Update: On April 12, 2023, a court in Hanoi sentenced Nguyen Lan Thang to six years in prison and two years of probation after his release.
(Bangkok) – The Vietnamese authorities should immediately drop all charges and release the well-known blogger Nguyen Lan Thang, Human Rights Watch said today.
Police arrested Nguyen Lan Thang, 48, in Hanoi on July 5, 2022, and charged him with “making, storing, distributing or propagandizing information, materials, documents to oppose the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under article 117 (1) of the penal code. A criminal court in Hanoi is scheduled to put him on trial in a closed session on April 12, 2023. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in prison.
After Nguyen Lan Thang’s arrest, the authorities held him incommunicado for more than seven months. His defense lawyers were allowed to meet him for the first time only on February 16, 2023. His family has not been allowed to visit him.
“Vietnam’s authorities systematically trample on human rights by punishing brave bloggers like Nguyen Lan Thang for expressing their views about the government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Concerned governments, including Vietnam’s trade partners in Europe, North America, Australia, and Japan should denounce the suppression of free speech and call for Nguyen Lan Thang’s release.”
Nguyen Lan Thang, a graduate of the University of Architecture in Hanoi, began his activism in the early 2000s by participating in anti-China protests. He was a founding member of the now-dormant No-U FC (No U-line Football Club), a soccer team whose members made it their cause to speak out against China’s territorial claims on maritime areas claimed by Vietnam. He also participated in a No-U humanitarian group to provide assistance to impoverished people in remote areas and victims of natural disasters.
Nguyen Lan Thang responded to severe crackdowns on anti-China protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City by expanding what he called his “scope of activism to other fields, such as supporting land rights petitioners, fighting against forced land confiscation, defending freedom of religion, defending human rights, and promoting [people’s understanding of] law.”
He traveled to sites of forced land confiscation to film the authorities’ use of excessive force. He also participated in many pro-environment protests. He went to trials of fellow activists and visited their families to show solidarity. He voiced support for other political prisoners including Tran Duc Thach, Pham Doan Trang, Can Thi Theu, Le Van Dung, and many others.
Nguyen Lan Thang is also a blogger for the Radio Free Asia Vietnamese Service. Between April 2013 and July 2022, a day before his arrest, he wrote more than 130 blog entries reflecting on various socio-political issues in Vietnam. He publicly advocated peaceful activism, noting that he hoped to fight for “the young generations of tomorrow’s Vietnam” who are “knowledgeable, considerate, unfanatic, and nonviolent.”
He once wrote that he “genuinely cares about actions that help expose and demythologize things for common people, so they dare to stand up and demand their rights and demand the state to carry out its obligations. If we can get that done, the path to freedom and democracy will not be far away.”
For years, the authorities harassed, intimidated, and persecuted Nguyen Lan Thang on numerous occasions. They arbitrarily detained him, interrogated him, placed him under house arrest, and banned him from travelling. In several instances, plainclothes police agents assaulted him. In April 2014, police at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi prohibited him from leaving Vietnam to travel to the United States to attend an international media freedom event. He published an open letter expressing his regret about not being able to attend the event, and lamented the lack of respect for basic human rights in Vietnam.
“Vietnam’s horrendous rights record is especially shameful given that the country is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council,” Robertson said. “The Vietnamese government should release Nguyen Lan Thang and everyone imprisoned for peacefully exercising their basic civil and political rights.”