(New York) – An environmental activist faces a show trial for his Facebook posts, as part of Vietnam’s continuing attack on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The Vietnamese government should immediately release the activist, Nguyen Ngoc Anh, and drop all charges against him.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh is charged with “making, storing, disseminating, or propagandizing information, materials, and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under article 117 of the 2015 penal code. The People’s Court of Ben Tre province is scheduled to hear his case on June 6, 2019.
“The Vietnam government’s ongoing crackdown on critical voices now has Nguyen Ngoc Anh in its sight, subjecting him to a show trial and years of imprisonment to frighten others who might dare to question the government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Holding this trial just as the European Council is in the process of ratifying the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement shows how ruthless the government can be and demonstrates why human rights improvements need to be part of trade deals and not sidelined in the name of diplomacy.”
Nguyen Ngoc Anh, 39, is an entrepreneur who owns a shrimp farm in the town of Binh Dai, Ben Tre province. He participated in pro-environment protests against Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a massive die off of marine creatures along the central coast of Vietnam in April 2016. His public boycott of the neither free nor fair national election in May 2016 also prompted the government’s anger. He has also repeatedly voiced support for political prisoners such as Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Ho Van Hai, and others.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh wrote: “Whether you are a worker, a freelancer, or a farmer like myself, if you dare to speak up against oppression, the destruction of environment, and the health of the Vietnamese, if you refuse to submit to indignity and ignominy, you may suffer pain or even death, but you should be proud that you live faithful to your conscience.”
The police of Ben Tre arrested Nguyen Ngoc Anh on August 30, 2018. State media claimed he “used his personal Facebook account to publicly write, share many articles and video clips, and access many live streams of reactionary subjects both inside and outside Vietnam, with the content that propagandize badly about the State and the Communist Party of Vietnam; he called, agitated, and incited people to protest and destroy in June 2018 and the upcoming celebration of September 2.”
In an interview with the Vietnam Times, Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s wife, Nguyen Thi Chau, said the police tricked their 4-year-old son to unlock the password of his father’s cell phone. Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s father died in March, but the police refused to permit him to attend the funeral.
“Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s only crime is to speak his mind against injustice and oppression,” Robertson said. “International donors and trade partners of Vietnam should reconsider their deals with Vietnam until it stops abusing rights and punishing dissidents.”