of them are still in detention. Mr. Huynh Truong Ca, 48, was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison after being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code while Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Hanh, Ms. Doan Thi Hong, Mr. Ngo Van Dung and Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong were charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 with maximum imprisonment of 15 years. The allegations of Mr. Tran Thanh Phuong and Mr. Do The Hoa were not announced.

Eight of them were listed as prisoners of conscience by NOW! Campaign, a coalition of 15 international and domestic NGOs including Defend the Defenders, BPSOS, Civil Rights Defenders and Front Line Defenders working for release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.


Appeal Hearing of Luu Van Vinh and His Four Fellows Re-scheduled on March 18

Defend the Defenders: On March 18, the Higher People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City will hold the appeal hearing of five members of the to-be-established Vietnam National Coalition who were convicted of “carry out activities aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code.

In late 2018, the court planned to carry out the appeal hearing of human rights defenders and democracy campaigners Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia and Phan Trung on January 21 this year, however, the hearing was postponed due to lack of a lawyer of Mr. Phan Trung.

In recent week, his family hired lawyer Nguyen Van Duc to defend him.

The five activists were arrested in early November 2016 and charged with subversion due to their plan to set up the Vietnam National Coalition with aim to promote civil and political rights of all citizens. According to the accusation of their families, Vinh and his fellows were brutally beaten during their arrest.

After many months being kept incommunicado, they were tried by the People’s Court of HCM City. After one day of working, the court sentenced them to a total 57 years in prison: Mr. Vinh – to 15 years,  Mr. Hoan- 13 years, Mr. Do, who is also vice president of the unregistered union organization Viet Labor Movement, was given to 11 years while Mr. Nghia and Mr. Trung were sentenced to ten and eight years, respectively. In addition, all of them will have to spend three years under house arrest after completing their imprisonments.

Their arrests and convictions are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent which started in late 2015 with the arrest of prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha.

Last year, Vietnam arrested around 30 activists and convicted 41 human rights defenders with a total imprisonment of 302 years and 69 years of probation.

So far this year, Vietnam’s security forces have arrested eight democracy campaigners and social activists named Huynh Minh Tam, Huynh Thi To Nga, Huynh Dac Tuy, Duong Thi Lanh, Nguyen Van Cong Em, Van Vien, Tran Van Quyen and Ha Van Nam.

===== March 8 ===== 

Vietnam Political Refugee Sought by Thai Police, Calling for Help

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese human rights activist Bach Hong Quyen, who has been granted with refugee status by the Office of UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok, is calling for urgent help from international rights group and media to avoid being arrested by the Royal Thai Police.

In his open letter circulated on Facebook, Quyen said he is sought by the Thai authorities because of his involvement in the case of former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat, who went missing in late January after registering to the UNHCR in Bangkok to seek for refugee status.

Quyen said he is currently in “extreme danger” because he is the only witness of the fact that Mr. Truong Duy Nhat was present in Thailand to apply as a political asylum seeker.

He also said the Thai police, in collaboration with the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand, are hunting him so he would be arrested and deported to the home country in a bid to “erase all traces that Mr. Truong Duy Nhat had arrived in Thailand.”

Quyen fled to Thailand in early 2017 after being sought by Vietnam’s security forces for his assistance given to Formosa-affected fishermen in the country’s central region. His fellow Hoang Duc Binh was arrested in May 2017 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

It is likely Quyen is among Vietnamese helping Mr. Truong Duy Nhat when he arrived in Bangkok and stayed in a private hotel before being dissappeared.

Canada has accepted Quyen’s application for asylum and he is currently waiting to be interviewed and fulfil further steps in order to be allow to settle there. His wife and three kids also stay with him in Thailand.

Meanwhile, there is no progress in the case of Mr. Truong Duy Nhat, who was said to flee in Thailand in mid January this year and dissappeared on January 26. One day before going missing, he reportedly registered to the UNHCR in Bangkok.

Some sources claimed that Mr. Truong Duy Nhat, who was imprisoned for two years for his articles criticizing Vietnam’s senior leaders, was kidnapped by Vietnam’s secret agents who took him back to Vietnam.

After his dissappearance, many international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, called on Thai’s authorities to launch investigation in the case.

Vietnam’s authorities have yet to make any statement regarding the dissappearance of the former prisoner of conscience.