Trinh Ba Tu

Current Status: Sentenced to prison

Photo of Trinh Ba Tu

Other Names: Trịnh Bá Tư

Date of Birth: April 24, 1989

Gender: M

Ethnicity: Kinh

Occupation: Farmer

Last Known Prison: Cham Mat Detention Center

Areas of Activism:

  • Democracy
  • Human rights
  • Land rights

Communities At Risk:

Highlighted Human Rights Concerns:

  • Prolonged Incommunicado Detention
  • Harsh Physical and Administrative Conditions
  • Denial of Family Visit/Punitive Prison Transfer
  • Infliction of Physical and Psychological Pain

September 2021:

The appeals hearing for mother and son land rights activists Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu has been scheduled for September 17, 2021. They were convicted of “anti-state propaganda” in May and were sentenced to eight years each. Tu’s sister, Trinh Thi Thao, said that investigators were told her brother if he admitted guilt that he could have his sentence reduced to six years. It is not clear if family members will be allowed into the alleged open trial. 

July 2021:

Tu's sister, Trinh Thi Thao, sent a letter of complaint to the Hoa Binh prison authorities requesting that the illegal isolation confinement of her mother (Can Thi Theu) and brother be stopped. In her letter, she accused prison guards of abusive treatment during the hot summer months and reminded them that by law those in temporary detention are allowed one family visit and one call home a month.

Details - Background, History of Activism, Family Situation, Contact Information.

Trinh Ba Tu’s hometown is in Duong Noi district, Ha Dong Ward, Hanoi. Currently, he is living and working in Yen Thuy District, Hoa Binh Province.

Profile photo source: Facebook Trịnh Bá Tư

Along with his family members, Tu is a vocal activist on land rights and democracy issues.

Tu is a son of former political prisoners Trinh Ba Khiem and Can Thi Theu, two prominent activists who participated during the land protests of Duong Noi farmers in Duong Noi District, Ha Dong Ward, Ha Noi. In 2008, the authorities released an announcement on land acquisition in Duong Noi village and the compensation price, which was extremely low. There were 356 households who refused compensation and together participated in a prolonged protest.

In 2014, his parents, Khiem and Theu, were both arrested and sentenced to 18 and 15 months, respectively while filming land-grabbing on April 25, 2014. The authorities accused them, along with some other Duong Noi petitioners (Dan Oan) of “resisting against the person on duty.” After her release on July 25, 2015, his mother continued her activism for land rights and was arrested for the second time on June 10, 2016. Theu and more than 50 Duong Noi petitioners gathered in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and requested the administrative agencies solve their land issues. Public security officers arrested her and sentenced her to 20 months in jail for “disturbing public order.”

Phuong, along with his younger brother Trinh Ba Phuong, has called for his parents’ release and has accompanied Duong Noi petitioners in seeking justice. 

One of the most serious incidents that Tu has suffered from was on June 25, 2015. On that day, Tu and other 40 people came to pick up his father, Trinh Ba Khiem, at Detention Center No 6, Thanh Chuong District, Nghe An Province. When they were on the way back, around 50 police in plainclothes of Nghe An Province traced their cars and attacked the people for 10 minutes at 5:00 pm. 

Tu was among the most beaten. The attack was so harsh that it caused Tu to have a serious left eye injury. He then had to undergo two eye surgeries. Currently, the sight of in his right eye is reduced to 6/10, according to an examination result 15 months after the incident. 

On September 20, 2016, Tu went to attend his mother’s trial at the People’s Court of Dong Da Ward, Hanoi, at 7:30 am. At that time, there were also around 40 petitioners (Dan Oan) supporting Can Thi Theu with posters.  

When Tu and some attendants were livestreaming on Facebook, a group of 30 security officers arrested them and took to Public Security Agency of Hanoi, No 6, Quang Trung Street, Ha Dong Ward. Police beat Tu continuously during the arrest and transfer and also threaten him and his family to death. Other detainees, especially Pham The Dung, also suffered severely under the attack. They finally released Tu sat 4:00 pm on the same day.

