Vietnamese Activist Who Aids Jailed Dissidents' Families Arrested For 'Anti-State Documents'

2021-04-07
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Vietnamese Activist Who Aids Jailed Dissidents' Families Arrested For 'Anti-State Documents' Nguyen Thuy Hanh holds a banner calling for the release of a prisoner of conscience during a protest in Hanoi.
Facebook / Nguyen Thuy Hanh

UPDATED at 7:30 A.M. EDT on 2021-04-08

Police in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Wednesday arrested a well-known activist who raised funds for the families of jailed prisoners of conscience, for what official media in the one-party state said was "disseminating anti-state documents."

Nguyen Thuy Hanh, who had earlier run afoul of Communist Party authorities for trying to run for election in 2016, was taken into custody Wednesday morning in the lobby of her apartment building, said Dang Bich Phuong, a personal friend, citing information from Hanh’s family members.

“I asked Hanh’s older sister, who lives in Phu Yen province, but she didn’t get the news directly herself. She heard about it from other relatives,” she said, speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on April 7.

Police officers on the scene barred bystanders from taking photos or filming the arrest, Phuong added.

Also speaking to RFA, former prisoner of conscience Vu Hung confirmed the arrest, saying he had been away from Hanoi when Hanh was taken away and hadn’t heard of her arrest until after 3:00 p.m., when he quickly returned to Hanoi.

“When I asked to visit Hanh, a receptionist in her apartment building told me she had been arrested that morning,” Hung said. “She said that about 30 people had been present at the arrest, and that police first read out the arrest warrant and then sealed her apartment.”

A reporter’s call asking police in Hanoi’s Thuong Dinh ward about the arrest was turned away by an officer who said “We don’t know” and then hung up, while a receptionist at the Hanoi Police Investigation Agency said reporters should come in person to the agency to ask their questions.

Born in 1963, Hanh is a well-known human rights activist in Hanoi and founder of the 50K Fund, set up to provide financial support to family members of prisoners of conscience who can’t afford to travel to the prisons where their loved ones are held.

Her account at Vietcombank was blocked in 2020 after she raised about 500 million Vietnamese dong (US $21,600) to support the family of Le Dinh Kinh, the elderly leader of the Dong Tam commune, who was shot dead by security forces during a police raid on Dong Tam in Jan. 9, 2020 amid a long-running land dispute that landed many of his family members in jail.

Hanh closed her fund in early December to have time to treat an illness, but affirmed her continuing support for prisoners of conscience.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, called Hanh's arrest "a blatant and politically-motivated attempt to silence one of the most respected human rights advocates in the country." 

Hah noted that Vietnamese prisons are "notoriously overcrowded" and called for Hanh's immediate release.

"It is a travesty that Nguyen Thuy Hanh is being targeted for her humanitarian work in support of unjustly detained prisoners. She should be celebrated and supported for this work–not punished," she said.

Crackdown on candidates

Hahn was a self-nominated candidate in 2016 for election to the country’s National Assembly, a process tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party and restricted to Party-approved candidates, sources said.

Rights group Amnesty International called on Vietnam on April 1 to end its crackdown on independent candidates for election to the country’s rubber-stamp legislature in a vote scheduled for May 23, saying that two would-be Assembly members have already been arrested and charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code for activities “opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Le Trong Hung, a citizen journalist and member of Chan Hung TV—which broadcasts Facebook livestreams on social and political issues—was arrested by police in Hanoi on March 27, while blogger Tran Quoc Khanh was taken into custody in Ninh Binh province on March 10, Amnesty said.

Emerlynne Gill, Deputy Regional Director for Amnesty International, noted that while Vietnam has recently put itself forward as a candidate for membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, “[Vietnamese] authorities are engaging in blatant and widespread human rights violations at home.”

At least 173 known prisoners of conscience were being held in Vietnamese prisons as of December 2020, Amnesty said in an annual report released on April 6, “the highest recorded number since Amnesty International began publishing these figures in 1996.”

“Among those, 72 were held for expressing their opinions online, a marked increase on previous years,” the rights group said, adding, “Prison conditions remained generally harsh, but prisoners of conscience in particular were subjected to discrimination, harassment and ill-treatment.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Hahn had nominated herself for elections this year.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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