Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for September 21-27, 2020: Police Extend Pre-trial Detention against IJAVN Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Blogger Pham Thanh
Defend the Defenders | September 27, 2020
Vietnam’s security forces have extended the pre-trial detention of two well-known government critics Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Pham Chi Thanh (penname Pham Thanh) for an additional three months. They were arrested on May 21 and 23, respectively, this year on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.
On September 21, the Security Investigation Agency of the Hanoi Police Department informed Mr. Thanh’s family about the extension. However, Mr. Thuy’s family and lawyer have not been informed about the move of the Security Investigation Agency of Ho Chi Minh City’s Police Department. Mr. Thuy has been held incommunicado since his detention in on May 23 while Mr. Thanh was allowed to meet with his wife in the Hanoi detention facility.
While Mr. Thanh was detained for his political writing, Mr. Thuy, vice president of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), was arrested as part of the case against IJAVN President Dr. Pham Chi Dung, who was taken into police custody in November last year on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda.” After arresting another IJAVN member Le Huu Minh Tuan on June 12, police in Hanoi, HCM City, Dak Lak, and Quang Ngai have been summoning other members to local police stations for questioning about the activities of the organization and its senior members.
Human rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong was said to have remained silent during the interrogations since his arrest in late June this year. Phuong, his mother Can Thi Theu, and younger brother Trinh Ba Tu were detained on June 24 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.” Like others held in political cases, the trio has been kept incommunicado. Mr. Tu was said to conduct a hunger strike for more than 20 days from August 25. However, their family has no updated information about him.
The police of Hanoi and Hoa Binh provinces have also intimidated their family. Former prisoner of conscience Trinh Ba Khiem, the husband of Mrs. Theu, and Mrs. Do Thi Thu, the wife of Phuong, were summoned to police stations several times for interrogation about their loved ones.
Authorities in Xuan Loc Prison camp continue to hold prisoners of conscience Nguyen Van Duc Do and Huynh Duc Thanh Binh in an isolated area for disciplined prisoners from May after they requested outdoor privileges during weekends. Their families are permitted to conduct prison visits once for every two months compared with one visit and one food supply every month for those who are not disciplined by the prison’s authorities. People held in the disciplined area are not allowed to meet with criminal and political prisoners.
On September 25, a group of 64 members of the European Parliament sent a joint letter to urge the European Union to use their economic leverages to request Vietnam’s communist regime to improve its human rights record. According to the European legislators, Vietnam’s human rights situation has worsened with a series of government critics’ arrest and persecution of land petitioners before and after the ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and the Investment Protection Agreement which became effective in early August, said the joint letter.
A group of 52 Israeli human rights activists have submitted a joint petition to the District Court in Tel Aviv asking to stop Israeli military exports to Vietnam due to Hanoi’s using them as means for domestic repression and human rights violation, according to their legal representative human rights attorney Eitay Mack. In their joint article posted on the Israeli daily newspaper HAARETZ on September 24, lawyer Mack and Defend the Defenders’ Director Mr. Vu Quoc Ngu said no countries and no companies anywhere in the world should sell defense exports to Vietnam’s regime, because of the likelihood that Hanoi will use those weapons to suppress its own population rather than for the defense of the state from external threats. Vietnamese people need to be protected from the cruelty of the communist party’s stifling regime, instead of being targeted more precisely and ruthlessly by the weapons and surveillance technology sold to the regime by countries like Israel, they said.
===== September 23 =====
Many Prisoners of Conscience in Xuan Loc Prison Camp Still Under Additional Punishment
Defend the Defenders: A number of prisoners of conscience in Xuan Loc Prison camp in the southern province of Dong Nai remain under additional punishment after a dispute with prison authorities in May this year, Defend the Defenders has learned.
Currently, Mr. Nguyen Van Duc Do and Mr. Huynh Duc Thanh Binh are held in an isolated area, not being permitted to contact with other prisoners, including criminal prisoners. As part of the punishment, their families are allowed to conduct prison visits once every two months only while other prisoners of conscience can meet their relatives once a month and one more time for receiving stuff and food from their families every month.
