Trial against Activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy Scheduled on January 20, Five Days Before 13th National Congress of Ruling CPV

Ms. Dinh Thi Thu Thuy arrested by police on April 20, 2020 (Tuoi Tre)

Defend the Defenders, January 15, 2021


On January 20, authorities in Vietnam’s southern province of Hau Giang will hold the first-instance hearing for local human rights defender and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy. The trial comes nine months after her arrest and just five days before the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam in which top leadership for the next five years is determined.

The open hearing in which Ms. Thuy will be tried on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code will be carried out by the People’s Court of Hau Giang in its headquarters in Vi Thanh city, according to the court’s notice sent to her lawyers Nguyen Van Mieng and Trinh Vinh Phuc.

It is likely Ms. Thuy will be convicted and sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment given the recent convictions of a number of activists who were charged with the same allegation as the communist regime strives to silence local dissent ahead of the upcoming National Congress of the ruling party. For example, on January 5, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced three members of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) President Dr. Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy and young writer Le Huu Minh Tuan to a combined total 37 years in prison and nine years of probation. She faces imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison, even 20 years in prison if is convicted, according to Vietnam’s current law.

Ms. Thuy, a 39-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.

The local police said that Ms. Thuy had 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 had participated 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, despite the two countries disputing East Sea (South China Sea) demarcation, while the second bill which became law in 2019 strives to silence online government critics. She was detained, beaten and interrogated, and fined before being released.

In recent years, she has been under constant persecution by local police who often summoned her to their station for interrogation about her posts on Facebook.

She was held incommunicado for seven months from the day of arrest until November last year when she was permitted to meet her relatives in police custody. One month later, in December, she was allowed to meet her lawyersfor the first time to prepare for her defense after the local police completed their investigation in her case.

Her lawyers said her health is very poor due to her incommunicado detention since her arrest on April 18. She wishes to meet her 9-year-old kid as well as other relatives more often.

While she has not denied her postings on Facebook and engagement in peaceful activities, she claims her activities are not anti-state and protected under basic rights, including the right to the freedom of expression as enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution and the international treaties Vietnam’s communist regime has ratified.

Thuy’s family also informed Defend the Defenders that her father has also been fined VND2.5 million ($110) for a poem in which she 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 stated that a number of senior state officials of the communist regime are working as Chinese agents.

Thuy is among 66 activists and land petitioners arrested in 2020, 22 of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 or “Abusing democratic freedom under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. Among them is prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang.

Vietnam is holding at least 258 prisoners of conscience, 30 of them are held in pre-trial detention which may last more than two years, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics.

In its press release on January 14, the United Nations’ Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights condemned Vietnam’s communist regime of using Article 117 of the Criminal Code to silence the local dissent. The UN’s agency also urges Hanoi to revise the article since it aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others, and is not in line with the international human rights obligations of Vietnam.