Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report from March 29-April 4, 2021: Five Facebookers Convicted for Online Posts, One Anti-corruption Journalist Charged with “Abusing Democratic Freedom”
Defend the Defenders | April 4, 2021
During the week, Vietnam’s communist regime convicted five Facebookers and sentenced them to a combined total 35 years in prison for their online posting. In addition, the regime also detained an anti-corruption journalist on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code with imprisonment of between three and seven years if it is convicted.
On March 30, the People’s Court of Lam Dong province tried local Facebooker Vu Tien Chi for his online posts criticizing the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and its government. The trial panel said his posts distort the regime’s policies and defame its leaders, sentencing him to ten years in prison and three years of probation for the charge “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Meanwhile, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa province convicted three local Facebookers Ms. Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, Ms. Nguyen Thi Ha Phuong, and Mr. Le Viet Hoa of the same charge under Article 117, giving them to ten years, seven years, and five years in prison, respectively. Ms. Thuy, a former school teacher, has to be under 3-year probation after completing the imprisonment term.
One day later, the People’s Court of Binh Dinh province convicted local land petitioner Le Van Hai of “abusing democratic freedom” for his Facebook posts which condemned the local authotories for inadequate compensation of his land confiscated by the local government for building a rubbish treatment plant. During a short trial, Mr. Hai was sentenced to five years in prison.
On April 2, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City detained journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam and charged him with “abusing democratic freedom” for his anti-corruption posts on his Facebook page. Nam, who has worked for a number of state-run newspapers including the Voice of Vietnam (VOV) and Thanh Nien, gains his reputation for his writing about corruption and wrongdoings in a number of state agencies and state-owned enterprises. His arrest is likely to be linked with his denunciation about wrongdoings of police and procuracy agencies which try to cover crimes of state officials. Before being arrested, he was summoned for interrogation several times by the city’s police and investigators from the Ministry of Public Security.
After ending his 72-day hunger strike on early February, on February 20, prominent prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc launched the new hunger strike to request Vietnam’s communist regime to release him. His fasting continues in the Prison camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An.
Meanwhile, the Hanoi Police Department has taken back human rights defender and land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong to its temporary detention facility after psychological assessment in a mental hospital. The move is a huge relief for his family given the fact that blogger Le Anh Hung has been still held in the mental clinics since April last year where he is subject to forced injections of drugs which may affect his brain.
On March 30, the US Department of State released its annual 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Regarding Vietnam, the report said Hanoi is using modern surveillance to control Internet users, criminalize online opinions and imprison numerous Facebookers for their posts. In addition, the communist regime continues to treat prisoners of conscience inhumanely along with holding practices which make the country’s judiciary system unfair and bias while the roles of lawyers are just a decoration of the regime.
On April 1, the London-based rights group Amnesty International issued a press release saying Vietnam’s communist regime is launching the fresh persecution against self-nominated candidates for the upcoming election of the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly and People’s Councils at three levels slated on May 23. The group calls on Vietnam to end its crackdown and ensure free elections. The call was made after Vietnam arrested two self-nominated candidates Tran Quoc Khanh and Le Trong Hung for the country’s rubber-stamped parliament.
On April 1, Defend the Defenders released its quarterly report on prisoners of conscience, according to which Vietnam is holding at least 256 political dissidents, social activists, land rights activists, and human rights defenders in severe living conditions and inhumane treatment in prison camps and temporary detentions across the nation as of March 31. The report says between January and March, the communist regime arrested six activists on charges of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 and “abusing democratic freedom” per Article 331 of the Criminal Code. During that time, the regime also convicted ten activists of the controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code, sentencing them to between five years and 15 years in prison. In addition, five of them have to be under three-year probation after their imprisonment terms end. Among them are President Pham Chi Dungof the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and its Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and environmental activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy. Defend the Defenders also predicts that with many conservative senior leaders of the regime being re-elected to the communist party’s leadership and assigned to the highest positions of the state apparatuses for the next five years, more arrests and convictions with heavy sentences are expected in coming years.
===== March 29 =====
Khanh Hoa Province’s Court to Try Three Actitivsts on Allegation of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” on March 30
Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa will hold the first-instance hearing on March 30 to try three local activists named Ms. Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, Ms. Ngo Thi Ha Phuong, and Mr. Le Viet Hoa on the 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 hearing is expected to last two days, according to Khanh Hoa newspaper, the mouthpiece of the province’s communist party committee.
Citing the case’s indictment, the state-controlled media reported that from mid 2018, Ms. Thuy has posted numerous articles criticizing Vietnam’s communist regime, distorting its policies, and defaming its leaders, including late President Ho Chi Minh, who founded the ruling Communist of Vietnam and established the regime. She was said to report a number of corruption cases and wrongdoings of Khanh Hoa’s state officials on her Facebook page.
