“Nguyen Van Tuc is a victim of the Vietnamese government’s escalating crackdown on human rights bloggers and social activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The long sentences faced by Nguyen Van Tuc and his fellow Brotherhood for Democracy activists are all about intimidating other activists not to follow in their footsteps.”
Nguyen Van Tuc’s wife, Bui Thi Re, has publicly stated her husband is in poor health, with ailments including heart disease and keratitis, an inflammation of the eye.
Nguyen Van Tuc was arrested in September 2017 for his affiliation with the Brotherhood for Democracy, a pro-democracy group, and charged with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the 1999 penal code. In April, during a trial that lasted only several hours, the People’s Court of Thai Binh convicted him and sentenced him to 13 years in prison, to be followed by five years on probation, severely restricting his movement within his residential ward.
Nguyen Van Tuc, 54, started campaigning against corruption and land rights confiscations in the early 2000s in his hometown of Dong La commune, Dong Hung district, Thai Binh province. He later joined the 8406 Bloc, a group founded on April 8, 2006 to advocate for a multi-party, democratic political system and human rights in Vietnam. He published articles denouncing the authorities for corruption and their abuses of human rights.
He wrote, “I am a land rights petitioner with little education. But the love I feel for my fellow people and the pain I feel for my nation compels me to be brave and speak against social injustice. Even if I had to sacrifice my life so that people will be able to attain happiness, the country attain freedom and democracy, and society can improve, I would do so, without any regret.”
This is not the first time that Nguyen Van Tuc has been sent to prison for peacefully exercising his rights. In September 2008, the police arrested Nguyen Van Tuc after he and other activists hung a banner on an overpass in the city of Hai Phong that said, “the ward of Tien Phong resolutely fights to eliminate corruption. [We] request the Government to firmly defend our Fatherland. [We] request the Communist Party of Vietnam to accept pluralism and a multi-party system.”
Authorities charged him with conducting propaganda against the state under article 88 of the 1999 penal code. In October 2009, the People’s Court of Hai Phong put Nguyen Van Tuc and five other activists on trial. He was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.
Upon his release from prison in September 2012, he immediately resumed his campaign for human rights and democracy. He joined the Brotherhood for Democracy, which was founded in April 2013 by Nguyen Van Dai, and fellow human rights activists “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 has served as a network for activists both inside and outside of Vietnam.
When Nguyen Van Tuc was arrested in September 2017, the People’s Daily accused him of joining “a reactionary organization that operates illegally, with a plot to eliminate the leadership role of the Communist Party of Vietnam, to overthrow the people’s administration and change the political regime.”
Vietnam’s Communist Party-controlled courts have punished many people for joining human rights or political groups with harsh prison sentences. The authorities sentenced an environmental activist, Le Dinh Luong, to 20 years in prison in August and Pastor Dinh Diem to 16 years in July. On September 12, rights activist Nguyen Trung Truc was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
“The government of Vietnam should listen to its citizens instead of bullying them and silencing their voices,” Robertson said. “International donors and trade partners should stop ignoring Vietnam’s systemic rights abuses and make human rights an integral part of all engagement and discussions with this repressive government.”