• Two political prisoners released early

    (VNRN) – Political prisoners Vi Duc Hoi (Vi Đức Hồi) and Nguyen Tien Trung (Nguyễn Tiến Trung) were freed Apr 12 before completing their full sentences. Both of whom have been the subject of international campaigns for their release.

    Hoi, 57 (pictured above, right), an ethnic Tay from northern Lang Son province, is a former Communist Party official who wrote a blog advocating for human rights and a multi-party democratic system. He was convicted in 2011 of “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic” under Article 88 of the Penal Code and sentenced to eight years in prison, later reduced to five years.

    Trung, 31, is an engineer who founded the Assembly of Vietnamese Youth for Democracy while studying in France. Against advices that he may be arrested, Trung returned to Vietnam in 2007 and was conscripted in 2008. Trung joined the Army but, according to his mother, refused to take the Army’s oath as it demands loyalty to the Communist Party. Dismissed from the military in 2009, Trung was arrested the very next day and charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic” under Article 88.

    Hoi and Trung took very different paths to their activism. Hoi was a communist idealist early on, joining the Communist Party at 22 adn advanced to a high rank training other party leaders. In 2006, however, he began to advocate for democracy. The following year, he was stripped of his rank, fired from his job and expelled from the party.

    Hoi later joined the pro-democracy Bloc 8406 network, writing commentaries about government land-grabs and corruption.

    In 2008, Hoi published an ebook, a memoir entitled “Facing Reality, My Path to JOining the Democratic Movement.” In 2010, he published a book of fiction based on the death of Nguyen Van Khuong, a young man beaten to death by police after a traffic stop in the northern highland province of Bac Giang. He was arrested in October of that year.

    Trung, on the other hand, has never joined the Communist party. He first gained fame in 2006 when he published an open letter to the Minister of Education seeking reform to the education system, asking that all indoctrination classes be taken out of it. There never was an official response to the letter.

    In May of that year, Trung founded the Assembly of Vietnamese Youth for Democracy (Tập hợp Thanh niên Dân chủ, THTNDC in Vietnamese, also translated as “Movement of Democratic Youth” and “Democratic Youth of Vietnam”), calling for students to join the push for political reform in Vietnam.

    On December 25, 2006, Trung formally joined the Vietnam Democratic Party, a political party not recognized by the government, and was appointed Deputy Secretary of the party, heading up Youth Affairs.

    In this photo, Trung (R) is seen with Ta Phong Tan (L) and "Dieu Cay" Nguyen Van Hai. All three would later be imprisoned for their writing.

    In this photo from early 2008, Trung (R) is seen with Ta Phong Tan (L) and “Dieu Cay” Nguyen Van Hai. All three would later be imprisoned for their writing.

    In 2008, Trung was conscripted into the Army, something unusual in Vietnam where almost all soldiers are conscripted in the early years of service age. In the Army, however, Trung was placed on practically perpetual discipline, as he continuously refused to take the part of the Army’s oath that requires loyalty to the Communist Party.

    Trung was arrested the day after he was dismissed from the Army, and was tried together with three other activists, two of whom have already been freed, attorney Le Cong Dinh and engineer Le Thang Long, both founders of the Vietnam Path Movement.

    The fourth defendant in that case, engineer and businessman Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, is still in prison. Earlier this year, Thuc’s father Tran Van Huynh joined other parents of prisoners of conscience and traveled to the U.S. and Europe, meeting with government officials and NGO’s and asking for help getting the release of the prisoners.

  • FULL TEXT: Vietnamese civil society’s testimony before Canadian Senate committee

    (VNRN) – Representatives of Vietnam’s independent civil society testified before the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Senate on April 7.

    The panel heard testimony from Hoi Trinh, the executive director of VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment), journalist and blogger Pham Doan Trang [Phạm Đoan Trang], a writer for www.Vietnamrightnow.com; blogger Nguyen Anh Tuan [Nguyễn Anh Tuấn], representing the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers; Trinh Huu Long [Trịnh Hữu Long], a human rights lawyer speaking for the Vietnam Path Movement; and Ann Pham, a Board member of VOICE Canada.

    Video for the hearing was streamed live on the Internet and was watched from as far away as Vietnam.

    Senator Monica Jaffer, Chair of the Committee, noted that “Vietnam is a one-party Communist state,” and while the country’s constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech but “in practice the government curtails this right through broad national security and anti-defamation laws.”

    “Blogging about topics such as corruption, democratic reform, human rights and territorial disputes with China has resulted in significant jail terms for bloggers,” Jaffer added.

    To read the complete transcript of the hearing, click here. Also check out other human rights documents in the “Documents” menu on www.Vietnamrightnow.com.

     

  • Environmental activist, VPM member, chased by police out of home

    (VNRN) – An engineer who called attention to the deaths caused by hydroelectric dam flooding is being continually harassed by police and prevented from finding a permanent place to stay for himself and his wife.

    Nguyen Van Thanh (Nguyễn Văn Thạnh), 31, has not been able to rent a permanent home, or register his temporary residence – an administrative requirement that is selectively enforced and allows local police to arbitrarily reject people from their living quarters.

    In 2013, uncontrolled release of flood water without warning from hydroelectric dams caused severe flooding to hundreds of homes in several central provinces, rendering thousands of people homeless and killing at least 31 people. State-owned media reported widely on the flooding and deaths, but quieted down shortly after. No restitution was ever made or offered to the victims.

