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Human Rights

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc: A Decade Behind Bars

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Nine years ago, on January 20, 2010, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Le Cong Dinh, Le Thang Long and Nguyen Tien Trung under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code for “subversion against the people’s government.”

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was sentenced to 16 years in prison and five years probation which technically meant five more years under house arrest.

Thuc was arrested in May 2009, and for almost a decade, the unique case of a successful entrepreneur turned dissident continued to be the highest profile among the hundreds of political prisoners and dissidents in the country.

Article 79 has faced harsh criticisms from the international community.

During Vietnam’s 2nd UPR cycle in 2014, the Vietnamese government accepted the recommendations to amend this and other arbitrary penal codes under the “national security” section, to ensure they would not be used to infringe the people’s human rights.

However, in reality, the amended Penal Code of 2015 did not change the situation in any way. The crime “subversion against the state” remains as Article 109 under the new code.

Thuc’s indictment described his criminal conducts included the act of forming and persuading people to join the Chan research group, to write and publish online articles defaming the government, creating division among the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The prosecution further alleged that he had attempted to reach out and establish a relationship with leaders of the VCP, with the intent of re-shaping their political opinion to change the regime, and that he had planned to manufacture a document named “The Vietnam Path” to subvert against the State.

The Vietnamese government’s point of view on “subversion against the State” is often not shared by the international community, especially democratic nations in the West.

The heart of the problem lies in Section 1, Article 4 of Vietnam 2013 Constitution which states:

The Communist Party of Vietnam – the Vanguard of the Vietnamese working class, simultaneously the vanguard of labourers and of the Vietnamese nation, the faithful representative of the interests of the working class, labourers and the whole nation, acting upon the Marxist-Leninist doctrine and Ho Chi Minh’s thought, is the leading force of the State and society.

Because of this political monopoly, the VCP and the State of Vietnam became interchangeable in the mind of Hanoi’s regime.

The leaders of the VCP would not hesitate in sentencing people who hold a different political philosophy than theirs to prison for decades because questioning the ultimate leadership of the Party equates “overthrowing the government.”

This viewpoint effectively puts the VCP at odds with the universal values of human rights, in particular, the right to freedom of expression where holding a different political opinion, calling for pluralism and a multi-party system cannot be deemed criminal.

In Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s case, the defendants were also found guilty because the government further alleged that they were members of the Democratic Party and had started to write a new constitution.

As one may correctly guess, organizing a political party in Vietnam – as in Thuc’s case – could also be construed as an act to “subvert the government.”

Vietnam, at press time, has only one political party.

Thuc has received the offer to be released into exile on numerous occasions, but he turned them down, stating that he would finish his full prison term instead of having to leave his home country indefinitely.

The offer to be released into exile to political prisoners in Vietnam is not a release.

It is more like a suspension of the sentence for either medical or humanitarian reasons. The released prisoners would not be able to come back to Vietnam, effectively being banned from their own country.

When the Penal Code was amended, Thuc’s attorney has argued that the government should release him according to Section 3 of Article 109. Because at most, the evidence provided by the prosecution could only show that the defendants were in “preparation” to commit a crime under Section 3, with the maximum sentence of five years.

His petition for a review of the case under the new Penal Code has gone unanswered.

On December 13, 2018, Julie Ward, a Member of the European Parliament representing the North West of England, sent a letter to the President of Vietnam – Nguyen Phu Trong – (who is also the leader of the VCP), calling for an unconditional, in-country release of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc. The letter addressed the concerns over allegations from his family that he had suffered abuse in prison.

A group of the EU Parliament’s MEPs, including Ms. Ward, has stated in more than one occasion that the release of prisoners of conscience like Tran Huynh Duy Thuc would be a critical condition for them to support the EU-Vietnam FTA.

On this 9th anniversary of his conviction, U.S. House Representative Zoe Lofgren also called for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s release and denounced the mistreatment of political prisoners by Vietnamese authorities.

Human Rights

EU Parliament’s Members Ask Vietnam To Release Activist Hoang Duc Binh, Reiterate Human Rights Benchmark for EV-FTA

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EU Parliament. Photo courtesy: /en.yabiladi.com

February 1, 2019, a group of nine EU Parliament’s members from different political parties, jointly sent a letter to Vietnam’s President Nguyen Phu Trong, asking for the unconditional release of environment and labor rights defender, Hoang Duc Binh.

The letter reminded Vietnam that “the promotion and protection of fundamental rights must remain a common benchmark” for the continuing negotiation of the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Vietnam.

According to the MEPs’ letter:

The EVFTA commits the European Union and Vietnam to respect and effectively implement such principles and fundamental rights as provided in the ICCPR.