As Defend the Defenders reported, in May, a group of prisoners of conscience in Xuan Loc Prison camp held a protestto demand the prison’s authorities allow them to go out during weekends. The prison’s authorities denied their request and sent guards to beat them. Later, they transferred five prisoners of conscience who were considered as leading figures of the protest from an area where many prisoners are held to the isolated area for punishment. In the first week in the isolated area, Do and Binh were placed in solitary cells with one leg being fettered.
Mr. Do’s relatives have reported that along with beating him, the prison’s guards also mixed his food with dirty substances.
The prison’s authorities reportedly told Binh’s mother that they would end punishing him and remove him from the area for punishment if he makes confession for his wrongdoings. However, she said he will never do it since he has committed no violations.
Mr. Do is a vice president of the unsanctioned labor rights group Viet Labor Movement. He was arrested in early November 2016 and later sentenced to 11 years in prison for his peaceful activities and affiliation with pro-democracy activist Luu Van Vinh, who is serving his 15-year imprisonment. Both activists were convicted of subversion by the hearings that failed to meet the international standards for a fair trial.
Meanwhile, Mr. Binh was arrested in July 2017 together with Vietnamese American Michael Minh Phuong Nguyen and Tran Long Phi on allegation of subversion, also for their peaceful activities which aim to promote human rights and multi-party democracy. In 2018, Binh was sentenced to ten years in prison while Nguyen and Phi were given twelve and eight years in prison, respectively.
Torture is still systemic in Vietnam although the communist parliament ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014. Dozens of suspects or prisoners have been killed or seriously injured in police custody annually.
Former prisoners of conscience have reported that they were often sent to solitary cells after refusing to admit wrongdoings or protesting inhumane treatment in prisons. International standards hold that prolonged solitary confinement of more than 15 days may constitute torture.
Along with sentencing activists to lengthy imprisonment in trials that do not meet international standards for a fair trial, Vietnam’s communist regime sends the convicted activists to prisons far from their families where they were placed in hard living conditions in order to break their mentality. Authorities of prison often place prisoners of conscience in solitary cells as a discipline against those who object to their inhumane treatment.
====== September 24 =====
Activist Trinh Ba Phuong Exercises His Right to Silence Since His Arrest on June 24, Investigation against IJAVN’s Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy Likely Extended
Defend the Defenders: Human rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong has reportedly remained silent during the past three months in police custody since his arrest on June 24, Defend the Defenders has learned.
Talking to Defend the Defenders, his wife Mrs. Do Thi Thu said she got this information from the Security Investigation Agency of the Hanoi Police Department. Thu was summoned to the agency’s Office for interrogation on the morning of September 24.
The police investigators told Thu that her husband’s health is good but he has not opened his mouth since being detained three months ago.
During the interrogation, the investigators asked her about his health conditions before being detained as well as his Facebook. They also asked her about prominent political writer and human rights defender Ms. Pham Doan Trang, Thu said, adding she told them that her husband was completely healthy but knows nothing about other issues.
Mr. Phuong is the oldest son of the couple of prisoners of conscience Trinh Ba Khiem and Can Thi Theu, who were imprisoned for protesting land grabbing of authorities in the capital city of Hanoi and voicing about human rights violations and multi-party democracy. Together with his parents and his younger brother Trinh Ba Tu, Phuong has often condemned human rights abuse in their locality and reported to foreign diplomats. He provided great support for land petitioners in Dong Tam commune before and after the police raid on January 9 this year, in which riot police brutally killed elderly communal leader Le Dinh Kinh and detained about 30 local farmers.
On June 24, the security forces in Hanoi arrested him and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. On the same day, the security forces in the neighboring province of Hoa Binh detained his mother and younger brother for the same allegation
Since then, the mother and the two sons have been kept incommunicado. Mr. Tu was said to conduct a hunger strike for more than 20 days from August 25. However, their family has no updated information about him.
Meanwhile, the Hanoi Police Department has extended the investigation period and kept well-known blogger Pham Chi Thanh (penname Pham Thanh) to a further three months. Mr. Thanh was arrested on May 23 on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for his writing.
