Greetings from The 88 Project. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of June 20-26. Six members of a Zen temple in Long An Province will be put on trial in spite of complaints from their lawyers. A former prison police official has been sentenced to prison for exposing police wrongdoings. The United States and other Western countries condemn the sentencing of environmentalist Nguy Thi Khanh, calling for her release. Vietnam receives low marks from the Human Rights Measurement Initiative. H’Mong Christians are harassed and intimidated for practicing their faith. The government uses anti-fake news decrees to go after dissidents. UNESCO warns of environmental destruction in Dong Nai Province. Vietnam faces more pressure from China’s encroachment in the East Sea.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
The People’s Court of Long An Province announced on June 20 that the trial of six members of the Zen temple Tinh That Bong Lai will take place on June 30. They are accused of “abusing democratic freedoms” by making five video clips that allegedly violated the honor and reputation of the Buddha and several individuals, one of whom is both a plaintiff and member of the investigation team. On June 24, the group of lawyers representing the defendants filed a request to delay the trial date because they were not given sufficient time to meet their clients and analyze the evidence. The lawyers warned the court that it was not following proper legal procedures and ran the risk of a mistrial if the trial went forward. However, one of the lawyers told RFA he could not rule out the possibility that there was pressure behind the scenes to force a mistrial and have the case dismissed.
Le Chi Thanh
Former police captain Le Chi Thanh has been sentenced to an additional three years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” based on Article 331 of the Criminal Code. Thanh was accused of postings on Facebook that allegedly were “false and that damaged the reputation of individuals in the police force, the prison system and the courts.” Before that, Thanh was sentenced to two years for “obstructing officials carrying out government work.” Thanh had a YouTube channel where he posted stories about police abuse and corruption. Between 2003 and 2020, Captain Thanh served as a correctional officer at the Z30D Prison in Thu Duc Province. In July 2020, Captain Thanh was fired from the force and his appeal against that decision was denied. In court, Thanh’s lawyer argued that the case files against his client were incomplete and that prosecution failed to investigate fully the allegations of police wrongdoings that his client had made to prove they were untrue.
Tran Hoang Phuc and Pham Van Diep
This week, we think of the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:
- Former student human rights leader Tran Hoang Phuc, arrested June 29, 2017 and sentenced to six years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
- Democracy activist Pham Van Diep, arrested June 29, 2019, and sentenced to nine years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
- Activist Truong Huu Loc, tried on June 28, 2019, and sentenced to eight years in prison for “disrupting security”
Nguy Thi Khanh
Statement from the U.S. State Department on the punishment against Goldman Environmental Prize recipient Nguy Thi Khanh and other environmentalists in Vietnam.
The Climate Action Network has joined a host of international organizations and governments in condemning the prison sentence handed to anti-coal advocate Nguy Thi Khanh, calling for her release. The International Federation for Human Rights has also called for Khanh’s release in an urgent appeal.
The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HMRI) has published its 2021 scores for Vietnam. As expected, Vietnam scored quite poorly in the area of “Empowerment” — freedom of expression, association etc. However, its score for “Safety from the State,” especially “Forced Disappearance,” is relatively better.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued a report on the threats to media in the digital age. It says that “media freedom and safety of journalists have declined dangerously around the world with grave negative impacts on human rights, democracy and development globally.”
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Hmong Christian Family Loses Citizenship Rights due to Faith. Persecution.org; June 22, 2024: Officials in Nghe An province, Vietnam stripped ethnic Hmong Christian Xong Ba Thong and his family of citizenship rights on June 4. This declaration comes after years of officials trying to coerce Mr. Thong and his family to stop practicing their Christian faith. The Hmong family converted to Christianity five years ago after listening to radio broadcasts. Since 2019, officials have demanded the renunciation of their faith. Despite Mr. Thong and his family’s official acceptance into the state-registered Vietnam Evangelical Church (Northern) General Assembly in April, officials continued to pester them. In an attempt to persuade Mr. Thong to leave Christianity, local officials claimed that it is illegal to practice another religion. Similar assertions have surfaced in nearby villages. One statement reads, “families are to abide by the law and…not to follow other religions but only the long-standing beliefs and customs of the Hmong people.”
Behind Vietnam’s anti-fake news decree, a campaign against dissent. Rappler.com; June 20; 2022: The Vietnam Anti-Fake News Center has, to date, been the largest-scale top-down initiative in correcting false or wrong information in the country. It does so by adapting its fact-checking method to the realities of a media environment where news organizations come under the state. According to Minh Le, vice president of the Vietnam News Agency, Vietnam has not had independent and professional fact-checking organizations similar to those found in other countries. The center works under the Authority of Broadcasting & Electronic Information of Vietnam, which falls under the Ministry of Information and Communications. The center’s website categorizes the false information under eight topics, from policy and law to disasters and epidemics. These topics remain unelaborated, however.
Don’t build highway through southern Vietnam biosphere: UNESCO. Phuoc Tuan, Phan Anh, VN Express; June 21, 2022: Dong Nai has asked for adjustments to the plan [to build a highway through the area], expressing concern that the constructions would encroach on and impact its biosphere reserve negatively. The Dong Nai Culture-Nature Reserve, the core area of the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, spans 100,000 hectares and is part of the Truong Son ecosystem. It was named a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2011. Dong Nai has the largest forest coverage in southeast Vietnam – 169,000 hectares. Of nearly 8,000 readers who’d responded to a VnExpress survey as of Tuesday evening, 83 percent disapproved of the highway and only 11 percent supported it.
China’s drills on Vietnam’s Paracel Islands a sovereignty violation. Tien Tam, VN Express; June 23, 2022: Responding to another question about Japanese media reports that said China plans to create “internal waters” on the South China Sea, [Le Thi Thu Hang, foreign ministry spokesperson] said “Vietnam believes that countries share a common desire and goal to maintain and foster peace, stability and cooperation for development in the East Sea, as well as resolving conflicts in accordance with international law and UNCLOS.” Vietnam affirms its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands in accordance with international law, as well as the sovereignty, sovereignty rights and jurisdiction rights on sea regions as determined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), she said. On June 18, the Sankei had reported that China was trying to establish its “internal waters” in the South China Sea and forbade foreign vessels from entering them, but the paper did not mention specifics.
Take action for climate activist Nguy Thi Khanh by sharing one of the appeals in the “International Advocacy” section, urging her release from prison. Khanh was convicted last week of “tax evasion” for failing to pay taxes on a prestigious international award and sentenced to two years in prison.
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