(Bangkok) – The Vietnamese authorities should quash recent verdicts in the politically motivated cases against the dissidents Tran Van Bang and Bui Tuan Lam and immediately release them, Human Rights Watch said today. Higher courts are scheduled to hear the appeals of Tran Van Bang on August 29 and Bui Tuan Lam on August 30, 2023.
Police arrested Tran Van Bang in March and Bui Tuan Lam in September 2022 and charged them with conducting propaganda against the state under article 117 of the penal code. In May 2023 courts convicted and sentenced Tran Van Bang to eight years in prison and Bui Tuan Lam to five and a half years.
“Tran Van Bang and Bui Tuan Lam openly criticized how the Communist Party of Vietnam rules the country,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The peaceful exercise of political dissent is not a crime and the cases against them should be dropped.”
Tran Van Bang, 62, is a former soldier and an engineer, as well as a rights activist. Bui Tuan Lam, also known as Peter Lam Bui or Onion Bae, 39, is a street noodle vendor who became famous in 2021 for imitating the celebrity chef Salt Bae, who was seen spreading salt over a US$2,000 gold-encrusted steak and spoon-feeding it to Vietnam’s public security minister, To Lam.
During the past decade, Tran Van Bang and Bui Tuan Lam have advocated for civil and political rights in Vietnam. Both participated in anti-China demonstrations as well as protests about environmental and human rights issues. Both publicly voiced their support for political prisoners and detainees and joined activities to provide financial assistance and emotional support to fellow activists and their families.
The police over the years have harassed and threatened both activists numerous times and placed them under house arrest during important political events. Pro-government thugs have attacked and injured them.
Bui Tuan Lam’s family members were not allowed to attend his trial in May. When his wife, Le Thanh Lam, showed up near the court on the morning of his trial, police apprehended and dragged her in the street, and detained her for several hours. Inside the court, one of Bui Tuan Lam’s defense lawyers, Ngo Anh Tuan, was ordered to leave the courtroom before he finished his defense argument.
Vietnam is holding at least 159 political prisoners for exercising their basic rights and liberties after being convicted in trials that do not meet international fair trial standards. Twenty-three other people are being held in pretrial detention on politically motivated charges.
“The Vietnam government’s blatant violations of its international human rights obligations are even more egregious because of its current membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council,” Robertson said. “International donors and trade partners should press the Vietnamese government to release all dissidents and others imprisoned for exercising their civil and political rights.”