    In response to the flooding, Thanh, a member of the Vietnam Path Movement, initiated a call for a lawsuit against the dam operators. He set up the web site “kienthuydien.org” (meaning “Sue the Hydroelectric Dams”).

    On the web site, Thanh sought to form a committee to support the victims and help them file lawsuits. Thanh affirmed that any lawsuit may not be successful, given the state of the biased court system, but they are necessary “for democracy,” he wrote.

    He asked for signatures on a petition, sought to recruit volunteers, and wrote several articles criticizing the lack of accountability.

    His activism apparently did not go unnoticed by the government. The site was launched in November 2013, and in early December Thanh and and his friends were seriously beaten by a group of men right in front of the local police officers in Da Nang when they were on their way to the station, Da Nang City to request for the return of their personal properties previously confiscated. Thanh immediately reported the assault to the Security Police Headquarter of Da Nang City, but the officers never responded to his complaint.

    Two days later, an unknown individual on motorbike attacked Thanh, he said, elbowed him and punched him in the back. He reported this assault to police as well.

    Five days afterwards, on Dec 17, Thanh’s landlord unexpectedly asked him to move out. No reason was given. Thanh, sensing governmental interference, moved out.

    As he drove away with his belongings, a joint police force from multiple units, including traffic police, SWAT, and Security, stopped Thanh’s truck. They requested a search of his vehicle without warrant, and Thanh refused. The police then demanded Thanh and his driver drive the truck to the police station in Ngu Hanh Son District where they seized Thanh’s personal property.

    By the afternoon of the same day, Thanh had reported the illegal seizure and also filed multiple complaints to different local authorities in Da Nang City.

    Faced with no temporary home, Thanh and his wife took refuge in his brother’s house, also in Da Nang.

    The following night, claiming a documentation check, a large group of police including SWAT wearing bullet-proof vests, knocked on the door and pushed their way into the house, events that Thanh recounted on his blog.

    Finding Thanh had no registration for a temporary stay at his brother’s house, the police demanded that the homeowner kick out Thanh and his wife. A few friends came over and helped them move into a mini-hotel nearby.

    The next day, the hotel owner asked Thanh and his wife to leave because the police were giving him trouble. That night, they slept in the street.

    Next afternoon, Thanh’s mother called and asked him to “stop all the trouble” and come back to his hometown in Binh Dinh province. He asked two friends to help his wife find a room to rent while he went home to see his parents.

    The friends, however, became subject to police harassment too. The government pressured one friend’s family to take him home; he has not been back to Da Nang since. The other friend was summoned to the police station and questioned on his activities.

    In February of this year, when Thanh visited his brother in Da Nang, again he was attacked in broad daylight. Thanh was admitted to Da Nang General Hospital to be treated for injuries sustained from this assault.

    The Vietnam Path Movement has issued an official statement condemning the police harassment of Thanh and his family.

    Thanh continues to write and raise his voice over social issues in Vietnam, including the government’s mistreatment of him and his wife. His situation over the past few months has not improved as he continues to face harassment by local police. He still faces extreme difficulties when searching for a stable place to live because the police would interfere with potential landlords. His family members, including his wife, also face pressure from their local authorities and at work due to Thanh’s outspoken human rights activities.

    Thanh was born with hemophilia, a disorder that affects the ability of his blood to clot normally. This condition renders Thanh more vulnerable to open wounds as his life can easily be in danger every time he is attacked.

  • Cu Huy Ha Vu freed, arrives in U.S.

    A prominent political prisoner who has been the subject of numerous demands for release by the international community was freed April 7 and has arrived in the U.S. for medical treatment.

    Cu Huy Ha Vu (Cù Huy Hà Vũ), 57, was sentenced in 2010 to 7 years in prison for “propaganda against the Socialist Republic” under Article 88. His release was announced by the office of U.S. Representative Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

    Reliable sources close to Ha Vu have confirmed to www.Vietnamrightnow.com that Ha Vu has arrived in the U.S. on April 7. Ha Vu is said to be suffering from heart disease and a number of other illnesses.

    In his statement, Rep. Royce said, “Vietnam has finally listened to the international outcry over its unlawful imprisonment of Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu and released him from prison.  Due to his heart condition, Dr. Vu’s health worsened by the year, and I welcome the news that he is now a free man.”

    “But,” Royce added, “while the news of Dr. Vu’s release is welcome, we must not forget that countless others that have been unjustly imprisoned.  Those who speak out in favor of human rights or democracy should not be persecuted. I will continue to work on behalf of those Vietnamese that continue to press for freedom.”

    Ha Vu was accused of having created and stored documents criticizing the government.

    Before his arrest, Ha Vu was the legal counsel and frequent contributor to boxitvn.net, a web site created by a group of intellectuals seeking to stop the government-sponsored bauxite mining project in the Central Highlands that many consider a potential environmental and national security hazard.

    Ha Vu, a French-trained lawyer, filed suit naming as defendant Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, seeking to stop the project. That lawsuit has never been adjudicated, and Ha Vu was arrested.

    The U.S., the European Union, and numerous NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and the World Organisation Against Torture have called for his release. He was among four prisoners whose release the U.S. called for specifically at the Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam’s human rights, alongside bloggers Le Quoc Quan (Lê Quốc Quân), Dieu Cay (Ðiếu Cày) and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức).

    Although Ha Vu himself is not a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party, his late father the poet Cu Huy Can (Cù Huy Cận) was among the earliest members of the Viet Minh, and at 26 was the youngest Cabinet minister in the first Ho Chi Minh government.

