A group of 21 international and Vietnamese human rights groups have written top European Union officials to ask for help during trade negotiations between Hanoi and Brussels in winning the freedom of political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen, who is serving am 11-year jail term for legal and pro-democracy advocacy.
Nguyen Bac Truyen, a former political prisoner and member of the online Brotherhood for Democracy group, was arrested July 30, 2017 by authorities in central Vietnam’s Quang Binh province in a way that his relatives described as a “kidnapping.”
On April 5, 2018 Truyen received an 11-year term and three years of house arrest for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government.”
“Nguyen Bac Truyen is a legal expert who has been targeted for his peaceful defence of human rights; the charges against him are completely without foundation,” the rights groups said in an April 15 letter to Federica Maria Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The letter called on the Italian politician, who is also vice-president of the European Commission, to “take all necessary measures to secure his immediate and unconditional release.”
“Truyen has a long history of defending and promoting human rights including the right to freedom of religion or belief for religious minorities in Vietnam,” said the letter, also copied to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, and commission first-vice president Frans Timmermans.
Signatories included Amnesty International, the Association for the Advancement of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam, Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Front Line Defenders and Human Rights Watch.
“As the EU and Vietnam move towards the conclusion of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, it is imperative that human rights concerns are at the forefront of negotiations,” said the letter.
The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), is expected to be signed in the summer of 2019. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is visiting Romania and the Czech Republic to win support for the trade deal.
“In line with the EU Guidelines on human rights defenders, we strongly urge you to lead EU efforts, taking all necessary measures to urge Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Bac Truyen, and ensuring his safety and that of his family.
“We further urge you to call on Vietnam to end all violations and reprisals against human rights defenders, and to demonstrate its commitment to improving its human rights record,” it said.
Truyen, who is in his early 50s, was first arrested in 2006 for violating article 88 of the Vietnam Penal Code and sentenced to four years in prison.
After his release, Truyen was routinely followed and harassed for his work.
“Whenever there is a gathering of civil society groups, plainclothes policemen are assigned to watch me, threaten me, and prevent me from going out,” Truyen told RFA in an earlier report.
“After I was freed from prison, they followed me 24 hours a day, but for the last two months they have only watched me from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.”
“However, they are very aggressive,” he said.
Despite the intimidation, Truyen continued working towards democracy and human rights for the Vietnamese, writing about fellow political prisoners and the hardships they face in their daily life.
He received the Hellman/Hammett Award from Human Rights Watch in 2011 for his “commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of persecution.”
Nguyen Kim Binh of Vietnam Human Rights Network said in December that Vietnam, a one-party communist state, is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners.