Photos of Nguyen Van Duc Do (right), wearing a human rights hat, and Luu Van Vinh (left), at a pro-environment protest carrying a sign that reads, "Return Clean Sea to the People".  

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(Bangkok) – Six Vietnamese activists and bloggers are facing long prison sentences for their peaceful opposition, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s government should immediately release the six, who are being prosecuted for peaceful political activities such as forming an association, expressing views on social media, and participating in public assemblies.

Five of them were tried in October 2018, for participating in a pro-democracy group, and sentenced to prison terms between 8 and 15 years. A high court is scheduled to hear the appeal of Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Phan Trung and Tu Cong Nghia in Ho Chi Minh City on March 18, 2019. Separately, Le Minh The will go to trial on March 20, for his posts on Facebook, in the Binh Thuy district court in Can Tho.

“Vietnam’s deepening rights crackdown is targeting independent political associations and individual activists who dare to demand that the government respect rights and restore democracy,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “International donors and trade partners should tell Vietnam that continuing this crackdown will cause problems for the aid and trade deals that Hanoi wants to conclude with North America and the European Union.”

As of March, at least 142 people have been convicted on charges stemming from protests in June 2018, over the Vietnam government’s announcement of a draft law on special economic zones and the law on cyber security. Many of them have been sentenced to months or years in prison for disrupting the public order under article 318 of the penal code.

Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do are human rights activists who participated in earlier pro-environment protests. They and the other three were arrested in November 2016, for their alleged affiliation with the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, an independent political group. Police charged them under article 79 of the 1999 penal code with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration.”

Both Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do were beaten during their arrests. In the trial, which lasted only several hours, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Luu Van Vinh to 15 years, Nguyen Quoc Hoan to 13 years, Nguyen Van Duc Do to 11 years, Tu Cong Nghia to 10 years and Phan Trung to 8 years in prison. A family member told a reporter at Radio Free Asia that 10 days after the trial, three cellmates beat Nguyen Van Duc Do severely and that prison guards did nothing to stop the beating.

Le Minh The, 56, is a member of Hien Phap, a pro-democracy group established to promote basic rights enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution. The police of Binh Thuy district, Can Tho, arrested him in October 2018, for his posts on Facebook and charged him with “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals” under article 331 of the penal code. In December 2018, another member of this group, Huynh Truong Ca, was put on trial for “making, storing, spreading, or propagandizing information, materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under article 117 of the penal code. The People’s Court of Dong Thap province sentenced him to five years and six months in prison.

The newspaper Lao dong [Labor] reported in October 2018, that the police accused Le Minh The of “opening many Facebook accounts and using them to post, share, and comment with contents that distort the guidelines and policies of the Party and the State; [and] disparage the regime and governments at different levels. Especially in June 2018, through the social media Facebook, Le Minh The connected with reactionary subjects in and outside the country to directly publish videos (livestream) to call and agitate people to participate in demonstrations to protest the draft law on Special Economic Zone and the Law on Cyber Security.”

Since Vietnam’s problematic Cyber Security Law became effective in January, the police have arrested at least three people – Duong Thi Lanh, Huynh Dac Tuy, and Nguyen Van Cong Em – for their posts on Facebook.

“The authorities are using draconian provisions of Vietnam’s criminal code to suppress peaceful dissent, increasing the rapidly growing population of peaceful dissenters behind bars,” Robertson said. “International donors and trade partners should press Hanoi’s leaders to dialogue with dissidents, not turn the country into a giant prison.”