Vietnam to Try Formosa Activist on 'Abusing Democratic Freedoms' Charge

Hoang Duc Binh could face 2-7 years in prison following arrest for leading environmental protests.

Activists Bach Hong Quyen (L) and Hoang Duc Binh (R) in an undated photo.

A Vietnamese labor and environmental activist arrested in May after campaigning against Hanoi’s handling of a devastating toxic waste spill will be tried for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state,” his lawyer told RFA’s Vietnamese service on Wednesday.

Hoang Duc Binh, 34, was arrested central Vietnam’s Nghe An province on May 15, more than a year after organizing protests over the government’s response to the April 2016 waste spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s steel plant, which killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.

Binh is to be prosecuted under paragraph 2, Article 258 of the Vietnam Penal Code for  “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens,” and could face between two and seven years in jail, his defense lawyer confirmed.

“I have received the investigation result which was completed on October 30. His family also knows about this but I don’t know what they think yet,” said Attorney Ha Huy Son.

“Lawyers have not been allowed to meet with him for two weeks. Two weeks ago, lawyer Le Van Luan met him, and Luan said his health is fair,” added Son.

Following Binh’s arrest last May, hundreds of people blocked off traffic in Nghe An’s Dien Chau district, near where plainclothes officers pulled over the car the activist was riding in, before proceeding to the front of the district government office to demand his release.

Defending the arrest at the time, the news website of Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court issued a report detailing Binh’s activities in recent years, which it labeled “reactionary” and “politically colored,” including appeals to establish unofficial union groups.

Binh is the vice president of an independent civic organization called “The Labor Movement of Vietnam,” which aims to help workers, and a member of the group called “No-U Saigon” a group that protests China’s sweeping claims on the South China Sea.

The prosecution of Binh comes amid a major crackdown by Hanoi’s ruling Communist Party authorities on rights defenders, bloggers and other dissenters.

Amnesty International says that Vietnam is currently holding at least 84 prisoners of conscience, the highest number in any country in Southeast Asia.

Amnesty describes such prisoners as “men and women who have been imprisoned for their beliefs and/or peaceful activism.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Paul Eckert.