• HRW calls for end to arrests of critics

    (HRW) –  Vietnam should drop all charges and immediately release bloggers Nguyen Quang Lap (Nguyễn Quang Lập) and Hong Le Tho (Hồng Lê Thọ), who were arrested for operating independent blogs, Human Rights Watch said Dec. 10.

    Nguyen Quang Lap was arrested on December 6, 2014, and Hong Le Tho was arrested on November 29 in Ho Chi Minh City. Both were charged with “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state” under article 258 of the penal code. In 2014, Vietnam has used article 258 to convict at least 10 rights advocates and arrest 4 bloggers.

    “There can hardly be a more insidious legal provision than one that criminalizes ‘abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the interests of the state,’” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “These charges are even more preposterous from a government that is not democratic and doesn’t respect individual freedom.”

    Nguyen Quang Lap (referred to as “Bo Lap” on his well-known Que Choa blog), 58, is a prominent writer, journalist, and blogger. After graduating from the Hanoi Polytechnic University, he served in the army for five years during the early 1980s. Lap began his writing career as a freelance writer and journalist. He served as the deputy editor-in-chief of the popular Cua Viet (the Door of Viet) magazine from 1990-1992. After only seventeen issues, Cua Viet was shut down by the authorities for publishing pro-democracy content.

    In the early 1990s, Lap moved to Hanoi where he worked for various literary media including Young Literature & Arts Newspaper and the Kim Dong Children’s Publishing House. He penned a number of widely produced and highly acclaimed plays such as Nhung linh hon song (Living Souls) and Mua ha cay dang (A Painful Summer). His film scripts such as Thung lung hoang vang (Deserted Valley) and Doi cat (Sand Life) won national awards. In addition to his writings for film and stage, he is the author of a published novel and several collections of stories and short pieces of non-fiction. In 2001, Nguyen Quang Lap suffered a motorcycle accident that left him with one leg and one arm paralyzed.

    Nguyen Quang Lap started the Que Choa blog in 2007. It quickly emerged as one of the most popular blogs for Vietnamese readers both domestically and overseas. In May 2013, the administrative manager of the domain server that hosts the Que Choa blog requested that he remove a number of “sensitive” and “bad” posts on his blog. He declined and his blog was removed from the server. Lap then moved to a foreign-based host sever. Despite suffering intermittent attacks and firewalls, by June 2014 Que Choa had received more than a hundred million views.

    In July 2014, Nguyen Quang Lap’s Facebook account was temporarily suspended and he was forced to open another account. Attempts to silence Nguyen Quang Lap have only made him more outspoken. In a blog entry in June, he wrote, “I have never nor will I ever follow or oppose anyone because this is not the job of a writer. I will always be a small boat person, carrying the boat of TRUTH to the people and nothing else.”

    Hong Le Tho (who blogs as Nguoi Lot Gach – which means “bricklayer”), 65, was an anti-war student activist in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970. After 1975, he reportedly worked for the Vietnamese Embassy in Japan for four years before moving back to Vietnam. He started his blog, Nguoi Lot Gach, in 2011. He has mainly used it to repost articles focused on social and political issues in Vietnam. Tho is known among the Vietnamese intelligentsia as an independent researcher of issues related to Vietnam’s territorial claim in the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Both he and Nguyen Quang Lap have strongly opposed China’s claims in this dispute.

    Nguyen Quang Lap and Hong Le Tho are not the only bloggers who have been arrested and charged with article 258 this year. Other victims of this ongoing crackdown include Nguyen Huu Vinh (known as Anh Ba Sam) and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, both arrested in May 2014. In November, the B14 Detention Center in Hanoi refused to allow defense lawyer Ha Huy Son to meet with his client Nguyen Huu Vinh, and defense lawyer Nguyen Tien Dung to meet his client Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In December, the Procuracy office informed Ha Huy Son that the case has been sent back to the police investigation bureau for supplemental investigation.

    Vietnam became a member of the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. However, it continues to use vaguely defined articles in the penal code, such as article 258, to silence Vietnamese critics.

    “Efforts to silence bloggers make a mockery of Vietnam’s commitments to the United Nations when it stood for election to the Human Rights Council,” Adams said. “The Vietnamese government looks like little more than a bully at home and abroad when it persecutes people who do nothing more than express their opinions.”

  • FULL TEXT: Human rights groups together demand fair trial for activists

    (VNRN) – A joint statement signed by 14 human rights groups including Amnesty International, Freedom House, Vietnam Path Movement and VOICE call on Vietnam to respect due process and provide a fair appellate trial for three land-rights and religious activists being accused of “causing public disorder.” The full-text of the statement follows.

    On 26 August 2014, in a one-day trial, three human rights defenders were sentenced in Dong Thap Province, Vietnam under Article 245 of its Penal Code for “causing public disorder.” Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang, a defender for land-lost farmers and religious groups, was sentenced to three years imprisonment, while her co-defendants, Mr. Nguyen Van Minh and Ms. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, both religious workers of the independent but outlawed Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, were sentenced to two-and-a-half years and two years’ imprisonment, respectively. The defendants were 3 of 21 individuals who were beaten and detained while attempting to visit a fellow activist, human rights lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen. With the upcoming appeal to be held on 12 December 2014, we would like to call on the Vietnamese government to ensure that the appeal proceedings are carried out in a way which complies with Vietnamese laws as well as the international law and standards on fair trial.

    The first trial was neither open, nor fair. Although under Vietnamese law the trial was to be held publicly, no member of the public was allowed to attend. Human barricades made up of police officials were erected outside the courthouse to prevent the public from attending the trial while other well-known human rights defenders were stopped or taken into custody by security officials. Outside the courthouse, it is estimated that at least 33 individuals were detained and many activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were also barred from leaving their homes days before the trial began.

    On the day of the trial, several witnesses for the defendants were physically barred from entering the courthouse despite their receiving subpoenas issued by the court. Witnesses for the state, however, were allowed to attend and made allegations against the defendants without hindrance.

    Further, although Article 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires that conclusions of any investigation be sent to both the prosecution and the defendants’ lawyers, it was not until days before the trial that the defendants’ lawyers received information relating to the charge and the police investigation’s conclusions. This lack of notice and clear violation of Vietnam’s own laws made it difficult for the lawyers to defend the defendants’ rights in court.

    The People’s Supreme Court of Vietnam has confirmed a hearing date, after three changes to time and location. Under Vietnamese law, this will be the final appeal unless otherwise permitted by the court. As such, we urge the Vietnamese Government and its judiciary to respect the rule of law and ensure international fair trial standards be applied in all forms and manners. Specifically, we urge the Vietnamese authorities to ensure that the proceedings are held in public and in particular that family members and trial observers can access the courtroom. We also request that all witnesses be summoned to court and that the lawyers be allowed to properly present their arguments without unreasonable interruption. Only then will faith in Vietnam’s legal system begin to be restored. The international community and various human rights organizations will be watching.

