Vietnam Briefing: Bao Sach Members Sentenced To Nearly 15 Years In Prison. Pham Doan Trang’s Trial Is Delayed

Vietnam Briefing: Bao Sach Members Sentenced To Nearly 15 Years In Prison. Pham Doan Trang’s Trial Is Delayed
Bao Sach members during the trial in Can Tho Court. Photo credit: Vietnamnet. Graphic by The Vietnamese Magazine.

Trial of journalist Pham Doan Trang and two land activists delayed, while U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calls for Pham Doan Trang’s immediate release

The Vietnamese Magazine reports:

  • As we previously reported, the trials of Pham Doan Trang and the two farmers Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam were originally scheduled for November 4 and 3, respectively. However, the court later postponed the trials, allegedly due to the prosecutors having come into contact with COVID-19.
  • On October 25, 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) released its opinions regarding the arrest, detention, and treatment by the Vietnamese state of Pham Doan Trang.
  • WGAD concluded that the deprivation with Doan Trang case violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. WGAD believes that the best remedy would be to urgently and immediately release Doan Trang and compensate her in accordance with international law.
  • Meanwhile, Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, along with 27 other NGOs, released a joint statement calling for the immediate release of independent journalist and human rights advocate Pham Doan Trang. The statement also urged the Vietnamese authorities to ensure that she’s given a fair trial and also conform to international human rights standards.
  • Also last week, Doan Trang’s attorney Le Van Luan announced on social media that his client had been examined for health problems suffered while in detention following appeals made to authorities, reports RFA. According to Luan, authorities-assigned doctors have now made two visits a week to examine Trang’s health in prison, following petitions made by her lawyers on October 20 and 22 urging that she receive medical care for high blood pressure and other health problems.

Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) members receive a total of 14 years and six months in prison

  • On October 28, the local Court of Can Tho City sentenced five independent journalists of the Bao Sach group, a Facebook-based journalism project, to a total of 14 years and six months in prison after a two-day trial, reports RFA. The five were charged under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code with “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon State and individuals’ interests” for writing articles that the authorities said had defamed government officials with distorted information. The mentioned penal article has been criticized for its arbitrary criminalization without defining the actual conduct of the offense.
  • Journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh, one of the co-founders of Bao Sach, was sentenced to four years and six months in jail. Doan Kien Giang and Le The Thang each received three-year sentences, while Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao and Nguyen Thanh Nha were each given two-year sentences. The five members will also be banned from journalism for three years after completing their prison terms, according to the Can Tho Court.
  • Several international news outlets, including press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have reported on the trial. Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said that by “imposing such long jail terms on the five Bao Sach journalists, the Vietnamese authorities have given new evidence of their determination to suppress any attempt to provide independently reported news and information.”
  • Meanwhile, in an interview with Reuters, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson urged Vietnam not to treat media as “enemies of the state.” “The [Vietnamese] government should recognize that citizen journalists and independent media are allies of good governance,” he added.
  • In a press statement, the U.S. Department of State said that the United States “is deeply troubled that a Vietnamese court has convicted journalists affiliated with the Bao Sach (Clean Journalism) group.” The United States also urged the Vietnamese government “to ensure its actions are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution and its international obligations and commitments.”

A former state-owned magazine bureau chief to be tried for the same charge of “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy”

  • Vietnamese state media on October 29 reported that the People’s Court of Quang Tri Province began its trial of Phan Bui Bao Thy, a former magazine bureau chief, along with two other people for defaming and accusing local leaders of corruption. They were arrested in February this year and prosecuted for the same charges as the Bao Sach members.
  • Thy is accused of operating several Facebook accounts, including one account named after a local historic monument called Quang Tri 357, in which he posted reports about cases of corruption regarding the deputy minister of culture, tourism, and sports, Nguyen Van Hung, who is from Quang Tri, and the province leader Vo Van Hung, according to a news report from RSF.
  • Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific, called for the immediate release of Phan Bui Bao Thy regarding his arrest. “His fate highlights the straitjacket enclosing public media journalists in Vietnam, who are persecuted as soon as they stray from the official line imposed by the ruling Communist Party’s propaganda department. In so doing, the Vietnamese authorities violate article 25 of their own constitution,” said Bastard.

Vietnamese language services of international news agencies were attacked

  • On October 30, Facebook fan pages of major news agencies’ Vietnamese language services were interfered with, reportedly having their page names changed into pro-government rhetorical titles.
  • Social media fan pages of Radio Free Asia (RFA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Voice of America (VOA) were affected around 10 a.m on October 30; the issue lasted for about two hours before those fan pages eventually gained control of the situation. The Vietnamese language services of these major news agencies have long been seen as independent sources of information for Vietnamese readers living under the country’s heavily censored media environment.
  • According to RFA Vietnamese, state media denied the accusation that government-backed hackers were behind the interference.

Vietnam sentences a former National Assembly candidate to 6.5 years in prison

RFA reports:

  • On October 28, the local court of Ninh Binh Province sentenced Tran Quoc Khanh, a former independent candidate, to 6.5 years in prison and two years of probation for social media video streams critical of the government. The sentence was seen as the latest effort by the Vietnamese government aimed at shutting down criticism online of the one-party Communist state.
  • Khanh, 61, was arrested on March 10 and charged with “creating, storing, disseminating and spreading information, materials, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in accordance with Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • According to a report from the Cong Ly (Justice) newspaper, a mouthpiece for the Vietnamese Supreme People’s Court, Khanh had regularly posted “false and misleading information which causes public confusion and anxiety” on his Facebook account “Tran Quoc Khanh” and his fan page “Tieng noi Cong dan” (Voice of Citizens).
  • Meanwhile, the investigation process into Le Trong Hung, another independent candidate for the National Assembly, was completed on October 26. According to his attorney, Hung began a hunger strike and had lost 13 kilograms (around 27 pounds) after his detainment to protest his arbitrary arrest. Hung was arrested on March 27, 2021, and later prosecuted under the same charge as Khanh’s.