Tu is the second eldest son of well-known land rights activists Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Khiem, who started their activism in 2011. His brother, Trinh Ba Phuong, is also a vocal activist on land rights issues. 

January 10, 2020: surveilled in the aftermath of the Dong Tam raid

  • Travel restriction
  • Surveillance
January 10, 2020
Public security
Yen Thuy District, Hoa Binh Province (map)

  • freedom of peaceful assembly
  • freedom of movement

On January 9, 2020, a massive police force stormed into Dong Tam commune and violently assaulted and detained citizens, as well as killed community leader Le Dinh Kinh. The area is home to a longstanding land conflict. In the aftermath of the raid, Trinh Ba Tu and his brother Trinh Ba Phuong reported on the incident and advocated for affected locals. 

Tu was under surveillance and was also prohibited from leaving his home to attend Le Dinh Kinh’s funeral.

March 5, 2020: harassed at family home regarding household registration process

Harassment at private residence
March 5, 2020
Public security
Yen Thuy District, Hoa Binh Province (map)

respect of privacy, family, home, and correspondence

Starting on March 5, 2020, the public security of Ngoc Luong commune, Yen Thuy district, Hoa Binh province continuously surrounded the family's home and forced the family to work with them on the issue of their “residency status and household registration." Each of the meetings had at least 10 public security officers present, and some even were in plain clothes. This is highly unusual and highlights the harassment of these procedures. In Vietnam, the household registration and residency status processes rarely attract this many resources.

Arrested June 24, 2020. Sentenced to 8 years in prison and 3 years probation under Art. 117 (2015 Code). Expected Release is June 24, 2028.

June 24, 2020
  • Art. 117 (2015 Code)
Field in Hoa Binh Province (map)
May 5, 2021
The People’s Court of Hoa Binh Province
Dang Dinh Manh
8 years in prison and 3 years probation
June 24, 2028
  • freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention
  • liberty and security of the person
  • freedom of expression
  • fair trial
  • respect of privacy, family, home, and correspondence
  • Frontline Defenders
  • Defend the Defenders
  • UN Special Rapporteurs
  • Vietnamese civil society groups
  • Article 19
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Amnesty International
  • UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

On June 24, authorities surrounded and stormed into Trinh Ba Phuong’s home and arrested him and later his mother, Can Thi Theu (at a different residence). Theu is a former political prisoner (watch our interview with her about her activism, here) who has twice been jailed for her land rights activism, and Phuong is also a well-known activist who is very active in issues of land rights in his own community as well as advocating for the Dong Tam residents in the aftermath of the deadly police raid there in January 2019. Phuong’s wife had given birth just a few days ago prior to his arrest. 

Police also searched a third member of the family’s home– Trinh Ba Tu (Theu’s son and Phuong’s brother)– and arrested him. Tu is also engaged in land rights issues and commentary on the Dong Tam incident. All three members of the family have allegedly been charged under Article 117 but the government has only confirmed that Trinh Ba Tu is charged under Article 117. It is unclear where the three are being held.

August 2020:

Trinh Ba Khiem, Tu's father, said his son had been on a hunger strike for the past 20 days at Cham Mat Detention Center in Hoa Binh to protest against mistreatment in prison. Khiem traveled to Cham Mat to try to get more information, but to no avail. When he arrived, prison officials threatened Khiem and would not even let him speak with his son over the phone. On August 28, Khiem went with several villagers from Duong Noi Village to the Police Inspector Office in Hanoi to ask to make a call to his son to verify if he was still alive. The request was denied; Khiem was instead told to make a visitation request with the Hoa Binh provincial Inspector’s Office; however, Khiem had just come from Hoa Binh. 

