Peaceful Dissidents and Bloggers Arbitrarily Locked Up
April 7, 2011
With a steady stream of people being locked up for nothing more than asking for their rights, the situation is critical. Vietnam’s donors and development partners need to forcefully express their public support for Vietnam’s courageous activists and call for the immediate release of all who have been arbitrarily detained.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - Dozens of peaceful advocates for democratic reforms, rule of law, religious freedom, and human rights face arbitrary detention and harsh prison sentences, with no respite in sight, Human Rights Watch said today, on the fifth anniversary of the founding of the democracy movement known as Block 8406.

"With a steady stream of people being locked up for nothing more than asking for their rights, the situation is critical," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Vietnam's donors and development partners need to forcefully express their public support for Vietnam's courageous activists and call for the immediate release of all who have been arbitrarily detained."

Named for its inception date of April 8, 2006, Block 8406 swelled into a movement of thousands through online petitions calling for respect for basic human rights, establishment of a multiparty political system, and guarantees of freedom of religion and political association. Vietnamese authorities respond with harassment and arrests to nonviolent appeals by Block 8406 and other groups advocating for democracy and human rights.

Since June 2010, Vietnamese authorities have arrested and detained at least 24 dissidents, house church activists, and bloggers, many of whom have been held incommunicado for many months without access to legal counsel or to their families.

During the last month alone, courts sentenced a prominent legal activist, Cu Huy Ha Vu, to seven years in prison on April 4; upheld harsh sentences for three young labor activists on March 18; and sentenced Chau Heng, a land rights activist and member of the Khmer Krom ethnic minority in An Giang province, to two years in prison on March 31. On April 8, Vu Duc Trung and Le Van Thanh, who have been held by Hanoi police since June 2010, will be tried for broadcasting information from an illicit house-based radio station about the Falun Gong religion.

In an attempt to shut down popular support for Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, on April 4 police in Hanoi arrested  Pham Hong Son, a physician, and  Le Quoc Quan, a lawyer, as  they  approached the People's Court of Hanoi on Hai Ba Trung street, where the trial was taking place. Initially, authorities indicated the trial would be open, but then the area surrounding the court was cordoned off and guarded by police and civil defense forces.

Le Quoc Quan is a former fellow of the US-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) who was previously arrested on March 8, 2007, four days after his return from the United States. The authorities detained him for 100 days on charges of carrying out activities to overthrow the government, under article 79 of the penal code. He was released on June 16, 2007.

A pro-democracy activist, Pham Hong Son was arrested on March 27, 2002, on espionage charges, under article 80 of the penal code, for using the internet to communicate with fellow dissidents and to disseminate pro-democracy articles and statements. The authorities sentenced him to 13 years in prison in June 2003, which was later reduced to five years upon appeal, followed by three years on probation. The government gave him amnesty and released him on August 30, 2006.

"The government is playing a game of guilt by proximity by arresting Pham Hong Son and Le Quoc Quan for standing near the court," Robertson said. "It only adds certainty that this show trial is a new high-water mark in a continuing crack-down on human rights advocates in Vietnam."

Vietnamese prison authorities routinely mistreat and torture political detainees during interrogation to pressure them to sign pre-written confessions and to disclose information about other activists. During pretrial detention, which can last up to 20 months, political detainees are often shackled in solitary confinement in dark cells and allowed out only for interrogation and abuse.

Since January, police have held a number of activists connected to Block 8406, pending investigation, such as a land rights petitioner, Ho Thi Bich Khuong, and a Protestant pastor, Nguyen Trung Ton. Other supporters of Bloc 8406 have been sentenced to long prison terms, including Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, Nguyen Xuan Nghia, Tran Anh Kim, Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, Tran Quoc Hien, Truong Minh Duc, Truong Quoc Huy, and Vi Duc Hoi. In addition, several Bloc 8406 members released from prison remain under house arrest, including Father Nguyen Van Ly, Le Thi Cong Nhan, and Nguyen Van Dai.

Authorities are also holding other peaceful activists not directly associated with Bloc 8406, such as Pham Minh Hoang, who blogged as Phan Kien Quoc, and a Mennonite pastor, Duong Kim Khai. Both have been in detention for more than six months on allegations of subversion.

Nguyen Van Hai, who blogged under the name Dieu Cay, has been held incommunicado since October 20, 2010, after serving 30 months in prison on a trumped-up tax evasion charge.

Another blogger, Phan Thanh Hai, a.k.a. Anhbasg, has been detained for almost six months. Police arrested him on October 18, two days before Nguyen Van Hai's scheduled release date. Both are founders of the Club for Free Journalists, established in September 2007 to promote freedom of expression and human rights. Another founding member of the club, Ta Phong Tan, also a blogger, has been harassed and interrogated by the police.

"Bloggers and activists peacefully campaigning for freedom of expression and human rights should not be arrested and locked up," Robertson said. "Holding them for months without trial or access to legal counsel seriously violates their basic civil rights. They should be immediately and unconditionally released."

Annex

Activists and dissidents detained and awaiting trial in 2010 and 2011

The following list of political and religious detainees, in the order of most recent arrest, should not be considered exhaustive or representative of political and religious prisoners in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government does not allow access to its prisons and detention centers by independent monitors, nor does it generally publish the names, locations, and charges against people in detention. This list should be considered a sample of the most recent arrests of dissidents who have not yet gone to trial.

•1.      Le Quoc Quan - lawyer and a former fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Arrested April 4, 2011, in Hanoi. No formal charge announced.

•2.      Pham Hong Son - a medical doctor and political prisoner from 2002 to 2006. Arrested
April 4, 2011, in Hanoi. No formal charge announced.

