Greetings from The 88 Project. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 10-16. Barely two weeks into the new year and the government of Vietnam is already busy charging numerous people with Article 117. At least eight people have been arrested, a few of whom belong to a quasi-religious orphanage well known for producing game-show winning singers. One arrested person’s house was broken into as he was live streaming, creating a surreal recording of police abuse. Several people had their “day in court” and received multi-year prison sentences, one of whom even had an additional charge added on afterwards. The flurry of arrests seems to suggest that the authorities are trying to steer online attention away from the “covid test kit” scandal and the “child abuse” murder case. Meanwhile, Vietnam held talks with Germany, Australia, and China over a variety of topics including trade, security and human rights.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Mai Phan Loi
Mai Phan Loi, founder and director of the nonprofit Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), was sentenced to four years in prison on “tax fraud” charges on January 11. He was also ordered to pay a fine of nearly 2 billion dong ($90K USD). An independent journalist, for the past five years Loi has been educating his readers about the law and Constitution. He and associate Bach Hung Duong were arrested in July 2021. Duong was also sentenced to 30 months in prison on the same charge of “tax fraud,” a typical method of convicting dissidents who run businesses.
Le Manh Ha, Source: Citizen journalist via RFA
Land rights activist Le Manh Ha was detained by plainclothes police in Tuyen Quang Province on January 12. His wife said the men took Ha to their home and searched the house while she was away. Himself a land grab victim, Ha, who has been helping other land grab victims seek justice, runs a YouTube channel. Ha has been charged with spreading “anti-state propaganda.”
The lawyer for Le Tung Van, headmaster of Bong Lai Zen Temple in Long An, reported that he tried three times to meet his client at the temple but was denied each time by security police. Van and three of his adopted sons were arrested last week and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” Two other charges of “fraud” and “incest” were dropped. Van has been released to home detention but is still not allowed to see his lawyer. On January 14, Colonel Van Cong Minh stated that the police were “still working with the Procuracy and the People’s Court” to finalize the case against Van.
Le Chi Thanh
Former police captain Le Chi Thanh was sentenced to two years in prison by a court in Thu Duc District near Ho Chi Minh City for “obstructing officials carrying out government duties.” Thanh had a YouTube channel where he posted stories about police abuse and corruption. His lawyer, Manh Dang, reported that he appeared weak and had to be helped walking into the courtroom. Thanh told the court he had been tortured in captivity. The lawyer said that after the sentence was announced, the prosecution added a new charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331. Thanh will appeal his sentence.
More details have emerged regarding the break-in and arrest of Vlogger Nguyen Thai Hung and his wife Vu Thi Kim Hoang. Hoang’s sister, Vu Giang Tien, said the men, who were in plain clothes, climbed over the fence, “cut the gate lock open and rushed into the house.” At first, the family thought they were being robbed; Hoang’s mother started screaming for help until some of the men pulled out their guns. They did not show any search or arrest warrants, but took both Hung and Hoang away. Even though Hung is the vlogger, he has yet to be charged, while his wife has been charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.”
Ha Tinh provincial police have arrested Nguyen Duc Hung, 31, and charged him with conducting “anti-state propaganda.” The investigation is still ongoing, and the authorities have not described specifically what kind of “anti-state” materials Hung is accused of making or distributing.
Nguyen Van Oai and Tran Van Quyen
This week, we think of the arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:
- Catholic activist Nguyen Van Oai, arrested on January 19, 2017, and sentenced to five years in prison; expected to be released from prison on January 19, 2022
- Camera installer Tran Van Quyen, arrested on January 23, 2019, and sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of “terrorism,” for his alleged ties to overseas democracy organization Viet Tan
In its 2022 World Report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) excoriated Vietnam for using Covid-19 as a cover to “carry out a severe crackdown on peaceful activism that largely went unnoticed outside Vietnam.” Read HRW’s summary report on Vietnam here.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
With West Distracted by Pandemic, Vietnam Ramps Up Repression, Linh Dan, An Hai, VOA, January 11, 2022: “International rights groups believe Hanoi intensified efforts to suppress dissent or opposition voices during the elections and at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has distracted the West from scrutinizing Vietnam’s actions. ‘Vietnam has accelerated its rights abuses across the board, going after community activists, human rights defenders, and political dissidents in a systematic manner that points to a Hanoi plan to wipe out any opposition to its rule,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Human Rights Watch Asia division. Data from media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows an increase in the number of journalists behind bars, with 43 detained.”
