Vietnamese Police Harass Many Activists, Confiscating Their Personnel Items amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Ms. Truong Thi Ha during the peaceful demonstration in HCM City on June 10, 2018


Defend the Defenders, April 16, 2020


Authorities in Vietnam’s central provinces of Khanh Hoa, Quang Binh, Dak Lak and Dak Nong have harassed three local activists while placing them under quarantine related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Ms. Truong Thi Ha reported that police in Quang Binh confiscated her personnel items including passport, diary and cell phone before placing her under quarantine when she returned from Thailand on a bus in late March.

Ha said she was kept by Vietnam’s security when she entered the homeland from Laos. In the past several years, Ha reportedly participated in short courses on human rights in the EU and has recently worked for a human rights group in Bangkok.

Ha said she was allowed to return to her parents’ house without having the items confiscated by police. She expects to be summoned by security forces in the coming days for interrogation for her activities in recent years.

Ha is a young activist, participating in peaceful demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018 to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. She was reportedly beaten by police after being detained and held for several days.

Graduated law in HCM City Law University, Ha has pledged to be a lawyer to assist vulnerable groups. She has done an internship with prominent human rights attorneys Le Cong Dinh and Tran Vu Hai.

Meanwhile, on April 16, police in Nha Trang City detained Vu Dat Phong for interrogation. The Saigon-based activist returned to his home city in early April after authorities in big cities including HCM City and Hanoi impose social distance and halt businesses. Phong was placed under quarantine until the early morning of Thursday when a group of security police came to request him to go with them. They reportedly took him to a police station and questioned him until late evening of the same day. Police were said to confiscate his cell phones and take control of his Facebook account. Phong was allowed to return home exhausted.

Phong is among many outspoken activists in HCM City, openly criticizes the communist regime on his Facebook account Vũ Phong and participates in numerous activities which aim to promote human rights and democracy as well as protect the country’s sovereignty amid China’s increasing aggressiveness in the East Sea (South China Sea).

Mr. Tran Quoc Hien in Dak Mil district in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong reported that the district police have repeatedly summoned him to their headquarters for interrogation about his posts on his Facebook accounts. During some interrogation, he affirmed that he has done nothing wrong but practicing his right of freedom of expression enshrined in the country’s Constitution and the international treaties that Vietnam is a signatory party.

In recent weeks, police in Buon Me Thuat city, Dak Lak province, have harassed local resident Vo Ngoc Luc, a member of the unregistered group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. They continuously request him to go to the city police department for questioning about his online activities.

One week earlier, on April 10, authorities in Can Tho arrested local Facebooker named Ma Phung Ngoc Phu and charged her with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code for her post on her Facebook account James Nguyen. The 28-year-old Facebooker is held incommunicado and facing imprisonment of between three and seven years if is convicted.

In another development, dozens of Hanoi-based activists have reported that they have been placed under de facto house arrest for unknown reasons. Someone said the city police are not willing them to go to Dong Tam commune on the 100-day anniversary of the death of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, the local leader killed by security forces during their brutal attack in early hours of January 9.

Vietnam’s communist regime has activated the government’s Decree 15 from April 15 in a bid to silence local dissent. Accordingly, individuals may be fined up to VND20 million ($) for posting harmful information for the regime or the society and other individuals or organizations on social networks. The decree is part of Cyber Security Law which became effective in early 2019.