Thuy, a fired 45-year-old teacher due to her political opinion, was said to have burned Vietnam’s national flag and cut portraits of late communist founder President Ho Chi Minh. In addition, she was said to travel from one to another place in different provinces to “propagandize” her anti-regime attitude. She was arrested on June 24 last year and held incommunicado for months, the same day authorities in Hanoi and Ha Son Binh province detained former prisoner of conscience Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tam and Mrs. Can Thi Theu and the latter’s two sons named Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu on the same charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda,” the allegation being used widely by Vietnam’s communist regime to silence local critics.
It is unclear the activities of the two remaining individuals in the case. No information about their detention is available.
Currently, Vietnam is imprisoning 52 activists charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda,” 36 of them were convicted and sentenced to between four and 15 years in prison while the remaining 16 are held in pre-trial detention. Among them are prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang, President of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) PhD. Pham Chi Dung and Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy. In early January this year, three weeks before the 13th National Congress of the ruling party, the two independent journalists were convicted and sentenced to 15 years and 11 years in prison, respectively.
In March, Vietnam arrested three Facebookers with the same allegation. Two of them are self-nominated candidates for the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the election scheduled in late May.
===== March 30 =====
Four Activists Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Sentenced to 31 Years in Prison
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime has convicted four activists named Mr. Vu Tien Chi, Ms. Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, Ms. Ngo Thi Ha Phuong, and Mr. Le Viet Hoa 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 for their online activities.
In two separated trials held in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong and the central coastal province of Khanh Hoa on March 30, the four activists were sentenced to a combined total 31 years in prison and six years of probation. The People’s Court of Lam Dong gave Mr. Chi 10 years in prison followed by three years of probation while the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa sentenced Ms. Thuy to nine years in prison and three years of probation, Ms. Phuong- seven years and Mr. Hoa- five years in prison.
According to the indictment, from the beginning of 2018, Mr. Chi shared 338 articles and conducted 181 livestreams on his Facebook page with content distorting the regime’s policies and defaming senior communist leaders, including late President Ho Chi Minh, who founded the communist regime. These online posts are harmful for the regime and affected the people’s beliefs in the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and its government, the trial panel of the People’s Court of Lam Dong concluded.
The People’s Court of Khanh Hoa province concluded that Ms. Thuy, a former school teacher fired for her political opinion, was responsible for 181 livestreams and many posts on her Facebook accounts “Nguyễn Cẩm Thúy” and “Cẩm Thúy Cô” to defame the regime. She was also accused of burning the red flags of the ruling party and the regime as well as cutting portraits of senior leaders, including the regime founder Ho Chi Minh.
On March 29, the Khanh Hoa newspaper, the mouthpiece of the province’s Party Committee reported that the province’s People’s Court will hold the first-instance hearing on March 30-31 to try Ms. Thuy and two others named Ngo Thi Phuong Ha and Le Viet Hoa, however, the state-controlled media has not reported their activities which can be used for their conviction.
The state-run newspapers also reported that Mr. Chi and Ms. Thuy know each other, having a joint plan to expand a network of people sharing the same thoughts to establish a political opposition.
Both Chi and Thuy were arrested on June 24 last year. There is no information about their pre-trial detention. It is unclear whether the four activists have their own lawyers during their trials or not.
They are among 51 activists being imprisoned on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code 2015 (or Article 88 of the Penal Code 1999) which is condemned by the international community as an effective tool to silence government critics. President of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) PhD. Pham Chi Dung and his deputy Nguyen Tuong Thuy as well as world-recognized human rights defender and well-known political blogger Pham Doan Trang were also arrested on this charge. Mr. Dung and Mr. Thuy were sentenced to 15 years and 11 years in prison, respectively, in early January this year while Ms. Trang is still held incommunicado in pre-trial detention after her arrest on October 7 last year.
In March, Vietnam’s security forces arrested three Facebookers on the same allegation, two of them Tran Trong Khanhand Le Trong Hung have declared to run as self-nominated candidates for the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly in the election scheduled in late May.
Vietnam continues to intensify its crackdown on the local political dissidents, social activists, and human rights defenders which started in late 2015. Since the beginning of this year, it has arrested five activists on the allegations of “conducting anti-state propaganda” or “abusing democratic freedom,” and convicted nine others and sentenced them to a combined total of 76 years in prison and 15 years of probation, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.
The persecution tendency is expected to be severe in the next five years after many conservative senior leaders such as General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Minister of Public Security To Lam of the communist regime were re-elected to the party’s leadership in its 13th National Congress which ended on February 1.
===== March 31 =====
Vietnamese Facebook Users Draw Prison Terms for Postings Criticizing Government, State
RFA: A court in south-central Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province on Wednesday sentenced a Facebook user to four years in prison for sharing his grievances online about how the local government had handled a dispute over his family’s land, Vietnamese sources said.
Le Van Hai, 54, had slandered local leaders and Communist Party members, prosecutors said, and was charged with “abusing freedom and democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 33 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
Taken into custody in September 2020, Le had complained to Binh Dinh authorities and other government departments to ask for compensation payments because his family’s house and land had been confiscated to make way for construction of a wastewater plant, state media said.
Frustrated by officials’ refusal of his requests, Le then shared his frustrations on Facebook, leading to his arrest.
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint for protests as resident accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.
