Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 14-20, 2019: Two Activists Beaten by Plain

Defend the Defenders| January 20, 2019

OnJanuary 19, on the 45th anniversary of the loss of the Hoang Sa (Paracells) to China, plainclothes agents brutally beat two activists Duong Thi Tan and Truong Van Dung as security forces strived to halt activists’ gathering.

While Mr. Dung received no severe injuries from the attack of plainclothes policemen in Hanoi, Saigon-based human rights defender Tan fell unconscious and the attackers took her to a hospital for urgent treatment. She suffered serious spine injury, according to a medical check-up. 

Many other activists in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities reported that local authorities sent plainclothes agents near activists’ private residence, effectively placing them de facto under house arrest on January 19 in a bid to prevent them from gathering to commemorize the event and pay atribute to fallen soldiers killed by China’s army in January 19, 1974.

On January 17, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi held the appeal hearing of retired teacher Dao Quang Thuc, who was convicted by the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province on allegation of subversion and sentenced to 14 years in prison and five years of probation. The higher court reduced his imprisonment sentence by one year but kept the probation period.

Mrs. Hoang Thi Thu Vang, who was arrested on September 3, 2018 and charged with “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the 2015 Penal Code, has yet to be permitted to meet with her lawyer as the police from Ho Chi Minh City said the investigation against her is still not completed. Vang, 53, is accused together with female activists Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Doan Thi Hong, who were also detained in early September last year and kept incommunicado since then.

On January 23, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi will carry out the appeal hearing of citizen blogger Do Cong Duong on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom.” It is difficult for Ms. Duogn to get five-year sentence reduced as Vietnam’s authorities have given lengthy sentences to activists in recent months in a bid to punish them and discourage others from criticizing the communist government and its officials.

The Higher People’s Court in HCM City will also hold the appeal hearing of democracy activists Luu Van Vinh and his four friends on subversion allegation on January 21. In early October, the five guys were sentenced to a total 57 years in prison and 15 years of probation for their plan to set up a organization called Vietnam National Coalition which was designed to work for promoting multi-party democracy and human rights.

Police and thugs in HCM City de facto imprisoned three activists including Phuong Ngo and Truong Chau Huu Danh in their car near An Suong Highway Toll for 22 hours from the noon of January 14 while thugs kidnapped Huynh Long at the same time, taking him to many places where they robbed him. The three activists are leading figures of a campaign which works against dozens of wrongly-placed tolls. Vietnam has 96 tolls but many of them were intentionally placed in wrong places in a bid to help the private road developers collect higher fees from drivers.

On January 18, Human Rights Watch, Defend the Defenders and 16 other NGOs and civil society organizations sent a joint letterto the EU’s leadership to call for postponing the approval of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until Hanoi has specific moves to improve its poor human rights record.

===== January 14 =====

One Activist Dissappeared, Three Others Blocked by Police, Thugs in Wrongly-placed An Suong Highway Toll

Defend the Defenders: One activist working to protest the wrongly-placed An Suong Highway Toll in Ho Chi Minh City had got dissappeared while three others have been blocked by local police and thugs near the facility, according to bloggers.

Blogger Vo Hong Ly, one of brave Facebookers in Vietnam on human rights, democracy and anti-corruption as well as environmental issues, said on her Facebook account that there has been no information about activist Huynh Long since late afternoon of January 14 while bloggers Phuong Ngo, Truong Huu Chau Danh and a woman got stuck in a car surrounded by police and thugs since 12 PM of the same day.

It is likely Huynh Long got arrested due to his activities which aimed to block and force the An Suong Highway Toll to stop taking money from drivers since it was wrongly placed in the National Road No. 1 in Binh Hung Hoa B ward, Binh Tan district, Ho Chi Minh City.

He may be arrested and beaten by police or being kidnapped and tortured by thugs hired by the toll owners, said other activists. Mr. Huynh Long reportedly went to the toll on late afternoon of Monday.

Meanwhile, Phuong NgoTruong Chau Huu Danhand the woman travelled to the toll area by their car at 6 PM yesterday. Police and thugs reportedly surround their car, not allowing to move. In order to protect themselves, the trio stay in the car and call for helpfrom others.