    SIGNED:

    Amnesty International
    Association of Political & Religious Prisoners of Vietnam
    Brotherhood for Democracy
    Civil Rights Defenders
    Civil Society Forum
    FORUM-ASIA
    Freedom House
    Hoa Hao Buddhist Church West branch
    Human Rights Defenders Alert – India
    Law & Society Trust
    OT Watch Mongolia
    United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam
    Vietnam Path Movement
    Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment

  • Writer-blogger Nguyen Quang Lap arrested

    (VNRN) – A writer who’s also one of Vietnam’s popular bloggers was arrested Dec. 6 afternoon following a lengthy police search of his home in Ho Chi Minh City, according to his friends and family. Nguyen Quang Lap (Nguyễn Quang Lập), who calls himself Bo Lap (Bọ Lập) and is the owner of the blog Que Choa (Quê Choa), was reportedly charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under the ambiguous and overbroad Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code.

    Lap’s arrest is the second of a prominent blogger in as many weeks. It also came a little more than one month after the website nguyentandung.org, named after Vietnam’s prime minister, published a series of articles attacking the Que Choa blog and ominously warning that Lap “should know the price he has to pay” for his writings.

    The site, which is pro-government but has never been proved to be directed by the Prime Minister, singled out articles on Que Choa criticizing recent statements by the Communist Party’s Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong (Nguyễn Phú Trọng). The Secretary General had warned that anti-corruption efforts were difficult because, quoting an old proverb, “don’t break the vase when striking the rats.”

    The police came to Lap’s house at 9 am, executed a search and, according to his brother, declared that they had caught Lap “red-handed publishing articles with contents considered disparaging, opposing the government.”

    Que Choa blog publishes news and social commentaries, some by Lap and some reprinted from elsewhere. It was among the country’s most read blogs. Following several hacker attacks, Lap created mirrors of his blog on open platforms Blogspot and WordPress. The mirror sites became as important as the original blog, as Vietnam’s firewall often blocks access to Lap’s site.

    Lap is an accomplished writer, playwright and award-winning screenwriter. In 2001, he won the Best Screenwriter award at the 13th Vietnam Film Festival, sometimes considered the country’s Oscars. His play The Living Souls (Những Linh Hồn Sống) was performed throughout the country and he wrote the screen play for The Deserted Valley (Thung Lũng Hoang Vắng) which won the FIPRESCI Prize and was nominated for Best Asian Feature Film at the Singapore International Film Festival.

    Article 258 of the Penal Code is an overbroad and ambiguous statute entitled “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.” It has been used to prosecute a wide array of people, from religious practitioners to reporters and bloggers.

  • Professor arrested for blogging ‘bad contents’

    (VNRN) – A Vietnamese-Japanese professor was arrested Nov. 29 at his home in Ho Chi Minh City for allegedly violating the notorious Article 258 for operating a blog entitled Nguoi Lot Gach (Người Lót Gạch, the brick layer).

    News of the arrest of Dr. Hong Le Tho (Hồng Lê Thọ) appeared to have been first reported almost simultaneously on the website nguyentandung.org named after Vietnam’s Prime Minister and the online newspaper owned by the Ministry of Police.

    The report’s boilerplate language accuses Tho of “publishing articles on the Internet with bad contents and distorted information undercutting the people’s faith in the government and social agencies, citizens,” as provided by Article 258.

    The report also states that the police searched the home of Tho, a professor in Japan who recently moved to Vietnam. His blog now requires an invitation in order to access it. The cached version, however, is still available and reveals that the blog consists mostly of articles first published elsewhere.

    The last item posted on the blog is an article by Ha Dinh Nguyen (Hạ Đình Nguyên) criticizing a speech by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in which the PM had described Vietnam’s strategy toward China as “both cooperating and disputing.” The article compares that approach with a figure from Vietnamese literature who went into prostitution.

    Sach Xung dot tren Bien Dong khong con la nguy co tiem anTho is the editor of a 2012 collection of articles raising the risk of actual armed conflict in the South China Sea, which the Vietnamese call the East Sea. Nearly half the book are articles translated from foreign sources, including one by former U.S. Senator Jim Webb.

    A friend of Tho’s and also a researcher published in the book, Dinh Kim Phuc (Đinh Kim Phúc), told the BBC Vietnamese Service that Tho used to work in the Vietnamese Embassy in Tokyo and was a close friend of the late General Le Minh Huong (Lê Minh Hương), Minister of Police.

    If that is true, Tho’s case is another indication that personal relations with the police is no protection against arrest. Famed blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (Nguyễn Hữu Vinh), better known as Anh Ba Sam, was a former officer in the national security apparatus.

    Article 258, the Penal Code provision used to arrest Tho, is an overbroad and ambiguous statute entitled “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.” It has been used to prosecute a wide array of people, from religious practitioners to reporters and bloggers.

    Commenting on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” leveled against Tho, Nguyen Tien Trung (Nguyễn Tiến Trung), himself a recently released political prisoner, mused on Facebook, “Why aren’t there laws against ‘abusing dictatorship powers’?”

    All of Vietnam’s major trading partners and aid givers in Japan and the West have urged the country to improve its human rights records.

  • Political trial highlights Vietnam’s land rights problem

    by Marianne Brown

    (VOA) - In Vietnam, the state owns the land and leases it to the people for a limited time. As the country’s economy has grown, the issue of who owns the rights to farm or develop land remains a difficult problem, with occasional protests over illegal seizures of land, otherwise known as “land grabs.” In Hanoi, the latest trial of land rights protesters highlights lingering issues with the system.

    This week, a group of people gathered near a court on the outskirts of Hanoi to show their support at the appeal trial of four land rights activists who were arrested while protesting an alleged land grab earlier this year. They were sentenced to between 12 and 20 months for disturbing public order.

    Both of 31-year-old Trinh Ba Phuong’s parents were on trial. Although the court reduced his father Trinh Ba Khiem (Trịnh Bá Khiêm)’s sentence by three months, he said he was very disappointed with the result. He said he believes the trial was a “tool for oppression and land grabs.” Phuong’s mother Can Thi Theu (Cấn Thị Thêu) was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

    He said local authorities first announced plans to take the land in 2008. The compensation offered was too low, and 356 families have refused the payment. He said officials did not attempt to negotiate with the residents.

    Video footage allegedly showing attempts to take the land by force in April has been widely circulated on social media, with over 150,000 views on YouTube.

    ​In one video, streams of people wearing conical hats cross a field pursued by men wearing green police uniforms and official red arm bands.

    Phuong’s younger brother, 25-year-old Tu, said because many of the farmers now have no means to make a living from their land, they are facing great economic difficulties.

    Protests of this kind are not new, and in many ways the case typifies the chronic issue of land rights in Vietnam, where the state retains ownership of the land but allows farmers to lease it for a limited period of time. Lessees do not negotiate directly with developers and although prices are supposed to be set according to the market value, that does not happen in practice.

    According to a report to the National Assembly in October 2012, the number of complaints involving land acquisition and compensation made up 70 percent of all complaints to governmental agencies from 2004 to 2011.

    Jonathan London, a Vietnam analyst at City University Hong Kong, predicted more protests in the future.

    “The state so far has not addressed some of the root causes of these disputes and in the absence of more effective institutional solutions to this problem these kinds of street level or spontaneous uprisings are likely to persist because of course the supply of land is not increasing and when people are displaced or when they claim that they are the victims of injustice then the legal system is not frequently seen as a promising option,” said London.

    The use of video and social media has become a common tool for protesters to voice their grievances, London said.

    “People in Vietnam are increasingly becoming social movement entrepreneurs.

    They are trying to call attention to issues, they are trying to frame issues. While we shouldn’t exaggerate, this is nonetheless impressively skillful attempt by people with relatively little power to bring influence to bear on those who have power and have so far been unresponsive to these people’s claims,” said London.

