Vietnam welcomes 2022 burdened with the baggage of prior years, with its lauded COVID-19 pandemic measures buckling under the strain of the new Delta and Omicron variants coupled with mounting international pressure from the United Nations and other concerned organizations.
The country’s downward decline in 2021, in terms of its commitment to protecting the universal human rights of its citizens, was underscored by the imprisonment of land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, Do Nam Trung, Le Trong Hung, and Pham Doan Trang during the final weeks of the year. However, the plight of these five people is just the latest in a long line of suppressions committed by the Vietnamese government against its own citizens.
In a Joint Allegation Letter (JAL) to the Vietnamese government, dated November 1, 2021, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council conveyed its concerns regarding the arrests, alleged arbitrary detentions, and legal prosecutions of several other Vietnamese activists that year. The following individuals are mentioned in this letter:
Chung Hoang Chuong
On 9 January 2020, Chung Hoang Chuong -- a business owner who lives and works in Ninh Kieu province, Can Tho -- made a post on social media about the alleged use of excessive force by Vietnamese police during the Dong Tam commune incident. He was taken into police custody three days later on January 12, 2020. In the past, Chuong had also expressed critical opinions regarding the Vietnamese government’s role in the Formosa environmental disaster.
He was charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Penal Code and sentenced to serve one and a half years in prison on April 27. Chuong was released on June 11, 2021, which was one month earlier than his official release date.
Nguyen Van Nghiem
Hairdresser and online commentator Nguyen Van Nghiemwas arrested on November 5, 2019, while he was live-streaming a discussion on human rights. During his arrest, two computers, two printers, and several cameras and cellphones were taken from his home. Prior to this incident, he had used his online platform to share his views on national issues and criticize senior state officials. The JAL notes that a day before his arrest by the police, Nghiem released videos about China’s involvement in Vanguard Bank -- a special economic zone in Vietnamese territory.
On June 23, 2020, he was convicted of “making, storing, disseminating, or spreading information, materials, and products,” under Article 117 of the Penal Code, and sentenced to six years in prison. Although he had previously requested legal representation, Nghiem went to court without a lawyer; some speculate that he was pressured by the police to face the court alone.
Le Van Dung
Le Van Dung, a freelance journalist who used to run a Facebook page and Youtube channel that discussed various sensitive topics in Vietnam, was arrested on June 30, 2021; he was detained under suspicion of violating Article 117 of the Penal Code for propagandizing against the State. If found guilty, Dung faces up to 20 years in prison.
A warrant for his arrest was issued sometime in May 2020, and in February 2021, he announced his candidacy for the National Assembly. To no one’s surprise, his application was rejected.
Dung was the former manager of the Chan Hung Nuoc Viet TV (CHTV) Facebook page before it was removed from the platform; the page had amassed more than 27, 000 followers before its deletion.
Dinh Thi Thu Thuy
Human rights and environmental rights defender Dinh Thi Thu Thuy was arrested on April 18, 2020, and placed in pre-trial detention for speaking out against the negative environmental effects of foreign investment projects in the Mekong Delta and the South China Sea. During her captivity, she was denied family visitation and was only able to meet with her lawyer on December 3, almost eight months after her arrest.
On January 20, 2021, Thuy was sentenced to seven years in prison for “making, storing, disseminating, or spreading information, materials, and products” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code. Due to medical reasons, she was hospitalized in the Hau Giang Province General Hospital sometime after her conviction. After her recovery, Thuy was sent back to the An Phuoc Prison. She was not allowed family visits until April 2021, a year after she was detained.
Do Nam Trung
Do Nam Trung was arrested by Hanoi police while he was on his way to work on July 6, 2021. Police later confiscated broken sim cards, two memory sticks, and some personal documents from his home. The following day, the Public Security Bureau of Nam Dinh Province announced that Trung was under investigation for “making, storing, disseminating, or spreading information, materials, and products” against the State under Article 117 of the Penal Code.
This was not his first altercation with the law. A report by The 88 Project states that Do Nam Trung was first imprisoned in January 2011, for nine months, after the bus he was driving was hit by a drunk man on a motorcycle who wanted to commit suicide. The drunken individual died in the collision. Even though Trung and the deceased’s family had decided to settle the issue out-of-court, police officials insisted that he had committed a crime. This incident made him reflect on the state of the Vietnamese justice system and served as the catalyst for his decision to enter activism.
In May 2014, Do Nam Trung was arrested for a second time while recording an ongoing demonstration against China in Dong Nai Province, and in February 2015, he was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment for “abusing democratic freedoms.”