    Ha Vu’s arrest gained notoriety in the blogosphere by the clumsiness by which the government attempted to frame him for soliticiting prostitution, when the official police report claimed the seizure of, in its official verbiage, “two condoms already past usage.”

  • Vietnam votes against UN Resolution protecting peaceful protests

    Vietnam was one of only 9 countries on the UN Human Rights Council to vote against a Resolution calling for the protection of peaceful protests.

    Resolution HRC 25/L.20, officially entitled “The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests,” received overwhelming support and passed March 28 with 31 votes in favor and only 9 opposed with 3 absentees.

    The no votes included those from China, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

    As demonstrations and protests are on the rise in Vietnam against government forceful forceful confiscation of land and against pollution caused by excessive mining operations, peaceful protests are often met with violent suppression.

    Commenting on Vietnam’s no vote on peaceful protests, the independent news site Dan Luan commented, “The authorities in Vietnam appear to have no interest in a peaceful communication with their people. Is it true that that Vietnam government wants these peaceful demonstrations to become violent protests advocating violence?”

    Among other things, the resolution requires countries, “in the context of peaceful protests, to … prevent human rights violations, including … arbitrary arrest and detention, … (and) to avoid the abuse of criminal and civil proceedings or threats of such acts.”

    It also calls on countries to “promote a safe and enabling environment for individuals and groups to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression and of association, including by ensuring that their domestic legislation and procedures … clearly and explicitly establish a presumption in favour of the exercise of these rights.” As a result, it “urges States to facility peaceful protests by providing protestors with access to public space and protecting them, without discrimination.”

    The resolution specifically “recognizes the key role played by … journalists, writers and other media workers, Internet users and human rights defenders, and other relevant stakeholders, in documenting human rights violations or abuses committed in the context of peaceful protests.”

    Submitted by Costa Rica, Switzerland and Turkey, the resolution was the subject of years of discussion during several Council sessions, “with objections being raised about the obligation of states and protesters, the categories of persons to be protected, and the behavior of police and protesters,” as Reporters Without Borders reported.

     

  • Vietnam’s independent civil society to testify before Canadian Senate committee

    Representatives of Vietnam’s independent civil society are set to appear before the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Senate April 7, testifying to the deterioration of rights in Vietnam.

    Appearing before the upper house of Parliament will be blogger and journalist Pham Doan Trang [Phạm Đoan Trang], a writer for www.Vietnamrightnow.com; blogger Nguyen Anh Tuan [Nguyễn Anh Tuấn], representing the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers; Trinh Huu Long [Trịnh Hữu Long], a human rights lawyer speaking for the Vietnam Path Movement; and two officials of the NGO VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment), Ann Pham, a Board member of VOICE Canada, and Hoi Trinh, VOICE’s Executive Director.

    Video of the hearing, set for 2pm April 7 Eastern time (1am April 8 Vietnam time) will be streaming live on the Internet here.

    Doan Trang, who has worked with top newspapers and websites in Vietnam and now writes for www.Vietnamrightnow.com, is set to testify on median censorship in Vietnam and to tell the panel of the numerous ways that the government strictly controls the flow of information.

    Anh Tuan will tell the panel about the harassment frequently faced by independent, non-government-sponsored, unregistered groups in Vietnam, and will recommend that Canada help train civil society organizations in Vietnam and join with them in organizing public conferences on civil society and human rights.

    As Vietnam Path Movement is a human rights organization, Long is expected to make similar recommendations, with specific references to human rights dialogues and Canada’s recommendations to Vietnam at the just-concluded Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”) at the United Nations in Geneva.

    The VOICE representatives, Pham and Trinh, are expected to echo the same sentiments, with human rights abuses and the development of civil society in the forefront, and recommending that Canada help empowering individuals and independent organizations.

    The goal of the hearing, according to the Senate’s notice of hearing, is to “monitor issues relating to human rights and, inter alia, to review the machinery of government dealing with Canada’s international and national human rights obligations.”

    All of these witnesses were previously part of the delegation of independent civil society who made presentations in Geneva to international diplomats and NGOs attending the UPR of Vietnam. Many of other delegates who have since returned to Vietnam are facing harassment by immigration and police authorities there.

  • Hoa Hao Buddhism activist, UPR delegate, summoned by police

    (VNRN) – A Hoa Hao Buddhism activist who attended the United Nations’ review of Vietnam’s human rights and spoke on the lack of religious freedom has been summoned by police in An Giang province, the last time on April 3, but so far he has refused to appear.

    Dang Van Ngoan (Đặng Văn Ngoãn), 28, is a member of a banned Hoa Hao Buddhism church and took part in a delegation representing Vietnam’s independent civil society at the Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”) in Geneva in February.

    At the UPR, Ngoan spoke at a presentation to international delegates about the lack of freedom in Vietnam, specifically about the government’s attempt to control the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church and modify the teachings of the faith to suit the government’s purposes.

    Ngoan returned to Vietnam on March 31, and the very next day he was asked by the police to come to the station. Two days later, on April 3, he was summoned again, and the next day police came to his house asking him to voluntarily come to the station.

    The summons, signed by a police lieutenant-colonel and marked specifically that it’s the “second time” the letter was issued, asked Ngoan to appear at 8am the next day to discuss “issues related with his travel file.”

    His travel was apparently flagged as soon as he landed at the airport. The immigration officer took his passport, went inside, and came out returning it to him, Ngoan told the independent news blog Cui Cac.