    In 2012, the eviction of a well-respected farmer in Tien Lang (Tiên Lãng) district who used homemade bombs to repel police attracted international headlines. Some hope that a revision of the Land Law would address some of these problems.

    Donors said the revised law, which came into effect in July, would improve transparency and land administration and, if implemented well, would help minimize conflicts and delays in infrastructure.

    Jairo Acuna-Alfaro, Policy Adviser on public administration reform and anti-corruption for the United Nations Development Program, said under the new law land use plans will be discussed at the district and provincial level.

    “The assumption is there will be a bit more scrutiny at the higher levels than at the lower levels… There will be more power to make decisions and make a judgment,” said Acuna-Alfaro.

    However, he said, it is too early to make assessments on the impact of the law.

    Part of the problem is that the law itself is not making a difference in these cases because it is not changing the motivation of public officials, he pointed out. That would have to be seen through the lens of other laws, like the Criminal Law.

    In the meantime, Phuong and his brother have become established members of the activist community in Hanoi and say they are determined to continue fighting for their parents’ freedom.

     

  • Thriteen Christian Montagnards from Vietnam seek refugee status in Cambodia

    (RFA) - More than a dozen ethnic Montagnards are hiding in the jungles of northeastern Cambodia after fleeing alleged religious persecution across the border in Vietnam, a member of a hill tribe living in the area said Monday.

    The 13 Christian Montagnards, who crossed into Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province from Vietnam’s neighboring Gia Lai province, are seeking protection from the United Nations’ refugee agency to resettle in a third country, the ethnic Charai tribe member told RFA’s Khmer Service on condition of anonymity.

    Eight of the Montagnards arrived in Cambodia in early November, while another group of five joined them three days ago, he said, adding that all 13 have endured difficult conditions in the jungle because they are afraid authorities might arrest them and deport them back to Vietnam if they are found.

    “The refugees are facing the threat of disease and don’t have enough food—they were fleeing from Vietnamese authorities who were trying to arrest them,” the Charai tribe member said.

    “Vietnamese police contacted the Cambodian authorities to find them,” he said, adding that refugees are extremely susceptible to malaria while hiding in local jungles.

    The Charai tribe member said that he and other villagers were worried that the safety of the 13 Montagnards might be “compromised” if the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and local rights groups do not come to their aid.

    Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar, who rights groups say suffer extreme persecution.

    Early in the last decade, thousands in the region staged violent protests against the confiscation of their ancestral lands and religious controls, prompting a brutal crackdown by security forces that saw hundreds of Montagnards charged with national security crimes.

    Representatives of the minority group have said that they are only calling for indigenous land rights and basic human rights in Vietnam, despite attempts by Hanoi to link them to overseas separatist groups.

    Authorities to investigate

    Ratanakiri provincial deputy police chief Chea Bunthoeun confirmed that authorities had received a report about the 13 Montagnards, but said he did not know their location.

    He said that if the group members come forward to the police, authorities will evaluate them to determine whether they qualify as refugees or economic migrants.

    “We will evaluate them. If they apply for refugee status, we will report their case to the government,” he said.

    Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, told RFA that authorities would conduct an investigation into whether the Montagnards were eligible for assistance from the government.

    “When we get [further details], we will travel to the province to see if they are really refugees,” he said, adding that Cambodia has acted several times in the past to help refugees resettle in third countries.

    But Chai Thy, an official with Cambodian rights group Adhoc who is based in Ratanakiri, told RFA that the Montagnards do not trust local authorities, adding that his organization would do whatever it could to prevent them from being returned to Vietnam.

    “They don’t want to go to the authorities first—they are waiting for help from international organizations, because they are afraid of the local authorities,” he said.

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Koung refused to comment on the situation, saying he was unaware of the details.

  • Rights group slams Vietnam’s ‘obsolete’ report

    (RFA) - A periodic human rights report submitted by Vietnam to the United Nations after a more than two-decade interruption contained “obsolete” information about the country’s rights record and failed to address a complex set of challenges that had arisen in recent years, two groups said Tuesday.

    Vietnam’s first submission in 21 years to the U.N.’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) does not accurately portray the country’s rights situation, Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said in a joint report.

    “By delaying its reports over decades, Vietnam is not only failing to comply with U.N. reporting obligations, but also seriously undermining opportunities to strengthen protection of its citizens’ economic, social, and cultural rights,” the rights groups said in their report, presented Tuesday at a CESCR meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The 35-page report, which documented evidence and analysis of various violations in the three areas by Vietnam, was issued in response to one submitted on Monday by a delegation of 19 Vietnamese officials led by Vice-Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Chi Dung to the CESCR.

    It pointed to several articles of the country’s constitution, Land Law, Labor Code, and Law on Trade Unions that had been amended or replaced during the reporting period and which it said were no longer relevant.

    Furthermore, the report noted that laws adopted after 2008, many of which imposed serious restrictions on human rights, were not covered in Vietnam’s submission.

    Since the late 1980s, it said, Vietnamese society has undergone profound changes with its transition from a planned economy to a “free market economy with Socialist orientations.”

    But while the changes have improved the economic situations and lifestyles of millions of people, they also have created complex economic, social, cultural, and political challenges which were not addressed in Vietnam’s submission.

    “If the CESCR experts are not provided with timely and relevant data, they cannot fully evaluate these challenges and make fitting recommendations to improve the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights in Vietnam,” the report said.

    International obligations

    The CESCR consists of 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by countries that have ratified it.

    The ICESCR is a multilateral U.N. treaty under which countries agree to work towards the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights to individuals, including labor rights and the rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living.

    Vietnam, which ratified the treaty in September 1982, is obligated to submit reports to the committee on a regular basis, but has failed to do so since 1993.

    “The ICESCR is one of the pillars of international human rights protection,” Vo Van Ai, the president of VCHR told the U.N. committee, according to a statement released by VCHR and FIDH.

    “Vietnam’s 21-year delay in submitting the report and the empty rhetoric of its submission show its lack of concern for the people’s’ economic, social and cultural rights,” he said.

    “Victims of abuses—especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, ethnic minorities and the rural and urban poor—have no mechanisms to protect their rights and no means to redress them. Human rights defenders who denounce rights abuses are harassed and detained.”

    ‘Deeply concerned’

    The two human rights organizations based their findings on information from civil society activists, state-controlled media, U.N. agencies, academic research, and reports by four U.N. independent experts.

    They said while they have closely monitored Vietnam’s human rights situation since the country acceded to the treaty, they were “deeply concerned” that violations of these rights had been increasing in some areas.

    The report noted the rise of wealth disparities and social inequalities in Vietnam since it opened to a free market economy in the 1980s, but said they were caused not only by the rising income gap, but also by discrimination based on political opinions, religions affiliations, or ethnicity.

    The report also denounced state censorship and pointed out that Vietnam detains bloggers, land rights and human rights activists, and defenders and members of religious minorities for their activities advocating economic, social, and cultural rights.

    Ai, who presented the report to the CESCR, denounced Vietnam’s use of the law as a tool to suppress human rights and maintain political control, the statement said.

    The report proposes 37 recommendations for the country in the areas of trade, human rights, trade union rights, the right to health and education, nondiscrimination, land rights, and freedom of expression and cultural rights.

