Update: On June 6, 2023, a court in Dak Lak province sentenced Dang Dang Phuoc to eight years in prison and four years of probation after his release.
(Bangkok) – The Vietnamese authorities should drop all charges and immediately release the anti-corruption campaigner Dang Dang Phuoc, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Dak Lak provincial police arrested him in September 2022 and charged him with conducting propaganda against the state under article 117 of the penal code. A court is scheduled to hear his case on June 6, 2023. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in prison.
“The Vietnam government makes use of its abusive and overly broad laws to prosecute people who call for reforms,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately drop the charges against Dang Dang Phuoc and other activists who play a critical role in rooting out the malfeasance and corruption that the government claims to oppose.”
Dang Dang Phuoc, 60, served in the Vietnamese army and was stationed in Laos for over four years. After leaving the armed forces, he became a music teacher at the Dak Lak College of Pedagogy. Dang Dang Phuoc has often commented on social, political, and environmental issues, and supported the cause of the poor and powerless, including land rights petitioners and Montagnard minority groups. He wrote: “I defend righteousness and the powerless. I do not care about fame and wealth.” For this reason, he stated that he “raises his voice to help reduce social injustice.”
During the past decade, Dang Dang Phuoc has campaigned against corruption and the abuse of power at the grassroots level. He has advocated for better protection for civil and political rights, including freedom of speech, expression, association, assembly, and religion. He openly opposed Vietnam’s repressive 2018 cybersecurity law.
Dang Dang Phuoc signed several pro-democracy petitions, including Petition 72, issued in January 2013, calling for constitutional changes to allow multiparty elections. He also signed the Declaration of Free Citizens, issued in February 2013, seeking to abolish article 4 in Vietnam’s 1992 Constitution, which grants the Communist Party of Vietnam a monopoly on power. The declaration called for creating a multiparty political system, separation of powers, and the depoliticization of the armed forces.
He also spoke out to raise awareness about exploitative economic projects that have a negative impact on the environment. In May 2016, he signed a declaration against Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste and caused a massive marine pollution disaster along the central coast of Vietnam. The declaration’s signatories called for a thorough and transparent investigation of the incident, compensation for people who lost their livelihoods due to the disaster, and accountability. In July 2022, shortly before his arrest, he voiced his concerns about what he termed “reckless” titanium mining in Thua Thien Hue province.
Dang Dang Phuoc showed solidarity with other dissidents by publicly voicing support for rights activists imprisoned by the Vietnamese authorities, including Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Pham Doan Trang, Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, Nguyen Lan Thang, Dinh Van Hai, Y Wo Nie, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Pham Chi Dung, Le Huu Minh Tuan, Pham Chi Thanh, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, and Bui Van Thuan.
On September 8, 2022, he wrote a Facebook post in support of the rights activist Bui Tuan Lam (known as “Green Onion Bae”) who was arrested on September 7 by the Da Nang police. Less than two hours later, Dak Lak police moved to arrest Dang Dang Phuoc.
After Dang Dang Phuoc’s arrest, police summoned his wife, Le Thi Ha, for interrogation at least twice and questioned her about certain songs that Dang Dang Phuoc sang and posted on his Facebook account. One such song is “Vietnam Path,” composed by a former political prisoner, Viet Khang, to honor the prominent political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc who “has gone to prison for the people, for his homeland.” Dang Dang Phuoc also sang “A Big Circus Troupe in a Small Homeland,” composed by the rights blogger Tuan Khanh, which laments the problems faced by Vietnam under the Communist Party.
“The Vietnamese leadership’s contempt for freedom of expression extends even to activists who sing a few songs criticizing them,” Robertson said. “The European Union, which concluded a free trade agreement with Vietnam containing human rights conditionality, and other trade partners, should call out the government for its unrelenting rights violations.”