    “The reason I wasn’t detained and questioned right at the airport, chances are because Security didn’t want to make a scene like with Bui Tuan Lam,” Ngoan said.

    Ngoan has so far refused to comply with the summons, on the grounds that the reason stated is “vague and unjustified.”

    “There’s no reason why I should be questioned ‘related to my travel file.’ It’s just an excuse for the police to question me on my UPR advocacy,” Ngoan added.

    Ngoan’s Hoa Hao Buddhism branch broke off from the government-recognized church, and Ngoan denounces the official branch as going against the teaching of the Hoa Hao founder, Prophet Huynh Phu So.

    “They delete the political and social teachings of the Prophet Huynh from the sacred texts,” Ngoan said, “contrary to the Charter and the spirit of Hoa Hao Buddhism.”

    The official branch is also accused of failing to honor the day of the Prophet’s death. Huynh Phu So was killed in 1947 by the Viet Minh when he went to meet with them, making the current communist government wary of any memorial of the Prophet.

  • Death of activist Dinh Dang Dinh should be ‘wake-up call’ for Vietnam: Amnesty International

    (AI) – Amnesty International has paid tribute to Dinh Dang Dinh, the Vietnamese environmental activist, blogger and former prisoner of conscience, who has died aged 50.

    The activist was unjustly jailed in 2011 after starting a petition against a mining project and was diagnosed with cancer while in prison.

    The authorities only allowed Dinh Dang Dinh to be treated in hospital from January 2014, where he was kept under constant surveillance. He was released temporarily on medical grounds in February, before being released permanently in March.

    Dinh Dang Dinh died of stomach cancer at his home in Dak Nong province in Viet Nam’s Central Highlands yesterday evening.

    “We join human rights defenders in Viet Nam and across the world in mourning the loss of Dinh Dang Dinh and express our deepest condolences to his family,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

    “It is a tragedy that the Vietnamese authorities stole the last years of Dinh Dang Dinh’s life, locking him up away from his loved ones.”

    A former soldier and chemistry teacher, Dinh Dang Dinh was arrested in December 2011 after he had initiated a petition against bauxite mining in the Central Highlands.

    He was sentenced to six years in jail in August 2012 for “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

    His trial lasted just three hours, before an unsuccessful appeal hearing was over in 45 minutes.
    His right to liberty was thus denied in proceedings that were as unfair and arbitrary as the charges against him. On leaving the appeals court, he was manhandled into a truck and security officials beat him over the head with clubs.

    Scores of others remain imprisoned for speaking out in Viet Nam, with some prisoners of conscience locked up in harsh conditions for many years.

    “The tragedy of Dinh Dang Dinh’s passing should be a wake-up call for Viet Nam,” said Rupert Abbott

    “Viet Nam must immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience who – like Dinh Dang Dinh – have done no more than peacefully express their opinion.”

  • Two police who beat suspect to death get suspended sentences

    (VNRN) – Despite widespread denouncement, a court in coastal Phu Yen province on April 3 still gave suspended sentences to two police officers convicted of beating a suspect to death. The court rejected two other proposals for suspended sentences and sent three other police to prison from 1 to 5 years in the deadly torture case.

    Five policemen were convicted of “using corporal punishment” and beating then-30-year-old Ngo Thanh Kieu [Ngô Thanh Kiều] repeatedly with rubber nightsticks in March 2012, while he was handcuffed and shackled to a chair. One of them, Nguyen Than Thao Thanh [Nguyễn Thân Thảo Thành] was convicted of delivering the fatal blow to Kieu’s head and received the 5 year sentence.

    These officers were not prosecuted for murder because, according to Chief People’s Procurator Le Minh Chanh [Lê Minh Chánh], the beatings were motivated by “a rush to conclude the investigation and not to cause injury or death.”

    The victim’s family objected to the sentences and announced they would appeal. During trial, Kieu’s sister, wife, father, and two young chidren attended court in mourning and they often broke down and cried often upon hearing the accused describe how they had tortured Kieu.

    The Tuoi Tre Daily quoted Kieu’s sister Ngo Thi Tuyet [Ngô Thị Tuyết] as saying in tears, “My brother was kept hungry since early in the morning until his death at the end of the day. He was not allowed to say the last word. Handcuffed and shackled, he was unable to resist while the police kept beating him in turn until he was killed painfully.”

    The court also rejected calls for the prosecution of the deputy chief of city police, Colonel Le Duc Hoan [Lê Đức Hoàn], stating that the court had no jurisdiction when the procuracy did not prosecute. Earlier, the People’s Procuracy had said that Hoan should be exempt from prosecution because he “came from a good family and has served in his job well.”

    During closing arguments, Vo An Don [Võ An Đôn], the lawyer representing the victim’s family, continued to press for Hoan’s prosecution, telling the court that the evidence showed Hoan “was the one who directed the illegal arrest of Kieu, Hoan personally knew his subordinates used tortured but turned a blind eye, did nothing to stop it.”

    According to the judgment, Hoan directed the investigation of thefts, and the investigation led to the victim Kieu’s arrest without warrant. The judgment also confirmed that it was Hoan who assigned two of the defendants to interrogate Kieu, one senior lieutenant and one major, and later added another major. A fourth defendant, a second lieutenant, was interrogating a suspected accomplice and joined in Kieu’s interrogation.

