On this day, 12 years ago, a group of six democracy activists was sentenced to prison, with sentences ranging from two years to six years in prison, in addition to various months or years of house arrest. Their sentences prompted criticism from many international organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders.
These activists were arrested earlier in 2008 for hanging pro-democracy banners on a bridge along the Hanoi-Hai Phong Highway. The government accused them of “spreading propaganda against the government and Communist leaders” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. Article 88 was one of the most frequently used charges to silence political dissent in Vietnam during the last decades.
The group of six activists includes well-known activist and novelist Nguyen Xuan Nghia, activist Nguyen Van Tinh, land rights activist Nguyen Kim Nhan and Nguyen Van Tuc, ex-Communist member Nguyen Manh Son, and Ngo Quynh, a university student. Nghia and Tuc are alleged to be members of Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy organization that used to be prominent but was violently suppressed during the early 2010s. At the time of the arrests, most of the activists were already in their 60s, but Ngo Quynh was only 25 years old.
Following the trial of these activists, other democracy activists were also sentenced in 2010, including teacher Vu Hung, blogger Pham Thanh Nghien, and activist Pham Van Troi. According to the BBC Vietnamese, the intensified crackdown of pro-democracy activities was due to the approaching Communist Party Congress in 2011.
While it has been more than a decade since the sentencing of the above activists, it is essential to remember that the Vietnamese government continues to crack down on peaceful pro-democracy activists and give them unjust sentences for their political longevity.
Where are these activists now?
The six activists detained in 2009 were all subsequently released when their prison terms ended between 2011-2014.
However, Nguyen Kim Nhan was arrested again in 2011, almost immediately after he was released from prison upon completing his 2-year sentence; he received another nearly six years in prison.
Nguyen Van Tuc, released in 2012, is currently in prison after being accused of “aiming to overthrow the government” in 2018 under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. Tuc received a sentence of imprisonment for 13 years, and his family members have spoken out about his deteriorating health behind bars.
Nguyen Xuan Nghia, the activist who received the longest sentence of six years in 2009, was again harassed by the police in 2018 for “storing banned books.”
Examining the life of the democratic activists who have served years in prison shows us that the government has never treated them with respect despite how peaceful, intellectual or patient. It is as if the government is sending a clear political message: you have to be on our side, or we will eliminate you.
While the article today is about the sentencing of activists from twelve years ago, we keep seeing similar treatment patterns with democracy activists or writers throughout recent years.
- BBC News Tiếng Việt. (2011, June 8). Ông Nguyễn Kim Nhàn bị bắt. https://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/vietnam/2011/06/110608_nguyenkimnhan_arrest
- BBC News Tiếng Việt. (2012, September 10). Nhà bất đồng chính kiến ra tù. https://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/vietnam/2012/09/120910_dissident_released
- BBC News Tiếng Việt. (2018b, April 10). 13 năm tù cho nhà hoạt động Nguyễn Văn Túc. https://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/43710106
- B.T. (2009, September 7). Tổ chức Phóng Viên Không Biên Giới (RSF) kêu gọi Việt Nam trả tự do cho các blogger. RFI Tiếng Việt. http://www1.rfi.fr/actuvi/articles/118/article_5213.asp
- Human Rights Watch. (2009, August 19). Vietnam: Release Peaceful Democracy Advocates. https://www.hrw.org/node/237562/printable/print
- Human Rights Watch. (2020, October 28). Vietnam: Free Political and Religious Detainees. https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/07/vietnam-free-political-and-religious-detainees#
- Nhân Dân. (2012, November 2). Y án sơ thẩm đối với bị cáo Nguyễn Kim Nhàn và đồng bọn trong vụ án tuyên truyền chống Nhà nước. https://nhandan.vn/thoi-su-phap-luat/y-an-so-tham-doi-voi-bi-cao-nguyen-kim-nhan-va-dong-bon-trong-vu-an-tuyen-truyen-chong-nha-nuoc-387812/
- Pham, N. (2009, October 9). Six Vietnamese activists jailed. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8299406.stm
- Radio Free Asia. (2020a, October 11). Cựu tù chính trị-nhà văn Nguyễn Xuân Nghĩa bị bắt đi làm việc. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/news/vietnamnews/Former-political-prisoner-summoned-05232018100346.html
- Radio Free Asia. (2020b, October 11). Sức khỏe tù chính trị Nguyễn Văn Túc tồi tệ thêm. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/news/vietnamnews/ailing-political-prisoner-nguyen-van-tuc-health-worsened-in-prison-03152019083039.html
- Radio Free Asia. (2020c, October 11). Tù nhân lương tâm Nguyễn Kim Nhàn được trả tự do. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/news/vietnamnews/conscience-prisoner-nknhan-get-early-release-2-months-10072016085459.html