Top (left to right): Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and Nguyen Trung Ton
Bottom (left to right): Nguyen Van Dai, Truong Minh Duc, and Pham Van Troi

 

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(New York) –  Vietnam should drop all charges against rights campaigners Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Van Dai, Pham Van Troi, and Truong Minh Duc and release them immediately, Human Rights Watch said today. The People’s Court of Hanoi is scheduled to hear their case on April 5, 2018.

The six activists were charged with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the penal code.

“The only crime that these activists have committed is to campaign tirelessly for democracy and defend victims of human rights abuses,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Vietnamese government should thank them for their efforts to improve the country instead of arresting and putting them on trial.”

The only crime that these activists have committed is to campaign tirelessly for democracy and defend victims of human rights abuses.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Van Dai, Pham Van Troi, and Truong Minh Duc are accused of being affiliated with Brotherhood for Democracy, which was founded in April 2013 by Nguyen Van Dai and fellow activists. With the stated goal “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized and just society for Vietnam,” Brotherhood for Democracy provides a network for activists both in and outside Vietnam who campaign for human rights and democracy in Vietnam.

Members of the group conducted informal trainings on civil society, human rights, and democracy, and learned skills such as safety and security on the internet. They participated in anti-China and pro-environment protests, and in humanitarian activities such as helping victims of natural disasters and veterans with disabilities. The Brotherhood for Democracy provided legal assistance to fellow activists who were arrested and charged for their pro-democracy activities and co-signed petitions calling for democracy and human rights in Vietnam. They also visited the family of political detainees and prisoners to show solidarity.

All six activists have participated in numerous human rights activities, including campaigning for victims, teaching human rights standards, advocating for religious freedom, and supporting political prisoners and their families. Nguyen Bac Truyen, Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, and Truong Minh Duc joined other civil social groups to campaign against Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a massive marine disaster along the central coast of Vietnam.

The police arrested Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha in December 2015 and charged them with conducting propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code. Both were held in detention for almost 20 months without access to legal counsel. In July 2017, the police changed the charge to “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the penal code. The other four were arrested in July 2017 under the same charge.

Except for Le Thu Ha, each of the other five accused had previously served prison sentences for their peaceful pro-democracy and human rights activism.

According to Quang Binh Online, the mouthpiece of the communist party branch of Quang Binh province, “to take advantage of the maritime environmental incident in the central coast in April 2016, together with other hostile forces and reactionary elements, Brotherhood for Democracy strived to propagandize, distort, stir up and incite people to participate in protests in the name of ‘justice,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ and ‘march and protest for the environment.’ These subjects tried to inflate and exacerbate sensitive issues that receive attention of public opinion; causing irritation, doubt and discontent among the masses. The polluted environmental incident accidentally became ‘an opportunity’ and ‘a cause’ for these subjects to exploit and raise a hullabaloo to influence public opinions both inside and outside the country, [making people] mis-understand the policies and guidelines of the Party and the State, and the course of socio-economic development of local regions.”

Since the Formosa environmental catastrophe in April 2016, there have been numerous protests in Vietnam to demand a clean environment and fair compensation for victims who lost their livelihoods. Vietnamese authorities have responded by arresting and imprisoning activists who protested, including Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Tran Thi Nga, Ho Van Hai, Tran Hoang Phuc, Hoang Duc Binh, Nguyen Van Hoa, and many others.

“It is no coincidence that the trial of these six activists is planned on the two-year anniversary of the Formosa environmental disaster,” said Adams. “Instead of silencing critics, the Vietnamese government should order an impartial outside assessment of its clean-up effort and deal directly with citizens in the affected areas to provide fair and transparent compensation for their losses.”

Nguyen Van Dai

Nguyen Van Dai, 48, is a human rights lawyer who supported the formation of many rights groups in 2006, including the Vietnam Independent Union, the pro-democracy Bloc 8406, and the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam. He took on most of the legal defense for embattled Protestant churches, including the case of Mennonite pastor and former political prisoner Nguyen Hong Quang. He has written a number of articles about democracy and press freedom. He also opened informal classes at his law office for students who wanted to learn about human rights.

