Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for November 30-December 6, 2020: Prominent Democracy Campaigner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc on Hunger Strike from November 24
Defend the Defenders | December 6, 2020
Prominent democracy campaigner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment in the Prison camp No. 6 in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An, has been on hunger strike since November 24 and he declares to continue his fasting until the Supreme People’s Court responds to his petition.
In 2010, Mr. Thuc was convicted of subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code 1999 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. However, Article 109 of the Criminal Code 2015 which became effective in 2018 says for his allegation of “making preparation for the commitment of this subversion offence” shall face a penalty of between one and five years in prison. Since he has been held since 2010, he should be released immediately, but the authorities “intentionally” does not apply the provisions but tries to interpret the law in their own way to uphold the 16-year sentence given in 2009.
Thuc started his appeal for the remaining penalty exemption that Thuc in July 2018, however, Vietnam’s authorities remain silent.
Regarding Thuc’s hunger strike as well as the fasting of prisoners of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen and some other fellows in the An Diem Prison camp in the central province of Quang Nam, on December 3, Dublin-based Front Line Defenders made an appeal urging the international community to pay attention to their cases to request Vietnam’s communist regime to stop inhumane treatment against them and other prisoners of conscience, drop all charges against them and release them immediately and unconditionally. Ireland’s human rights group has also called on Hanoi to create safe conditions for human rights defenders to work without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
On November 30, the People’s Court of Nghe An unexpectedly suspended the first-instance hearing scheduled on the same day due to the poor health of the defendant human rights defender and democracy advocate Tran Duc Thach. According to his wife who visited him at the Nghi Kim detention center under the authority of the Nghe An province’s Police Department on December 1, the 68-year-old activist suffered high blood pressure and some other diseases one week prior to the scheduled trial and was taken to a local hospital under close police surveillance. After partly recovered, he was taken back to the detention facility. The new date of the trial has not been rescheduled.
On December 3, lawyers Trinh Vinh Phuc and Nguyen Van Mieng were allowed to meet their client human rights defender and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy for the first time seven and half months after her arrest on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code on April 18 this year. The lawyers said she remains strong mentally, claiming that she is innocent because she has not carried out any anti-state activity but exercized basic human rights to protect the country’s sovereignty and environment as well as voice against human rights violations. Her case has been sent to the Hau Giang province’s People’s Court and she may be taken to the court in early January next year.
On December 4, Hanoi-based human rights activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh went to the city’s Police Department on the 3rd summoning letter in which she is suspected of conducting high-tech crime. During the interrogation carried out by a group of four security officers and a representative of the city’s People’s Procuracy, she was questioned about her charity activities given to prisoners of conscience and activists-at-risks, her posts on Facebook and interviews of foreign-based outlets. The police said they will summon her for further interrogation.
On December 1, Amnesty International released its report Vietnam: Let us breathe! Censorship and criminalization of online expression in which the London-based human rights group blames Tech giants Facebook and YouTube are allowing themselves to become tools of the Vietnamese authorities’ censorship and harassment of its population, in an alarming sign of how these companies could increasingly operate in repressive countries.
One day later, Spain-based Safeguard Defenders released its Vietnamese version of the instruction to deplore the US’s Magnitky bill to submit appeals for human rights abuse. The work, in collaboration with local prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang, would help local human rights defenders to report human rights violations to the US’s government and the perpetrators and their supervisors may be punished by being under travel ban to the US and having bank and properties frozen by the US’s authorities.
===== December 1 =====
Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc on Hunger Strike for Second Week
Defend the Defenders: Prominent democracy campaigner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment in the Prison camp No. 6 in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An, has been on hunger strike for more than nine days, Defend the Defenders has learned.
According to his family who visited him in prison on November 30, he started fasting on November 24. By the time the family met him, he lost 3.5 kg and had very low blood pressure. His relatives who met him in person said he was looking very tired and fatigue.
During the meeting, he was said to ask his family to send a message to activists outside: “My apology to my father and everyone for not going with you until the end, please continue on the path of enlightenment for the people and mankind, the struggles should be focus towards human rights, take advantage of my departure as a motivation to push this fight to the end of this year and next year. Thank you, everyone, I will always remember you.”
Since being arrested in 2009 and especially held in Prison camp No. 6, Mr. Thuc has conducted a number of hunger strikes to protest inhumane treatment of the communist regime.
The hunger strike’s reason is because the Supreme People’s Court did not answer Thuc’s appeal for the remaining penalty exemption that Thuc has done since July 7, 2018. On August 19, 2020, Thuc re-sent his petition to the Supreme People’s Court but so far the Court has remained silent.”
Thuc declares to carry out the hunger strike to demand the State and the Supreme People’s Court uphold the law. He was said to have a plan to go on an indefinite hunger strike, and possibly a hunger strike to death, until the Supreme People’s Court answers the petition.
