Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 6/2018 – Week of February 5-11
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 February 5-11. On February 6, environmental activists Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong were sentenced to 14 and 2 years in prison; three days later, six Hoa Hao Buddhists were sentenced to various prison terms for “disturbing public order.” International groups and governments have condemned both cases as repression of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Blogger Mother Mushroom is suffering from health ailments in prison; she is only one year into her ten-year sentence. There is one piece of good news amidst the intensity of events this week, however: Can Thi Theu was released from prison on February 10. In the news and analysis section, read about environmental issues in Vietnam. You can also watch several videos this week: an interview with a Hoa Hao Buddhist former political prisoner, an interview from Hoang Duc Binh himself, the story of Can Thi Theu, and our short documentary on the repression of dissent in Vietnam. Please take action for Hoang Duc Binh, who faces one of the longest current prison sentences for a known political prisoner in Vietnam.
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HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Labor and environmental activist, Hoang Duc Binh (right), along with fellow blogger Bach Hong Quyen (left), who is wanted by authorities
On February 6, Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong were sentenced to 14 and 2 years in prison, respectively, in a court in Nghe An province. The environmental activists were involved in Formosa protests. Binh, vice president of the independent Viet Labour Movement and a well-known blogger who covered news on the environmental disaster, was sentenced for “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 and “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” under Article 331 of the new 2015 Criminal Code. He was particularly targeted for livestreaming a march against Taiwanese company Formosa, whose pollution caused a massive environmental disaster that began in April 2016. Binh received one of the harshest prison terms for a known prisoner at this time. At trial, he affirmed that he made comments about police brutality during the livestream, but he also maintained that this was not a criminal act because it was the truth. Watch an interview (in Vietnamese, with English subtitles) with Hoang Duc Binh, where he explains in his own words why he was inspired to begin his activism.
Phong was tried for “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330. He was the driver for Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from the Song Ngoc parish and Hoang Duc Binh when Binh was arrested on May 15, 2017. Binh was escorting priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc from the Song Ngoc parish in Dien Chau district to Vinh city. The police stopped their car in Dien Chau district’s center and violently removed Binh from the car. When the police ordered the driver, Phong, to open the car to let them take Binh out, Phong refused.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Vietnamese activist gets 14-year sentence for documenting chemical spill: “The company’s initial unwillingness to admit culpability and the government’s reluctant and slow response to the environmental disaster sparked public outcry. Protests erupted in several parts of the country, which the government quickly broke up. The company has since admitted fault and agreed to pay $500 million to clean up the environment and compensate people affected by the spill, according to a July 2016 Associated Press report. Binh’s harsh 14-year sentence fits a larger pattern of the communist Vietnamese government quashing dissent unleashed by the Formosa chemical spill. He and Phong are the latest in a string of activists to be punished for their vocal opposition to the Formosa situation.”
Local communities voice their frustrations on the Hoi Xuan dam in Vietnam: “One of the affected villages located in the site of the Hoi Xuan dam reservoir is an ethnic community with fifty three households. The community depends for their livelihoods on the bamboo forest. The village belongs to one of sixty two districts classified by the government as the poorest in the whole country. The dam project has cleared a large area of the bamboo forest. The communities have also lost about 283,076 square meters of residential land. The compensation they have received is meagre and far from adequate to restart their lives in a new location after being displaced by the dam. Many people have voiced their concerns about their ongoing suffering and hardship.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Did you know that The 88 Project has a documentary about political prisoners in Vietnam? Almost five years ago, we released “88: The Repression of Cyber Dissidents” (in English). It features interviews about the escalating crackdown on freedom of expression in Vietnam and the tactics used to harass and imprison activists. Though it was released in February 2013, its themes and concerns are still highly relevant today, as the situation in Vietnam has only worsened in the years since. The documentary is also available with Vietnamese subtitles, here.
Send an Urgent Action appeal from Amnesty International Canada on behalf of Hoang Duc Binh and fellow environmental activist, Bach Hong Quyen, who is wanted by authorities.