It is likely that Ho Chi Minh City’s Police Department has also extended the investigation period in the case of Vice President of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who was arrested on May 21 and charged with the same allegation in relation with the arrest of its President Dr. Pham Chi Dung. Mr. Dung was arrested in November last year and still held in pre-trial detention for investigation on the allegation under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. The family of Mr. Thuy has not been informed about the extension.
In recent weeks, Vietnam’s security forces have extended investigation against IJAVN’s members after arresting two key persons Dr. Dung and Mr. Thuy as well as young member Le Minh Tuan. Police in different localities have summoned a number of IJAVN’s members to the local police stations for questioning. Among the victims of the police harassment are Mr. Nguyen Thien Nhan from HCM City, Hoang Van Hung from Hanoi, Vo Ngoc Luc from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, and Do Thanh Nhan from the central province of Quang Ngai.
According to Vietnam’s current law, those who are charged with Article 117 may face imprisonment of between seven and 12 years, or up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted.
As many as 47 activists and bloggers are imprisoned on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code (2015) or Article 88 of the Penal Code (1999), according to the Defend the Defenders’ statistics.
How Israeli Weapons Power Vietnam’s Cruel Surveillance State
Vietnam is now one of Israel’s largest markets for weapons and surveillance technology. But those defense exports are used by Hanoi’s repressive communist regime to silence its own population
HAARETZ: Vietnam’s dictatorship has lasted for decades. Its longevity and repression mean that it has succeeded in eliminating most of its opponents. At this stage, with a largely subdued public, the dictatorship, run by the Communist Party of Vietnam, has no need to take dramatic action that could attract the international community’s attention.
Rather than Pinochet-style mass killings, kidnapping and the public torture of thousands, the dictatorship’s oppressive authoritarianism is selective: it focuses on the civilians who, in its opinion, have the capacity to stir up the public and subvert the party’s rule, even to rise up against it.
But the regime doesn’t take its control over the public sphere for granted – and nor should it, as civil resistance persists, in the form of principled political dissidents, social activists, and human rights defenders. That’s why, in order to maintain its political domination, the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is intensifying its crackdown ahead of the party’s 13th National Congress, slated for January 2021.
This is an intensification of the regime’s existing methods for crushing dissent among its 92 million subjects. Vietnamese civilians who voice criticism – whether on Facebook, as journalists or as protesters – are consistently attacked by the security forces: they face arrest, severe torture, criminal charges for draconian offenses.
Some are executed during torture, some are executed according to legal process. Some civilians are held in informal detention centers, whose existence the regime refuses to admit to, and those detainees are therefore defined as “disappeared.”
Those activists who are not arrested and suspected of hostility to the regime are under constant surveillance and have severe restrictions on their freedom of occupation and freedom of movement. For example, on 15 November 2019, the regime sentenced Nguyen Nang Tinh, a music teacher, to 11 years in prison, for Facebook posts that caused “negative information about the country” to be circulated.
There has been a general escalation in the degree of persecution for regime critics starting in late 2015, with the arrest of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, the co-founder and president of the unregistered organization, Brotherhood for Democracy, who later was forced into exile in Germany after his conviction for subversion, when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
For the last five years, Vietnam’s communist regime has arrested around 40 activists every year and charged them under controversial National Security provisions of the country’s Criminal Code. Over the first seven months of this year, the regime has detained 19 activists and 30 land-petitioners.
In Vietnam, the Communist party controls legislative, executive, and judicial affairs. Every single one of the detained activists have been convicted by extremely brief trials that fail to meet international standards for fairness and justice. The detainees have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms and are placed in prison camps far from their families and contend with harsh living conditions.
Vietnam is now among the biggest jailer of activists in Southeast Asia. Today, Vietnam “boasts” at least 276 prisoners of conscience.
Although Vietnam has signed and ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the regime has punished these who peacefully exercise the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, to access to information and a free press as well as the right to freedom of religion and belief.
Sadly, none of this has dissuaded Israel from accelerating its sale of arms to Vietnam. Israel is keen to strengthen ties with Hanoi, as a pathway to political support in significant regional forums such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). And Vietnam currently enjoys temporary membership in the UN Security Council. The Vietnamese dictatorship has also decided to invest billions of dollars to replace its aging Soviet and Chinese weapons, acquired by its security forces during the Cold War.