While thugs threaten them, police came to request them to go out, however, the activists refuse. They would be arrested by police or even beaten by thugs if they get out of their car.

They stay in the car with little food and water during the night and still in the vehicle, connecting with other bloggers by Facebook. When the report is made, the trio are still in their car after 22 hours.

There are 96 of tolls for BOT (Build-Operation-Transfer) for roads in Vietnam, according to the state media and dozens of them were placed wrongly. These tolls belong to interest groups backed by senior officials.

In order to protest these wrongly-placed tolls, hundreds of drivers and activists in the country have been gathered to these facilities to block them. Many times, a number of tolls have been forced to suspend their works and remove barriers to allow vehicles go through.

Many drivers come with their vehicles to block wrongly-placed tolls while others have been using banknotes with small values or very large values to make their payments longer in minutes or even hours.

Under social pressure, many wrongly-placed tolls have been moved to places where they should be. However, An Suong and other tolls are still operating since they still receive strong support from senior officials and local authorities.

In order to deal with protesters, authorities in these locations where the wrongly-placed tolls station send police including riot policemen to disperse the peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, tolls’ owners often hire thugs to threaten and beat drivers.

Vietnam has been spending huge financial resources for building roads to serve its fast economic development. However, the quality of the newly-built roads is poor and they have been degrading in short time after being put into operation. Corruption is the main cause for the problem.

Many roads and road parts have been built by private companies under BOT form  and they are allowed to make tolls to collect fees from drivers. 

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Appeal Hearing of Anti-corruption Activist Do Cong Duong on Allegation of Abusing Democratic Freedom Scheduled on Jan 23

Defend the Defenders: The Higher People’s Court in Hanoi will carry out the appeal hearing of citizen blogger Do Cong Duong on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” on January 23, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The appeal hearing will be open for public, the court said in its notice sent to his lawyer Ha Huy Son. It is unclear whether his relatives will be allowed to enter the courtroom as in his three hearings in 2018, his daughter and other family members were not permitted to observe from inside.

The appeal hearing will be made more than three months after the trial on October 12, 2018 in which the People’s Court of Bac Ninh convicted him and sentenced him to five years in prison.

It is unlikely the Higher People’s Court will reduce his jail sentence given the fact that the communist regime in Vietnam has sentenced government critics with heavy imprisonment recently.

Mr. Duong, 54, was arrested on January 24, 2018 while filming a forced land grabbing in his town of Tu Son. He was charged with “causing public disorders” under Article 318 and “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

On September 17 last year, the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted him on the first charge and sentenced him to four years in jail. On November 21 of the same year, the People’s Court of Bac Ninh province rejected his appeal and upheld the sentence.

Totally, he was sentenced to nine years in prison last year.

Mr. Duong, who is a land petitioner, became an activist on land issue. Together with other local residents, he filled letters to the state’s leaders to accuse Tu Son town’s government of illegal land seizure.

Duong is also a citizen journalist, producing hundreds of video clips which he has posted on his Facebook accountto report local officials’ corruption and cronyism, including provincial communist leader Nguyen Nhan Chien, who has big houses and has promoted numerous relatives to key positions in provincial agencies. The state-run media has also covered news affirming the information unveiled by Mr. Duong.

Due to his anti-corruption activities, Duong and his family have been persecuted by local authorities. He was summoned by the police for interrogation many timesbefore being arrested. Police also came to his private residence to threaten him.

His house has been attacked with a stinking concoction of feces, shrimp paste, and petrol, and his children have been discriminated in schools.

Duong’s arrest andconvictions arelikely thelocal authorities’ reprisal for his efforts to fight illegal land grabbing and corruption, said his fellow My while hisattorney lawyer HaHuy Son said authorities in Bac Ninh provinceand Tu Son townare seeking to silence the anti-corruption activist and citizen journalist without respecting the country’s law and the presumption of innocence.

Two days after the trial against him for the first charge, the Committee to Protect Journalist issued a statement to condemn the Vietnamese government’s move, saying he should be released and all pending charges against the journalist should be dropped.

“If Vietnam wants to be taken seriously as a responsible international actor, it must stop jailing journalists,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.