The family feared that Tu’s health was in danger. Khiem and former political prisoner Tran Thi Nga believe that prison officials may have tortured Tu to make him confess to the charges against him, and thus he went on a hunger strike in protest. “Those who are locked up in closed cells have no ways left to them to resist and preserve their life. The only thing left to them is to go on hunger strike, and this may be that last step that Trinh Ba Tu has had to take,” Nga told Radio Free Asia.


Update: 9/6/20:

The family dtill has not been able to obtain information about the status of Tu, who was reported to be on a hunger strike, despite numerous attempts by his father, Trinh Ba Khiem, to learn more about his situation. 

In a video clip made before he was arrested, Trinh Ba Tu reiterated that he only protested peacefully and lawfully against what he and fellow Duong Noi residents perceived as an illegal land grab in 2008 by the government in collusion with businesses. In anticipation of potential torture in captivity, he declared that anything that he might say or sign to the contrary should be regarded as forced and not coming from him. He also asked that should he die in captivity that his body must not be cremated but independently examined to determine the true cause of death.

May 2021:

A court in Hoa Binh Province sentenced land rights activists Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu to eight years in prison each, with three years of probation to follow, for conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. The trial lasted just a few hours. Two relatives were allowed into the courtroom, but Theu’s husband, Trinh Ba Khiem, was not. 

Their lawyer, Manh Dang, reported that in front of the judges, his clients stated their name as “Victim of Communism,” maintained their innocence, and reiterated that they only spoke the truth. He said their level of defiance is something he’d never witnessed in a courtroom before. 

Tu reported that a court prosecutor named Vu Binh Minh "had once cursed at him, and that an investigator told him he would receive a six-year term if he pleaded guilty, whereas he would otherwise be sentenced to a full eight years."

November 2020:

The UN Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and on the situation of human rights defenders, as well as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, sent a petition to the Vietnamese government concerning the cases of five people arrested for their reporting on and activistm in the aftermath of the violent police raid in Dong Tam Commune in January 2020: Can Thi Theu, Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, Pham Doan Trang, and Nguyen Thi Tam. All five were known activists before the Dong Tam raid, particularly in the area of land rights;they are still awaiting trial at the time of this writing. This is Theu’s third arrest. 

The parties wrote of these cases: “We are troubled by the fact that these arrests and the charges brought against them appear to be an attempt to criminalise their efforts to investigate, document and bring public attention to the alleged human rights violations that occurred during the raid.” They expressed concern about the arbitrary arrests and lack of information available to family members and lawyers.They also called on the government to provide more information on the legal basis for the arrests and detentions and the safeguards in place to protect the human rights of activists.

On February 4, 2021, the government of Vietnam finally responded to the UN regarding their concerns over the Dong Tam trial and for political prisoners Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, Nguyen Thi Tam, and Pham Thi Doan Trang. Not unexpectedly, Vietnam said that “the allegations made in the Joint Communication were not accurate, mostly drawn from unverified sources and did not reflect the nature of these cases.”

May 2021:

Many organizations spoke out in support of land rights activists Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu after their trial. Human Rights Watch accused Vietnam of violating international human rights standards in the detention of Theu and her son Tu for nine months by denying them access to a lawyer and visits by their family. It also says, “The Vietnamese government should be listening to people like this brave family, not throwing them in jail.” ARTICLE19 called Vietnam “one of the top enemies of freedom of expression in the world,” following the conviction and severe punishment of Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu. It also noted that during the trial the area around the courthouse was blocked off and internet access was throttled. 

Amnesty International described the charges against Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu as “bogus” and called on Vietnamese authorities to release them unconditionally: “They are clearly being punished in retaliation for their peaceful activism to expose injustices and human rights violations.” And Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend The Defenders also issued a joint statement regarding the trial of Theu and Tu, saying that the proceedings did not follow Vietnamese laws and calling on the National Assembly to remove Article 117 (anti-state propaganda) from the 2015 Criminal Code.

Profile last updated: 2021-09-13 16:55:56

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