    Among the recommendations, it calls on Vietnam to unconditionally release people who have been detained for peacefully advocating for or exercising their economic, social, and cultural rights, grant autonomy to religious organizations, and authorize the publication of independent media.

    The report also asks Vietnam to recognize the universality of human rights, authorize the establishment of independent trade unions, ensure access to education and health care without discrimination, and end forced evictions.

  • RSF condemns harassment of Vietnamese blogger and family

    (RSF) – Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) in a written statement deplores the harassment of the blogger Pham Minh Hoang and his family, which led to an assault on the French consul-general in Ho Chi Minh City on November 5.

    The diplomat, Emmanuel Ly Batallan, was assaulted by gangsters supported by plain-clothes police when he tried to assist Pham Minh Hoang (Phạm Minh Hoàng), a Franco-Vietnamese blogger, and his mother in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Five days ago, a group of thugs accompanied by plain-clothes officers moved into a house close to Hoang’s home and that of his mother, in which the cyber dissident Nguyen Bac Truyen (Nguyễn Bắc Truyển) also lives.

    The gangsters have been putting pressure on both men and Hoang’s mother.

    At the request of the blogger, the French consul went to see the gangsters to ask them to end their intimidation. As soon as he entered the building, he was grabbed from both sides and assaulted.

    “Such violence is unacceptable, especially when police are involved,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.

    “Pham Minh Hoang and Nguyen Bac Truyen have served their prison sentences, although they were invalid and entirely disproportionate. The endless harassment, intimidation and stabbing threats, to which the bloggers and their families have been subjected, must end immediately.”

    Just before the assault, Hoang’s wife, Le Thi Kieu Oanh, a French national, asked the thugs to leave the premises only to be threatened herself by a knife-wielding man. The continual harassment of Hoang’s family has taken its toll on the health of his mother, who was admitted to hospital suffering from high blood pressure.

    The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry was reported to have been informed of the assault and to have advised the consul to protest through diplomatic channels.

    Hoang was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2011, followed by a further three years’ house arrest, for “attempting to overthrow the government.” He remains under house arrest.

    Truyen received a four-year prison term in 2007 for anti-state propaganda.

    Huang, a politically committed blogger known by the pen-name Phan Kien Quoc (Phan Kiến Quốc), has published numerous articles on education, the environment and Vietnam’s sovereignty disputes with China which have been widely circulated online.

    He participated in a campaign against Chinese mining of bauxite in Vietnam’s central highlands and his name was at the bottom of a petition on this issue, which attracted a lot of support in Vietnam. He is a member of the pro-democracy party Viet Tan, which has been banned by the one-party communist government.

    Vietnam is ranked 174th of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

  • ANALYSIS: Blogger Anh Ba Sam’s arrest baseless

    by Trinh Huu Long

    (BBC) The detention of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, better known as blogger Anh Ba Sam, and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty under national and international laws.

    A failure of due process in the first place

    The case against Anh Ba Sam was initiated on May 5, 2014 with the detention of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant, Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy.
    In accordance with Vietnamese Penal Code, an urgent arrest or detention is different from an ordinary arrest to the extent that in the former, an approval by the People’s Procuracy is not required prior to the act of arrest or detention. That approval may be granted subsequent to the act of arrest or detention, within 12 hours since the People’s Procuracy receives the request for deprivation of liberty from the investigating body.
    This provision authorizes the investigating body to act immediately at their discretion without any restriction. It also helps the investigating body to minimize the risk of information leakage.
    In the case of Anh Ba Sam, however, the detention by the Investigating Body under the Ministry of Public Security fails to fit into any category of urgent arrest or detention as stipulated in Article 81 of the Vietnamese Code of Criminal Procedure.
    Under this law, urgent arrests can only be made in the following cases:
    • (i) when there exist grounds to believe that such persons are preparing to commit very serious or exceptionally serious offenses;
    • (ii) when victims or persons present at the scenes where the offenses occurred saw with their own eyes and confirmed that such persons are the very ones who committed the offenses and it is deemed necessary to immediately prevent such persons from escaping; or
    • (iii) when traces of offenses are found on the bodies or at the residences of the persons suspected of having committed the offenses and it is deemed necessary to immediately prevent such persons from escaping or destroying evidences.
    Obviously the arrest of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy does not fall in any of these cases, because the Article 258 of the Penal Code under which they were charged does not belong to the category of “very serious” or “exceptionally serious” crimes. There was not any victim or person present at the homes and offices of Vinh and Thuy to see with their own eyes or to confirm that Vinh and Thuy had committed any offence. The investigating body also failed to find any trace of offence at the homes and offices of Vinh and Thuy: as confirmed in the Investigative Report of October 30, all of the objects confiscated at their homes and offices were found “unrelated to the case.”
    The failure of due process in the first place led to due process violations in the subsequent phases.
     
    Violation of privacy rights
    Notably, the Investigative Report obviously revealed unlawful means by the police to obtain the evidence based on which the urgently arrest warrant on Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy was signed.
    The unlawful means were clearly referred to on the first page of the Investigative Report, which wrote that “the case began on April 1, when the Department of Political Protection No.6 [Cục Bảo vệ Chính trị 6] under the General Department of Public Security No. 1, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security [Tổng cục An ninh I – Bộ Công an] dispatched a note to the Investigating Body of Public Security, providing surveillance data collected from two Internet subscribers who were VDC’s and FPT’s clients and whom they alleged “often posted to the Internet articles with signs of infringing upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and citizens.”
    This inevitably raises questions as to whether the police are authorized to monitor and access personal data of Internet users, whether Internet service providers are to provide personal data of their clients upon police’s request, and whether Internet service providers are allowed to do so.
    Some people automatically linked the issue to similar circumstances in Western countries, where the police can only monitor phone calls when they are authorized by the court(s).
    Under Vietnamese law, Article 38 of the Civil Code can provide a hint to answer the above questions. It stipulates that “individuals’ letters, telegrams, telephones, and other electronic correspondence shall be protected to ensure confidentiality.”
    In addition, Article 72 of the Law on Information Technology strictly prohibits the access to, adjustment to or removal of the data of organizations and citizens in the cyber area.
    Some people may invoke Article 38 of the Civil Code to argue that the monitoring of correspondence and electronic information can still be conducted “in circumstances which are stipulated by law” AND “with the order from the competent State authority.” However, which specific law this provision refers to, or which State authority is competent in the case of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, was not mentioned in the Investigative Report.
    More importantly, if the Ministry of Public Security is authorized to monitor personal Internet data, and if there was indeed an official decision granting them the authority to monitor Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy’s data on the Internet, then a big question should be raised about the constitutionality, legality and legitimacy of such decisions.
    It should be noted that the two regulatory notes that define duties, obligations, and authority of the Ministry of Public Security, ie. Decree No. 77/2009/NĐ-CP and Decree No. 21/2014/NĐ-CP, cannot be found in any national gazette or legal database on the Internet. Some sources said these two notes were classified as “confidential”, thus closed to the public.