Detained Facebook blogger Bui Van Thuan reportedly “denied attorney service”

RFA reports:

  • On October 28, Bui Van Thuan’s wife – Trinh Thi Nhung – shared on her social media account that her husband had written a letter to formally deny his attorney’s assistance, just after Thuan’s family expressed concerns about his possible torture while in detention. After his arrest, the family had contacted attorney Dang Dinh Manh, who is also one of Pham Doan Trang’s defending lawyers, to defend his case.
  • Nhung added that the investigation agency of Thanh Hoa Province Police had only informed attorney Manh about her husband’s letter. Thuan’s family later received the information via the lawyer’s notice. “I am planning to ask for [my husband’s] visitation to ask him why he had denied his lawyer’s service, or I will ask for permission to verify his original letter,” Nhung said.
  • Meanwhile, Nhung also shared with RFA that her family had been secretly filmed by the state broadcaster Public Security Television, which is owned by the Ministry of Public Security. The illegally filmed footage later appeared on the broadcaster’s channel, allegedly framing Bui Van Thuan as a “hostile force” who is “working against the State.” “The footage they put on their report was not allowed by the family and they are all illegal,” said Nhung.

Former police officer facing possible torture in detention

RFA reports:

  • Le Chi Thanh, a former police officer, was reportedly tortured while in the custody of Thu Duc Police Detention Center. In a personal video released on October 29, Thanh’s mother, Le Thi Phu, is seen reading a letter asking for justice for her son as she received the information from their defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh about him possibly being tortured.
  • Earlier, during a visitation from attorney Manh, Thanh said to his legal representative that he had been tortured while in custody. He added that the torture method used by detention camp officers was to tie and hang his hands and feet all the time. Also according to Thanh via his lawyer, the detention condition was very poor and inconvenient, with no separate toilet or eating place. The torture also caused many of his fingers and feet to be “nearly paralyzed,” he added.
  • Le Chi Thanh used to be a policeman and correctional officer at several state detention centers. Thanh was well-known for live streaming videos exposing rampant corruption and misconduct within the Vietnamese police department, especially the traffic police force, and correction centers. His activism enjoyed significant support from fellow officers. He was deprived of his police badge last year and eventually arrested in April 2021.

Thousands of people evacuated from flood-hit central Vietnam

Reuters reports:

“Prolonged heavy rains have triggered widespread flooding in several parts of central Vietnam, killing at least one person, with thousands evacuated and more downpours expected this week.

Footage from state broadcaster VTV showed people moving belongings and furniture out of flooded homes in Quang Nam Province, with water gushing out of a damaged wall in one residence.

In Quang Ngai province, where at least 4,500 people were evacuated at the weekend, children sat on a makeshift raft to move along one street as others waded through knee-deep floodwater, some pushing stalled motorcycles.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

The case against Mark Zuckerberg: Insiders say Facebook’s CEO chose growth over safety

The Washington Post/ Elizabeth Dwoskin, Tory Newmyer, Shibani Mahtani/ October 25

“In America, the tech CEO is a champion of free speech, reluctant to remove even malicious and misleading content from the platform. But in Vietnam, upholding the free-speech rights of people who question government leaders could have come with a significant cost in a country where the social network earns more than $1 billion in annual revenue, according to a 2018 estimate by Amnesty International.”

Vietnam’s Metro Rail Lines Lumber Toward Completion

The Diplomat/ James Guild/ October 26

“Vietnam’s urban metro projects are part of a larger national transportation vision, which includes plans to spend billions in the coming years on roads, railways, airports and seaports to support its booming manufacturing-led growth. But the delays and cost overruns encountered in the Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi metro projects underscore a wider point about building large public transit systems in dense urban environments, which is that it’s really difficult. Projects are frequently delivered over-budget and missed deadlines are common. Financing is complicated (particularly in a country like Vietnam where the government places strict borrowing limits on itself), and land acquisition is almost always a sticking point.”

The Asia-Pacific’s Free Trade Disagreements

The Diplomat/ Joseph Cash/ October 29

“Owing to the size and attractiveness of the Single Market, Brussels can afford to be bullish when negotiating, venturing beyond areas other actors would include in a traditional trade deal. While this leaves the other party with little room for negotiation, and can at times give the impression of European overreach into their economic affairs, access to the EU’s massive Single Market is a glittering prize and can also incentivize reforms at home. However, that the EU and Vietnam needed five years to ratify their deal perhaps reflects a wider issue here: Whatever the specifics of any final deal, the other market is usually left implicitly accepting they are going down a path of closer integration with Europe and following Brussels’ way of doing things.”

New book: Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam

Ted Osius/ 2021

“Ted Osius, former ambassador during the Obama administration, offers a vivid account, starting in the 1990s, of the various forms of diplomacy that made this reconciliation possible. He considers the leaders who put aside past traumas to work on creating a brighter future, including senators John McCain and John Kerry, two Vietnam veterans and ideological opponents who set aside their differences for a greater cause, and Pete Peterson—the former POW who became the first U.S. ambassador to a new Vietnam. Osius also draws upon his own experiences working first-hand with various Vietnamese leaders and traveling the country on bicycle to spotlight the ordinary Vietnamese people who have helped bring about their nation’s extraordinary renaissance.”

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