According to Vietnam’s Criminal Code amended in 2015 and being effective in 2018, Thuc’s conviction of “making preparation for the commitment of this subversion offence shall face a penalty of between one and five years in prison. Since he has been held since 2010, he should be released immediately, but the authorities “intentionally” does not apply the provisions but tries to interpret the law in their own way to uphold the 16-year sentence given in 2009.
Mr. Thuc, 54, is an entrepreneur, blogger and human rights defender, and co-author of “The Path of Vietnam” (Phong Trào Con Đường Việt Nam), which makes recommendations for governance reform. He has been held in numerous detention facilities since his arrest in May 2009, when he was initially charged with “theft of telephone lines.” He was subsequently charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code after serving imprisonment for his first allegation.
At his trial in January 2010 he was charged and convicted of subversion under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. During the trial he claimed that he had been tortured during pre-trial detention in an attempt to force him to confess. He was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment with an additional five years of probation afterward.
On his transfer to Prison camp No. 6 in May 2016, he undertook a two-week hunger strike in protest at the lack of rule of law in Vietnam. He has repeatedly called for a judicial review of his conviction and for his acquittal without success.
Vietnam is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. However, these rights are severely restricted in law and practice in Vietnam.
Vaguely worded articles in the national security section of the country’s 1999 Penal Code and 2015 Criminal Code which was effective in 2018 are frequently used to criminalize peaceful dissenting views or activities. Those at risk include people advocating for peaceful political change, criticizing government policies, or calling for respect for human rights. Article 79 of the Penal Cod and Article 109 of the Criminal Code (Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration) are frequently used to detain, prosecute and imprison dissidents for their peaceful activism, including bloggers, labour rights and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers, human rights defenders and social justice activists, and even song writers.
Prison conditions in Vietnam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement as a punishment for prolonged periods and have been subjected to ill-treatment, including beatings by prison guards and by other prisoners with prison guards failing to intervene.
Some prisoners of conscience are frequently moved from one detention facility to another, often without their families being informed of the change in their whereabouts. Several prisoners of conscience have undertaken hunger strikes in protest at abusive treatment and poor conditions of detention. Although Vietnam has ratified the Convention against Torture, which came into effect in February 2015, insufficient steps have been taken to bring the country into compliance with its obligations under that treaty.
Related article from RFA: Long-Serving Vietnamese Political Prisoner Vows Hunger Strike ‘Till Death’
===== December 2 =====
Trial against Democracy Campaigner Tran Duc Thach Suspended Due to His Poor Health, New Date for Hearing Has Not Been Rescheduled
Defend the Defenders: On November 30, the People’s Court of Nghe An province unexpectedly suspended the first-instance hearing against local democracy campaigner and human rights activist Tran Duc Thach on allegation of subversion under Article 109 of the Criminal Code due to his poor health, Defend the Defenders has learned.
In early morning of Monday, his wife Nguyen Chuong and Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son came to the headquarters of the People’s Court of Nghe An province where the trial was set to be conducted and they were informed by the court that the hearing was cancelled due to his high-blood pressure and he was unfit for the trial.
On the next day, Mrs. Chuong went to the Nghi Kim temporary detention under the authority of the Nghe An province’s Police Department and she was permitted to meet her husband. He informed her that he was hospitalized for about a week for treatment of high-blood pressure but has overcame the health problem.
He said during the treatment in a province’s General Hospital, he was under close police surveillance. The local police have not informed his family for the incident.
The new date for the trial has not been set, according to Mr. Thach’s family and lawyer.
Mr. Thach, born in 1952, is former prisoner of conscience 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,” 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.
The state-controlled media reported that 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 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.
Thach was an officer of the communist army participating in the Vietnam War which ended in 1975 as the communist troops invaded the southern Vietnam Republic. After leaving the communist 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.
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 1999 or the Criminal Code 2015, 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. Thach’s latest arrest is 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.
After Thach’s arrest, Vietnam’s communist regime has detained a number of activists and bloggers and charged them with controversial accusations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code. The detainees included Vice President of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Nguyen Tuong Thuy and its young editor Le Huu Minh Tuan, well-known blogger Pham Chi Thanh (aka Pham Thanh), and prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang, who was taken into custody on the day Vietnam and the US conducted the 24th Annual Human Rights Dialogue. All of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” for their posts critical to the communist regime.
With the new arrests, Vietnam is holding at least 260 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ 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.
===== December 3 =====
Activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy Permitted to Meet Her Lawyers For First Time Nearly Eight Months after Being Arrested
Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s southern province of Hau Giang have allowed local human rights defender and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy to meet her lawyers for the first time seven and half months after her arrest in mid-April this year, her family informed Defend the Defenders.
Accordingly, on December 3, Saigon-based attorneys Nguyen Van Mieng and Trinh Vinh Phuc went to the Hau Giang temporary detention center under the authority of the province’s Police Department to meet her after their relentless efforts to request to meet their client.