    An arbitrary arrest

    Under international human rights laws, the arrest of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh and Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy is a violation of their right to liberty and constitutes an arbitrary arrest.
    Articles 9 of both the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulate that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
    Vietnam, as a full member of the United Nations, has signed these two treaties, which are generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights laws.
    The general standards of these above treaties, in the context of a rule of law with an independent judiciary system, are always interpreted and enforced in a manner that helps to achieve social justice and balances human rights with security.
    In 2000 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a body consisting of independent human rights experts working on arbitrary detentions in its member states, introduced a set of criteria to assess whether an act of deprivation of liberty is arbitrary. Among the criteria, Category II provides that the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by UN human rights treaties is regarded as arbitrary.
    The police, by alleging Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to have posted to web 24 articles mentioned in the Investigative Report and arresting them despite their denial of allegation, have evidently violated freedom of expression, and this act of arrest fits into the above-mentioned Category II.
  • Vietnam steps up harassment of dissident rights lawyer

    (RFA) - Vietnamese authorities have ramped up their harassment of dissident rights lawyer and former political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen (Nguyễn Bắc Truyển), stationing a large group of security agents in plain clothes outside his rented house on Wednesday and threatening his landlady with a knife, according to sources.

    Truyen, who provides free legal assistance to victims of land grabs and has campaigned for multiparty democracy in one-party communist Vietnam, was released on probation from prison in May 2010 after serving three and a half years for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

    He now lives in a house in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City rented from another former prisoner, Pham Minh Hoang (Phạm Minh Hoàng), a blogger and former mathematics teacher serving a period of probation after his own release from prison in January 2012.

    “To them [the police], Nguyen Bac Truyen is a very dangerous man, so they guard him all the time,” Hoang told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday.

    “They have assigned people to sit in front of the house and block him from leaving,” Hoang said.

    “They sit in front of that house 24 hours a day,” Hoang’s wife, surnamed Oanh, said. “I don’t know what they do at night, but they follow Truyen wherever he goes.”

    On Nov. 5, harassment intensified when the group was joined by another group “disguised as ordinary people,” though Oanh said she recognized one as a policeman because of his uniform socks.

    “They brought food and drinks to have a party right in front of my house,” she said.

    ‘Rude attitude’

    When Hoang and Oanh approached the men, “they displayed a very rude attitude and even threatened my wife with a knife because she told them not to sit there,” Hoang said.

    Calls for help to the local police brought no result, so Hoang—who holds French citizenship—and his wife appealed for assistance to the French consulate, they said.

    “At the beginning, we did not want to do it, and we only called the local police,” said Oanh, “But they refused to come, saying they were busy in a meeting.”

    “As there was no one who would protect us, we had to call the consulate. My husband is a French citizen, so he comes under their protection,” she said.

    Reached by phone by RFA on Wednesday, the French consulate in Ho Chi Minh City declined to comment on the case.

    24-hour surveillance

    Nguyen Bac Truyen himself has been followed and harassed ever since his release from prison, Truyen told RFA in a recent interview.

    “Whenever there is a gathering of civil society groups, plainclothes policemen are assigned to watch me, threaten me, and prevent me from going out,” he said.

    “After I was freed from prison, they followed me 24 hours a day, but for the last two months they have only watched me from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.”

    “However, they are very aggressive,” he said.

    In February 2014, Truyen and his wife were dragged from a taxi and beaten by suspected police agents while traveling to meet with an Australian diplomat in Hanoi to press for the release of fellow activists detained after a police raid on his house.

    Hundreds of armed Vietnamese police and government agents fired gunshots and stormed the residence during the Feb. 9 raid, according to rights groups and Truyen’s wife.

    ‘Intimidating’

    Also on Wednesday, Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Dan Que (Nguyễn Ðan Quế) reported increased police surveillance at his own residence in Ho Chi Minh City after learning of the harassment of Truyen and Hoang.

    The two new officers set to guard him are “different from the two others who were here before, but their behavior is very intimidating and aggressive,” Que said.

    “They have not entered my house, but they walk back and forth in front of it,” he said. “If I go out, they follow me.”

  • Suspect dies by hanging in police custody, 20th this year

    Left: The window where Lam was found dead by hanging.

    (RNVN) – A suspect in a theft case was found hung to death in police custody on Nov. 3 in Hai Phong, Vietnam’s third largest city. The death marks at least the 20th known case of detainees dying in unclear circumstances while being held by local Vietnamese police. Most were classified as suicides by hanging by official investigators.

    The victim in this case was Nguyen Tung Lam (Nguyễn Tùng Lâm), 30, who was caught riding away in someone else’s electric bicycle in a rural part of Hai Phong. Bystanders and traffic police captured Lam and he was taken to the local commune administration’s office at 11am Oct 31. The police questioned Lam and held him overnight.

    His family was notified, his father brought Lam food for dinner and, district police head Col. Tran Quang Hop (Trần Quang Hợp) told reporters, everything was normal throughout the night.

    By morning, however, when the guard on duty came back from his restroom break, Lam was found hanging on the window bars “at a low position, his feet not hanging,” according to Col. Hop. Lam was declared dead at the hospital at 7am Nov. 1.

    Lam was hanging by his belt, the police said. He left behind a wife and a 9-year old child.

    This case closely follows a case within the same week in coastal Binh Thuan province where another man was also found hanging by a drawstring from his shorts.

    Lam’s case marks the 20th known time just this year where a person dies in police custody.

    In September, Human Rights Watch issued a 96-page report detailing cases of death and injury in the hands of Vietnamese police, and found them “pervasive” and occurring “throughout Vietnam.”

  • Police report accuses Anh Ba Sam of undercutting ‘faith in the Party’

    (VNRN) – Vietnam’s national police on Oct. 30 issue the investigative report in the case of blogger Anh Ba Sam, real name Nguyen Huu Vinh (Nguyễn Hữu Vinh), and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy (Nguyễn Thị Minh Thúy), accusing them of “undercutting the people’s faith in the leadership of the Party.” The police concluded that the two have “abused democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interest of the State” under the infamous Article 258 of the Penal Code which carries a prison term of up to 7 years.

    Vinh, whose blog moniker means “Brother Gossiper,” is best known as the founder of the Ba Sam news site, at basam.info. It has served as the best provider of news from Vietnam that otherwise would not be reported by government-owned media. Basam.info has been covering the fates of prisoners and conscience, for example, or events held by human rights activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

    Thuy is Vinh’s employeed at his private detective agency and has been accused of assisting Vinh and managing and editing his blogs.

    In a move that surprised observers, the investigative report lists none of the contents of Basam.info. Instead, it lists 12 specific posts on the Dan Quyen (Civil Rights) blog at diendanxahoidansu.wordpress.com, and 12 specific posts on the Chep Su Viet (Writing Vietnamese History) blog at chepsuviet.wordpress.com. Both sites were shut down shortly after Vinh and Thuy’s arrest, suggesting that the police had gained control of the sites’ passwords.

    The postings in the report were selected from a total of 2014 posts on Dan Quyen and 383 posts on Chep Su Viet. All of the posts were authored by other people and first published elsewhere, then re-published on these two blogs.

    The posts listed by the police generally provide critical reviews of current or historical events, some involving leaders of the Vietnamese government and Communist Party such as the Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (Nguyễn Phú Trọng) and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (Nguyễn Tấn Dũng). One posting was about General Hoang Kong Tu (Hoàng Kông Tư), head of the Minister of Police’s investigative agency — the same entity that issued the investigative report.

    Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy and her twin children.

    Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy and her twin children.