The European Council has delayed the EV-FTA’s ratification process due to “technical reasons” according to two other MEPs, Jude Kirton-Darling and Ramon Tremosa. They released a video clip on January 22, 2019, demanding that Vietnam improves its human rights records for the EV-FTA to proceed.

Almost one year ago, on February 6, 2018, a court in Central Vietnam convicted Hoang Duc Binh on two separate charges, “resisting officers acting under their duty,” and “abusing freedoms and democratic rights to infringe upon the State’s interest or the rights and interests of other entities and individuals.” (Articles 257, 258 of the 1999 Penal Code, amended as 330, 331 under the 2015 Penal Code).

Binh was sentenced to the maximum term of 7 years for each of the offenses, which meant that the court found his conduct to be “seriously harmful” to the public according to the sentencing guidelines.

Binh maintained his innocence, stating that all he did was accompanying a group of fishermen and a Catholic priest to travel from Nghe An to Ha Tinh to file their civil suits against Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation.

Formosa Ha Tinh was the main culprit that had paid 500M USD to settle the damages they caused in the environmental disaster which affected four coastal provinces in Central Vietnam back in 2016.

In recent months, Hoang Duc Binh’s family has raised concerns about his deteriorating health conditions after each visitation.

The letter was signed by Barbara Lochbihler (Greens/EFA), Wajid Khan (S&D), Petras Austrevicius (ALDE), Anne-Marie Mineur (GuE), Ana Gomes (S&D), Karoline Graswander-Hainz (S&D), Reinhard Bütikofer(Greens/EFA), David Martin (S&D), and Marietje Schaake (ALDE).

The MEPs asked that Hoang Duc Binh “to be immediately and unconditionally released” and that he will be “allowed to remain inside his home country, Vietnam, and not forced into exile as a precondition for his release.”

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Prisoners of Conscience

Political Prisoner Ngo Hao Suffered Minor Stroke In Prison, Health Deteriorated

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Ngo Hao at his appeal hearing in December 2013. Photo courtesy: RFI.

On January 30, 2018, The Vietnamese received information that political prisoner Ngo Hao had suffered a minor stroke in prison. According to his wife, the prison’s center in An Diem, Quang Nam Province did not inform his family directly.

The family learned about his conditions on social media when the brother of Hoang Duc Binh, another prisoner of conscience, posted about it on Facebook.

During the last family visit on January 27, 2019, the family observed that “he was very sick and shaking a lot while walking.”

In January 2015, the government relocated him from Phu Yen Province – his hometown – to An Diem prison center in Quang Nam Province.

Relocation of political prisoners to prison centers hundreds of miles away from their hometowns is a common tactic used by the Vietnamese authorities, making visitations increasingly difficult for the family.

In Hao’s situation, his wife is also suffering from chronic disease, and the visitations have taken a toll on her health.

Ngo Hao was arrested in February 2013, tried and convicted in September 2013 under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code for “subverting against the people’s government.”

He was sentenced to 15-year-imprisonment and five-year probation thereafter.

His appeal was denied in December 2013 after less than two hours of hearing where neither his lawyer or Hao was allowed to fully state their defense.

He was held incommunicado prior to the hearing and his family was only notified of the appeal on the day it happened.

The government alleged that Hao received money from an overseas Vietnamese group to plot a Jasmine revolution-type in Vietnam to overturn the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The evidence produced by the prosecution consisted of writings he published online regarding using UN reporting mechanisms to assist political prisoners and contacting Human Rights Watch to report on human rights violations in Vietnam.

Hao did help 14 members of Hoa Hao Buddhist sect to send their communication about human rights violations to the UN.

Hao was an army officer of the former Republic of South Vietnam who was imprisoned from 1977 until 1997 – when he was released for medical reasons.

Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code had been amended; the new code section for “subversion” now is Article 109 of the 2005 Penal Code.

Ngo Hao’s case could benefit from the same argument which the lawyer for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has claimed, that under the new penal code, the acts committed by the defendant was only “in preparation to commit a crime” according to Section 3, Article 109. This argument, if suceeds, could reduce the maximum prison time to five years.

Notwithstanding the above legal argument, under international human rights law, the imprisonment of a person for the peaceful exercise of their individual rights – such as the freedom of expression – has been declared arbitrary arrest and detention.

Ngo Hao’s wife and son are asking the international community to pay attention to his case and demand an immediate and unconditional release.

Ngo Hao could be one of the oldest political prisoners serving a sentence in Vietnam right now. Born in 1948, he is turning 71 this year. Hao would now be in his sixth year of the 15-year-term.

