Free Five Pro-Democracy Activists after Unfair TrialPublished: Oct 10, 2018 Reading time: 3 minutes
People in Need urges for the immediate and unconditional release of five pro-democracy activists from the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition. After almost 2 years of pre-trial detentions, they have been charged with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” in an unfair trial for simply exercising their fundamental rights.
Five pro-democracy activists, namely Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Phan Trung, Tu Cong Nghia, and Nguyen Quoc Hoan, were sentenced to a total of 57 years in prison in the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City on October 5, 2018. The court occured almost two years after they were arrested in November 2016, which marked a series of punitive and judicial violations of their fundamental rights.
Luu Van Vinh, who was handed the heaviest sentence of 15 years and 3 more years of probation, was beaten and arrested by plain clothes police without any warrant on November 6, 2016. His charge was based on the ambiguous Article 79 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” regardless of their peaceful nature.
His deprivation of liberty was concluded as “arbitrary” and discriminatory for his political stance, according to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in August 2018. According to the Working Group, after the arrest, Vinh was kept incommunicado and denied access to legal assistance without any court hearing for nearly a year. His prolong detention was aggravated by death threats from another inmate in the same cell without any interventions from the prison guard. Supplies from his family for his medical and visual impairments were obstructed.
Little has been known about the other four members of the Coalition also sentenced in the same trial.
All this process amounts to violations of various fundamental rights protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including
- Article 6 against torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment;
- Article 9 against arbitrary detention;
- Article 14 on right to fair trial;
- Article 19 on freedom of expression;
- Article 21 on right to peaceful assembly
- Article 22 on freedom of association;
- Article 26 on the virtue of equal protection of the law.
Vietnam is a signatory to this human rights treaty, thus bound by this international law and accountable for the respect, protection and promotion of these rights.
Prior to the sentence, Luu Van Vinh was an active and vocal advocate for human rights protection and government accountability. He formed the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition – an independent civil society organization that called for democratization and pluralism in Vietnam – in July 2016. In response to the environmental crisis caused by the Taiwanese steel plant Formosa in 2016, he also reportedly made the statement that all major issues in Vietnam should be decided by the people through referendums.
Only within 2018, at least 50 human rights and pro-democracy activists have been given harsh prison sentences. It is worried that crackdown on peaceful dissent will be reinforced when the infamous Cybersecurity law comes into effect in 2019.
According to the new law, contents critical of the Communist Party, the Government and its officials can be deemed illegal.
People in Need strongly urges the Vietnamese government to quash the conviction of these peaceful pro-democracy activists, press their immediate and unconditional release, and provide adequate, effective and prompt remedy for their arbitrary detentions.
People in Need also calls for the releases of all political prisoners or activists kept in pre-trial detention who have been victims of a widespread and systematic attack against peaceful dissent.