Vietnamese official returns ‘gift’ in COVID test-kit scandal, RFA, January 6, 2022: “Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security on Dec. 31 announced a widening of the case against the Viet A Company and government agencies across the country, with company leaders Phan Quoc Viet and Vu Dinh Hiep and Hai Duong provincial CDC director Pham Duy Tien charged with ‘giving and taking a bribe valued at VND 27 billion,’ or about U.S. $1.18 million. Twelve officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Health have also been arrested, with three now facing charges of ‘abusing their position and rights while performing official duties.’ Nine others have been charged with ‘violating bidding regulations, causing serious consequences.’”
‘Frank’ human rights dialogue between Australia and Vietnam, DFAT says, Melissa Coade, The Mandarin, January 14, 2022: “Cyber threats and challenges for human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic were among the key topics discussed at the 17th annual human rights dialogue between Australia and Vietnam. On Thursday the department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT) issued a joint statement about the dialogue, which took place virtually in December. According to both countries, there was ‘productive and frank’ exchange about the rollout of COVID vaccines, and legal reform policies to protect the rights of women and children, Indigenous Australians and Vietnamese ethnic minority peoples, the LGBTI community, and people living with a disability.”
The Vietnam-Germany Strategic Partnership Takes Another Step Forward, Hai Hong Nguyen, The Diplomat, January 13, 2022: “On January 6, the German frigate Bayern entered the port of Ho Chi Minh City to begin a four-day visit to Vietnam. This is the first time a German warship has paid a port call to the Southeast Asian nation since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1975. Vietnam is one of the 10 stops that the frigate will make during a seven-month Indo-Pacific deployment that began last August, the others being the Horn of Africa, Pakistan, Australia, Guam, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and India. A press communique published by the German Embassy in Hanoi stated that the deployment of the Bayern ‘underscores the security component of the Indo-Pacific Guidelines,’ which were adopted by the German government in September 2020 following similar steps by other European nations.”
Government leaders of Vietnam, China hold phone talks, VNA, January 13, 2022: “Regarding the goods congestion at border gates, PM Chinh underlined that both sides should coordinate closely and adopt effective and drastic solutions to this problem, thus ensuring smooth trading and maintaining supply and production chains between the two countries as well as in the region, particularly in the coming Lunar New Year holiday. … Premier Li highlighted his attention to Vietnam’s recommendations about economic, trade, and investment links, considering this as an important field in bilateral cooperation. He ordered relevant ministries, sectors, and localities of China to settle the issue, and suggested both sides set up a joint working group to continue dealing with it, thereby facilitating Vietnamese farm products’ entry into China and maintain the trade flow.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Pham Doan Trang
Pham Doan Trang’s 9-Year Sentence: An Outrageous Affront To Human Dignity, Frances An, The Vietnamese: “My Vietnamese-Cantonese father despises my involvement with pro-democracy movements in Vietnamese diasporas. He warned me after I mentioned my bilingual readings at a PEN Day Of The Imprisoned Writer event which included Trần Đức Thạch’s poem ‘Sám Hối’ (‘Repentance’) and a letter I wrote to Pham. He told me, ‘You were born in Australia and have citizenship status here. You take the rule of law for granted, and the corruption and manipulation of Communist governments are beyond your imagination…’”
A group of journalists, writers, and professionals in Vietnam has started a petition asking the National Assembly to abolish, among other things, Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code, which has been used to convict citizens for conducting “anti-State propaganda.” You can view and sign the petition, here.
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