    The report calls the prosecution “a serious case, organized, with sophisticated criminal methods, happening while enemy forces in and outside the country are increasing the use of the Internet with hundreds of websites, blogs, social networks to distort and slander wit hthe goal of destroying the thoughts, undercutting the faith of the people in the leadership role of the Party, the management by the Government.”

    The report reveals that neither Vinh nor Thuy has admitted to any wrong-doing, so the police referred them for prosecution under Article 258, a vague and ambiguous provision that has been used to prosecute a wide variety of people for allegedly “abusing” their freedom of speech or religion.

    Human-rights organization Vietnam Path Movement reacted to the investigative report that “even if all accusations were true,” Vinh and Thuy violated no laws when they “only exercised their rights to freedom of speech in republishing other people’s writings,” wrote its spokesperson Le Quoc Tuan (Lê Quốc Tuấn).

  • Man dies by hanging in police station

    (VNRN) – A man detained by local police was found dead by hanging in his cell in coastal Binh Thuan province early morning Oct 28, the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reported. Provincial police are now investigating.

    The family of Nguyen Van Ha (Nguyễn Văn Hạ), 47, was notified of his death in jail of Tan An ward, La Gi township, at 7 am. Earlier, his wife Huynh Thi Sen (Huỳnh Thị Sen), 46, had come to the police station at 5am to see him but had been told to return later.

    When the family arrived, Ha was still hanging on the cell’s metal grill door, facing the door, dangling, according to his daughter Nguyen Thi Diem (Nguyễn Thị Diễm), 21. “The cord was a small drawstring from his shorts, and there was no chair to stand on in the cell,” Diem told the newspaper. “In that position it’s very difficult to hang yourself.”

    The police has not even told the family of Ha’s time of death, his wife said.

    Ha was arrested while his wife Sen was hiding in a neighbor’s house, avoiding debt collectors. At 1am, Ha’s sister told her Ha was caught burning a neighbor’s motorbike. By the time Sen arrived home at 5am, neighbors told her Ha had been arrested. She then went to the police station to get a key to the house from Ha, and that was when she was told to return later.

    Township police refused to comment on the case other than saying it’s under investigation.

    This case is just one in many cases of deaths in police custody. Just this past April, an 18-year-old young man was found hung in his jail cell in nearby Quang Nam province. In September, Human Rights Watch issued a 96-page report detailing cases of death and injury in the hands of Vietnamese police, and found them “pervasive” and occurring “throughout Vietnam.”

  • IN-DEPTH: Anh Ba Sam’s news blog marches on despite his arrest

    by Pham Doan Trang

    (VNRN) – One day last May in Hanoi, Vietnamese police launched a sudden raid into the house and business of a long-famous blogger, Nguyen Huu Vinh, better known as Anh Ba Sam (meaning Brother Gossiper). Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, a mother of seven-year-old twin children, were detained immediately.

    The sudden raid and arrests apparently caught Vinh by surprise. Two web sites believed to be run by him, Chep Su Viet (Writing Vietnamese History) and Dan Quyen (Civil Rights), were shut down, suggesting the police were able to gain control to the sites’ passwords.

    The other blogs, notably the very high-traffic Ba Sam News at basam.info, however, stayed out of police control and kept on running. In fact, just five days after Vinh and Thuy’s arrest, his colleagues published a defiant statement, “Nguyen Huu Vinh was arrested, yes, but Anh Ba Sam will never be.” The statement carried implications of an even more powerful blogging and writing movement for change in Vietnam.

    The arrest prompted a huge outcry among dissidents. The Vietnam Path Movement, a civil society organization that works to promote human rights inside of Vietnam, released a statement on May 7, stating, “By depriving Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, and other activists’ rights to freedom of expression, the Vietnam government adamantly refuses all contributions from the people toward building a stronger nation.”

    The government hit back. Using media owned by the police and the army, the government accused Vinh and Thuy of “publishing online articles with bad contents and misleading information to lower the prestige and create public distrust of government offices, social organizations and citizens” under Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code.

    In one particular colorful posting, the police-owned newspaper accused Vinh of “reporting and commenting on current social and political issues of Vietnam with a deliberately critical tone”, “trying to make Vietnam look as bad and ugly as he is.”

    The man who wanted to light the candle

    Nguyen Huu Vinh was not always the darling of the democracy movement. A former public security officer himself, Vinh was mistrusted at first. Born in 1956 to a high-ranking communist official, he had all the good reasons to himself become a high-ranking official, too, in the hierarchy of the communist state.

    Right when Vinh was arrested, bloggers looked up his family background to be reminded that his father, Nguyen Huu Khieu, was twice the Vietnamese ambassador to the Soviet Union. As the Soviets were Vietnam’s “Big Brother” in the Cold War, being ambassador there was an enormous privilege, and as Vinh himself admitted in a short memoir in 2012, he and his family led a life that all the other parts of the society then could just dream of.

    The house where he grew up is now the residence of the prime minister. “While butter, milk and the like were still unknown to people in Northern Vietnam, I just needed to take half a mile walk to number 2 Hoang Dieu street [a store dedicated to the upper echelon of the VCP] to get hot fresh milk, butter, pâté and bread.”

    Vinh even met Ho Chi Minh once as a child of five, considered a special favor for Vietnamese in the North.

    Most importantly, thanks to his family origin, he benefited from books that were totally inaccessible to ordinary people. One of such things, referred to as “special documents for reference,” were selected articles from foreign media translated by the Vietnam News Agency into Vietnamese. Vinh wrote,

    “In the 1960s, these documents were labeled as ‘Confidential. No circulation,’ and only officials from ministerial level upward could access them. They would later on be provided also for lower administrative levels, and be sold at the end of the 1990s. No matter what, these documents helped to change me substantially during my years of ‘following the Party.’”

    It was from those documents that he learned about the brutality of Mao’s China, which, ironically, was the ideal that the Vietnamese government at that time was trying to reach.

    The Vietnam War escalated, and Vinh was evacuated to the countryside, where he saw the poverty for people in the lower rungs of the social. But his belief in the communist ideology only truly turned upside-down after the war ended in 1975, and he was able to view the deep rift between the “capitalist South” and the “communist North” of Vietnam. It did not take him much time to conclude that life in a capitalist system, with all its faults, was much more prosperous than and different from the one described in communist propaganda materials.

    “My eyes were opened,” wrote Vinh, “and more than that, I ventured to spend a lot of time and money learning English and computer skills right from the days those things were strange to most people.”

    To build a fire

    “He was always determined, enthusiastic, and brave,” said Pham Xuan Can, a former classmate of Vinh’s at the Academy of Public Security who joined the public outcry online following Vinh’s arrest. Can recalled how Vinh became a student at the Academy, then became a public security officer before working at the Department of the Overseas Vietnamese. His experience of working with Vietnamese intellectuals in foreign countries, some almost in exile since 1975, added up with his past knowledge of “the capital South” to keep him obsessed by an idea, “how much social capital were wasted as a result of bad policies.”

    BasamVerticalIn 1999, almost immediately after Vietnam’s adoption of the Enterprise Law, Vinh quit his government position and set up his own business, VPI, the very first private detective agency in Vietnam. Vinh’s business went well and its profits were enough for him to pursue other interests.

    In 2005, when Yahoo!’s now extinct 360 blogging platform arrived, Vinh found blogging like any Vietnamese teenager. He created his Anh Ba Sam Yahoo blog in 2007 and initially filled it with articles he wrote for the state-owned media, until he realized the demand of Vietnamese people who want to know “what the world is thinking of us.”

