Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 4/2019 – Week of January 21-27
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 21-27. Vietnam has arrested two people for their activism, Chau Van Kham, an Australian democracy advocate, and Nguyen Van Vien, a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy. This week, citizen journalist Do Cong Duong’s five-year sentence was reduced by one year on appeal; he will serve those four years along with four other years under a separate charge. Five other men affiliated with a group calling for political change were supposed to face an appeal trial this week, but it was cancelled after one man’s lawyer did not appear in court. This group includes Luu Van Vinh, who is facing a sixteen-year sentence. US citizen Michael Nguyen remains detained in Vietnam, and authorities this week summoned a well-known female activist for questioning in his case. Truong Huu Loc, who participated in June 2018 national protests, also remains detained after eight months. This week, we remember the 22 members of the An Dan Dai Dao religious group who were convicted for activities related to running an eco-tourism company, imprisoned female activist Tran Thi Nga, and four Hoa Hao Buddhists who were sentenced to prison in January 2018. A man and his friends were briefly detained this week for wearing a shirt protesting the new Law on Cybersecurity. And several communities are at risk, including five people in Loc Hung who are being prosecuted for allegedly inciting protests during recent forced evictions and a religious community in Kon Tum Province whose pagoda was destroyed by authorities. In international advocacy, read about Vietnam’s Third Cycle of the UPR, and in analysis, read two opinions about attitudes towards Vietnamese human rights and its defenders. Please take action with ACAT-France to call on the French President to raise human rights with the Vietnamese government in their expected interactions in 2019.
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HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Vietnam has arrested two more activists, Chau Van Kham, an Australian citizen, and Nguyen Van Vien, a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy. They were arrested on January 13 in Ho Chi Minh City. Kham, a member of overseas democracy group Viet Tan, was in Vietnam on a “human rights fact-finding trip.” Vien had become an environmental activist in the aftermath of the Formosa environmental disaster. He is supposedly charged under Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code for subversion. According to a press release from the Brotherhood for Democracy, police arrested Vien when he was on the way to pick up Kham. Kham has not been permitted consular communications.
This week, we remember the twenty-two members of the An Dan Dai Dao religious environmental groupwho were tried in January 2013 under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code. They received sentences ranging from a minimum of 10 years to life in prison (for the founder). The utopian group ran an eco-tourist company in Phu Yen Province, inspired by their religious principles. They organized conferences and produced leaflets to disseminate their beliefs. Those affiliated with the group maintained that the activities of the group were purely religious and that the authorities interpreted their religious teaching in political terms.
In a press conference on January 20, 2019, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Loi, police captain of Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City, accused five Loc Hung residents — Cao Ha Chanh, Cao Ha Truc, Tran Quoc Tien, Vu Van Bao, and Tran Minh Thoa — of leading and inciting the others to protest against the authorities when they were on duty at Loc Hung during forced evictions. Police are now in the process of pressing criminal charges against the five. The forced evictions in the Loc Hung neighborhood of Ho Chi Minh City on January 4 and 8 left over 100 homes destroyed and dozens — including many dissidents and veterans of the former Republic of Vietnam — homeless.
On January 23, 2019, police disrupted a program held for disabled veterans of the former Republic of Vietnam at Hoa Khanh Church, Lien Chieu District, Da Nang City. These disabled veterans are not recognized as veterans by the Vietnamese government, and thus do not receive any public benefits. Approximately 50 government officials went into the church while 50 others stood outside or waited in coffee shops. A police officer turned off the emcee’s microphone, interrupting the program and making the atmosphere tense. Police of Lien Chieu District said that the peaceful ceremony was disrupted because authorities fear that the veterans will connect with “terrorist” organizations.
Concerned citizens are launching a campaign to save Tam Dao, a rain forest national park in the Red River Delta of Vietnam. They worry that a development deal for the park is going on behind closed doors, a decade after another development project there had originally been proposed and later halted. Some say the conflict mirrors that of similar issues of deforestation in the country in recent years, where private and governmental special interest brokers land deals without disclosing environmental impacts to the communities affected.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Not Just Football, Some Vietnamese Do Care About Human Rights, Political Pluralism, and Democracy: “It matters because only five years ago, during the last UPR cycle, not a lot of people in Vietnam know much about human rights and could care less about the UPR process. It matters, even more, when the one recommendation from the Czech Republic to Vietnam during this UPR cycle, asking the government to allow political pluralism and democracy in the country, also became one of the most read news of January 2019 on Luat Khoa online magazine just 24 hours after being published. Recognizing that there is a small, young sector of the population who is still willing to speak up when faced with harassment and even imprisonment as the government hardened its oppression methods, is, therefore, essential. It is the other image of Vietnamese that the world needs to take notice because we are more than just a fun, tropical travel destination with good foods and hard-core football fans.”
Vietnam’s political freedoms and its economic success: “Middle income countries are defined by their distance from the global technology frontier and their ability to upgrade, catch up and innovate is important for closing that distance. Above all, to reach the frontier, countries need to be open to ideas and have institutions that allow for more complex interactions across the domestic economy and across the world. That includes good governance characterised by decentralised economic decision-making. So while Vietnam’s economy continues to burn along, it’s unlikely to continue to without further lifting the heavy burden of state-owned enterprises and the state. That’s the dilemma, at a different stage, for China too.”
Le Dinh Luong, environmental and democracy activist sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2018
Take action with Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT)-France for Vietnamese human rights activists by signing their petition demanding the French President raise human rights with the Vietnamese government, and calling for the release of activists Nguyen Trung Ton, Le Dinh Luong, and Tran Thi Nga. Sign the petition, here (available in English, Vietnamese, and French)!
© 2019 The 88 Project