The United States voiced strong concern on Wednesday over the return to prison in Vietnam of three human rights activists, calling itself “deeply disappointed” over an appeals court’s ruling on Tuesday upholding sentences imposed at their trial in January.
“We are deeply disappointed that an appeals court upheld the convictions of Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dai, and Tran Hoang Phuc,” the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said in a July 11 statement, noting that the men had been convicted on what it called “the vague charge” of spreading propaganda against the state.
“We call on Vietnam to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience immediately, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to peacefully express their political views without fear of retribution,” the embassy statement said.
Thuan, Dai, and Phuc were convicted in a one-day trial at the Hanoi People’s Court on Jan. 31 under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code after producing and distributing videos criticizing the country’s ruling Communist party and its leaders.
Thuan was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison, Dien to six years and six months in prison, and Phuc to six years in prison. Thuan also received five years of probation, to commence at the end of his jail term, while the other two men were handed four years of probation each.
All three have now been returned to prison to serve out their terms.
Speaking on Wednesday to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Tran Hoang Phuc’s mother said that court proceedings on Tuesday had left her exhausted and overwhelmed.
“I am so exhausted now that I can’t remember very much. In general, everything felt oppressively strained, and even our lawyers worked hard until about 9:00 in the evening,” she said.
“The three convicted men are so sick now, so weak,” she added.
Also speaking to RFA, defense attorney Ha Huy Son said that the appeals court had refused to show the videos that prosecutors said supported the state’s case against the three activists, calling the move to bar evidence at trial a violation of judicial procedure.
“This left both the convicted men and their lawyers with no way to debate the prosecutors. In other words, the court issued its ruling without considering the evidence, which is a violation of Vietnamese law,” he said.
The videos were also blocked at the men’s original trial in January, leaving the judge in the case able to rule based only on the conclusions of Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication that the videos contained proof of anti-state activity.
Blogger's term upheld
In a separate case, the People’s High Court in Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, upheld a four-year, six-month prison term handed down last year to anti-corruption blogger Tran Minh Loi, state media said on Wednesday.
Loi, creator of the anti-corruption website Defeating Internal Invaders, had accused local authorities of involvement in timber smuggling, and was convicted in central Vietnam’s Dak Nong province on March 27, 2017 of paying bribes.
Though Loi and his lawyers declared his innocence at trial, prosecutors said that Loi had produced video recordings of local bank officials and police “only to benefit himself” and had damaged authorities’ prestige.
Authorities have long targeted activist writers and bloggers in an ongoing crackdown in one-party Communist Vietnam, where dissent is not allowed.
Rights group Amnesty International estimates that at least 97 prisoners of conscience are currently held in Vietnam’s prisons, where many are subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.