Viet Nam: Three pro-democracy bloggers sentenced to long prison terms

28/09/2012
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme 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 Viet Nam.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) about the heavy sentences pronounced against Mr. Nguyen Van Hai (alias Dieu Cay), Founder of the Club of Free Journalists and prominent blogger, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, bloggers and members of the Club of Free Journalists.

According to the information received, on September 24, 2012, the Supreme People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Mr. Dieu Cay to twelve years’ imprisonment and five years’ probationary detention, Ms. Ta Phong Tan to ten years’ imprisonment and five years’ probation and Mr. Phan Thanh Hai to four years’ imprisonment and three years’ probation on charges of “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam” under Article 88 of the Criminal Code for posting articles on their blogs that supposedly “distorted and opposed the State”.

The trial was marred by grave procedural irregularities that blatantly contravene fair trial standards. First of all, the trial failed to comply with the right to a public hearing as provided for by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Quite on the contrary, the trial was closed to the public as bloggers and Mr. Dieu Cay’s family were prevented from attending it. Hundreds of Security Police members intercepted, beat and/or arrested dissidents and bloggers who intended to access the court. At least 12 bloggers were taken into custody: Bui Thi Minh Hang, Trinh Kiem Tien, Nguyen Ho Nhat, Nguyen Thi Phuong, Nguyen Hoang Vi, Nguyen Tien Nam, Nguyen Van Dung, Pham Quoc Tuan, law student Trinh Anh Tuan, Huynh Cong Thuan, Chau Van Thi, Le Quoc Quyet and Lu Thi Thu Trang, as well as the poet Bui Chat. Moreover, Mr. Dieu Cay’s ex-wife and son were arrested on their way to the trial, and members of the secret police reportedly prevented his youngest daughter from leaving her home to attend. Furthermore, cell phone access was blocked in the court’s vicinity and the prominent blog Dan Lam Bao (Citizens’ Journalism), which posted hour-by-hour reports on the events, was fire-walled.

The right to defence and the right to equality of arms were also infringed as the Court cut off the microphone when Mr. Dieu Cay spoke to defend himself; the Court also rejected the defense lawyer’s demand to call witnesses for the defense and failed to produce any of the 26 articles on Dieu Cay’s blog that formed the basis of the charges of “anti-Socialist propaganda”. Moreover, Dieu Cay was denied the right to consult a lawyer and the right to a defense, including the right to challenge his pre-trial detention, during the first 16 months of his pre-trial detention (October 2010 and February 2012) as the authorities refused to inform his family of his whearebouts In preparation of the hearing, the defense lawyer was not provided with the full file of accusations against Dieu Cay, and the latter received no notification from the judges until the morning of the trial itself.

The Observatory expresses its grave concern at these heavy sentences and strongly denounces the conditions in which the trial was held. Besides amounting to an unacceptable restriction of their fundamental right to freedom of expression, the verdict and arrest of bloggers seem to merely aim at sanctioning legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory therefore calls on the Vietnamese judicial authorities to review the conviction of Mr. Dieu Cay, Ms. Ta Phong Tan and Mr. Phan Thanh Hai.

Background information:

Mr. Dieu Cay was arrested in April 2008 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison at an unfair trial on trumped-up charges of “tax evasion” in September 2008[1]. In fact, he had posted articles on the Internet calling for human rights and democratic reforms, and staged demonstrations during the Beijing Olympic games. In 2009, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Mr. Dieu Cay to be a victim of arbitrary detention (Opinion 1/2009). He was due for release on October 19, 2010 after having completed his prison term, but his family was then informed that he would remain in detention under the new charges of “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”.

As for Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, they were arrested respectively on October 18, 2010 and September 5, 2011 and have been held in detention at the headquarters of the Ho Chi Minh City Security Police Investigations Department (Phan Dang Luu Street), along with Dieu Cay, and charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code as well. Before his arrest, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai published in particular an analysis outlining that Article 88 of the Criminal Code violated the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution, and that it should be abrogated. Ms. Ta Phong Tan posted articles on police abuse and violations of human rights by the State.

Their trial was re-scheduled on April and August 2012.

On September 15, 2012, their lawyers were officially notified that the trial would finally take place on September 24, 2012. In the afternoon of September 16, 2012, Mr. Dieu Cay’s ex wife, along with a sister of Ms. Ta Phong Tan, were reportedly arrested and interrogated at the police station on accusations of causing a traffic incident after they got out of the taxi that drove them to a ceremony to commemorate the 49-day of Ms. Ta Phong Tan’s death. The same day, they were also assaulted by thugs in front of policemen who made no attempt to intervene. It is to be recalled that on July 30, 2012, Ms. Ta Phong Tan’s mother, Ms. Dang Thi Kim Lieng, immolated herself outside the People’s Committee headquarters in Bac Lieu to protest against her daughter’s unfair imprisonment.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Viet Nam urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as of all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

ii. Release Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan immediately and unconditionally as their detention seems to merely sanction their human rights activities and is contrary to national and international law;

iii. Put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as against all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular:
- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Viet Nam.

Addresses:

· H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1 Ton That Dam St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37992000; 080 48235; Fax: 84-4-38231872 – 84-4-37992682, Email: bc.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
· H.E. Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh, Minister of Interior, 37A Nguyen Binh Khiem St., Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-39764116 – 84-4-39764278; Fax: 84-4-39781005
· H.E. Mr. Ha Hung Cuong, Minister of Justice, 56-60 Tran Phu St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37336213 – 84-4-37338068 ; Fax: 84-4-38431431
· H.E. Mr. Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security, 44 Yet Kieu St., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-069 42545 - 84-4-048 226602; Fax: 84-4-9420223
· H.E. Mr. Vu Duc Dam, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), 1 Hoang Hoa Tham St. Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-80 43100 ; 84-4-80 43569; Fax: 84-4-80 44130
· H.E. Mr Vũ Dũng, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotential, Permanent Representative, 30 chemin des Corbillettes, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland; Tel (Assistant): +41 022-791 85 40; Phone: +41 (0) 22 791 85 40; Fax : +41 (0) 22-798 07 24; Email : info@vnmission-ge.gov.vn
· HE Mr. PHAM Sanh Chau, Ambassador, Boulevard Général Jacques 1, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: +32 (0)2. 379 27 37 ; Fax : +32 (0)2. 374 93 76; Email : vnemb.brussels@skynet.be - unescochau@yahoo.com

Please also write to the embassies of Viet Nam in your respective country.

***

Paris-Geneva, September 27, 2012

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 and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] Dieu Cay was unjustly accused of having failed for ten years to pay taxes on premises. Said taxes should have been paid by the owner of the premises not Dieu Cay, who was only renting them.

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