A court in Vietnam on Wednesday threw out an appeal by Vietnamese activist Nguyen Trung Truc, a member of the online Brotherhood for Democracy advocacy group, against his 12-year jail sentence for subversion.
During morning proceedings that lasted just under three hours, the appeals court in the central coastal city of Da Nang upheld a September decision by a lower court in Quang Binh province ordering Truc, 44, to spend 12 years in prison and a subsequent five years under probation for activities “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” under Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service following Truc’s Wednesday trial, defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng said that the hearing had “lasted longer than usual, as the defendant delivered a lengthy argument for his innocence.”
Mieng said that Truc denied any intention of toppling Vietnam’s government, and explained to the court that he had only sought to promote democracy and human rights as a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy.
“If Truc and I hadn’t delivered arguments, the trial would have concluded very quickly,” he said.
“Regardless, the court said Truc’s actions showed that he intended to overthrow the government.”
Mieng noted that Wednesday’s proceedings were “heavily guarded” and said it was unclear why Truc’s appeals trial had been moved to a court in Da Nang, instead of taking place in the activist’s home province of Quang Binh.
Ahead of the appeal trial, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, issued a statement anticipating that Truc’s “outrageous” sentence would be upheld, and calling for his freedom.
“The 12 year sentence Nguyen Trung Truc received in September for his activities is outrageous but given the Communist Party's grip on the country's courts, no one believes Truc will receive justice at today's appeals court trial,” he said.
“Truc’s only offense was to peacefully express his views on the urgent need for political reform in Vietnam—and this should not be a crime so he should be immediately and unconditionally freed.”
Robertson also condemned Vietnam’s attack on the Brotherhood for Democracy’s blogging, peaceful protests, and demands for respect for rights and democracy, which he said “only an unabashed one party dictatorship would treat as traitorous.”
He added that the European Union should tell Hanoi that as long as “blatantly political, rights abusing trials of peaceful dissidents” continue in Vietnam, there will be no possibility for progress on an EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which is expected to be signed in the summer of 2019.
Truc’s Aug. 4, 2017 arrest followed the round-up of other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, many of whom were also handed long prison terms after trials widely condemned as unfair.
The Brotherhood for Democracy’s president Nguyen Trung Ton, former president Pham Van Troi, and deputy head of the group’s operations in Southern Vietnam Truong Minh Duc, were arrested along with fellow member Nguyen Bac Truyen on July 30, 2017 by Vietnamese security officers because of their ties to the group and subsequently charged under Article 79.
On April 5, Ton and Duc each received sentences of 12 years in jail and three years of house arrest, while Truyen received an 11-year sentence and three years of house arrest, and Troi received a seven-year sentence and one year of house arrest.
Earlier this month, wives and family members of several of the jailed activists raised concerns that the four are suffering from failing health and enduring ill treatment in prison during a meeting with U.S. embassy officials in Hanoi, who pledged to “pay more attention” to Brotherhood for Democracy members and to discuss their cases, as well as those of other political prisoners, with relevant authorities in Vietnam.
Following Truc’s September sentencing, the U.S. embassy had slammed the court’s decision in a statement and voiced “deep concern” over what it called “vague charges of ‘attempting to overthrow the people’s administration.’”
The embassy called on Vietnam to immediately release all prisoners of conscience and to allow all individuals in the country “to express their views freely and assembly peacefully without fear of retribution.”
Nguyen Kim Binh of Vietnam Human Rights Network said earlier this month that Vietnam is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners—70 more than the number recently provided by Human Rights Watch.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.