Vietnam Sentences Environmental Activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong to Three Years in Prison for Tax Evasion

Vietnam Sentences Environmental Activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong to Three Years in Prison for Tax Evasion

Editorial Notes: We are very sorry for the one-day delay in the publication of this week's news briefing.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong Was Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Tax Evasion Amid an International Outcry

On Sept. 28, 2023, Vietnam handed down a three-year prison sentence on tax fraud charges to Hoang Thi Minh Hong, an environmental activist. This verdict comes within days of discussions between the Vietnamese government and U.S. President Joe Biden during his state visit, where human rights were a focal point.

Hong, the former director of an environmental advocacy group established in 2013 and actively managed until 2022, was found guilty of tax evasion after a swift trial held in Ho Chi Minh City. Her defense lawyer, Nguyen Van Tu, reported that the trial lasted half a day, culminating in the sentencing.

According to attorney Tu, Hong pleaded guilty, leading to a swift conclusion of the trial. The U.S. State Department expressed deep concern over the sentencing in response to this development. They reiterated their call on the Vietnamese government to release all individuals who have been unjustly detained. They emphasized the importance of upholding the right to freedom of expression and association.

The State Department acknowledged Hong's notable track record and underscored the essential role individuals like her play in addressing global challenges. This statement highlights the international attention and concern regarding the case and its implications for human rights and activism in Vietnam.

Since Hong’s arrest, international entities and organizations have raised concerns, labelling the arrest as politically motivated and critiquing the absence of fair trial procedures.

Hong becomes the sixth individual arrested in connection with domestically registered non-profit organizations targeted by Vietnamese authorities since 2021. Others implicated in similar cases include Mai Phan Loi and Bach Hung Duong (MEC), Dang Dinh Bach (LPSD), Nguy Thi Khanh (GreenID), and Nguyen Son Lo (SENA). Except for Lo's case, categorized as a crime of abusing democratic freedoms under Article 331 of Vietnam's Penal Code, the rest are related to tax evasion. Adding to the list, on September 15, 2023, the government arrested a seventh individual, Ngo Thi To Nhien, who is the director of VIETSE - a social enterprise specializing in energy.

A research report by Project 88, a Vietnamese human rights organization registered in the United States, has concluded that the aforementioned "tax evasion" cases were all politically motivated. Furthermore, they argue that the defendants did not receive fair trials.

Vietnam Affirms Dang Dang Phuoc's Six-Year Sentence in His Appellate Hearing

In a brief appeal session held on the morning of Sept. 26, the High People's Court in Da Nang swiftly dismissed an appeal by music lecturer Dang Dang Phuoc, affirming the eight-year prison sentence and four years of probation on the charge of spreading "anti-state propaganda" under Article 117 of the Penal Code.

Dang Dang Phuoc's wife, Le Thi Ha, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that only a select few, including her and some of Phuoc's Facebook friends, were permitted to enter the courtroom at the People's Court of Dak Lak Province due to their status as witnesses and individuals with related interests.

During the appeal trial, all three of Phuoc's lawyers presented evidence asserting that Phuoc's posts lacked any evidence of guilt. However, the court upheld the sentence, maintaining that his actions constituted the crime of "propaganda against the state."

Phuoc, 61, a music lecturer at Dak Lak Pedagogical College, emphasized during the trial that his intentions were not to sabotage the state but to comment and criticize in pursuing a better government for the country's development and addressing societal injustices.

Phuoc's arrest on Sept. 8, 2022, and subsequent conviction sparked international condemnation. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for his immediate and unconditional release, urging Vietnam to respect freedom of expression.

This case emulates a broader trend where individuals expressing dissent are charged under Article 117 of the Penal Code, illustrating the need for revisions to align with international human rights conventions.

Vietnam Sentences Nguyen Minh Son To Six Years in Prison Under Article 117

On Sept. 29, Nguyen Minh Son, a 60-year-old active social media user known for addressing various socio-political issues on Facebook, was sentenced to six years in prison by the Hanoi People's Court for the crime of spreading "propaganda against the state" under Article 117 of the Penal Code.

The trial lasted only a few hours and occurred at the Hoang Mai District court headquarters.

According to lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan, who defended Son, the charges stemmed from a live-streamed video on Son's personal Facebook page that was made outside the trial of citizen journalist Le Trong Hung in 2021. In an inebriated state, Son expressed strong criticisms against the Communist Party and Ho Chi Minh during the live stream.

Tuan said that he argued for a different charge to mitigate the sentence, but the court did not concur. He contended that this behavior could be more aptly punished under a different charge, possibly an administrative punishment.

During the trial, Son admitted to his actions, expressing remorse and acknowledging his mistakes. He issued an apology and hoped for a reduction in his sentence. However, he received a six-year prison term, a punishment seen as exceptionally severe by his defense, given the nature of the acts committed.

Son's wife, Nguyen Thi Phuoc, was initially not permitted to enter the courtroom. Security allowed her to enter the court close to noon, but the hearing had already concluded, and she could only see her husband as he was being escorted out by judicial police.

While Son participated in multiple protests in Hanoi from 2011 to 2018, addressing various issues, his arrest under Article 117 surprised many as he is not widely recognized or influential. He was taken into custody on Sept. 28, 2022, during which the police searched his house and confiscated documents, books, and his computer.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

UN worried about Vietnam arrest of energy expert after Biden's visit

The Straits Times/ Sept. 25

“The U.N. human rights office has expressed concern about the arrest of a Vietnamese green energy expert, who had collaborated with U.N. and U.S. agencies, just days after President Joe Biden signed business and human rights deals with Hanoi on a visit.

Hanoi police on Sept. 15 detained Ngo Thi To Nhien, Executive Director of the Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition (VIET), an independent think tank focused on green energy policy, Reuters reported last week, citing a charity and a source.

‘We are aware of the arrest and are following the developments with concern,’ Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) told Reuters in a statement.”

UN expert appalled by execution in Viet Nam

UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner/Oct. 2

“‘I am disturbed by the execution of Le Van Manh despite calls for clemency, in light of serious doubts about the fairness of his trial proceedings and credible allegations of torture or ill-treatment to extract a confession,” said Morris Tidball-Binz, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Le Van Manh was convicted of murder by the People’s Court of Thanh Hoa Province in Viet Nam in July 2005. There were concerns that he had been coerced into writing a self-incriminating confession, which was later used as evidence against him and led to his death sentence. ‘Under international human rights law, any statement that is proven to have been made as a result of torture should not be used as evidence in any proceedings,’ Tidball-Binz said.

The expert said authorities had not notified Manh’s next of kin of the execution date, nor had they given the family the opportunity to visit the condemned prisoner before carrying out his sentence. Instead, the family was requested to petition a court to receive his remains within three days.”

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