For his activities, Nguyen Van Dai has been subject to numerous accounts of harassment, intimidation, interrogation, house arrest, detention, physical assault, and imprisonment. He was disbarred and arrested in March 2007 for “conducting propaganda against the state” under article 88 of the penal code. In May 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. In November 2007, an appeals court reduced his sentence to four years.

After completing his prison sentence, Nguyen Van Dai immediately resumed his human rights activism. In April 2013, he helped found a group called Brotherhood for Democracy, with the goals “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized, and just society for Vietnam.”

In May 2014, while in a café in Hanoi along with several rights activists, a group of men appeared, threw a glass at him, and beat him. In January and March 2015, groups of men attacked his house and tried to break down the door. In early December 2015, Nguyen Van Dai gave a talk about human rights enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution, followed by an open discussion at the Van Loc parish in Nam Dan district, Nghe An province. In the afternoon, he left for Hanoi, accompanied by three fellow activists. Their taxi was stopped by a group of about a dozen men in civilian clothing and wearing surgical masks. Nguyen Van Dai told a reporter at Radio Free Asia that the men dragged him out of the taxi, beat him with wooden sticks on his thighs and shoulders, and then dragged him into their car where the beating continued. The perpetrators eventually stripped him of his jackets and shoes and abandoned him on a beach. The three other activists were also severely beaten by different groups of men. Ten days after the attack, police arrested Nguyen Van Dai when he was on his way to meet an EU delegation in Vietnam for the annual human rights dialogue.

Nguyen Van Dai was charged with conducting propaganda against the state and was held in police detention for 19 and a half months without access to lawyers or legal counsel. In July 2017, the police changed the charge to carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration under article 79 of the penal code.

Nguyen Van Dai was awarded a Hellman/Hammett free expression grant in 2007, the Vietnam Human Rights award by the Vietnam Human Rights Network in 2007, and the Human Rights Prize by the German Association of Judges in 2017.
 

Truong Minh Duc

Truong Minh Duc, 58, is a journalist who wrote and published in various mainstream newspapers in Vietnam, including Vanguard (Tien phong), Youth (Thanh nien), Law (Phap luat), and Kien Giang (the newspaper of his hometown). His writing exposed corruption and wrongdoing committed by local authorities involved in land ownership. He called people to help those in difficult situations. In 2006, he joined the pro-democracy Bloc 8406 and the Populist Party, which “aims to participate in the struggle to advance social democratic process and to build a new Vietnam with peace, freedom, prosperity and progress.”

Truong Minh Duc was arrested in May 2007 and charged with “abusing rights to democracy and freedom to infringe upon the interest of the state” under article 258 of the penal code. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Since completing his prison term in May 2012, Truong Minh Duc resumed writing about rights issues. He advocates for fellow prisoners of conscience who continue to face harassment in prison simply because they refuse to repent. He joined the Free Viet Labor Federation (Lao dong Viet) from 2014-2016 and the Viet Labor Movement (Phong trao Lao dong Viet) in 2016 to campaign for workers’ rights. He is also a member of the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience (Hoi Cuu Tu nhan Luong tam Viet Nam), and the Brotherhood for Democracy, founded in 2013 “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized and just society for Vietnam.” He campaigned against Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a massive marine disaster along the central coast of Vietnam.

Due to his human rights activities, Truong Minh Duc encountered harassment, intimidation, house arrest, interrogation, and physical assault. In September 2014, when Truong Minh Duc went with three other activists to the Ministry of Public Security in Hanoi to inquire about the prohibition of labor rights campaigner Do Thi Minh Hanh’s trip abroad, a group of men in civilian clothes attacked and beat him until he lost consciousness. In November 2014, he was severely beaten by a group of eight men, one of whom he identified as a police officer named Hoa, who interrogated and beat him two months earlier at the police station of My Phuoc ward, Ben Cat district (Binh Duong province). In November 2015, the police of Dong Nai province detained and assaulted Truong Minh Duc and labor activist Do Thi Minh Hanh for helping workers at Yupoong Company exercise their rights.

In July 2017, the police arrested Truong Minh Duc and charged him with carrying out activities that aimed to overthrow the people’s administration under to article 79 of the penal code.

Truong Minh Duc was awarded a Hellman/Hammett free expression grant in 2013 and the Vietnam Human Rights award by the Vietnam Human Rights Network in 2010.
 