===== April 1 =====
Jailed Vietnamese Democracy Advocate Launches New Hunger Strike
RFA: Jailed Vietnamese democracy activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has begun a new hunger strike, his third since October, aimed at reducing his 16-year sentence for subversion to five years in line with revisions to the penal code passed after his 2010 conviction, family members say.
Tran, who has already served 11 years of his prison term, was arrested in May 2009 for writing online articles criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state and was convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.
He is now calling for the charges against him to be changed to involvement in “preparation to commit a crime,” an offense calling only for a five-year term of imprisonment under Vietnam’s revised 2015 Penal Code, and Tran’s family and lawyers have tried several times to petition authorities for his sentence to be reduced.
Tran has now begun a new hunger strike just 16 days after ending an earlier 70-day strike on Feb. 3, Tran’s brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Thursday, following a family visit to Tran at his detention center last week.
“He said that he had resumed his hunger strike on Feb. 20 in an effort to urge the Supreme Court to excuse him from serving the remainder of his sentence,” Tan said, adding that his brother told him he had begun his strike by drinking soy sauce mixed with lemon juice and antibiotics, but was now drinking only water.
Tran had gained 12 kilograms (26 pounds) during the 16-day interval between his two hunger strikes but had lost 10 kilograms again during the first 43 days of his current strike, Tran’s brother said.
State media dispute claims
Vietnam’s state-controlled media have meanwhile tried to cast doubt on Tran’s hunger-strike claims, with two newspapers quoting Tran as saying in an undated video “filmed in secret by police” that he had ended his strike and gained 4.5 kilograms after beginning to eat again.
Tran’s brother said that Tran was aware of the articles and had sent petitions to both papers asking that they either provide evidence to support their claims or publish an apology.
Tran’s health in prison has been a continuing source of concern to his family following a series of hunger strikes.
In July 2019, Tran began a hunger strike over poor conditions in detention, including the removal of electric fans from cells in the soaring summer heat, and an earlier strike in August 2018 left him exhausted and thin after he protested police pressure on him to admit his guilt in the offenses for which he was jailed.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress held in January.
Vietnamese Activist Sent Back to Detention After Mental Hospital Stay for “Evaluation”
RFA: Detained Vietnamese land-rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong was returned this week to his former detention camp from a mental hospital in Hanoi, where he was sent for evaluation after refusing to cooperate with police investigators, according to his wife.
Phuong had previously refused to speak to or look at police officers during questioning, leading to a 30-day assessment of his mental health, and was sent back to detention on Tuesday, his wife Do Thi Thu told RFA on April 1.
“I called investigator Nguyen The Bac this morning, and he told me that my husband had been transferred from the National Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 back to Detention Center No. 1 on March 30,” Thu said, adding that the officer didn’t share the results of Phuong’s examination or say if he would be moved to the hospital again.
Thu went to the detention center on Thursday to deposit money for her husband to buy food and other necessities at the camp canteen, and prison officers later showed her a receipt confirming Phuong had received the funds, she said.
A well-known land-rights activist in Hanoi, Phuong was arrested on June 24, 2020 with his younger brother, Trinh Ba Tu, and his mother, Can Thi Theu, on charges of “creating, storing, and disseminating information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
The three family members had been outspoken in social media postings about the Jan. 9, 2020 clash in Dong Tam commune in which 3,000 police stormed barricaded protesters’ homes at a construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, killing a village elder.
They had also offered information to foreign embassies and other international figures to try to raise awareness of the incident.
While all land is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.
===== April 2 =====
Anti-corruption Journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam Arrested, Charged with “Abusing Democratic Freedom”
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s state-controlled media has reported that on April 2, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City arrested anti-corruption journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code.
Mr. Nam, 48, will be held in detention in the next three months and he faces imprisonment of between three and seven years in prison if is convicted.
He has worked for a number of state-run newspapers such as Phap Luat Viet Nam, Thanh Nien, and the Voice of Vietnam Radio (VOV). He left Phap Luat Viet Nam newspaper in December last year and became a freelancer.
Before being detained, Nam posted a series of articles on his Facebook account regarding wrongdoings and corruptions in the Vietnam Inland Waterway Administration (VIWA) of the Ministry of Transport. On March 23, he sent an open letter to Le Minh Tri, head of the Supreme People’s Procuracy in which Nam denounces the cooperation between the police forces and procuracy officials which led to crime covering in a number of cases, including the corruption case in the VIWA.
In February, the journalist who gained his reputation as a corruption fighter, was summoned by HCM City Police Department for interrogation as two state officials denounced that his corruption allegation is not correct.
Nam has been the second journalist of the state-controlled media being arrested since the beginning of this year for their anti-corruption activism. In mid-February, authorities in Quang Tri province arrested Phan Bui Bao Thy for his denunciation against senior officials in corruption, two of them are a deputy minister and the province’s chairman.
Vietnam is among the world’s biggest prisons for journalists and Facebookers, holding 28 of them in police custody, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s report released on December 1, 2020. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also listed Vietnam among the global biggest prisons for journalistswith 15 journalists being imprisoned.
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