    So Vinh began translating foreign news stories about Vietnam, and his readership grew. Anh Ba Sam’s blog also provided source materials about China-Vietnam relations, which even until this day remains a politically sensitive issue.

    Though Ba Sam won a relatively large readership for a political website, Vinh did not stop there. He went further in the cause of “enlightening the people” with the initiative of publishing a daily digest of the most important news items. Vinh also added his own comments, a mix of profound intellectual thoughts with cute, witty humor, and the comments became the characteristic of Ba Sam, winning the attention of hundreds of thousands Vietnamese speakers around the world. This was a quite high number, especially when the widely circulated Tuoi Tre Daily could only reach 200,000 copies or so.

    “It’s up with the news 24/7. As might be expected, the blog has given particular emphasis to the stories that Vietnam’s state-supervised media has been unable to report. Its daily digest is the hook that has caught the attention of 100,000-plus regular readers,” David Brown, a former U.S. diplomat and an author whose articles were often translated and posted by Ba Sam, wrote on Asia Sentinel about the site in March 2013 when it was under a serious attack by “pro-government” hackers.

    “Being on time, adhering to ethical codes of accuracy, neutrality and confidentiality of sources, and respecting copyrights, those are the principles that we kept to during the recent years,” said Dinh Ngoc Thu, now the main editor of Basam.info. Thu joined with Vinh in “news reviewing” in 2009, and the only reason why she was not arrested with Vinh and Thuy was because she lives in California.

    Vinh’s connections with some people in the state apparatus, resulting from his previous positions in public offices, were also helpful news sources. However, at the same time, they raised suspicions about him being an “undercover police”. A haunting question for many was why Nguyen Huu Vinh was not arrested after such a long time? How could he “survive” many police suppressions of bloggers?

    Now the answer is clear: It was just a matter of time.

    Police came in

    The Vietnamese government, with mostly old faces, may not have noticed the power of the Internet, but its police machinery did so quickly. Anyone blogging about political issues will sooner or later found him/herself in trouble with the extensive network of police in Vietnam. So it was understandable that Ba Sam was identified very soon by the police as a rallying point of “anti-state” forces.

    And it was a well-founded belief, anyway. Every dissident site in Vietnam, or in Vietnamese to be exact, has its own loyal readers. Ba Sam’s readers, as he described, incorporated many intellectuals and members of the Communist Party. A large proportion of them may still be loyal to the obsolete ideology of communism, and what they need is “fact as it is”, neutral and accurate without any state censorship.

    Readers made up a close-knit community indeed, and readers themselves had readers – there were people who accessed Ba Sam mostly to read the comments by Vinh and other bloggers below each post. Many of such online commentators became famous to the “great family” of Ba Sam’s readers.

    With only a small team in charge of both content providing and security ensuring, the site was subject to continuous attacks. Brown, the diplomat, wrote in sympathy:

    “… on March 8, when the Ba Sam blog was thoroughly hacked. Several years’ reportage and commentary were deleted. The e-mail accounts of the blog’s editorial team were also compromised. The Ba Sam team has so far been unable to regain control of anhbasam.wordpress.com. That’s a manageable tragedy, however. All but a few days’ content was backed up on offshore servers.”

    “… A naive reader might conclude that the Anh Ba Sam team are in fact renegades and grudge-bearing reactionaries based in the United States and dedicated to the overthrow of the Hanoi regime.”

    The truth was that Vinh and his colleagues did not receive any financial assistance from anybody. In fact, as the economy went south, Vinh’s private detective agency also floundered and was almost on the brink of bankruptcy when Vinh and Thuy were detained.

    One reader who met Vinh several times related her conversation with Vinh. Suspicious, the reader asked Vinh, “Why do you keep doing all these things?”

    He replied, “Because I’m in a better position to do this than anyone else. So if I don’t do, I’ll feel guilty”.

    And he explained, “Because I meet three conditions. First, my financial conditions are good enough. With VPI, I am not indigent. Second, I have Internet knowledge; and third, most importantly, I know them – the police – well. I was among them and I understand them.”

    Yet, it seems he lost the battle in the end. The former public security officer did not expect his former colleagues to arrest him and was caught off-guard.

    The sentence against him is expected to be harsh, as the police-dominated courts are always tough on those considered to have “betrayed” of their Communist Party origins. Cu Huy Ha Vu, another son of a cabinet-level Communist leader, was sentenced up to seven years of imprisonment in 2011. Vu, however, was released early and arrived in the U.S. in April, a month before Vinh’s arrest.

    Optimistically, is it not a time for him to rest? He has worked too hard, struggled for too long in the past seven years, and exhausted himself as well as his colleagues. Despite the many readers he had, in the end, it was basically a fight in solitude.

    But he kept blogging.

     

    Pham Doan Trang is a journalist and blogger in Viet Nam. She can be reached at phamdoantrangvn@gmail.com.

     

  • Prominent dissident blogger released from prison, exiled

    (VNRN) – Dieu Cay (Điếu Cày), a blogger who has spent the last 6 years in prison serving two consecutive sentences was released Oct 21 and immediately expelled out of the country to fly to the United States, his family and the U.S. General Consulate confirmed.

    A founder of the Free Journalist Club, Dieu Cay, whose real name is Nguyen Van Hai (Nguyễn Văn Hải), was arrested and sentenced in 2008 on tax evasion charges, and immediately completing that sentenced was re-sent to prison in 2012 to another 12 years under Article 88 of Vietnamese Penal Code for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic.” Dieu Cay had participate in, and reported on, anti-China protests taking place while the Beijing Olympics torch was passing through Vietnam.

    With Dieu Cay’s release, the only member of the FJC still imprisoned is Ta Phong Tan (Tạ Phong Tần), a former police lieutenant and Communist Party member who wrote a blog called Justice and Truth. The third accused, Phan Thanh Hai (Phan Thanh Hải), served out his 4-year sentence, including time served before trial, in 2013.

    Tan was tried together with Dieu Cay and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In July before Tan’s trial, her mother died after setting herself on fire in protest in front of a government office.

    The FJC members were charged at trial of posting 421 articles on the group’s blog between 2007 and 2010, articles that the government alleged “distort the truth and denigrate the party and state.”

    Phan Thanh Hai, Dieu Cay, and Ta Phong Tan were tried together. With Dieu Cay's release, only Tan is still in prison.

    Phan Thanh Hai, Dieu Cay, and Ta Phong Tan were tried together. With Dieu Cay’s release, only Tan is still in prison.

    “I just feel frustrated by injustice, corruption, dictatorship which does not represent the state but some individuals,” Dieu Cay told the court at his trial.

    “According to Vietnamese laws, citizens have the right to freedom of speech and it is in accordance with international treaties to which Vietnam is party,” he said before the audio feed was cut off, AFP news agency reported.

    Dieu Cay’s lawyer at his tax trial, attorney Le Cong Dinh, would later also be arrested in 2009 and sentenced under Article 88. Dinh was released in 2013.

