Authorities in Vietnam are changing the charges filed against democracy advocates and rights supporters being hunted by police, saying the activists are not wanted for political offenses but for common crimes, sources in the country say.
The move comes in an apparent bid to reduce public and foreign sympathy for those in hiding, and to facilitate their quick arrest and removal from countries to which they may have fled, rights group Defend the Defenders said in a statement.
Activists formerly accused of subversion under vague laws in Vietnam’s criminal code are now charged on the website of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security with accepting bribes or procuring prostitutes, with others charged with “unauthorized use of rudimentary weapons” or assisting others to commit suicide, the rights group said on Dec. 22.
“By changing political allegations against them to criminal ones, Vietnam’s communist regime strives to cheat the international community and avoid global condemnation for human rights abuse,” the rights group said.
Speaking on Friday to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, fugitive activist Trang Van Nguyen said that changes in the charges filed against political activists will make everything “more difficult in the future” for those in hiding from the police.
“This criminalization of political activities will put political activists in a difficult situation,” said Trang, a member of the banned online advocacy group Brotherhood for Democracy formerly charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” but now accused of procuring prostitutes.
“If activists in hiding apply for refugee status or residency in another country, the procedure will be much more complicated,” Trang said. “Moreover, these changed charges increase the chance that those applying will be deported.”
'Public opinion will be affected'
Also speaking to RFA, Son Van Le—a former political prisoner in Vietnam now living in the U.S.—said that changes in the charges now filed by Vietnamese authorities may reduce international support for democracy supporters and rights activists in the one-party communist state.
“I have seen that whenever activists fighting for democracy, freedom, and human rights in Vietnam are arrested or imprisoned, the international community puts strong pressure on the government in Hanoi,” Son said.
“Now, these changes from political charges will turn those activists into ordinary criminals,” he said, adding, “Public opinion inside and outside Vietnam will be affected, and intervention by foreign governments and organizations will be made more difficult.”
Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely, with Human Rights Watch putting the number in October at 138. The rights group Defend the Defenders meanwhile puts the number as at least 240, with 36 convicted this year alone.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.