Featured Image: Imprisoned activist Ngo Hao, who recently suffered a stroke in prison
Greetings from The 88 Project! We are bringing you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 28-February 3. Imprisoned pro-democracy activist Ngo Hao had a stroke in prison, and his family wasn’t notified directly. Prisoners Nguyen Trung Truc and Nguyen Hong Nguyen have both been transferred to new prisons ahead of the Tet Holiday. And Le Anh Hung, a detained journalist awaiting trial, was denied a visit from his family this week. Authorities arrested three people in recent days, just ahead of the major holiday: Facebookers Duong Thi Lanh and Huynh Tri Tram, as well as Tran Van Quyen, who was allegedly arrested for ties to overseas pro-democracy group Viet Tan. This week, we remember Dr. Ho Van Hai, Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc, four activists who were sentenced to 4, 8, 6.5, and 6 years in prison in two separate trials one year ago. Female activist Le My Hanh was summoned by authorities for questioning three times in one week. Former political prisoner Truong Duy Nhat is at risk, as he has been missing for over a week after fleeing from Vietnam to Thailand. Facebooker Dieu Hang (Selena Zen) is also missing this week. And security officers questioned university student Tran Ngoc Phuc this week about his online activities. In the most recent possible case of police brutality, people are responding to a video where a police officer is seen kicking a civilian. Under international advocacy efforts, members of the European Parliament sent a letter requesting that Vietnam release Hoang Duc Binh from prison, and Human Rights Watch has criticized Vietnam’s comments in its Universal Periodic Review. In the news, read about Vietnam-UK relations and an interview with exiled former political prisoner Dang Xuan Dieu. Please take action for political prisoners and activists who can’t be with their families during the Tet Holiday; consider donating to the Doan Ket Fund on their behalves.
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HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Ms. Duong Thi Lanh (b. 1982), a Facebooker in Dak Nong Province, was arrested on January 30, 2019 when she went to the People’s Committee of Nhan Co commune, Dak R’Lap district under the summons of the Public Security “to work on matters related to 2 Facebook accounts called “Uyen Thuy” and “Mai Bui”.” Ms. Lanh’s husband, Tran Coi, confirmed with Radio Free Asia the information about the arrest, but said that Dak Nong Public Security did not give any documents to prove it. The Public Security searched her house with a search warrant, but did not provide an arrest order. According to Tran Coi, public security forces seized a number of assets including American soldier-style apparel and three phones, and announced that Ms. Lanh would be temporarily detained for three months in the Public Security of Dak Nong Province’s detention camp.
Mr. Tran Van Quyen (b. 1999), a native of Ha Tinh province, was arrested the Ministry of Public Security on January 23, 2019. Quyen’s brother said he was arrested while going to have coffee with friends in Di An, Binh Duong. After that, he was taken back to the house for a house search. The Public Security did not provide neither arrest order nor search warrant to the family. When Quyen’s family went to the detention center to send him food and clothes, they were only informed verbally by the investigators that Quyen was “arrested for participating in terrorist organization Viet Tan.” Quyen is currently detained in the B34 Detention Center of the Ministry of Public Security in Cu Chi.
At 8:00 am on January 26, police arrested Facebooker Huynh Tri Tam at his private residence and brought him to the police station of Dong Nai Province. Tam, whose real name is Huynh Minh Tam, is an activist. His Facebook account, where he usually shares his concern regarding national issues, might be under authorities’ control since his arrest.
This week, we remember Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc, who on January 31, 2018, were sentenced to eight, 6.5, and six years in prison, respectively. Thuan and Dien, members of the National Movement to Revive Vietnam, were sentenced for making videos with alleged “anti-state” content, and Phuc, a 24-year-old student human rights leader, was sentenced for helping store and post some of the photos.
Former political prisoner Truong Duy Nhat has been missing since January 25, the day he attempted to claim asylum status in Thailand after fleeing Vietnam in the weeks prior. Nhat was arrested in 2013 in Vietnam and later sentenced to two years in prison for his blog, “Another Point of View,” which contained content critical of the government. His location remains unknown at the time of this writing.
