Vietnamese authorities have extended the detention of a Vietnamese-American by another four months after apparently finding no evidence to press “terrorism” charges against him, a political opposition group said Wednesday.
Nguyen Quoc Quan, 58, also known as Richard Nguyen, was arrested on April 17 as he deplaned in Tan Son Nhat airport and charged with terrorism under Article 84 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for allegedly trying to disrupt the anniversary of the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict.
At the end of a four-month detention period this month, the Vietnamese authorities “quietly” changed the democracy activist’s charges from terrorism to subversion for merely being a member of opposition group Viet Tan, which is outlawed in the one-party communist state, family sources said.
He is now accused of “attempting to overthrow the people’s government,” according to the family sources cited by Viet Tan.
“After labeling Dr. Quan as a terrorist in state media, the fact that Hanoi is dropping the Article 84 charge means that authorities could not demonstrate a single reason why the Viet Tan member and democracy activist committed terrorism,” Viet Tan said in a statement.
“By arbitrarily accusing Dr. Quan of terrorism and detaining him illegally since April 17, 2012, Hanoi has added another black mark to its deplorable human rights record.”
Intolerance for rights
Viet Tan said Article 79, the law under which Quan is accused of subversion, had been used in the past as a pretext to “repress and silence peaceful democratic voices.”
“Viet Tan will continue to work for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Quan and all other political prisoners held in Vietnam,” said Party Chairman Do Hoang Diem.
Quan, who received his doctorate in mathematics from North Carolina State University, is a former high school teacher in Vietnam.
He was previously detained by Vietnamese authorities in November 2007 and held for six months for distributing materials promoting nonviolent tactics for civil resistance.
The new charges against him come as a top court in Vietnam turned down an appeal by a prominent labor activist who was sentenced to five years in prison in June for distributing propaganda against the state.
The People’s Supreme Court in southeastern Vietnam’s Ninh Thuan province on Wednesday upheld the prison sentence of 53-year-old Phan Ngoc Tuan, an advocate for workers’ rights and an activist who has raised concerns about actions committed by local government.
Tuan, who is also a Catholic missionary, was arrested on Aug. 10 last year for distributing leaflets that denounced “wrongdoings” by local authorities.
On June 6, during a trial in which he did not have legal representation, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the penal code, and an additional three years of probation.
Tuan’s wife, Nguyen Thị Nụ, told RFA’s Vietnamese service that she had only recently learned of the appeal date.
“I was not informed of the court date and only knew it to be Aug. 29 after visiting my husband,” she said.
“During the indictment, my husband said that he did not expect any leniency … as he was fighting corruption … ,” she said.
Nu said that her husband had told her previously that he would appeal to Vietnam’s Head of State, no matter what the outcome of the Supreme Court appeal.
Threat of retribution
Nu said that she had received no word from court authorities on legal action she and her husband had taken to protect the interest of the workers they distributed leaflets to.
“So far, the court has only held the trial concerning the events since 2011, saying that [Tuan] distributed flyers to instigate action [against the State],” she said.
“There were 500 workers in total, but only [my husband] stood up to fight.”
Nu said that it was important to publicize her side of the story, despite the threat of retribution from the government.
“There are still our kids to think of besides ourselves,” she said. “I’m very scared.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said Tuan’s trial demonstrated the Vietnamese government’s intolerance for any kind of opposing viewpoints in society.
"The national government should recognize the importance of activists like Phan Ngoc Tuan, who demand respect for worker rights and expose discriminatory practices by local authorities,” Robertson said in a statement.
“Locking away activists like Phan Ngoc Tuan will only mean that local government authorities will be able to enjoy a free hand to abuse their power to enrich themselves and violate human rights,” he said.
“This case is yet another instance of Vietnam shooting the messenger rather than addressing the grievances that make local activists stand up and demand justice and accountability."
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service and Joshua Lipes. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.