Vietnam should “immediately release” six Vietnamese activists and bloggers who are facing lengthy prison sentences for their peaceful opposition, New York-based Human Rights Watch said ahead of their upcoming trials.
Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Phan Trung and Tu Cong Nghia are scheduled to appear at a hearing in Ho Chi Minh City on March 18 to appeal prison sentences of between eight and 15 years handed down during an October 2018 trial for their involvement in a political group that authorities deemed to have challenged Vietnam’s Communist one-party system.
The five had been charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, after authorities said their group, the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, had knowingly worked to damage the image and policies of the country's ruling Communist Party.
Separately, Le Minh The, a member of pro-democracy group Hien Phap, will go to trial on March 20 in the Binh Thuy district court in Can Tho.
Police in Binh Thuy arrested him in October 2018 for his posts on Facebook and charged him with “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals” under article 331 of the penal code.
In a statement Thursday, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson called for pressure on Vietnam to drop the cases against the six and end its persecution of activists peacefully campaigning for democratic rights.
“Vietnam’s deepening rights crackdown is targeting independent political associations and individual activists who dare to demand that the government respect rights and restore democracy,” Robertson said.
“International donors and trade partners should tell Vietnam that continuing this crackdown will cause problems for the aid and trade deals that Hanoi wants to conclude with North America and the European Union.”
At least 142 people have been found guilty for their connection to June 2018 protests over Hanoi’s announcement of controversial laws on special economic zones and cyber security. Many of them have been sentenced to months or years in prison.
Since the cybersecurity law went into effect in January, police have arrested at least three people for dissent after they posted critical comments on Facebook.
Among the government’s political prisoners are many rights advocates and bloggers they deem as threats to national security, HRW says.
Robertson said authorities in Vietnam are using “draconian provisions” of the country’s penal code to “suppress peaceful dissent,” which has led to a rapid increase in the number of government critics behind bars.
“International donors and trade partners should press Hanoi’s leaders to dialogue with dissidents, not turn the country into a giant prison,” he said.
Human Rights Watch’s call to free the six came as the brother of Nguyen Van Duc Do expressed concerns about the activist’s health as he awaits Monday’s appeal in prison.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Friday, Nguyen Van Duc An said another family member had visited Nguyen Van Duc Do two days earlier and found that “he was in good spirits, but his health is not very good,” without providing further details.
Nguyen, who is serving an 11-year jail term, was reportedly beaten during his original arrest and has suffered further beatings by cellmates during his incarceration.
Nguyen Van Duc An expressed hope that the appeals court would overturn his brother’s conviction next week.
“My brother is innocent and I hope the next trial will have a different result,” he said.
The Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition had been active in protesting the government’s handling of a massive chemical spill in April 2016 that devastated the country’s central coast, leaving fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four central provinces.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Eugene Whong.