The end result is that Vietnam is now one of Israel’s largest clients in the world in terms of weapons and military technology sales.
But the Vietnamese regime want those weapons and surveillance systems for internal repression, to maintain the militarized intimidation of the security forces and to prevent Vietnam’s transition to democracy.
In October 2018, Israeli and Vietnamese defense ministries conducted strategic dialogues and signed a memorandum of understanding. The security forces in Vietnam use Micro-Uzi, Corner-Shot rifles, Tavor rifles, Galil Ace rifles (of several models) and Negev machine guns. There is a factory in Vietnam called “Z111,” authorized by the Israeli Defense Ministry to produce Tavor and Galil Ace rifles. Vietnam has signed a contract to buy Israeli military drones.
According to reports we have received from Vietnamese and international human rights activists and organizations, the dictatorship also uses Israeli companies’ surveillance systems.
This is why a petition of 52 Israeli human rights activists has been submitted to the District Court in Tel Aviv asking to stop Israeli military exports, due to their use as a means for domestic repression and human rights violations in Vietnam. There is a wide-ranging gag order on the Israeli defense ministry’s response to the petition, the court hearing and its eventual ruling.
No countries and no companies anywhere in the world should sell defense exports to Vietnam’s regime, because of the likelihood that Hanoi will use those weapons to suppress its own population rather than for the defense of the state from external threats.
The people of Vietnam need to be protected from the cruelty of the communist party’s stifling regime, instead of being targeted more precisely and ruthlessly by the weapons and surveillance technology sold to the regime by countries like Israel.
===== September 25 =====
64 Members of European Parliament Urge EU to Push Vietnam on Human Rights IssuesMr
Defend the Defenders: A group of 64 members of the European Parliament has signed a joint letter to urge the European Union to take measures to request Vietnam’s communist regime to improve the country’s human rights records.
In the joint letter dated September 25 sent to EU Commissioner-Designate for Trade Mr. Valdis Dombrovskis, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy cum Vice-President of the European Commission Mr. Josep Borrell Fontelles as well as President of the European Parliament Mr. David Sassoli and other senior officials of the EU, the European lawmakers said despite reform of the Labour Code and progress towards the ratification of ILO Conventions, Vietnam is intensifying crackdown on the local political dissidents, social activists, and human rights defenders and the number of arrests continues to rise before and after the European Parliament and Vietnam’s National Assembly ratified the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) which became effective on August 1 this year.
The letter said Vietnamese citizens willing to enjoy their freedom of religion and belief independently are still persecuted by the authorities and the police on the ground that they are undermining national unity. In addition, routine land grabbing in the Southeast Asian nation is often the root cause of violence, with the triggered tragic events in Dong Tam commune being the bloodiest case as the communist regime sentenced two land petitioners to death after sending riot policemen to kill their father in his bedroom in early January this year.
The lawmakers urge the EU to intensify dialogue with the Vietnamese authorities at the highest levels to urge them to take concrete steps to address the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, including by urgently releasing all those jailed solely for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression and by committing to undertaking concrete reform of the Criminal Code and other repressive legislation, living up to their bilateral and international commitments, and articulate consequences for lack of action.
US Lawmaker ‘Adopts’ Jailed Vietnamese Journalist as Prisoner of Conscience
RFA: U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal announced on Friday that he has officially adopted Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Van Hoa, an RFA contributor jailed for seven years in Vietnam, as a prisoner of conscience under the Defending Freedoms Project, a project of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Under the project, U.S. lawmakers work to raise awareness of the cases of their adopted prisoners, advocating for their freedom or for a reduction in their sentences, and calling attention to the laws or state policies that led to their unjust imprisonment.
“I am proud to adopt Nguyen Van Hoa as a prisoner of conscience,” Lowenthal said in a Sept. 25 statement released by the California representative’s office.
“He is a man of conviction, who has been wrongly abused, detained, and imprisoned for trying to cover issues important to the Vietnamese people, but which are uncomfortable for the Vietnamese government to hear.”
For further reading: US Lawmaker ‘Adopts’ Jailed Vietnamese Journalist as Prisoner of Conscience
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