The lawyers said her health is very poor due to incommunicado detention since her arrest on April 18. She wishes to meet her 9-year-old kid as well as other relatives more often. She was allowed to meet some relatives on November 5, more than a half year after being detained.
She was said to have not denied her posting on Facebook as well as having peaceful activities which aim to oppose the Vietnamese communist government’s plan to allow Chinese to rent land for 99 years, voice to protect the environment and report human rights abuse. However, she also claims that her activities are not anti-state ones as she just practices basic rights, including the right to the freedom of expression which are enshrined in the country’s Constitution 2013 and the international treaties Vietnam’s communist regime has signed and the country’s parliament ratified.
The police informed the lawyers that the investigation in her case was completed and the case was transferred to the province’s People’s Court. The first-instance hearing against her is likely to be held in early January next year.
Ms. Thuy, a 38-year-old engineer majoring in the environment, was arrested on allegation of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code. She faces imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison or even up to 20 years if she is convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.
The local police said that Ms. Thuy has created a number of Facebook accounts to disseminate numerous articles to distort the communist regime’s policies and defame its leadership. She was also accused of criticizing the communist regime’s measures in dealing with COVID-19.
Thuy is an activist participating in the mass peaceful demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018 which aimed to protest two bills on Special Economic Zone and Cyber Security. The first seeks to favor Chinese investors while the two countries are disputing over the East Sea (South China Sea) while the second bill which became law in 2019 strives to silence online government critics. She was detained, beaten and interrogated, and fined with money before being released.
In recent years, she has been under constant persecution of the local police who often summoned her to their station for interrogation about her posts on Facebook.
Thuy’s family also informed Defend the Defenders that her father has also been fined VND2.5 million ($110) for a poem in which he mentioned former Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Chu Hao and police Major General Truong Gia Long. The first advocates for multi-party democracy and civil rights while the second once stated that a number of senior state officials of the communist regime are working as Chinese agents.
Thuy is among 58 activists being arrested so far this year, 21 of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 or “Abusing democratic freedom under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
Vietnam is holding at least 260 prisoners of conscience, 32 of them are held in pre-trial detention which may last more than two years, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.
===== December 4 =====
Human Rights Activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh Summoned for High-tech Crime Due to Her Support for Defenders-at-risks
Defend the Defenders: The Police Department of Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi has summoned local human rights activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh in relation to a high-tech crime case due to her activities which aim to support prisoners of conscience and defenders-at-risks across the nation.
Earlier this week, the local authorities came to her private residence in the capital city to make a working minute for her refusal to appear to the Security Investigation Agency as the summoning letter requests due to her traveling to the countryside in recent weeks.
The city police threaten to detain her if she does not obey the request. According to the city police’s information, the summon was proposed by the Department of Cyber Security and High-tech Crimes of the Ministry of Public Security.
On December 4, Mrs. Hanh went to the city’s Police Department where she was interrogated about her charity activities, posts on Facebook as well as interviews of foreign-based outlets. The city’s People’s Procuracy which was said to propose to launch investigation in her case, also sent a representative to take part in the questioning. After the lengthy interrogation, security officers let her go home but said further interrogation will be made. She denied signing in a working minute the interrogators prepared at the end of the meeting but they filmed the entire talking, Hanh told Defend the Defenders.
Mrs. Hanh is among the most active human rights defenders and democracy campaigners in Vietnam. She has been involving in activism in 2011 by participating in peaceful protests against China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).
Several years ago, she founded 50K Fund to collect contributions from Vietnamese in the country and abroad and use the fund to support activists harassed by the communist regime and the families of those being imprisoned for their activism.
After the brutal attack of thousands of riot police on Dong Tam commune in the early morning of January 9 this year, hundreds of people contributed more than VND500 million ($21,300) to the victims land petitioners to her bank account. However, the regime froze her account and still holds the sum, saying the money was financed terrorist acts. She was kidnapped and taken to a police station where she was interrogated by officers from the Ministry about her support given to prisoners of conscience and harassed activists.
Recently, the state-controlled media has accused 50K and other private funds run by local activists which assist defenders-at-risks of financing anti-state individuals, and threaten to punish those involving.
In July 2019, Hanh and her husband Huynh Ngoc Chenh as well as dozens of other activists and relatives of prisoners of conscience were beaten and having items broken and robbed by plainclothes policemen and thugs near the Prison camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An when they went to support prisoners of conscience held in the prison who were on hunger strike to protest maltreatment.
Due to her health conditions amid increasing crackdown on her and other activists, in late November, she announced to suspend her 50K Fund.
Mrs. Hanh is listed as defender-at-risk by Project88 and Defend the Defenders. She faces arrest of any time by Vietnam’s security forces which strive to silence the local dissidents and social activists prior to the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam scheduled for January next year in which the party will elect the country’s leadership for the next five years.
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