Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 38/2019 – Week of September 16-22
Featured Image: Nguyen Ngoc Anh at an environmental protest. Source: Facebook An Duong Nguyen Phu
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 September 16-22. Political prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh is facing death threats in prison, which he believes are at the command of prison authorities; he also is continuing his fight to appeal his six-year prison sentence. On September 17, Nguyen Van Cong Em was sentenced to five years in prison for his Facebook posts and for calling for protests. He’s the second Facebooker tried in September. Freedom Now and a international law firm have submitted a petition to the UN Working Group of Arbitrary Detention on behalf of student blogger Phan Kim Khanh. Authorities have released a complete indictment against journalist Truong Duy Nhat, and they have also finished their investigation into music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh. Based on reports from his family, Hoang Duc Binh is in stable health in prison, and fellow prisoner Nguyen Van Hoa was finally released from solitary confinement after four months. Meanwhile, Le Dinh Luong’s family was prohibited from visiting with him in prison for the second time. Also this week, authorities broke up a party celebrating Pham Doan Trang’s recent international award for press freedom; they tried to detain her, but she was able to escape. And Vietnam received harsh criticism from rights groups at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council. In the news, read about the potential for increased US-Vietnamese defense cooperation and Vietnam’s continued attempts to create domestic social media networks. Please take action for Nguyen Ngoc Anh by sharing our article on his difficult situation in prison, reporting further on his condition, and requesting to visit him.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
In Binh Phu Detention center, in Ben Tre Province, engineer Nguyen Ngoc Anh is facing serious maltreatment while waiting for an appeal trial. Anh has been held with common criminal inmates and has been suffering from severe physical and mental harassment– including death threats– for two months, which he believes to be inflicted upon him at the command of the detention center leadership. On June 6, 2019, the People’s Court of Ben Tre Province sentenced Anh to six years in jail and five years of probation for “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code for using different Facebook and email accounts to share content allegedly distorting the people’s administration and the state’s policy, as well as inciting others to join demonstrations. From his arrest on August 30, 2018, until his first instance trial, Anh had no defense counsel. Now in the process of his appeal, Anh and his lawyer (hired after the first trial) have still not been allowed to meet. The authorities also refused Anh’s request for medical treatment and medicine sent by his wife.
On September 17, the People’s Court of Ben Tre Province sentenced activist Nguyen Van Cong Em, a 48-year-old resident of My Thanh Commune, Giong Tom District, to five years in jail and five years of probation. He was charged with “making, storing, spreading, or propagating information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, accused of using different Facebook accounts to post, share articles, and conduct live-streams with content distorting the policies of State and Party. During the second summit of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Hanoi from February 27-28 this year, he was also alleged to incite others to participate in a demonstration; he was then arrested on February 28. Em is the second online commentator to be tried in recent weeks, following the trial of Facebooker Le Van Sinh, was also convicted of similar accusations and was handed a five-year sentence.
On September 16, 2019, on the behalf of political prisoner Phan Kim Khanh, Freedom Now and the international law firm Dechert LLP sent a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), accusing the Vietnamese government of violating international laws when arresting and prosecuting blogger Phan Kim Khanh. According to Freedom Now and Dechert LLP’s press release, “Phan admitted in court to have run the blogs, but said that his main purpose was to fight corruption, and he did not know that reporting on corruption constituted a crime.” Khanh, a university student at the time, was then sentenced to six years in prison. He’s had difficulties appealing his sentence, and he has faced mistreatment from prison authorities while attempting to lodge the formal appeal. Read the full petition to the UNWGAD, here.
After three months of detention, the investigation police of Nghe An province completed the investigation period of Nguyen Nang Tinh on September 17, 2019. Authorities arrested Nguyen Nang Tinh, 43, on May 29, 2019, while he was having breakfast with his sons. He was charged under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code (“making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam”). His case will now be sent to the People’s Procuracy for prosecution. Tinh is a music teacher who sings many songs with political content; he is also a member of several civil society groups.
- Chi, Montagnard Christian activist arrested September 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison
- Dinh Nong, Montagnard Christian activist arrested September 2016 and sentenced to eight years in prison
- Do Cong Duong, citizen journalist tried on September 17, 2018, and sentenced to four years in prison (plus another four years on a separate charge)
- Nguyen Van Oai, Catholic social activist, tried September 18, 2017, and sentenced to five years in prison
- Dao Quang Thuc, retired teacher, tried September 19, 2018, and sentenced to 13 years in prison
- Tran Anh Kim, veteran and pro-democracy activist, tried September 21, 2015, and sentenced to 13 years in prison
- Nguyen Hong Nguyen, Facebooker tried September 22, 2018, and sentenced to two years in prison
- Truong Dinh Khang, Facebooker tried September 22, 2018, and sentenced to one year in prison, expected to be released September 22, 2019
NEWS & ANALYSIS
After a China-Vietnam Standoff, Expect a Turn to the US, Christopher Sharman, The Diplomat, September 20, 2019: “If Hanoi follows the same template as it did following the 2014 standoff, we should expect Vietnam to seek closer defense links with the United States following the current standoff near Vanguard Bank. Vietnam’s president will likely visit the United States this fall, which will provide its Ministry of National Defense the strategic latitude to advance overall defense ties.”
Vietnam’s social media crowd swells with new entrant to take on Facebook, Google, Channel News Asia, September 17, 2019: “‘Lotus was born not to compete with Facebook or any other social networks,’ Tan said late on Monday (Sep 16). ‘We will focus on content and content creation.’ Information Minister Nguyen Manh Hung, who was at the launch, has urged Vietnamese companies to create viable domestic alternatives to foreign social media platforms which are more difficult for the government to control. Last month, a Facebook-style app, Gapo, also made its debut. Older domestic social platforms such as VietnamTa and Hahalolo have struggled to build large user bases.”
Nguyen Ngoc Anh at an environmental protest. Source: Facebook An Duong Nguyen Phu
We urge the activist community, international human rights organizations, and foreign embassies in Vietnam to pay attention to Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s dangerous situation in prison– including death threats against him– by sharing our article about his condition, reporting further about his situation, and requesting to visit him in prison. Our report is based on the family’s concerning account of their most recent visit with Anh in prison. The authorities will have a chance to prove otherwise by allowing foreign embassies’ and independent civil society organizations’ representatives to visit Anh and see his current condition for themselves.