    Thao Thanh, the junior lieutenant who was convicted of delivering the fatal blow, was said to be unconnected to the case and was only supposed to keep an eye on Kieu while the others ate lunch.

    All were convicted of handcuffing and shackling Kieu to a chair and beat him with more than 70 blows, crushing his testicles and internal organs and causing his death by head concussion.

    The three officers who received prison sentences were: Thao Thanh, 5 years, the two officers who started the interrogation from the start Major Nguyen Minh Quyen [Nguyễn Minh Quyền], 2 years, and Senior Lieutenant Pham Ngoc Man [Phạm Ngọc Mẫn], 1 year 6 months.

    The other two officers who joined the interrogation and torture as it was already ongoing, Major Nguyen Tan Quang [Nguyễn Tấn Quang], and Lieutenant Do Nhu Huy [Đỗ Như Huy], were given suspended sentences.

  • Just-released political prisoner Dinh Dang Dinh dies

    (VNRN) – Two weeks after being given amnesty, former prisoner of conscience Dinh Dang Dinh (Đinh Đăng Định), 50, died of stomach cancer on April 3 at his home in Dak Nong province.

    A former chemistry teacher, Dinh was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to six years in prison under Article 88 of the penal code for his online postings criticizing the bauxite mining project in his home province in the country’s Central Highlands, as a potential environmental catastrophe. Police searched his laptop and further charged Dinh with having hundreds of articles said to be “against the government.”

    Dinh has always maintained that he had committed no crime in “opposing dictatorship, opposing radical communism.” Article 88, under which he was convicted, criminalizes “propaganda against the Socialist Republic.”

    The amnesty order, Dinh told Voice of America Vietnamese Service, was “meaningless, as I have no more force left.”

    “There’s nothing humanitarian or merciful about” the amnesty, Dinh said, adding that if he had had any chance of surviving, there would not have been any amnesty.

    “Teacher Dinh Dang Dinh” at his trial in 2012.

    After his release, Dinh continued to call for democracy. Addressing the activist community, he said, “If you care, please focus on the common goal, and that is the fight against the dictatorship of the communist regime,” Dinh said. “As for me personally, there’s nothing left to pay attention to.”

    In late 2013, a group of U.S. and European ambassadors wrote to the Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling on Vietnam to release Dinh on humanitarian grounds “so he can spend his remaining time at home or if necessarily in a hospital.”

    Dinh’s family once told the AP he was a “patriot” who wanted a more pluralistic political system.

    Teacher Dinh Dang Dinh,” as he was known by his supporters, passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family members and friends.

  • Police beat suspect to death, prosecutor wants suspended sentence

     

    (VNRN) – The prosecution last week proposed giving a suspended sentence to four police in Phu Yen accused of beating a suspect to death, generating huge outrage in media and in cyberspace.

    Five policemen were accused of beating then-30-year-old Ngo Thanh Kieu [Ngô Thanh Kiều] repeatedly with rubber nightsticks in March 2012, while the suspect was handcuffed and shackled to a chair. One of them, Nguyen Than Thao Thanh [Nguyễn Thân Thảo Thành] allegedly delivered the fatal blow to Kieu’s head.

    Thao Thanh, however, denied ever beating Kieu, who had been suspected of theft. Instead, Thao Thanh testified that he was asked to deal with Kieu while the other four took a break in Kieu’s interrogation to eat lunch.

    As Thao Thanh raised his baton, Kieu cried, “Please don’t beat me, I’ve already been beaten black and blue all morning.”

    Upon hearing that, Thao Thanh said, he stopped and never hit Kieu.

    The prosecution stunned the audience when it proposed to the court a suspended sentence for four of the five police involved, and only asked for imprisonment for Thao Thanh of 5 to 5 and a half years.

    The reason, said People’s Procurator Ngo Thi Hong Minh [Ngô Thị Hồng Minh], was that the other four had cooperated with the prosecution and “honestly admitted” to their acts, whereas Thao Thanh had “falsely denied” his involvement.

    The case had already received attention when the prosecution refused to summon the deputy chief of city police, Le Duc Hoan [Lê Đức Hoàn], even though Hoan was the one who ordered the arrest and interrogation of Kieu.

    The reason Hoan should not be summoned, said the People’s Procuracy, was because Hoan “came from a good family and has served in his job well.”

    Vo An Don [Võ An Đôn], the lawyer representing the victim’s family, continued to press for Hoan’s prosecution, telling the court that the evidence showed Hoan “was the one who directed the illegal arrest of Kieu, Hoan personally knew his subordinates used tortured but turned a blind eye, did nothing to stop it.”

    The victim’s wife and his elder sister were both attending the court in mourning. During the court, they broke down and cried often upon hearing the accused describe how they had tortured Kieu.

    The Tuoi Tre Daily quoted Kieu’s sister Ngo Thi Tuyet [Ngô Thị Tuyết] as saying in tears, “My brother was kept hungry since early in the morning until his death at the end of the day. He was not allowed to say the last word. Handcuffed and shackled, he was unable to resist while the police kept beating him in turn until he was killed painfully.”

    The court attracted much public attention in Vietnam, especially in the blogosphere, where police beating up and causing death to civilians has become rampant with dozens of people reportedly murdered during interrogation in the past few years. Less than a handful of cases resulted in any prosecution of the police.

    Outcry spread among the Internet community upon hearing that four out of five accused policemen may possibly be given suspended sentences and released at court. One reader of the Tuoi Tre wrote, “I could not work after reading this.” The Mot The Gioi online news site ran the headline “shocked with suspended sentence for four police killing suspect,” which prompted a reader to write, “It’s injustice, not ‘shocked.’”