•3.      Nguyen Ngoc Cuong - activist from Ho Chi Minh City. Arrested April 1, 2011, in Dong
Nai for allegedly distributing anti-government leaflets.

•4.      Vu Quang Thuan - leader of Vietnam Progressive Democratic Movement. Arrested
February 2, 2011, upon arrival at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City and charged
with "fleeing abroad to carry out activities against the people's administration" under
article 91 of the penal code.

•5.      Nguyen Trung Ton - a religious activist, Block 8406 supporter, and Protestant pastor,
who heads the Full Gospel Church in Thanh Hoa province. Arrested January 15, 2011, in
Nghe An. No formal charge announced.

•6.      Ho Thi Bich Khuong - a land rights activist, blogger, and member of Bloc 8406 who was
imprisoned for six months in 2005 and again from 2007-2009. Arrested January 15, 2011,
in Nghe An. No formal charge announced.

•7.      K Khiep - Ko Ho ethnic group. Arrested December 11, 2010, in Tay Ninh for alleged
affiliation with the Vietnamese-Love-Vietnamese (Nguoi Viet Yeu Nguoi Viet) party.
Charge and whereabouts unknown.

•8.      K Theo - Ko Ho ethic group. Arrested December 10, 2010, in Tay Ninh for alleged
affiliation with the Vietnamese-Love-Vietnamese party. Charge and whereabouts
unknown.

•9.      Nguyen Chi Thanh - land rights activist and member of the Cow Shed Mennonite home
church. Arrested November 19, 2010, in Ho Chi Minh City. No formal charge announced.

•10.  Pham Ngoc Hoa - land rights activist and a member of the Cow Shed Mennonite home
church. Arrested November 19, 2010, in Ho Chi Minh City. No formal charge announced.

•11.  Siu Glol - Montagnard (Jarai) Christian pastor. Arrested September 22, 2010, in Chu Se
district, Gia Lai. Charges and whereabouts unknown.

•12.  Kpuih Theng - Montagnard (Jarai) Christian. Arrested September 13, 2010, by border
guards in Gia Lai province as he was trying to flee to Cambodia. Charge and whereabouts unknown.

•13.  Ro Mah Hit - Montagnard (Jarai) Christian. Arrested August 25, 2010, in Chu Prong
district, Gia Lai for allegedly using unauthorized religious activities to incite unrest in rubber plantations. Charges and current whereabouts unknown.

•14.  Kpuih Do - Montagnard (Jarai) Christian. Arrested August 25, 2010, in Chu Prong district, Gia Lai for allegedly using unauthorized religious activities to incite unrest in rubber plantations. Charges and whereabouts unknown.

•15.  Kpa Thom - Montagnard (Jarai) Christian. Arrested August 25, 2010, in Chu Prong
district, Gia Lai for allegedly using unauthorized religious activities to incite unrest in
rubber plantations. Charges and whereabouts unknown.

•16.  Ro Lah K'lan - Montagnard (Jarai) Christian. Arrested August 25, 2010, in Chu Prong
district, Gia Lai for allegedly using unauthorized religious activities to incite unrest in
rubber plantations. Charges and whereabouts unknown.

•17.  Phan Thanh Hai (aka blogger Anhbasg) - founding member of Club for Free Journalists.
Arrested October 18, 2010, in Ho Chi Minh City. No formal charge announced.

•18.  Pham Minh Hoang (aka blogger Phan Kien Quoc) - democracy activist affiliated with
the banned Viet Tan party. Arrested August 13, 2010, in Ho Chi Minh City and charged
with "subversion of the people's administration" under article 79 of the penal code.

•19.  Duong Kim Khai - pastor of the Cow Shed Mennonite home church and a land rights
activist. Arrested August 10, 2010, in Ho Chi Minh City. No formal charge announced.

•20.  Tran Thi Thuy - land rights activist and a follower of Hoa Hao Buddhist Church.
Arrested August 10, 2010, in Dong Thap and charged with "subversion of the people's
administration" under article 79 of the penal code.

•21.  Nguyen Thanh Tam - land rights activist and member of the Cow Shed Mennonite home
church. Arrested July 18, 2010, in Ben Tre. No formal charge announced.

•22.  Pham Van Thong - land rights activist and a member of the Cow Shed Mennonite home
church. Arrested July 18, 2010, in Ben Tre. Charged with carrying out activities to
overthrow the government under article 79 and disseminating propaganda against the
government under article 88 of the penal code.

•23.  Vu Duc Trung - a Falun Gong member. Arrested June 11, 2010, in Hanoi for installing
equipment to broadcast information about Falun Gong to China. He is scheduled for trial
on April 8, 2011, on charges of "illegally transmitting information on the network of
telecommunication" under article 226 of the penal code.

•24.  Le Van Thanh - Falun Gong member. Arrested June 11, 2010, in Hanoi for installing
equipment to broadcast information about Falun Gong to China. Scheduled for trial on
April 8, 2011, on charges of "illegally transmitting information on the network of telecommunication" under article 226 of the penal code.

Continued detention after prison sentence completed

Nguyen Van Hai (a.k.a blogger Dieu Cay) - co-founder of the Club for Free Journalists, arrested April 20, 2008, and sentenced  September 10, 2008, by the People's Court of District Three, Ho Chi Minh City, to two years and six months in prison for tax evasion. The government refused to release him on October 20, 2010, after he completed his prison term. While the authorities have not formally announced any additional charges, his family said they believe the government is holding him on a new charge of "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" under article 88 of the penal code.

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