    In a diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks, the U.S. General Consulate called tax charges against Dieu Cay “spurious” and explained the founding of the Free Journalist Club:

    “The FJC is a self-selected group of bloggers who met each other online two years ago when Dieu Cay (Nguyen Van Hai) posted a letter from a journalist calling on the Prime Minister to allow private media outlets in Vietnam. The ensuing on-line discussion between Cay and some like-minded bloggers led them to form the FJC, and the group started meeting regularly to discuss current events with a focus on items they felt were not fully covered in mainstream media, such as the Can Tho bridge collapse, labor strikes, Catholic land disputes in Hanoi and other issues.”

    Members of FJC faced varying levels of police harassment. Some had to quit their job when police placed pressure on their employers.

    Dieu Cay’s case was raised by U.S. President Barack Obama during World Free Press Day of 2012, saying, “As we condemn recent detentions of journalists like Mazen Darwish, a leading proponent of free speech in Syria, and call for their immediate release, we must not forget others like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam.”

    Numerous international human rights organizations have also called attention to Dieu Cay’s case. Right after his trial, Amnesty International organized an Urgent Action to free Dieu CayHuman Rights Watch condemned the trial and called for the immediate release of the three bloggers. In 2009, the group awarded Nguyen Van Hai its Hellman-Hammett Award “for writers who have suffered persecution as a result of their writings”.

    In 2012, Civil Rights Defenders named him Human rights defender of the month. The following year, Dieu Cay was awarded the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. He won the 2013 One Humanity award from PEN Canada, which recognized “Dieu Cay’s courageous dissent and continued advocacy for human rights in Vietnam despite a crackdown on online writing by the authorities.”

  • Freed Catholic activist vows to continue fight for democracy, social justice: NCR

    (NCR) - A Catholic dissident who recently released from prison said his jail service was sent by providence and he would continue to give his voice to democratic and human rights, according to a story on the National Catholic Reporter.

    “I believe my prison service was sent by God because I had opportunities to get acquainted with several people suffering disgrace. God changed me into a new man who dared to defend the truth and those who are trampled on and to oppose prison officers’ wrongdoings,” Anthony Dau Van Duong (Ðậu Văn Dương) said after he was freed Oct. 2.

    Duong was sentenced to 42 months in prison but was given an early release on condition that he serve an additional 18 months of probation.

    The 26-year-old and three other young Catholics were convicted of “conducting propaganda against the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 for passing out 5,000 leaflets in May 2011 that demanded a multi-party system, criticized Communist Party policies and rejected the results of the previous year’s national assembly election.

    Electoral candidates are hand-picked by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam before the vote goes to the public.

    Duong and his friends were arrested in August 2011.

    “It is most important that you trust in God and then you would do all things,” he said while talking about his jail experience with his friends.

    During his service, he said prison warders kept him with prisoners with HIV/AIDS and those jailed for drug abuse and murder. With the guards’ permission, they beat him brutally “while I tried to pray with God to overcome physical pain.”

    “The guards trampled on inmates’ dignity, hit them as hard as they could, and cut power in cells on weekends,” he said.

    Duong had petitioned jail officers to provide enough water for inmates. He also made demands that sick prisoners be allowed to rest and that others not be forced to overwork. Consequently he was disciplined.

    He said jail warders confiscated a copy of the Bible his family sent him. “I wrote to them, saying the Bible teaches people good things, so why do you deny me access to it? You are violating the religious freedom that is a basic human right. You are trampling on my faith and life. I will go on a hunger strike until you give the Bible back to me,” he said. “A warder told me that since religious books are banned in the camp, he was not afraid if I petitioned the prime minister.”

    “However, he returned it to me a few days later.”

    Duong, member of northern Vinh City-based Catholic College Students Group, whose members study catechism and the Scripture to light their actions and faith life, said he would resume his previous activities out of faith.

    “I used to bury aborted fetuses from hospitals, provide accommodation to unwed pregnant women, criticize abortion, attend courses on the Scriptures, and lend voices to freedom of speech and press, and call for a multi-party system,” he said.

    “My deeds are right so I will pursue them with determination. I fight against social injustice and defend those who are treated unfairly,” he said.

    Jail authorities reportedly said they had decided to release Duong, claiming he had been effectively “re-educated” while serving his sentence. However, he said, “I was not re-educated at all.”

  • Rights activists question US arms sales to Vietnam

    (VOA) - The announcement last week that the United States is partially lifting an arms ban on Vietnam has been welcomed as an important step in warming ties between the two nations. However, human rights activists have criticized the move.

    Despite coming just months after a Chinese oil rig stationed in waters also claimed by Vietnam sparked a tense stand-off between the two countries, the State Department was keen to stress the move to ease a ban on selling arms to Vietnam was not “anti-China.” Instead, it said the decision was partly a response to a lack of maritime capacity in the region.

    Dr. Ian Storey, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, said the decision was “definitely hastened by the oil rig crisis.” “It underscores America’s increasing concern about recent developments in the South China Sea and in particular how Chinese assertiveness is seen potentially to undermine U.S. interests in the sea,” he said.

    The move to ease the ban is largely symbolic, Storey said, because Vietnam has a long-standing relationship with Russia to buy much cheaper equipment.

    The speculation is that Vietnam is interested in purchasing the P3 Orion patrol aircraft used for marine surveillance.

    Vietnam has been lobbying the U.S. to lift the ban for several years, but one condition set by Washington was an improvement in human rights.

    “They have got around that partly by saying Vietnam has improved its human rights situation although it’s not a vast improvement on what it was,” said Storey. “Second they said they will provide non-lethal equipment to improve its maritime domain awareness so we’re not talking about submarines or war ships or that kind of equipment, but that would allow Vietnam to improve its maritime surveillance in the EEZ.”

    In an article for Foreign Policy, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch John Sifton criticized the move, saying it “undercuts the brave work of Vietnamese activists” who look to the U.S. to pressure Vietnam into improving its human rights record.

    Le Quoc Quyet is the younger brother of Le Quoc Quan, one of Vietnam’s most high profile dissidents, who was jailed last year for tax evasion – a charge critics say was politically motivated. “The U.S. is concerned about human rights in Vietnam, but it’s not a pre-condition [for the lifting of the ban]. They are concerned with many other issues as well as human rights,” said Quyet.

    The U.S. State Department has said that Vietnam still needs to improve its human rights record, and Washington continues to evaluate its security relationship with Hanoi.

    Nguyen Tri Dung is the son of dissident blogger Dieu Cay, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence for conducting propaganda against the state.

    Dung said last week for the first time his father received a visit from officials from the U.S. embassy. Up until now, he has only been allowed to meet family. It is a sign, Dung believes, that the Vietnamese government is considering his release.

    He believed this is connected to the partial lifting of the arms embargo.

    “I think that if my father is released it must be something to do with the deal because I know them for a long time. I mean the Vietnamese government. They will not do anything without profit,” Dung said.

    However, while his family welcome the possibility, Dung said he agrees that the U.S. should not sell arms to Vietnam while the latter’s track record on human rights remains poor.

    “We need to have more critical move like to remove Article 88 about propaganda against the state and Article 79 about people who take action against the state, or Article 258 that forbids people from talking on Facebook or the Internet about the state. With these articles the government can catch anyone they want without any reason at all,” Dung stated.

    He said he thinks if his father is set free, he will not be allowed to stay in Vietnam and would likely be offered exile in the U.S.

    While speculation lingers on what equipment Vietnam will purchase, the decision is likely to send ripples through Vietnam’s internal factions as some of them seek closer ties with the U.S. against China.

    So far Beijing has not commented on the move.

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