On February 1, security officers in Ben Tre Province questioned a university student, Tran Ngoc Phuc, for posting online content critical of the government and allegedly joining political groups on Facebook. Among the groups in question was “Liking BBC Vietnamese.” The case against Phuc is expected to continue and comes just a month after Vietnam’s new Law on Cybersecurity went into effect.
Questions of police brutality are again brewing in Vietnam after a video surfaced showing a man being kicked by a police officer in Phu Yen Province. The man’s family says he was shoved to the ground after going to the police station for questioning; the officers contend the man was drunk and disorderly and that they had to subdue him. The officer in question is on leave, while an investigation is expected. However, the police have tried to rationalize the officer’s behavior in a way that some say is indicative of a larger pattern of behavior.
Hoang Duc Binh
Nine members of the European Parliament sent a letter to Vietnam’s President urging the release of environmental and labor rights advocate Hoang Duc Binh, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for his involvement organizing community members after the massive Formosa toxic waste spill in 2016. The letter reiterated messages from previous months that Vietnam must respect human rights as a condition for the EU moving forward with ratification of the proposed EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. The agreement is in its final stages, however its ratification has allegedly been delayed for “technical reasons.”
Le Dinh Luong
In response to Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review in front of the UN Human Rights Council in January, Human Rights Watch (HR) has said that “Vietnam presented a grossly inaccurate picture of its human rights record.” While publicly committing to the right to a defense counsel, HRW contends that in practice, many dissident defendants are represented by counsel that has little time to prepare for their case, and many trials are rushed. They also highlighted the case of Le Dinh Luong, an environmental activist and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, who was denied the right to meet with his defense counsel (which is allowable under Vietnamese law for national security charges) until the month before his trial; he was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Lack of freedom undermines corruption campaign: “‘In addition, weak democratic institutions and few political rights cast serious doubts on the fairness of the arrests and prosecutions in the country.’ The report concludes that a lack of strong and independent democratic institutions helps corruption flourish in countries such as Vietnam, contributing to a lack of checks and balances. ‘As the performance of democratic institutions weakens and political rights decline, corruption festers and grows,’ says the report. Vietnam is one of several countries in the Asia Pacific region to fall back in the global table, a consequence says Transparency International of retreating democratic freedoms across the region. Vietnam scored 33 points, compared to 35 points in 2017, with 0 being the most corrupt and 100 corruption free.”
Europe, Vietnam reach towards major trade deal: “When Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attended last month’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland, reports emerged that the European Council, which must also accept the deal before it is voted in the European Parliament, had postponed the motion over ‘technical reasons’, according to a British member of the European Parliament (MEP). Sources in Hanoi say that Europe’s political institutions are now driving a harder bargain than previously on rights and democracy issues. Since negotiations started, talks have persistently snagged on Vietnam’s dismal human rights record, arguably one of the worst in Asia.”
Project Exile: Vietnam Journalist Went to France After Six Years in Prison: “GJ: Can you tell me about your time in prison? (Dang Xuan) Dieu: In prisons, they have their own systems to punish prisoners. There are areas that allow for people to move freely and do normal, day-to-day activities, but there are also areas within the normal prison that are like a prison within a prison within a prison. So I was in what you would call a third-degree prison area, where people are primarily shackled and kept in solitary confinement. The problems started when I did not confess to any crimes and when I refused to wear the prison uniform because I believed I wasn’t guilty. I was placed in a cell with someone who was charged for murder and who tried to [beat me] to force me to wear the prison uniform and confess to crimes. He may have been doing this on orders from various prison officials.”
As we approach the Tet Holiday, consider contributing to the Doan Ket Fund, a fund established by the NOW! Campaign to support political prisoners in Vietnam. Many prisoners and activists at risk will not be able to spend the holiday with their families this year. “Doan Ket” is Vietnamese for “solidarity.” All donations go directly and entirely to political prisoners and their families or to individuals identified by the NOW! Campaign as at risk of arrest, detention, and imprisonment.