They are afraid that Hao would not be able to make it until the end of his 15-year-imprisonment term after observing his deteriorating health conditions during the last visit earlier this month.

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Human Rights

Vietnamese Police Faced New Brutality Allegations Amid State’s Obligations To Follow Up UN’s Recommendations Against Torture

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Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen

Today, January 28, 2019, a driver in Hanoi who was supportive of the movement to fight against illegal BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) toll booths in Vietnam, Ha Van Nam, was kidnapped by allegedly plainclothes police.

Nam alleged that he was brutally assaulted, resulting in two broken ribs and other injuries. The perpetrators later threw him at the front gate of Dan Phuong hospital in Hanoi.

Ha Van Nam and his injuries. Photo courtesy: Truong Chau Huu Danh’s Facebook.

In recent days, friends and supporters of the protest against “dirty” BOTs in Vietnam have asserted that there are corrupt individuals from the police force who act in concert with thugs and BOT An Suong’s owner to suppress those who challenge the BOT’s legal merits to collect toll money.

On January 24, 2019, a man named Ngo Cong Tuan from Hanoi was visiting friends in Ho Chi Minh City happened to pass by BOT An Suong and got picked up by the local police of Tan Tao Ward.

He alleged that he was physically beaten by the police right after he was arrested and the beating continued during the car ride to the station. He was then detained with no criminal charge for two days, from 24-26 January.

Ngo Van Tuan being taken to the hospital. Photo courtesy: Truong Chau Huu Danh’s Facebook.

Tuan further alleged the police officers continued to beat him during the detention, ordered him to take off his clothes, and also starved him during the two-day-detention.

He was released on January 26, 2019, with no investigative report. Almost immediately after his release, Tuan went back to the same police station to report the assault and file a statement, but the police officers tried to close their door on him.

All of this was captured on a live-stream video posted on Facebook. In the end, Tuan was able to make the report, but he also had to be admitted to a hospital for a check-up.

Tuan was not part of the BOT protest; he was only a passerby.

In an unrelated event happened in a different province, on January 28, 2018, while working on location, reporter Ngoc Thanh was involved in a physical altercation with police officers from Ward 4, Vinh Long Province. Thanh received injuries and had to be admitted to the hospital on the same day.

Reporter Ngoc Thanh in hospital. Photo courtesy: Truong Chau Huu Danh’s Facebook.

In November 2018, Vietnam underwent its first review under the UN-Convention Against Torture which the country had ratified in 2015.

In December 2018, the Committee Against Torture issued its concluding observations on the initial report of Viet Nam with specific recommendations to the government.

Portions of these recommendations specifically raised concerns over allegations of police brutality and death in police custody/detention (Paragraphs 20-23).

The Committee specifically requested that the State of Vietnam elucidates and informs the Committee about the outcome of the deaths in police custody of the following individuals by December 7, 2019:

  1. Do Dang Du, a 17-year-old minor, who reportedly died in custody on 5 February 2015 as a result of severe injuries to the head and body while in police custody in Chuong My district, Hanoi;
  2. Nguyen Huu Tan, a Buddhist who was detained and whom the police alleged had committed suicide while in custody. No independent investigation of the death was carried out, and the detainee’s family was subjected to reprisals from the local police after complaining to the authorities;
  3. Ma Seo Sung, a Hmong Christian who was arrested and detained by the police and allegedly committed suicide by hanging and whose family also received threats of reprisals;
  4. Ksor Xiem of the Montagnard Evangelical Church, who died of injuries sustained in police custody, and
  5. Y Ku Knul a Montagnard Christian who died while under arrest and whose body showed signs of electric shocks.

Among the above, the case of Do Dang Du shocked the nation when it happened in October 2015, partly because it involved a minor who was detained illegally by the police in Hanoi – the Capital city of Vietnam.

However, after his family’s attorneys also got physically assaulted by thugs and one police officer in plain clothes, it seemed that information had stopped coming forward.

Mrs. Nguyen Thi Mai, the mother of Do Dang Du, the most shocking case in the last three years involving deaths in police detention in Vietnam. Photo Courtesy: Chau Doan.

Neither Du’s family or the public in Vietnam was satisfied with the explanation given by the authorities that he was beaten to death by a cellmate over “dirty dishes.”

The UN-Committee Against Torture seemed to agree with them when it asked the State to report back to the committee with further details later in 2019.

However, in reality, the police forces in some 63 provinces all over Vietnam probably did not get informed about the UN-CAT’s findings and recommendations because allegations of police brutality continued to grow in the first month of the new year.

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