Vietnam: Ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against four environmental rights defenders

17/08/2022
Urgent Appeal
Marcin Czerniawski via Unsplash

New information
VNM 002 / 0622 / OBS 054.1
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Vietnam
August 17, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Vietnam.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about the rejection of the appeal against the conviction and prison sentence against Mr. Dang Dinh Bach, lawyer and director of the Law and Policy of Sustainability Development Research Center (LPSD), and the reduction of the prison sentences against Mr. Mai Phan Loi, founder and leader of the Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), and Mr. Bach Hùng Duong former director of the MEC, as well as their ongoing arbitrary detention.

On August 11, 2022, the Hanoi High-Level People’s Court’s upheld the five-year prison sentence against Dang Dinh Bach on charge of “tax evasion” (Article 200 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code), accusation he has consistently denied since his arrest in June 2021. Mr. Bach was sentenced to five years in prison in first instance on January 24, 2022.

On the day of the appeal trial, security forces stationed outside the court barred Dang Dinh Bach’s wife, Tran Phuong Thao, from attending her husband’s trial, despite the fact that she had been permitted to attend the trial by the court. Ms. Thao reported that diplomatic representatives from the United States, Germany, and the European Union were also refused entry by the court, which claimed there were “not enough seats in the courtroom.” Ms. Thao believes her husband’s prison sentence was upheld because he refused to plead guilty to the charges against him and to pay the tax money demanded by the authorities.

On the same day, at a separate appeal hearing, the Hanoi High-Level People’s Court reduced the prison sentences imposed in first instance on January 11, 2022, on Mai Phan Loi and Bach Hùng Duong from four years to three years and nine months and from two and half years to two years and three months, respectively, under the same charge of “tax evasion.” Mai Phan Loi and and Bach Hùng Duong have been arbitrarily detained since June 24, 2021 and July 2, 2021, respectively.

The Observatory recalls that the three environmental rights defenders were accused of corporate tax evasion, although non-profit organisations are exempt from corporate tax in Vietnam. Tax laws regarding NGOs receiving funds from international donors are particularly vague and restrictive. The organisations of the three defenders, along with the human rights NGO Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), believed that their arrests were prompted by their work to promote civil society engagement in monitoring the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) which came into force in 2021.

The Observatory further recalls that, on June 17, 2022, Ms. Nguy Thi Khanh, a prominent environmental activist, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 and a symbol of the campaign against Vietnam’s reliance on coal power, was sentenced to two years of imprisonment for the same charge of “tax evasion”, after being prosecuted and convicted for failing to pay a 10% tax on her Goldman Prize money, which is equivalent to an amount of VND 456 million (around 18,252 Euros). Ms. Khanh’s appeal trial has not yet taken place and, at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, she remained detained at Police Detention Center No 1 in Hanoi where she has been arbitrarily detained since her arrest on January 11, 2022.

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the Vietnamese authorities’ use of legal harassment, especially the use of tax-related charges against environmental activists, as a tool to criminalise them.

The Observatory strongly condemns the unfair convictions, ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong and Nguy Thi Khanh, as it seems to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate environmental and human rights activities.

The Observatory urges the Vietnamese authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against the above-mentioned human rights defenders and immediately and unconditionally release them.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Vietnam, urging them to:
- guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, Nguy Thi Khanh, and all other human rights defenders in Vietnam;
- immediately and unconditionally release Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Nguy Thi Khanh as their detention is arbitrary and merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
- put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, Nguy Thi Khanh, and all other human rights defenders in Vietnam, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities and exercise their rights without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:

- Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President of Vietnam, Email: webmaster@president.gov.vn
- Mr. Pham Minh Chinh, Prime Minister of Vietnam, Email: thongtinchinhphu@chinhphu.vn, Twitter : @VNGovtPortal
- Mr. Bui Thanh Son, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, Email: ttll.mfa@mofa.gov.vn / banbientap@mofa.gov.vn, Twitter: @MOFAVietNam / @FMBuiThanhSon
- Ms. Pham Thi Thanh Tra, Minister of Home Affairs of Vietnam, Email: lanhdaobo@moha.gov.vn
- Mr. Le Thanh Long, Minister of Justice of Vietnam, Email: longlt@moj.gov.vn / botuphap@moj.gov.vn
- Mr. Tran Van Son, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), Email: vpcp@chinhphu.vn
- H.E. Ms. Le Thi Tuyet Mai, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: info@vnmission-ge.gov.vn / geneva@mofa.gov.vn
- Embassy of Vietnam in Brussels, Belgium, Email: vnemb.brussels@skynet.be

***
Paris-Geneva, August 17, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
- E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
- Tel. FIDH : +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
- Tel. OMCT : +41 (0) 22 809 49 39

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