(New York) – Vietnamese authorities should drop all charges against Nguyen Trung Truc for peaceful rights activism and release him immediately, Human Rights Watch said today.
Nguyen was arrested in August 2017 for involvement with a human rights group called the Brotherhood for Democracy. Authorities charged him with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the 1999 penal code. The People’s Court of Quang Binh province is scheduled to hear his case on September 12, 2018.
“Nguyen Trung Truc is yet another victim of the Vietnamese government’s campaign against people who advocate human rights and democracy,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The country is now becoming a giant prison for anyone who speaks up against the government or acts to advance basic rights.”
Nguyen, 44, has a long history of involvement in pro-democracy activities. He was a boat person who spent more than seven years in a refugee camp in Hong Kong in 1990s, then was deported back to Vietnam in 1997. In 2003, he went to work in Malaysia, where he joined the Vietnam Restoration Movement (Phong trao Chan hung nuoc Viet), founded by the rights activists Vu Quang Thuan and Le Thang Long. The organization advocated for Vietnam to adopt a multi-party, democratic political system. Le says that the movement’s goal is to advance “corporate reform, non-violence, dialogue, and listening for the mutual and long-term interest of the country.”
The police newspaper said in September 2017 that Nguyen “actively wrote many reactionary documents with content that propagandized a distorted image of Vietnam; answered interviews and participated in illegal protests in Malaysia.” Malaysia deported him back to Vietnam in September 2012.
In August 2015, Nguyen joined the Brotherhood for Democracy, which was founded in April 2013 by rights campaigner 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,” the Brotherhood for Democracy is a network of activists both in and outside Vietnam who campaign for human rights and democracy in Vietnam.
Nguyen acted as the group’s representative in Vietnam’s central region. He participated in protests 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 April 2016.
In July 2016, Nguyen Trung Truc and seven other people went to Cua Lo in Nghe An province to attend a wedding of a fellow activist. A group of several dozens of people in civilian clothes attacked and severely beat them, and seized their phones, wallets, and official government identification. The assailants abandoned them in a deserted forest. Nguyen said he suffered a bruised back and bloody mouth, nose, and ears and later required stiches for a cut on his ear.
Nguyen is the ninth member of the Brotherhood for Democracy put on trial since the beginning of 2018. In April, the authorities convicted and sentenced eight other people to between seven and 15 years in prison – Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Van Tuc and Tran Thi Xuan. In June, under international pressure, the Vietnamese government released Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha on the condition that they would go into exile in Germany.
“The Brotherhood for Democracy is facing a sustained crackdown as Vietnam seeks to punish its leaders for daring to advocate for basic freedoms to speak out, join a group, and peacefully protest,” Robertson said. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners should demand that Hanoi respects basic freedoms and stop making criticizing the government a crime.”