Authorities in Vietnam Accused of Mistreating Jailed Activists

By Joshua Lipes
2013.04.17
vietnam-nghe-an-14-jan-2013-305.jpg Activists convicted of plotting to 'overthrow' the government listen to their verdicts at a court in Vinh, Nghe An province on Jan. 9, 2013.
AFP/Vietnam News Agency

At least eight of 14 Vietnamese activists jailed in January on charges of plotting to overthrow the government have been subjected to mistreatment in prison, an opposition group charged Wednesday as another blogger was imprisoned for conducting “propaganda against the state.”

The eight, whose appeal hearing has been scheduled next week in a court in Nghe An province’s Vinh city, have faced various deprivations and abuses, including assault and having their medicine withheld,  the opposition group Viet Tan charged in a statement.

They are part of a larger group of Catholics, students, and bloggers convicted under Article 79 of the Penal Code for their involvement with Viet Tan, a U.S.-based group outlawed and considered a terrorist organization in Vietnam.

Thirteen were jailed for between three and 13 years in Vinh city’s Nghi Kim Detention Center, in addition to two to five years’ probation. Another was given a suspended sentence of probation.

According to lawyers, who have now met with their respective clients, all eight of the defendants whose appeal will be heard on April 24 have been subjected to mistreatment while in prison, Viet Tan said.

They were identified as Ho Duc Hoa, Thai Van Dung, Paulus Le Son, Nguyen Xuan Anh, Tran Minh Nhat, Nguyen Dinh Cuong, Ho Van Oanh and Nguyen Van Duyet.

“The lawyers reported that Paulus Le Son, Tran Minh Nhat, Nguyen Dinh Cuong, and Ho Van Oanh are being held in prison cells without electricity (their rooms are basically dark after dusk),” it said.

“They are only provided with meager portions of water and food, sometimes being offered food that has been spoiled.”

Medicine withheld

Viet Tan said that Paulus Le Son, a 28-year-old Catholic blogger, had been denied medicine and is being refused access to newspapers, books, and writing materials.

“He was only allowed to have the Bible after three days on a hunger strike,” the group said, adding that Ho Van Oanh was “denied the chance to submit a written request for a Bible.”

It said Paulus Le Son had also recently learned that his mother had passed away while he was in prison and had requested to wear mourning clothes during his appeal.

Tran Minh Nhat was reportedly physically assaulted by a prison official two months ago because he was singing in his cell, Viet Tan said.

Another of the 14 convicted in January, Dang Xuan Dieu, had submitted a petition calling for a new investigation and trial altogether, arguing that the indictment was invalid due to fabricated information.

But Viet Tan said that his request was denied, and he was not permitted to join the other eight in their appeal.

“He has not been allowed visitation from his lawyer or family since the trial, so nobody has been able to discuss appeals with him.”

Blogger sentenced

In a continuing crackdown on online dissent, a court in southern Vietnam on Wednesday sentenced blogger Pham Nguyen Thanh Binh to three years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state,” according to official media.

Binh, 30, was sentenced by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code and will also serve three years of probation following the completion of his jail term during which he will forgo his rights as a citizen, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.

The blogger “confessed to all his crimes at the trial and asked for a lighter sentence,” the report said.

Binh had allegedly posted articles online about political, economic, and social issues in Vietnam for Nguyen Xuan Chau, the leader of an exiled “reactionary group” called Nguoi Viet vi dan toc Viet (Vietnamese people dedicated to Vietnam) based in Australia.

Tuoi Tre said that Binh wrote eight articles in total from January to May 2012 for Chau, who edited them and published them on his blog.

The report said the content of the articles were “against the guidelines of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Vietnamese government,” calling them “made-up stories” of the private lives of several Party leaders that were “aimed at inciting the people to act against” the state.

Tuoi Tre quoted investigators as saying Binh had admitted to writing false stories and that he “tried to make people believe that he was holding crucial information of or worked for the Communist Party of Vietnam and the government” when he was unemployed and had never been provided with such materials.

“Binh confessed that he is not even a member of the said exiled reactionary group,” the report said.

Vietnamese authorities have come under fire from human rights groups and some Western governments for jailing and harassing dozens of activists, bloggers, and citizen journalists since stepping up a crackdown on protests and freedom of expression online in recent years.

Many have been imprisoned under Article 88, which rights groups and press freedom watchdogs say is a vaguely worded provision used by Hanoi to silence dissent.

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