Vietnam Police Arrest Former Contributor to Dissident YouTube Channel; CPJ and PEN America Press Vietnam to Free Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan

Vietnam Police Arrest Former Contributor to Dissident YouTube Channel; CPJ and PEN America Press Vietnam to Free Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan

Police Detain Member of Dissident YouTube Channel Chan Hung TV, Giving No Explanation

The Security Investigation Agency of the Hanoi Police Department, on Dec. 29, 2023, arrested Phan Van Bach, 49, a former contributor to the independent YouTube channel Chan Hung TV (CHTV), which publishes videos on social issues and injustices in Vietnam. Bach’s family received a notice of his detention on Jan. 3; the police have not yet revealed the charges against Bach. 

Vu Manh Tuan, another CHTV contributor living in Nha Trang City, said that Bach was active on the channel from 2017 to 2019,  focusing on social issues and government abuses. Tuan told RFA that Bach was planning on quitting the channel recently. The public security forces in Vietnam often detain activists for days of interrogation before publicly disclosing the details of arrest warrants or charges. It remains unclear why the security department arrested Bach, who had recently been inactive.

Nguyen Thi Yeu, Bach’s wife, wrote on social media that when she asked the local police about her husband’s whereabouts, they said Bach had been taken to the Hanoi Police Department Security Investigation Agency at 89 Tran Hung Dao St.

Yeu said that she only learned about her husband’s arrest after she returned home from work. On Dec. 30 and 31, Yeu dropped by the Hanoi Police Department headquarters multiple times to ask why Bach had been arrested. The police refused to divulge further information and told her to leave her phone number so they could contact her later. When she came to the police headquarters again on Dec. 3, Bach’s investigator gave her his arrest warrant and said her husband was held at Detention Camp No. 1 in Phuc Dien Ward, Hanoi.

Attorney Ngo Anh Tuan, a member of the Hanoi Bar Association who has defended Vietnamese activists in political cases, said that according to the law, detention notices sent to the family must contain information about the charges against a detained person. Tuan told RFA that based on the police document sent to Bach’s family, it is likely that he will be charged with “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. But he could also be investigated for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331, another politically motivated allegation.

YouTube channel CHTV was founded by prisoner of conscience Vu Quang Thuan, who initially specialized in reporting on socio-economic issues. Thuan received an eight-year prison term for allegedly “distributing anti-state propaganda” in January 2018 under Article 88 of the former 1999 Penal Code. The other channel members, Le Van Dung and Le Trong Hung, received five years in prison on the same charges as Thuan.

According to several rights campaigners in Vietnam, the Hanoi regime has turned its attention to the country’s “small fish,” or less well-known critics and activists, after other “prominent” activists were either arrested or forced into exile. 

Nguyen Tien Trung, an activist who recently sought political asylum in Germany, said the Communist Party wants to “hunt down and wipe out” political dissidents because they worry that global developments beyond their control could negatively affect Vietnam and “cause unrest” at any time. “The Communist Party itself gained power after the end of World War II amid a power grab in the country at that time,” Trung said. “Therefore, the authorities want to destroy all ‘sprouts and seedlings’ of the democratic leadership so that there is no opposition waiting to lead a popular revolution.”

PEN America and CPJ Raise Concerns about the Health of Le Huu Minh Tuan, Urge Vietnam to Release Him

PEN America, which advocates for freedom of expression, released a statement on Jan. 2 on the declining health of Le Huu Minh Tuan, 34, an editor and member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). The statement urged the Vietnamese government to immediately release Tuan, drop all charges against him, and provide him with critical medical attention.

Tuan received 11 years in prison under Article 117 of the Penal Code for “distributing anti-state propaganda.” Two other IJAVN members, Pham Chi Dung, and Nguyen Tuong Thuy, were also convicted and received respective sentences of 15 and 11 years for writing “reactionary content” and publishing articles that allegedly “distort the truth, incite individuals to overthrow the people’s government, or incite hatred and extremism.”

Tuan’s family and relatives said that during their visit to Xuyen Moc Prison in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, they noticed that he struggled to walk and was pale and looked with only “skin and bones.” The journalist also told his family that he could no longer digest solid food and only eat light porridge to survive. While in prison, Tuan has been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and hepatitis. Still, prison officials have refused to give him medications sent by his family and only allowed him to receive medicines provided by the prison.

“Le Huu Minh Tuan’s rapidly deteriorating health, exacerbated by medical neglect and unjustified incarceration, serves as an appalling reminder of the dangers of fighting for free expression in Vietnam,” Anh-Thu Vo, PEN America Research and Advocacy Coordinator. said in the public statement. Vo added that the Vietnamese government “desperately needs to hear from people like Tuan, who spur reflection and often serve as conduits of public opinion.” PEN pressed the government to ensure Tuan’s well-being and immediately release him.

In October 2023, PEN America also submitted a joint report for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Vietnam, outlining concerns about violations of free expression, cultural rights, privacy, due process, and arbitrary detention in the country. Through the UPR process, PEN America noted, they “encourage the United Nations Human Rights Council and its Member States to closely examine Vietnam’s recent track record on free expression and provide concrete recommendations, which could lead to significant improvements in the lives of all Vietnamese citizens.”

On Jan. 5, 2024, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also calls on the Vietnamese government to release Le Huu Minh Tuan. Citing the same urgent concerns for Tuan's health, the CPJ demands, “Vietnamese authorities should immediately release journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan from jail on humanitarian grounds, amid reports that his health has deteriorated.” The CPJ also stated that Vietnam was one of the worst jailers for journalists worldwide. As of Dec. 1, 2022, CPJ confirmed that Vietnam imprisoned 21 journalists, and the upcoming CPJ’s 2023 census will be released later this month.