Mr. Duong is listed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and NOW!Campaign, a campaign of 14 international and domestic independent civil organizations working for release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

Land grabbing is a thorny problem in Vietnam where all land belongs to the state and local residents only have lease rights. The central government and local governments are authorized to seize any land from citizens for socio-economic development without paying adequate compensation.

In many localities, authorities have grabbed local residents’ land at very low compensation prices and sold it to property and industrial developers at prices much higher.

Thousands of farmers losing their land in that way are gathering in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to demand justice. The land petitioners are treated like second-class residents by the government. They are living in streets and house with cheap renting fees, being subjects of torture and detention by security forces.

Vietnam is among most corrupt nations in the world. According to Trading Economics, the nation scored 35 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Vietnam averaged 27.80 points from 1997 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 35 points in 2017 and a record low of 24 points in 2002.

In Vietnam where communists have ruled for decades, the government strictly controls media. Dozens of bloggers and independent journalists have been harassed and jailed.

Vietnam’s press freedom index is ranked at the 175th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 Report.

===== January 15 ===== 

Activist Hoang Thi Thu Vang Still Not Permitted to Meet with Lawyer after Four Months of Detention

Police in Ho Chi Minh have yet allowed jailed activist Hoang Thi Thu Vang to get access to her lawyer, saying she is still in pre-trial detention for allegation of “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

Mrs. Vang, 53, was arrested on September 3 as Vietnam’s security forces were on high alert to prevent mass demonstration on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day (September 2) amid online calls for street gathering to protest the ruling communist party’s policies.

Later, police in Ho Chi Minh City announced that she is being investigated for “disruption of security” in relation to a group led by female activist Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh. Ms. Hanh and Ms. Doan Thi Hong, members of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution), were also arrested in early September and charged with the same allegation.

After Vang’s arrest, her family had signed a legal contract with Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son to defend for her. After signing the contract, lawyer Son submitted a request for meeting with his client who is held incommunicado in the temporary detention facility under the authority of the Police Department of Ho Chi Minh City.

In their letter sent to lawyer Son dated December 28, 2018, the city’s police said Mrs. Vang is not permitted to meet with her lawyer and family until the investigation against her ends.

It seems that the city’s police has extended the investigation period against female activists Vang, Hanh and Hong.

According to Vietnam’s Criminal Procedure Code, detainees have right to meet with their relatives and lawyers right after being arrested, however, in political cases, they have not allowed activists to get access to legal counseling and meet with their families in investigation periods which last four months at least or even years.

Vang, Hanh and Hong have been listed as prisoners of conscience by NOW!Campaign, a campaign of 14 international and domestic NGOs and civil society organizations working for release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

===== January 17 ===== 

Jail Sentence of Retired Teacher Dao Quang Thuc Reduced, Still Severe after Appeal Hearing

Defend the Defenders: On January 17, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi reduced the jail sentence of retired teacher Dao Quang Thuc by one year in his appeal hearing, Defend the Defenders has learned.

As a result, the 59-year-old democracy activist and environmentalist has to serve his 13-year imprisonment and five years under house arrest afterward. In the trial on September 19 last year, the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province convicted him of “carrying out activities aimed to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code.

According to his family, his lawyer presented a number of evidences proving his innocence, however, the court accept few of them and made one-year reduction.

The family said it was informed about the appeal hearing just one day in advance.

Mr. Thuc has a right to challenge the appeal court’s decision, however, there is a little chance for him to be heard by the Supreme People’s Court and the today’s sentence is likely final.

The primary school teacher was arrested on October 5, 2017 on allegation of subversion.During his pre-trial detention, he wastortured and inhumanely treated, accordingto his family.He was reportedly beaten by interrogation officers and suffered significant injuries so police transferred him to a hospital for treatment of these injuries.

Along with torturing him, police hadalso persecuted his family by summoning his wife and son toa local police station where they forced them to talk about her father’s activities despite having no knowledge of them.

Mr. Thuc is among 41 activists convicted in 2017 a total 301 years and nine months in prison and 69 years under house arrest.

Vietnam still hold 20 others in pre-trial detention, mostly on allegations under articles  of national security provisions in the Penal Code. Many democratic governments and international human rights have urged Vietnam to remove these articles, saying they are controversial and used for silence government critics.

According to Defend the Defenders’ statistics, Vietnam is holding around 250 prisoners of conscience.

