Amid COVID-19 Outbreak, Vietnam Continues to Stifle Local Dissent, Arresting Third Activist within Two Weeks

Mr. Tran Duc Thach (fourth from the right, standing row) at the cyber training organized by RSF and DTD


Defend the Defenders, April 23, 2020


While the whole country is focusing on dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, Vietnam’s communist regime does not forget to cement its political monopoly by intensifying its crackdown on local dissent, arresting the third activist within two weeks.

This time, its prey is former prisoner of conscience Tran Duc Thach, 68, from the central province of Nghe An, the home of late communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Thach is a founding member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy.

On April 23, security forces arrested Mr. Thach on allegation of conducting “Activities against the people’s government” under Article 109 of the country’s Criminal Code, with the highest punishment of 20 years in prison or even death penalty. Police conducted searching for his house, confiscating a laptop, cell phones, a camera as well as VND9 million ($380) and $400, according to his family.

According to the state-controlled media, Mr. Thach has been continuously posting and sharing numerous articles on Facebook with content to distort the regime’s policies with the aim to trigger social disorders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He was arrested for the first time in 2009 and sentenced to three years in jail and three years of probation on a charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the same Penal Code for claiming Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys), the two archipelagos also claimed by China, and demanding human rights improvement in the communist nation. Particularly, Thach, together with activists Vu Van Hung and Nguyen Xuan Nghia hang out a banner which states “Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belong to Vietnam” at Mai Dich Bridge in the capital city of Hanoi. His fellows were also jailed with lengthy sentences.

After leaving the army in 1975, Thach wrote a memoir named “Obsessive mass grave” to describe how communist soldiers assaulted innocent civil people while invading South Vietnam during the Vietnam War in which the communist soldiers with the support of China and the Soviet Unions as well as the communist bloc in Eastern Europe defeated South Vietnam backed by the US and its allies and unified the country in 1975. In 1976, he self-immolated to protest unfair policies of authorities in Nghe An province and Dien Chau district. Due to the act, his face was deformed.

The arrest of Thach was made three days after the communist regime rejected the appeal of human rights activist and environmental campaigner Nguyen Nang Tinh, upholding his sentence of 11 years in prison and five years of probation. Both Thach and Tinh are strongly protesting China’s invasions of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

Last week, China sent a diplomatic note to the UN Secretary-General to reaffirm its illegal claim of nearly entire East Sea, including the two archipelagos Paracels and Spratlys that Vietnam has controlled since the 18th century, and demand Vietnam to withdraw its crews and facilities in the resource-rich sea which is also very important for international trade.

Thach is the third activist being arrested within two weeks. On April 10, authorities in Can Tho arrested Ma Phung Ngoc Phu on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” and eight days later, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy from Hau Giang province was detained and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda,” both were arrested for their online posts which are considered harmful for the regime. The arrests were made after the call of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to release prisoners of conscience in a bid to protect their health amid increasing COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 20, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi upheld the sentence of 11 years in prison and five years of probation against human rights activist Nguyen Nang Tinh, who is also strongly protesting China’s expansionism in the East Sea.

Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified its crackdown on local dissent from late 2015 when the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam prepared for its 12th National Congress. More than 100 activists have been arrested and charged with controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Penal Code or the Criminal Code, many of them were sentenced to lengthy imprisonments of between five and 20 years.

BFD is the group that suffered the most from the ongoing persecution campaign of the communist regime. Its nine key members were sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison, and only two of them, human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha were freed but forced to live in exile in Germany. It is unknown Thach’s latest arrest related to BFD. In 2017, when Vietnam’s police arrested six key members of the group, he was summoned to a police station and interrogated for days about his activities in it.

With the new arrests, Vietnam is holding at least 245 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’s statistics. More arrests are expected in the coming months as the ruling party is preparing for its 13th five-year congress slated in early 2021.