Vietnamese Court Sentences Three Former Police Officers for Beating Detainee to Death

On Dec. 28, a Vietnamese court in Thai Binh Province sentenced three former police officers for beating Bui Van Bich to death while in custody, state media reported. Police brutality is rampant in Vietnamese prisons, and police officers often enjoy impunity when such deaths occur. The conviction is a rare example of accountability for police brutality in the country, as the police force in Vietnam often receives impunity for their misdeeds. 

Bui Thi Luyen, Bich’s wife, sent a criminal complaint letter to multiple local and national prosecuting agencies after her husband suspiciously died in the detention facility of Vu Thu District Police in Thai Binh Province. According to Luyen’s letter, district police officers came to their home on Sept. 19, 2021, to request that she and her husband go to police headquarters for questioning about an allegation that her husband was involved in organizing prostitution activities.

After taking their statements, Luyen was released, but Bich continued to be detained. His wife wrote that the family couldn’t visit him for six months. During a phone call with a district police officer on Feb. 20, 2022, Luyen was advised that her husband had been skipping meals, had lost consciousness, and was taken to a hospital for emergency care. Luyen later learned of his death through a phone call from a police officer.

The investigation and subsequent trial revealed the role of the three officers in causing the death of Bich. According to the indictment, officers Pham Quang Hung and Trinh Thanh Hung were accused of directing other suspects to intimidate and assault Bich during his detention. Meanwhile, Nguyen Trong Giap, a correctional officer, reportedly attacked him during interrogation. All three pleaded guilty and received prison sentences ranging from 10 months to 11 years.

Dissident Blogger Phan Tat Thanh Rejects Defense Lawyer, Ho Chi Minh City Police Claim 

Phan Tat Thanh, 38, former manager of a dissident Facebook page called Nhật Ký Yêu Nước (A Patriot’s Diary), reportedly rejected legal assistance after he was indicted on charges of “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code on July 13, according to the Security Investigation Agency of the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department. He is currently being held at the city’s Detention Camp No. 4, awaiting investigation.

Phan Tat Chi, Thanh’s father, said that the information given by the police contradicted the message he received from his son. “Thanh informed the family [from the detention camp] that he only cooperated with the investigation agency with the presence of a lawyer.”

The police detained Thanh after he was invited to a questioning session on July 5, 2023, but the official indictment and detention were dated July 13. Chi told RFA that on Nov. 10, 2023, he went to Detention Camp No. 4 to ask for more information about his son and to give him supplies. At the time, the police told him that Thanh’s detention had been extended for another three months, until Feb. 7, 2024.

After the blogger was detained, his family hired attorney Tran Dinh Dung, a Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association member, to defend him. In late December 2023, Dung went to the investigation agency to register as Thanh’s defense lawyer, but the police rejected his request. Two days later, the security agency informed the lawyer that Thanh refused to meet him and that “he did not need a lawyer,” Chi said.

Attorney Dang Dinh Manh, a human rights lawyer now living in exile in the United States, told RFA that he was not surprised by the police claim that Phan Tat Thanh refused a lawyer during the investigation. Manh said that such claims are very “common in political cases” because the police often violate investigation procedures by using torture and other corporal punishment to extract confessions. “If a lawyer is present, [the police] will not be able to [commit torture] and conclude the case as they wish,” he said.

Vietnam Holds Trial for Former Ministers Implicated in Viet A COVID-19 Test Kits

The Hanoi People’s Court on Jan. 3 began a first-instance trial for 38 officials, including two former government ministers - former Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long and former Science and Technology Minister Chu Ngoc Anh - for their alleged involvement in approving and distributing overpriced COVID-19 test kits. All officials were pictured wearing face masks to protect their privacy as the police escorted them to the courtroom. However, the covering up of their faces stood as the only time that Vietnam's legal system used this protection method. The trial is expected to last up to 20 days.

The Viet A scandal, the firm alleged to have produced these test kits, involved nearly 20 officials from multiple ministries, who were accused of receiving bribes to facilitate multi-million dollar deals to supply medical equipment at inflated prices to hospitals and provincial communities, allegedly causing a loss of more than 400 billion dong ($16,406) to the state budget. The indictment stated that Viet A had sold its COVID-19 test kit for three times higher than the cost of the finished product (470,000 dong).

Vietnamese authorities purchased nearly six million test kits from Viet A using the state budget, totalling more than 2,250 billion dong . The medical company earned a markup of more than 1,200 billion dong and allegedly used it to bribe corrupt officials.

Former Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long is accused of receiving bribes worth $2.25 million, while Chu Ngoc Anh faces allegations of “violating regulations on management of state assets.” Phan Quoc Viet, former director of Viet A Co.,  was charged with “bribing” and “violating bidding regulations and causing serious consequences.” On Dec. 29, 2023, a military court sentenced Viet to 25 years for “abusing authoritative power” and “violating bidding regulations.”

Several high-profile Vietnamese politicians were dismissed last year following the Viet A test kit scandal. However, the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has not disclosed its alleged role in the scandal. In 2022, Vietnam’s rubber-stamp National Assembly removed deputy prime ministers Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam from their positions. President Nguyen Xuan Phuc resigned in early 2023, and the people suspected that Viet A scandal was a systematic corruption within the VCP. 

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

The Unexpected Twist in Vietnam’s Renewable Energy Saga

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ Jan. 4

“This sudden surge in renewable energy has caused a strain on the national power grid, particularly in the central region where most renewable energy projects are located. Moreover, during the same period, there was a lack of new traditional power plants constructed, which are necessary to provide a stable baseload for renewable energy sources that are more weather-dependent and thus less reliable. This has created significant safety concerns for the national power system. Consequently, EVN had to curtail the amount of power it purchased from renewable sources, resulting in substantial financial losses for project owners.”

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