Nguyen Trung Ton

Nguyen Trung Ton, 46, is an independent Protestant pastor and a blogger whose writings focus on the lack of religious freedom and other rights issues in Vietnam. He has written about local land confiscation and corruption that has driven many peasants into landless situations. He criticized the government’s spending of tax money on festivals instead of building infrastructure, schools, or helping the poor. He supported fellow religious activists including independent Hoa Hao Buddhist leader Le Quang Liem and Mennonite pastor Duong Kim Khai. Nguyen Trung Ton has written about police harassment and assaults against him and his family.

Nguyen Trung Ton has encountered harassment, intimidation, house arrest, interrogation, and physical assault on numerous occasions. In May 2003, men in civilian clothes attacked his home, which he had turned into a house church. In June 2006, he was summoned by the police after attending a church worship service and was assaulted during interrogation. In August 2009, during an independent praying session at a private house, men in civilian clothes accompanied by local officials attacked and beat Nguyen Trung Ton’s family and fellow religious activists. In June 2010, his teenage son Nguyen Trung Trong Nghia was beaten on his way to school by five anonymous men after his father exposed police abuses.

Nguyen Trung Ton was arrested in January 2011 for conducting propaganda against the state and was sentenced to two years in prison. After completing his prison term in January 2013, Nguyen Trung Ton immediately resumed his campaign for human rights and democracy. He wrote a prison memoir that was published in Dan Lam Bao (Citizen Journalism). He advocated for political prisoners to be released. He joined the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience (Hoi Cuu Tu nhan Luong tam Viet Nam) and the Brotherhood for Democracy, founded in 2013 “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized and just society for Vietnam.” He campaigned against Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a massive marine disaster along the central coast of Vietnam.

In February 2017, Nguyen Trung Ton and a friend took a bus from Quang Thing commune, Thanh Hoa province to Ba Don town, Quang Binh province. Upon arrival, a group of seven or eight young men in civilian clothing dragged them into a van, took their belongings, stripped their clothes off, covered their heads with their jackets, and beat them repeatedly with iron tubes. The perpetrators later abandoned Nguyen Trung Ton and his friend in a deserted forest in Ha Tinh province. Nguyen Trung Ton was seriously injured and had to undergo an operation at a local hospital.

In July 2017, the police arrested Nguyen Trung Ton and charged him for carrying out activities that aimed to overthrow the people’s administration under article 79 of the penal code.

Nguyen Trung Ton was awarded a Hellman/Hammett free expression grant in 2013.
 

Pham Van Troi

Pham Van Troi, 46, is a blogger who has used various pen names to write about human rights, democracy, land rights, religious freedom, and territorial disputes between China and Vietnam. He was an active member of the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam, one of the only human rights organizations to ever operate in Vietnam, until all of its leaders were arrested. He also wrote for the dissident bulletin To Quoc (Fatherland). Since 2006, he has encountered numerous cases of harassment, house arrest, physical assault, and interrogation.

Police arrested Pham Van Troi in September 2008 and charged him with conducting propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code. In May 2009, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Pham Van Troi had been wrongfully detained. Despite its conclusion, he was sentenced in October 2009 to four years in prison.

According to the indictment reported by state media, Pham Van Troi wrote “‘A denouncement of the security policy of the State and the Communist Party of Vietnam’ in November 2006 with content that distorts the truth and slanders the State as an oppressor of democracy. In addition, Troi gave interviews via telephone and slander that the police and the masses repressed and beat him.”

After completing his prison term in September 2012, Pham Van Troi immediately resumed his campaign for human rights and democracy. In April 2013, he helped found a group called Brotherhood for Democracy “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized, and just society for Vietnam.” He advocated for political prisoners and detainees including for Tran Anh Kim and Nguyen Van Dai to be released. He campaigned against Formosa, the Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a marine disaster along the central coast of Vietnam.

Pham Van Troi was placed under intrusive surveillance. Activists and former political prisoners who visited him were harassed, detained, and beaten. In December 2016, men in civilian clothes threw rocks at his house and broke his window.

Police arrested Pham Van Troi in July 2017 and charged him for carrying out activities that aimed to overthrow the people’s administration under article 79 of the penal code.

He was awarded a Hellman/Hammett free expression grant in 2010.
 

