A court in southwestern Vietnam’s An Giang province sentenced a Buddhist hermit to 12 years in prison for spreading propaganda against the state under Article 88, a provision often used by the communist government to silence dissent, sources familiar with the secretive trial told RFA.
Vuong Van Tha, his son Vuong Thanh Thuan, and his two nephews, Nguyen Nhat Truong and Nguyen Van Thuong, were arrested on May 18, 2017 after a nearly two-month standoff. Tha is a member of an unsanctioned sect of Hoa Hao Buddhism.
Cong Ly Dan Toc, a writer whose Facebook name means “Justice for the Nation” told RFA’s Vietnamese that Tha was sentenced under protest without the presence of lawyers or his family.
“Tha strongly protested during the trial because he didn’t see his child. He also asked the court that why people were not allowed to enter the courtroom while the court itself is called People’s Court. He also asked for his lawyers because there was no lawyer representing him,” said Cong Ly Dan Toc
“He was screaming in protest against the trial and was subdued with violence before being taken to a private room where he was sentenced. When Tha was being subdued, his two nephews repeatedly banged their heads against the table, trying to commit suicide in protest,” added the blogger.
Cong Ly Dan Toc said that while Tha got 12 years in prison, his son, Vuong Thanh Thuan, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and his two nephews, both of whom are illiterate, each received six years in jail.
Attorney Nguyen Kha Thanh, who was approved by the People's Court of An Giang to be Tha’s lawyer but could not attend the trial, told RFA on Tuesday that he had not heard anything about the trial and was unable to contact Tha’s wife and daughter.
"After the trial, I called Le Thi Le Ha (Tha’s wife) and Vuong Ngoc Thao (his daughter), but they didn’t answer the phone,” Thanh told RFA.
Tha, who is in his late 40s, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2012 for "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State and the rights and interests of organizations and citizens” and was released in October 2015.
It was after Lunar New Year in 2017 that Tha began to raise his voice on social media about his situation and his views about Vietnam’s communist government.
In the lead up to his arrest, nine members of his family were surrounded and isolated by police force for nearly two months, until May 18, 2017 when Tha, his son and two nephews were arrested.
The Interfaith Council of Vietnam said in a statement issued in September that police had taken Tha into custody along with his son and two of his cousins after laying siege to the family’s home in southern Vietnam’s An Giang province on May 18.
At the time, the council said, hundreds of people—including police, plainclothes officers, and thugs—used a water cannon to attack Tha’s house, where nine members of his family were staying, including a man older than 80, a six-month-old child, three women and three young boys.
The assault sent the women and children to the hospital to get treatment for their injuries, it said, while authorities in An Giang’s An Phu district arrested Tha, his son Vuong Van Thuan, and his cousins Nguyen Nhat Truong and Nguyen Nhat Thuong.
The family was not notified of the whereabouts of Tha and his three relatives until receiving an announcement more than three months later, informing them that they had been detained at Bang Lang Prison, in An Giang’s Long Xuyen district.
Prior to his arrest in May, Tha had used a loudspeaker to speak out against what he called the “mistakes and crimes” of Vietnam’s government. Since the May attack, authorities have cut off the electricity and water to his home and subjected his family members to frequent harassment.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Paul Eckert.