===== January 18 ===== 

HRW, DTD and 16 Other NGOs Urge the EU to Postpone Vote on EVFTA

On January 18, 18 NGOs and civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Defend the Defenders (DTD), sent a joint letterto President of the European Council Donald Tusk and Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade Bernd Lange to call for postponing the ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA).

In the letter prepared by HRW, the group urges the EU’s top officials to “postpone the Council’s signature of and the European Parliament’s vote on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) until the Government of Vietnam shows concrete improvements in its deteriorating human rights record.”

According to them, the Vietnamese government has not only failed to heed any of the calls formulated mainly by the European Parliament over the past months, but that the situation in the country has become even worse in the past weeks, with the entry into force of a draconian cyber-security law and worrying reports of forced land-grabbing against Catholic citizens in Ho Chi Minh City.

Despite being a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Vietnam has one of the most repressive penal codes in the region, with loose provisions routinely used by the regime to jail peaceful government critics, bloggers, religious leaders, labour rights activists, environmentalists and human rights defenders, said the letter. The government owns or tightly controls all media outlets, censors the internet and punishes expressions of dissent online. Independent trade unions and civil society are not allowed to operate and the judiciary is not independent, it said, adding that under the Communist Party of Vietnam the country has never held free and fair elections.

According to the group, the EU, its member states and Members of the European Parliament should postpone the ratification of the EVFTA and use all coming bilateral and multilateral interactions to force Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience, repeal or amend its criminal code, criminal procedure code, cybersecurity law and law on belief and religion as necessary for its legislation to be in compliance with the ICCPR, and amend its labour law in order to allow independent labour unions to exist and operate, and ratify important ILO Conventions as well as sign the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention against Torture. 

Vietnam should stop executions and declare a moratorium on death penalty, it said.

===== January 19 ===== 

Two Activists Beaten by Plainclothes Agents on Paracell Commemoration 

Defend the Defenders: On Saturday, plainclothes agents brutally beaten two activists on the day of 45th anniversary of the loss of the Hoang Sa (Paracells) to China (January 19, 1974), Defend the Defenders has learned.

While human rights activist Truong Van Dung from Hanoi suffered not significant injuries from the attack, female rights defender Duong Thi Tan from Ho Chi Minh City fell unconscious and got severe injuries on her body and spine.

Ms. Tan, former wife of prominent blogger Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), said she planned to go to a funeral in the morning of Saturday. When she got out of her private house in District 1, she was blocked from a group of plainclothes agents who were sent to prevent her from gathering with other local activists to pay attribute to 74 naval soldiers of the former Saigon regime who were killed by China in 1974 when the giant communist nation overtook the Hoang Sa from Vietnam.

Ms. Tan said she is not a crime so they have no right to block her from freedom of movement, and she called a taxi. In response, the plainclothes agents started to attack her until she fell on a ground. Knowing that she fell unconscious, the attackers took her to a hospital for medical emergency.

After medical checking, a doctor told her that she suffered many injuries, including spine and needs special treatment.

This is the second attack of HCM City’s plainclothes agents against Ms. Tan within two weeks. On January 8, on the day the city’s authorities demolished around 200 private houses in Loc Hung garden in a bid to grab the land of the local residents, police from District 1 arbitrarily detained her son and beat her near her private residence in the district.

Meanwhile, plainclothes agents in Dong Da district, Hanoi, attacked Mr. Dung when he returned from the city’s center where he paid atribution to the Hoang Sa fallen naval soldiers. Unlike other assaults in the past, this time he suffered slight injuries, he told his fellow Ms. Nguyen Thuy Hanh, another activist who witnessed the attack against Dung.

Many other activists nationwide reported that they were placed under de facto house arrest from early morning of January 19 by plainclothes agents and militia.

The Vietnamese communist regime claims the Hoang Sa and the Truong Sa (Spratlys) in the East Sea (South China Sea) but it has used violent measures to disperse peaceful demonstrations against China, which overtook the first archipelago and partly the second one from Vietnam and has ambition to take full control over the East Sea.

Security forces have also barred activists from gathering to mark universaries of the loss of the Hoang Sa and Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef) in the Truong Sa to China. Sometimes, authorities use plainclothes agents and government supporters to halt commemorations.

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