    The verdict is expected to be released on April 3. In Vietnam, it is rare that a court departs from the results proposed by the prosecution.

  • INTERVIEW: I exercise my right to denounce wrong-doings: Rev Dinh Huu Thoai

    by Quốc Việt

    The Rev. Joseph Dinh Huu Thoai [Đinh Hữu Thoại], 41, Province Secretary of the Redemptorists in Vietnam, is among the most outspoken people fighting for justice and the right to freedom of speech and religion in Vietnam. The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, is also among the most visible Catholic organizations confronting the government over religious control and church property.

    In 2011, Rev. Thoai was banned from the leaving the country by immigration police at the Moc Bai checkpoint in Tay Ninh, at the Cambodian border. Rev. Thoai filed a lawsuit against the officials at that checkpoint, but his lawsuit was dismissed. Father Thoai continued to pressed his right to travel and last week filed a complaint with the Minister of Public Security — the head of the country’s police. Rev. Thoai is also the head of the Facebook group “Travel Ban in Vietnam.” www.Vietnamrightnow.com’s contributor Quốc Việt spoke to Rev. Thoai.

    www.Vietnamrightnow.com: Father, after your travel ban in 2011, you have filed several complaints and a lawsuit, and most recently you’ve filed a complaint requesting a resolution by the Minister of Public Security. Do you expect that the legal system, law enforcement or specifically the Minister of Public Security, will respect the law and restore your right to travel?

    Rev. Thoai: In truth, I’ve never thought that law enforcement forces in Vietnam will respect the law in resolving my issue. To the contrary, they will always cover for each other’s violations. Vietnam does not have any separation of power and is a police state, and so, believing that law enforcement in Vietnam would respect the law is an illusion.

    Here’s the evidence: At first, the provincial court in Tay Ninh followed the law, took my complaint, suggested that I deposit the court fees, subpoena me to take my declaration as a plaintiff. They’ve even set up a “dialogue” — which is part of the litigation procedure, to be held between myself and the Moc Bai police, too bad the police didn’t show.

    But then suddenly someone intervened and the Tay Ninh court deliberately violated the law and issued its decision to dismiss the case. They dismissed but didn’t tell me what court to go to. I’ve appealed, and then the appellate court in Saigon also affirmed the dismissal. I’ve filed for cassation [final appeal] but today, with all deadlines for responses having passed, neither the judge nor the procuracy have said anything.

    With my lawsuit effectively over, it also means that in Vietnam there’s no place that can adjudicate this case! That’s not possible in a country that claims to respect the law.

    At the same time, I have exercised my right to denounce the abuse of authority, violation of the law, but all I’ve heard is silence.

    Even though I don’t believe that there’s justice under Vietnamese law, but I have been patient in exercising my right, and that is to file the lawsuit and denounce the act of illegally banning my departure, to point out wrongdoings by the police.

    So I sent the complaint to the Minister of Public Security so that he can deal with these violations by the police under him. Because according to the law, only he has the authority to issue a band on leaving the country. So I suspect that his subordinates didn’t submit the file to him and instead arbitrarily placed the ban on me. Or he intentionally did it that way so he can avoid responsibility. Maybe that’s why he too has been silent and has not responded.

    So, in short, what I’ve been doing is to affirm that my right to freedom of movement is being violated and to affirm my right to speak out about violations by the police.

    www.Vietnamrightnow.com: As Province Secretary of the Redemptorists, how has this ban on travel affected your religious work?

    Rev. Thoai: As the Provincial Secretary for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, usually I would travel with the Provincial to international meetings of the worldwide Order, as well as in meeting with other communities of the Redemptorists in the world to discuss cooperation, ministry experience. Also I’m often invited to teach about our religion outside of Vietnam. And so, for me, the act of illegally banning my travel by the communist government is not just a violation of my human rights, but it is also evidence of the repression of my freedom of religion.

    www.Vietnamrightnow.com: You are also playing a major role in the association of people banned from leaving the country, named Travel Ban in Vietnam, on Facebook. Can you say a few words about this group? Do you think the group’s activities can have an effect on the government?

    Rev. Thoai: The Travel Ban in Vietnam group, our Vietnamese name actually translates into the Association of People Banned from Leaving, is a Facebook group of “dissidents or defenders of human rights, who are officially banned from leaving at a Vietnamese checkpoint, have their passport confiscated, or have been denied a passport.”

    Our goal is to campaign for public opinion in and outside the country on violations of citizens’ right to travel, to demand the government of Vietnam to respect the right and abolish these abusive and illegal bans. Our activities are to supply information via Facebook, organize “offline” activities to join our voices every time someone’s freedom of movement is violated, and update the list of people banned. As of today, March 27, we’ve collected the name of 47 people.

    But according to a reliable source, someone has seen the list of people banned and the list as up to 2000 names.

    We will do what it takes for the communist police to return the right to freedom of movement to us and to all of the people on that list.

  • Woman found hung at police station

     

    (VNRN) – A woman, accused of fraud, died while undergoing interrogation by the police at the station in Binh Phuoc province on March 18.

    The police reported finding Bui Thi Huong, 41, hung “on the door” by her windbreaker after she took a restroom break during interrogation.

    Huong was alleged by police to pose as a journalist, approaching people who had helped the communist forces during the war, doing reports on how they had not received government subsidies. During the interviews, she allegedly convinced the subject to bring out their jewelry and money, then stole them.

