Authorities in Vietnam have set a trial date of Nov. 11 for three democracy activists, including an ethnic Vietnamese citizen of Australia, accused of “terrorist activities against the state,” a democracy advocacy group said on Tuesday.
Chau Van Kham, Nguyen Van Vien, and Tran Van Quyen were arrested in January and initially charged with “activities attempting to overthrow the state,” charges that were later changed to involvement in terrorism, Viet Tan—a U.S.-based opposition party with members inside Vietnam and abroad—said on Nov. 5.
“Vietnamese authorities have failed to provide any evidence that the activists engaged in any ‘terrorist’ activities,” though, Viet Tan said, adding that a twenty-one page indictment against the three presents “distorted information” and information unrelated to their membership in the group.
Chau Van Kam, a Viet Tan member and well-known member of the Vietnamese community in Sydney, and Nguyen Van Vien, a member of the banned online advocacy group Brotherhood for Democracy, were taken into custody on Jan. 13 in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Tan said.
Born in 1971 in central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, Vien had been active in environmental protection work following a massive spill in 2016 of toxic waste by the Taiwan-owned Formosa firm, the Brotherhood for Democracy said in a Jan. 25 statement.
The environmental disaster destroyed livelihoods across Vietnam’s central coast and led to widespread protests and arrests in affected provinces.
Tran Van Quyen, a social activist who also took part in the Formosa protests, was taken into custody ten days later in southeastern Vietnam’s Binh Duong province, Viet Tan said.
No proof of terrorism
Speaking on Tuesday to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, defense lawyers for Kham and Vien said nothing in the indictment prepared by the government against the group points to involvement in terrorism.
“Terrorist activities are often violent and destructive and used to threaten and create fear in the public,” said Dang Dinh Manh, representing Vien.
“But in this case, no one is said to have done anything like this. In the indictment, prosecutors are trying only to prove that these persons have connections to Viet Tan,” he said.
Meanwhile, case documents prepared against Chau Van Kham show only that he entered Vietnam from Cambodia using an identity card with another person’s name, and that he had met with Vien and Quyen to invite them to join Viet Tan, Kham’s lawyer Trinh Vinh Phuc said.
“And yet the authorities are accusing him of ‘participating in a terrorist organization and financing terrorist activity,’ which are serious stipulations falling under Point A, Part 2, Article 113 [of Vietnam’s penal code] and carry a maximum jail term of 15 years,” he said.
In a statement Tuesday, Viet Tan chairman Do Hoang Diem challenged Vietnam’s government “to provide any form of evidence” linking the three men to terrorism.
“Chau Van Kham entered Vietnam to gain first-hand insight into the human rights situation in the country. Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen are peaceful activists,” Diem said.
“We are prepared to bring the Vietnamese government to an international forum to present the truth.”
Vietnam’s one-party communist government currently holds an estimated 128 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, according to a May report by rights group Amnesty International.
It also controls all media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.