Eleven Vietnamese activists who have been languishing in jail without trial since as far back as August last year may be hauled to court soon to face subversion charges.
Prospects for an imminent trial for the group increased after two of the activists—a writer and a church activist—were moved from their detention center in Saigon to Hanoi, dissident groups said.
Tran Minh Nhat and Ho Van Oanh, both 26, were taken to the B14 Detention Center in Hanoi from the Nguyen Van Cu Detention Center in Saigon, where they had been detained since Aug. 16 and 27 last year, respectively, Priest An Thanh of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer told RFA’s Vietnamese service.
“Some people, such as Tran Minh Nhat and Ho Van Oanh, who had been jailed in a prison in Saigon, have recently been transferred to Prison B14 in Hanoi,” said the priest, whose church served as a base of activities for several of the young activists who were arrested.
The two men had joined Dang Xuan Dieu, 32, Ho Duc Hoa, 37, Nguyen Van Oai, 31, Paulus Le Van Son, 26, Nong Hung Anh, 23, Nguyen Van Duyet, 31, Nguyen Xuan Anh, 29, Thai Van Dung, 23, and Nguyen Dinh Cuong, 31, at the Hanoi detention center.
All 11 men had been detained at various times since August under Article 79 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” or for establishing or joining organizations with the “intent” to do so.
Detainees held under Article 79 can be held for up to 16 months without being brought to trial.
The decision to bring Tran and Ho to Hanoi suggests that the government may be planning to try the group as a whole, said Duy Hoang, spokesman for the U.S.-based opposition group Viet Tan, known as the Vietnam Reform Party.
“That signifies that there is going to be a trial soon because the government is consolidating all of the key [detainees] in one place,” Hoang said.
“It appears that the government is going to proceed at least with trying 11 of them under Article 79,” he said.
A conviction under Article 79 carries a minimum punishment of between 12 and 20 years imprisonment, the possibility of life imprisonment, or a maximum sentence of death. “Accomplices” are subject to between five and 15 years imprisonment.
The 11 men were among 17 people detained since July last year as part of a crackdown on activists with ties to religious organizations, anti-China protests, a movement against bauxite mining in central Vietnam, and citizen journalism.
The 17 young activists—primarily Catholics involved in the same networks—were all detained without warrants, and have had limited access to legal representation, and most were not permitted family visits until only recently. There has been no official announcement about their detention.
The six other activists not in Hanoi, including one female blogger, are being held in Nghe An province and in Saigon. Five of them are being held under Article 88, for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” Viet Tan said.
Hoang said that the 17 activists have drawn support from their local communities, as they had been working on the behalf of groups with little or no official recognition in Vietnam.
"There has been a lot of support for these youth activists as they are respected citizen journalists, religious advocates, and proponents of Vietnamese sovereignty," he said.
Relatives of two of the detainees held in Hanoi said authorities had provided them with few details about the condition or legal status of their loved ones.
A relative of Ho Duc Hoa said that the family had heard nothing new since his arrest in early August last year. They visited him during the Tet, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year in January.
“Before Tet, we received a phone call telling us to go and see him [at B14]. When we went there, he said nothing—he only stressed that he was ‘temporarily far from home for a while,’ and that when he was reunited with his family, he would say more,” the relative said.
“He only asked about the health of his family members and requested that books and magazines be sent to him. Before we went in to see him, we were told not to talk about anything aside from the health of his family members and siblings.”
And a relative of Dang Xuan Dieu, who was arrested on July 30 last year, said his attorney had not been permitted to meet with him because Dieu had been undergoing “questioning.”
“They said that Dieu was being ‘questioned.’ I don’t know which problems he was being questioned about. I don’t understand anything. They told the lawyer that he was being questioned as part of an ‘investigation’,” the family member said.
The relative said that Dieu’s family had not been allowed to see him since his arrest, and that he had simply been reported “kept” at the detention facility in Hanoi.
Priest An Thanh said that many of the families of those detained had not received any official documentation about the arrests, though some of the activists may have been given notices inside their cells.
“I can see that nothing [the authorities] do conforms to Vietnamese law at all,” An Thanh said.
“For example, they say that an investigation will last three days. If three days are not enough, then they say three more days are needed. Then three additional days are needed. Then nine more days are needed. Then a month is needed. Then four months are needed.”
The priest said that the authorities should work toward a goal of investigation, which, if achieved, would justify extending detention.
“But they cannot simply say that an investigation is not possible and that ‘additional time’ is needed,” An Thanh said.
“This proves that there is no evidence for a prosecution and that they have wrongly arrested these people, and yet they persist in imprisoning them,” he said.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Written in English with additional reporting by Joshua Lipes.