    Huong was arrested and brought to the police station for questioning.

    The police claimed that during interrogation, Huong asked to go to the restroom. After twenty minutes, police say, Bui had not come back so police officer Nguyen Dinh Canh went to look for her and found Huong had hung herself on the administrative detention room door with her windbreaker.

    Huong’s family, however, disputed the claim of fraud and said that Huong was a gold saleswoman. It was Huong’s family who alerted Vietnamese newspaper Phap Luat Thanh Pho that “Huong was out selling gold and she was arrested and now is dead.”

    The Deputy Director of provincial police Colonel Tran Phuc Thang cleared the police of any wrongdoing. “After an initial investigation,” he said, “there are no signs to suggest that the suspect was beaten. The central forensic agency agreed with the investigating agency.”

    Huong’s body was returned to the family for burial.

    In recent years, there have been a marked increase in the number of reported cases of people dying in police custody, some with multiple and severe body bruises and others in unusual supposed “suicide” positions. In the first three months of this year alone, there have been three cases of suspects found dead at the police station.

  • Bloggers hold ‘Human Rights Coffee’ talk on freedom of movement

     

    (VNRN) – In another step in the development of an independent civil society in Vietnam, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers on March 20 held a public roundtable discussion in Hanoi on the right to travel and freedom of movement, featuring numerous people whose passports had been confiscated.

    The roundtable, called “Human Rights Coffee,” had as subject: “Citizens being banned from exiting for national security reason, seen from an international perspective.”

    Earlier, the group had sent out a declaration alleging that the government targeted certain activists because they had been speaking out against Article 258 of the Vietnam Penal Code and talking about it to foreign diplomats and NGOs.

    The declaration states, “After the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers released its ‘Anti-258 Statement’ and handed it to the United Nations Human Rights Council, embassies, and international non-government organizations … a great many Vietnamese citizens, who have never violated any law, have been denied exit from the nation without prior governmental permission.”

    Article 258 of the Penal Code makes it a crime to “abuse democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.”

    The Network of Vietnamese Bloggers made a point of inviting the police and immigration officials to the roundtable, but none came.

    A group of pro-government supporters, however, did attend and speak.

    Four diplomats were also present: David Skowronski, Second Secretary of the Embassy of Australia; Felix Schwarz, Political Counselor and Consul, German Embassy; Elenore Kanter, Counsellor Head of Political and Trade Section, Embassy of Sweden; and Alex Jully, Attaché at European Union Delegation.

    When the group arrived at the Cafe where they had reserved a room, the Cafe unexpectedly posted a sign stating it was closed for maintenance. The roundtable was thus held right outside.

    Around the Cafe, attendants reported, police filmed and took pictures of the people who came to the roundtable.

    The discussion was led by two bloggers who had been prevented from leaving the country and whose passports had been confiscated: Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh [Nguyễn Hồ Nhật Thành], a Catholic blogger writing as Paulo Thanh Nguyen, and Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh [Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh], writing as Me Nam Gau or Me Nam[sometimes translated as Mother Mushroom], a former winner of Human Rights Watch‘s Hellman/Hammett grant for persecuted writers.

    “National security has been used as a wide-ranging pretext by the Vietnamese government to ban people from leaving the country,” Thanh stated.

    The diplomats also joined the conversation. Australian Skowronski spoke in Vietnamese and said his government always presses Vietnam on human rights.

    Schwarz, from the German Embassy, shared his personal story of how, as a child, his relatives from East Germany could not come to visit his family in West German and his grandmother passed away.

    “And when I was a child I didn’t understand that because I couldn’t understand why people shouldn’t be there when someone of the family died,” Schwarz said.

    “And I am saying that because I believe that it’s very important that people should have the right to move freely within or throughout the world and they shouldn’t have a reason for that; not even a funeral should be a reason. They should just have the right to move.”

    Recognizing that in every country there are criminals who are not allowed to have passports, Schwarz continued, “Speaking out on different topics, and having different opinion than the government is not a crime that allows the government to take away the passports.”

    Dr. Nguyen Quang A, one of the country’s top economist and a former member of the Institutes of Development Studies think tank until it was disbanded by government decree, called the “national security” reason a “despotic measure.”

    “If ‘national security’ were truly a concern for the government, they must inform the applicants as to the security reasons,” Quang A said.

    The pro-government group also spoke. Reports differ as to what happened, but apparently one of the pro-government participant, Hoang Thi Nhat Le, started to accuse the organizers of opposing the government and was stopped for speaking outside the topic. Le, however, was able to address the diplomats and questioning them on instances in their countries where people were not allowed unfettered traveling.

    The dispute between the two groups continued days after the roundtable. The pro-government group claim their free speech was muzzled when the moderator stopped, on relevance grounds, their representative from raising questions about the organizers’ activities.

    The moderator, Nhu Quynh, reiterated that she couldn’t let the discussion go off on tangents, but invited the pro-government group back for later Human Rights Coffee talks.

    Article 258, the penal code provision that the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, has been used as the basis to detain or imprison dozens of political prisoners.

    These range from religious activists such as Hmong Christians, to political bloggers such as Pham Viet Dao and Truong Duy Nhat recently, and even people who innocuously offended some high-ranking official, such as entertainment journalist Co Gai Do Long who wrote about a singer’s love life, but the love interest turned out to be the son of a police general.

