Female Activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison

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


Defend the Defenders, January 20, 2021


On January 20, the People’s Court of Hau Giang province found local women human rights defender (WHRD) and environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy guilty of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for her posts on Facebook regarding the country’s issues, including China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and widespread environmental pollution.

According to the indictment, 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.

After less than four hours of hearing Wednesday morning, the trial panel sentenced her to seven years in prison although Ms. Thuy’s two lawyers and herself claimed that her activities were not aimed against the regime. 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.

The trial came 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.

Ms. Thuy, a 39-year-old engineer majoring in the environment, was arrested on April 18 last year on an 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 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.

The single mother has involved in activism for years. 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.

Ms. Thuy’s arrest and conviction are part of Vietnam’s ongoing increasing crackdown on the local dissent ahead of the 13th National Congress of the ruling party. 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.

Thuy is among 66 activists and land petitioners arrested in 2020, 15 of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 and 12 of them were accused of “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, 29 of them are still 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.