Vietnam’s human rights record gets a worrying start to 2022 Global Voices Français
This article originally appeared on The 88 Project, an independent news site covering Vietnam, and an edited version is republished on Global Voices under a content-sharing agreement.
After a series of high-profile trials in the last two weeks of 2021, Vietnam’s People’s Court continued to operate into the new year. Eight citizens were arrested in the first two weeks of 2022 for changes related to “anti-state propaganda” or speech violations, with a few multi-year sentences thrown in for good measure.
The trial that has garnered the most international attention is that of freelance journalist and author Pham Doan Trang, who was not even told of her December 14 trial until a day ahead of schedule. After the trial, news of his shocking nine-year prison sentence barely had a chance to reverberate when it was followed by three more trials in quick succession.
Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam were found guilty and sentenced on December 15 to 10 and six years in prison, respectively, for helping villagers from Dong Tam tell their stories about an attack on their village that led to the death of three policemen and a villager. The following day, longtime activist Do Nam Trung was sentenced to 10 years under Article 117 – a part of Vietnam’s penal code often used to silence activists.
Christmas Eve 2021 was marked by the appeal trials of mother and son Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu. As expected, the court upheld the eight-year sentence for each of the two long-time land rights activists who were also involved in helping victims of the deadly Dong Tam police raid. Unsurprisingly, the two defendants were defiant and forcefully told the judges that they had broken no law.
Then New Year’s Eve came Le Trong Hung’s turn. The constitutional lawyer ran for a seat in the National Assembly as an independent and was tried and sentenced to five years in prison for “anti-state propaganda”. Hung’s wife was not even allowed to enter the courtroom to hear her husband defend himself.
As if that weren’t enough, the new year opened with a very unusual and bizarre event. Le Tung Van, the 90-year-old founder of a temple and orphanage in Long-An province, was arrested along with three of his adopted children. His temple, Tinh-That Bong-Lai, does not belong to any state-sanctioned religious tradition or organization. For years he has been known for producing successful singing numbers that have won numerous game show awards. In fact, one of his YouTube channels has millions of subscribers.
Initially, the police charged Van and his temple with three crimes: financial fraud, incest and abuse of democratic freedoms. On Facebook, rumors began circulating that the old monk fathered illegitimate children and then had sex with some of them, producing even more offspring. The salacious allegations have created a social media maelstrom that appears to have been programmed to distract from a massive “COVID-19 Test Kit” kickback scandal involving multiple government departments and hundreds of millions of dollars. . But as the public began to question the veracity of the claims and the motives behind the outlandish rumours, authorities quickly dropped the first two charges against the temple.
The Tung Van was later released but remains under house arrest. The three men still in detention are Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, 32, Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen, 31, and Le Thanh Trung Duong, 27. It is not yet clear what these men will ultimately be charged with.
Meanwhile, unofficial ‘incest’ accusations are still being spread like wildfire by Facebook groups and pages suspected of being part of Force 47, the cyberattack army run by Vietnam’s Propaganda Ministry. . What their ultimate goals are is still unclear at this point.
On January 5, police broke into the home of YouTuber Nguyen Thai Hung while he was broadcasting live and arrested him while the camera was still rolling. The surreal music video, which captured the sounds of breaking glass and screaming men, has since gone viral. Hung’s wife, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, was also arrested. Hoang’s sister later told Radio Free Asia that the men who broke in were not wearing police uniforms, leading her mother, who lives next door, to mistake them for thieves, and she started screaming for help.
At the time, the couple’s family received no arrest warrant or explanation. It wasn’t until days later that authorities told them that Hoang had been charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Section 331. Hung has yet to be charged with any crime and the couple is still in detention.
A week later, plainclothes police abducted Le Manh Ha on January 12 while he was traveling in Tuyen Quang province. Ha runs a YouTube channel where he discusses legal issues related to land grabbing, as he himself has been a victim of it in the past. Ha’s wife, Ma Thi Tho, said the police took her husband back to their home, where they searched and seized a number of electronic devices and equipment. Although the men were not wearing uniforms, they nevertheless presented a search and arrest warrant. Unsurprisingly, Le Manh Ha was charged with “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117.
On January 14, police in Ha Tinh province arrested Nguyen Duc Hung, 31, and also charged him with “anti-state propaganda”. It is not yet known at the time of this writing what illegal activities Hung has been charged with, but he is the eighth person arrested so far this year.
Arrests yes, but trials too
Several trials also took place in the first two weeks of 2022. Mai Phan Loi, founder and highly respected director of the non-profit Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), was sentenced to four years in prison for ” tax evasion”. January 11. He was also ordered to pay a fine of almost 90,000 USD.
A freelance journalist for five years, the low-key Loi quietly educates his readers about the Constitution and the law of Vietnam. He was arrested in July last year along with his associate Bach Hung Duong, who was also sentenced to 30 months in prison on the same charge. “Tax evasion” is often used by the government to silence critics who are business owners. Dang Dinh Bach, director of the nonprofit Law and Policy of Sustainable Development (LPSD), will be arraigned on January 24, 2022, facing the same charges of alleged tax evasion.
Finally, in an alarming case of ill-treatment of prisoners, police captain Le Chi Thanh was sentenced to two years in prison for “obstructing the exercise of governmental functions”. Thanh ran a YouTube channel where he regularly posted about police abuse and corruption. Thanh’s lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, said his client claimed in court that he was tortured and beaten and even hung upside down for days in a room filled with human excrement. The lawyer noted that Thanh, once a strong and muscular policeman, had to be helped into the court. A photo of Thanh appears to show bruises on parts of his body. After Thanh’s sentencing was announced, the prosecution said it would add a new charge of “abuse of democratic freedoms” under Section 331, virtually guaranteeing more jail time would be added.
As the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Tiger, begins, human rights watchers are waiting to see if Vietnam’s president will issue goodwill pardons. But if the first weeks of 2022 are any indication, it is highly doubtful that any political prisoners will be on such a list.