    Article 258 provides, “Those who abuse the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens, shall be subject to warning, non-custodial reform for up to three years or a prison term of between six months and three years.”

  • Vietnam’s longest-serving political prisoner freed after 37 years (VIDEO)

    (VNRN) – A man known as ‘Prisoner of the Century’ was released March 22 under an unexpected amnesty signed by the President of Vietnam. Nguyen Huu Cau [Nguyễn Hữu Cầu], 69, was taken to his son’s home in a police car and the next day went to the hospital for medical treatment, capping 37 years in prison.

    Cau had served in the South Vietnamese army and, when the ended, was jailed in various ‘re-education camps’ until 1980. Freed after five years, Cau never gave in, and went on to criticize the government in his songs, and accused two senior local officials of rape and corruption. Law enforcement never investigated his denunciations.

    In 1982, Cau was again arrested and charged with “anti-revolutionary” activities, for which he was sentenced to death. The death sentence was later reduced to life in prison.

    www.Vietnamrightnow.com’s partner Vietnam Path Movement met Cau in the hospital and interviewed him in the video below.

    During his imprisonment, according to his family, Cau was many times asked by jailers to admit guilt and request clemency, but he has always refused, insisting on his innocence.

    During the 37 years in prison, Cau was often held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to the outside world. He is said to be suffering from gastralgia in detention, and lost the sight in one of his eyes.

    Cau said of his release after more than one-third century, “To finally touch the flesh of your children, your grandchildren, that feeling I had never experienced in my life. … That feeling was very powerful.”

    In the video, Cau also told of an emotional story from prison where, according to prison rule, all Bibles sent in must be burned. But as a Protestant group was sending a Bible to Cau, he saw an officer who “also appeared to carry out the procedure in the presence of a witness, but I knew he had been keeping up until then dozens of unburned Bibles.”

    “Among demons, there are still angels few and far between,” Cau concluded.

    The total of more than three decades Cau spent in captivity and his determination earned him the moniker ‘Prison of the Century’ by activists in Vietnam and Vietnamese-language media overseas.

    In 2012, his 14-year-old grand-daughter Tran Phan Yen Nhi [Trần Phan Yến Nhi] sent an open letter calling on international human rights organizations and the Vietnamese diaspora to help him out of prison and the “cruel, inhuman treatment which has lasted for years.”

    Since his release Nguyen Huu Cau has been in the hospital for medical treatment. He will probably be living with his son in his hometown of Rach Gia 250 km west of Ho Chi Minh City.

  • Vietnam continues to suppress religion: U.S. Congressional testimony

    (VNRN) – Religious leaders and activists, testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress on March 26, told of numerous attempts by the Vietnamese government to persecute the communities of faith that do not accept government controls.

    The hearing, streamed live on the Internet and chaired by Congressman Frank Wolf, led with the testimony of Eric P. Schwartz, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who told the commission that the “Vietnamese government exerts control over religious activities through law and administrative oversight, severely restricts independent religious practice, and represses individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority.”

    Vietnam has “a specialized religious police force,” Schwartz testified, and uses “vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities and has sought to stop the growth of the Protestant and Catholic religions among ethnic minorities.”

    Schwartz further brought up the suppression faced by Khmer Buddhists in the southern province of Soc Trang, many of whom were sentenced to long prison terms just in the last six months.

    Specially appearing before the commission are two religious leaders who spoke from Vietnam via video, Catholic priest the Rev. Phan Van Loi (Phan Văn Lợi) and Cao Dai Sub-Dignitary Nguyen Bach Phung (Nguyễn Bách Phụng, pictured). “Sub-dignitary” is a clergy designation in the Cao Dai religion, roughly equivalent to a Christian minister or priest.

    Rev. Loi testified that, 33 years after his consecration as a priest, he is “still unable to function like a priest” because the government has been holding him in detention for his campaigning for religious freedom.

    In Vietnam, civil society is forming, he said, including “the Catholic Church and organizations within the church.” However, the government is blocking the development of civil society, using administrative control devices.

    Sub-dignitary Bach Phung told the panel that the government has “suppressed, disbanded and obliterated independent faiths.” She called for the government to “restore the sovereignty and property as well as human rights for independent religions to practice their beliefs.”

    Representing the North Carolina-based Montagnard Human Rights Organization, the group’s Executive Director Rong Nay told the panel that the oppression by the Vietnamese government is “systematic” and includes forcing Protestants ethnic minorities to renounce their faith.

    “Any changes has been in name only,” Nay said, referring to the religious and human rights of Vietnam.

    Also testifying is the Director of Policy Advocacy of the Hmong National Development, Yunie Hong, who testified to numerous instances of discrimination and mistreatment of the Hmong minority people of Vietnam, especially in the northern part of the country. Hong specifically talked about the trials against Hmong Christians that has already resulted in three people convicted under Article 258 for “abusing freedoms” and a fourth trial to resume next week.

    The hearing room was packed with Vietnamese-Americans who had come to the Capitol for a two-day Vietnam Advocacy event, organized by BPSOS, a community service and advocacy group based in Virginia. The event has drawn more than 600 people to Washington DC, BPSOS said, who will knock on the doors of their representatives seeking support for human rights in Vietnam.

    “Our goal is to push back the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” BPSOS Executive Director Thang Dinh Nguyen told the RFA Vietnamese Service. TPP is a proposed Pacific basin free trade agreement. “Vietnam must demonstrate by specific concessions on human rights beforehand.”

     

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