Nguyen Bac Truyen

Nguyen Bac Truyen, 50, was an entrepreneur who began to participate in humanitarian activities in the early 2000s. He provided aid to victims of national disasters, orphans, and children in remote areas. His company was among the first in Vietnam that adopted a paternity leave policy. He also wrote and published in overseas news websites about repression, injustice, and human rights violations committed by the government. In 2005, he joined the newly founded People’s Democratic Party (Dang Dan chu Nhan dan) to campaign for political pluralism in Vietnam.

Nguyen Bac Truyen was arrested in November 2006 under article 88 of the penal code for conducting propaganda against the state. According to the indictment reported by state media, prior to the 14th APEC Summit (in November 2006), he “distributed leaflets, gathered people to organize protests, and wrote letters to demand a meeting with the American president upon his visit to Ho Chi Minh City.” In May 2007, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted Nguyen Bac Truyen and sentenced him to four years in prison. In August 2007, the People’s Supreme Court reduced his sentence to three years and six months in prison.

Since being released in May 2010, Nguyen Bac Truyen began to publish writings about his fellow political prisoners and the difficulties and discrimination that former political prisoners face. He has been an outspoken member of the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Fellowship Association (Hoi Ai huu Tu nhan Chinh tri va Ton giao Viet Nam), which provides support to prisoners and their families. He gave interviews to Radio Free Asia and the BBC about his prison experiences and compiled a detailed list of political prisoners in Vietnam to international human rights organizations. Nguyen Bac Truyen advocated for independent Hoa Hao Buddhist followers who suffer repression simply because they did not join the state-sanctioned church. He collaborated with the Redemptorist church in Ho Chi Minh City to carry out humanitarian activities to invalid veterans who fought for the southern army before 1975. He campaigned against Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a massive marine disaster along the central coast of Vietnam.

Because of his pro-rights activities, Nguyen Bac Truyen has encountered harassment, intimidation, intrusive surveillance, interrogation, and physical assault on numerous occasions. In August 2010, police in Ho Chi Minh City detained and questioned him after he publicly called on Vietnam's politburo to release political and religious prisoners. In February 2014, a group of fellow activists went to visit Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife Bui Thi Kim Phuong in Lap Vo district, Dong Thap province. Traffic police and men in civilian clothes stopped the group and attacked them. Three activists were arrested and charged with “disrupting public order” and sentenced to prison. Two weeks later, Nguyen Bac Truyen went to Hanoi to meet with foreign diplomats to campaign for those who were arrested. On the way to the Australian embassy in Hanoi, a group of men in civilian clothes assaulted him and broke his nose. In September 2016, Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife were on their way home when a group of men in civilian clothes attacked them and used helmets to beat them.

Police arrested Nguyen Bac Truyen in July 2017 and charged him with carrying out activities that aimed to overthrow the people’s administration according to article 79 of the penal code.

Nguyen Bac Truyen was awarded a Hellman/Hammett free expression grant in 2011 and the Vietnam Human Rights award by the Vietnam Human Rights Network in 2014.
 

Le Thu Ha

Le Thu Ha, 36, became interested in human rights and social issues when she was a student. After graduation, she became an English teacher and participated in civil society activities. In 2013, she joined a group called Brotherhood for Democracy “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized, and just society for Vietnam.” She helped translate reports of human rights violations into English for the group. She participated in pro-environment protests against mass tree cutting in Hanoi in March 2015. She joined a small group of activists to broadcast news about human rights abuses on a YouTube channel called “Television of Conscience” (Luong tam TV), established in August 2015 by Brotherhood for Democracy and Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience. She called for the repeal of penal code 258 that punishes peaceful activists for “abusing the rights to democracy and freedom to infringe upon the interests of the state.” Le Thu Ha also went to court during the trials of political activists to show solidarity.

In April 2015, police prohibited Le Thu Ha from leaving Vietnam for a human rights conference in Sweden. In September 2015, she was detained and interrogated for participating in the “Television of Conscience.”

In December 2015, police arrested Le Thu Ha and charged her with conducting propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code. She was held in police detention for 19 and a half months without access to lawyers or legal counsel. In July 2017, the police changed her charge to carrying out activities that aimed to overthrow the people’s administration under article 79 of the penal code.