Trung was sentenced to 10 years in prison, on December 16, 2021, for conducting “anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Dinh Van Hai
Dinh Van Hai is a physically-disabled human rights defender and social media activist who often shares his thoughts about human rights, land rights, and the environment. His first encounter with the Vietnamese police occurred on July 15, 2017, when he was temporarily detained for attending a peaceful protest in Ho Chi Minh City about environmental issues.
On October 7, 2021, he was arrested without a warrant at the Phuoc Buu Pagoda in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province for allegedly “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. He is currently being held in pre-trial detention and kept in the custody of the Lam Dong Provincial Police.
Le Trong Hung
Independent journalist and founder of Chan hung Vietnam TV (CHTV), Le Trong Hung was sentenced to five years in prison and five years probation for allegedly violating Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, as reported by The Vietnamese. His activism mainly focused on discussing various social issues, such as corruption, land rights, and human rights, on Facebook and Youtube.
On March 14, 2021, he made an announcement on Facebook saying that he had applied to be a “self-nominated” candidate in order to win a seat in the National Assembly for Hanoi City. His plans would, sadly, not come to fruition since he was arrested on March 27, just 15 meters from his home.
From his arrest until his conviction, Le Trong Hung was not granted permission to see his family or his lawyer.
Le Chi Thanh
Le Chi Thanh, a former captain in the Vietnamese police, had plans to run as an independent candidate in the National Assembly election in 2021. After being dismissed from his job in 2020 for “[denouncing] alleged corruption and [the wrongdoings] of prison management,” he decided to get involved in grassroots activism by exposing “alleged cases of corruption within the public security forces” on his Youtube channel. According to The 88 Project, his videos, which expose the corruption and abuse committed by the Vietnamese police, have been taken down.
On March 20, 2021, Thanh’s car was pulled over by the police and he was accused of “not having car registration and driving in the wrong lane.” The police forcefully impounded his vehicle while he recorded the entire process. Despite not resorting to any form of violence, Thanh was charged a month later with “[resisting] a law enforcement officer in the performance of his/her official duties” under Article 330 of the Penal Code.
is currently being held in pre-trial detention and could face up to seven years imprisonment. It was also noted in the JAL that he was subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that Thanh’s mother believes her son had been “beaten and hung by his arms over a pit of feces for seven days.”
Tran Quoc Khanh
Tran Quoc Khanh, a popular Facebook commentator, operated a popular social media account which he used to discuss human rights and political issues in Vietnam, such as the separation of political power between multiple branches of government. On March 6, 2021, he announced his bid to run as an independent candidate for a seat in the National Assembly and criticized a number of government ministries, and called on the Vietnamese Government to respect the rule of law.
Four days later, Ninh Binh provincial authorities arrested Khánh. He was subsequently charged with violating Article 117 of the Penal Code for “[making], storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and articles to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
His trial was held on October 28, 2021, and he was sentenced to six years and six months in prison, and two years of probation. The 88 Project claims that even though his lawyer, Le Dinh Viet, had told Khanh’s family that his client did not want an attorney to represent him in court, the family disputed this claim; they argued that Khanh had sent them a message, saying that he wanted them to contact a lawyer.
The Joint Action Letter ends with the Special Rapporteurs expressing grave concerns about the Vietnamese government’s “deliberate and systematic attempt to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, civil society organizations, journalists, and political activists” through baseless accusations leading to legal prosecution, illegal detentions, and enforced disappearances. The actions of the Vietnamese State imply a system that flouts due process and the proper observation of universal human rights. As such, the UN representatives requested the assistance and the full cooperation of the State in investigating these allegations.
If we look at how the Vietnamese government responded to similar controversies in the past, it becomes clear that they will not comply with the demands of the UN, with the recent imprisonment of Mai Phan Loi serving as the latest example of their string of suppressions.
Yet, nothing lasts forever and even dynasties eventually crumble.
The sins and hubris of kings and queens and of presidents and dictators eventually lead to the downfall of once-thought-of eternal empires; the reign of the VCP is not exempt from this rule. Each person unlawfully wronged by the Vietnamese state and each individual jailed for the simple expression of fundamental and universal human rights add more and more links to the chain of its demise. When the rule of the Vietnamese Communist Party comes to an end, it will not be remembered as a savior of their motherland; the Party leaders will be reviled as thieves, crooks, and murderers of their countrymen.
The full text of the Joint Action Letter can be found here.
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- Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of "conducting anti-state propaganda" – defend the defenders – Người Bảo Vệ Nhân Quyền. Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem Sentenced to Six Years in Prison after Being Convicted of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda.” (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2022, from http://vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2020/06/23/facebooker-nguyen-van-nghiem-sentenced-to-six-years-in-prison-after-being-convicted-of-conducting-anti-state-propaganda/
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