(Bangkok) – Vietnamese authorities should drop all charges against the blogger Pham Van Diep and immediately release him, Human Rights Watch said today.
Pham Van Diep will face trial on November 26, 2019 in Thanh Hoa Province on charges of posting, liking, and sharing information on Facebook in violation of article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code, which criminalizes publication or distribution of information “that aims to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
“Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code is designed to muffle dissenting voices, and this is the fourteenth Facebook member prosecuted in 2019 for violating it,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “Concerned governments and social media companies need to speak out against this abusive law.”
Pham Van Diep, 51, is a longtime human rights advocate and critic of the Vietnamese government. He has repeatedly used blogs, and later his Facebook account, to address human rights abuses. He has also repeatedly attempted to use the country’s legal system to challenge the government and remarked on the futility of using these legal means.
A state media article, “[Police] detain Mr. Pham Van Diep for using social media to oppose the Party and the State,” said that:
“Mr. Diep often writes, shares, posts, distributes articles, photos, documents, and livestreams video clips with bad content that aim to distort the policies and guidelines of the Party, the policies and law of the State; calling for pluralism and a multi-party system; slander great men; smear the honor of the leaders of the Party and the state; defames and vilifies the government at different levels; urges the people to protest and oppose, causing disruption of security and order.”
Originally from Thanh Hoa, he traveled to Russia to study in December 1992 and stayed until June 2016. He began to write and publish online opinion pieces critical of the government in 2002. In 2006, he joined the Democracy Party 21, founded by the late dissident Hoang Minh Chinh. In 2009, Pham Van Diep wrote an article defending Tran Anh Kim, a democracy campaigner, and in 2010, he wrote to support Cu Huy Ha Vu, a rights defender.
In the summer of 2011, during a trip home to Vietnam, he participated in two anti-China protests in Hanoi. In 2012, he wrote an open letter to the Communist Party of Vietnam, criticizing article 4 of the Vietnam Constitution, which declares that the Communist Party is the leading force of the state and the society. He also urged the Vietnamese government to abolish former article 258 (now article 331) of the penal code and immediately release anyone imprisoned under this article.
Pham Van Diep has previously faced numerous problems traveling to and from Vietnam and has filed court cases challenging restrictions imposed on his travel – always without success.
In 2007, during a trip to Vietnam to visit family, he was summoned for questioning and was only allowed to leave the country four months later.
In April 2013, Pham Van Diep flew back to Vietnam and was denied entry. He returned to Russia, filed a complaint at the Vietnamese embassy, and remotely filed an administrative lawsuit in Hanoi. He received no response to either. He tried again, twice in December 2013, again complained to the embassy, and again received no response.
He tried twice again in June 2016 and was denied entry, then tried again from Laos, where his passport was confiscated. He then staged a protest against Vietnam’s Communist Party at the Victory Monument in Vientiane, was arrested, and charged with “using the territory of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to oppose neighboring countries.” A Laos court put him on trial in February 2018, convicted him, and sentenced him to 21 months in prison.
He was released in March 2018 and taken by Laos police to the Cau Treo border crossing. Vietnamese authorities, for reasons that are not clear, allowed him to enter the country.
In June 2018, he participated in a protest in Hanoi against a draft bill on special economic zones. The police detained him for several hours, during which they struck him three times in the head, he said. He filed a lawsuit against the police citing their excessive force, which a court dismissed, then petitioned the government to protest the decision.
Pham Van Diep opened a Facebook account in October 2018. Until his arrest in June 2019, he posted and shared news on social and political issues such as land confiscation, police brutality, corruption, and the protests in Hong Kong. He criticized the cyber security law and urged the government to abolish the-Party-elects-the-People voting system to move toward a free election.
On May 26, he wrote that “The Vietnamese people must be allowed to enjoy the rights enshrined in the International Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights] and in Vietnam’s constitution and law. It is a legitimate demand. Men who abuse power will not be able to crush us.”
In April, Pham Van Diep attempted to leave Vietnam for Russia but was stopped at the airport and told he was on a list of people not allowed to leave the country. He filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the police for keeping him in Vietnam.
“All Pham Van Diep has done in the last 17 years is voice his opinions about important social and political issues and protest his persecution for speaking out,” Sifton said. “There is no good reason for Vietnam to treat him as a criminal.”