Vietnam land rights activist loses appeal against 6-year prison term

Human rights groups have called for Truong Van Dung’s immediate release.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.07.13
Vietnam land rights activist loses appeal against 6-year prison term Truong Van Dung holding a banner in Hanoi in 2016.
Facebook: Dung Truong

The appeals court in Hanoi on Thursday rejected land rights activist Truong Van Dung’s appeal against his six-year prison sentence, his wife told RFA.

Dung protested his innocence loudly in court and demanded to be released immediately, Nghiem Thi Hop said.

She said her husband was escorted out of the courtroom twice for arguing with the judge and shouting “down with the Communist Party.”

Dung’s lawyers argued that he did not commit any crime and challenged prosecutors to re-examine the “evidence,” but they refused, Hop said.

She said the appeal was just a “show trial” with the judge ordering Dung’s lawyers to “speak less and be quick,” while the judge’s comments were barely audible because there was no microphone.

On March 28, Hanoi City Court found 65-year-old Dung guilty of “conducting anti-state propaganda.” 

According to the indictment, Dung gave interviews to U.S.-based Saigon Dallas Radio between 2015 and 2022 that “distorted and smeared Vietnam’s government, propagated fabricated information and caused confusion among the people.” The interviews and video clips were posted on social media.  

The Hanoi People’s Procuracy also accused Dung of storing copies of two books: “Popular Politics” by human rights activist Pham Doan Trang and “Life of People Behind Bars” by former prisoner of conscience Pham Thanh Nghien. The books were allegedly printed and distributed illegally. 

Dung was prosecuted under Article 88 of Vietnam’s 1999 penal code, a controversial law used to target dissidents that rights groups say is one of several wielded to stifle voices of dissent in the one-party communist state.

There are 193 activists in Vietnamese prisons according to human rights group The 88 Project.

“Sadly but not surprisingly land activist Truong Van Dung lost his appeal,” Human Rights Watch Asia Director Elaine Pearson said in a Tweet

“So what in the Vietnamese government’s view were Truong Van Dung’s “crimes”? Essentially, he exercised his rights to freedom of expression, association & peaceful assembly.”

2014-05-11T120000Z_1539942187_GM1EA5B18ZV01_RTRMADP_3_VIETNAM-CHINA-PROTEST.JPG
Truong Van Dung (C) holds a photo of captain Nguy Van Tha who was killed in the January 1974 Battle of the Paracel Islands, during an anti-China protest in front of the Opera House in Hanoi May 11, 2014. Credit: Reuters

Dung participated in protests in Hanoi, including demonstrations against China’s occupation of the Paracel Islands – an island group in the South China Sea also claimed by Vietnam – and protests against the Taiwan-owned Formosa Company for polluting the coastline of four central Vietnamese provinces in 2016.

Public protests even over perceived harm to Vietnam’s interests are considered threats to its political stability and are routinely suppressed by the police.

“Truong Van Dung has experienced years of government harassment and intimidation, including police interrogations, house arrest, a travel ban and physical assaults,” said Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson ahead of the appeal. 

He accused Hanoi of “inexorably adding peaceful activists to the growing list of more than 150 Vietnamese political prisoners,” thereby violating human rights laws and betraying its duty to protect people’s rights as a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Every time the authorities throw an activist like Truong Van Dung behind bars, respect for human rights in Vietnam takes a hard knock,” Robertson said.

“Donors and international trade partners should be clear that if Vietnam wants growing trade and investment, its leaders need to recognize that people speaking their minds are part of the solution that strengthens, not weakens, the country.”

Truong Van Dung was arrested at the end of May 2022 and held incommunicado for nine months before his trial.

Amnesty International joined calls for Vietnamese authorities to drop all charges against him and spoke out against the country’s judicial system.

“The Vietnamese authorities are yet again misusing the criminal justice system to suppress dissent. Arrested for giving interviews to foreign media, Truong Van Dung should have never been put in prison in the first place,” Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director of Campaigns Ming Yu Hah said.

Amnesty said Dung’s appeal came as Vietnam cracked down on a growing number of people whose views differ from that of the government, and against independent civil society organizations.

“The unfair charges and inhumane prison conditions [show] the Vietnamese authorities’ willingness to systematically silence dissent in direct violation of international human rights law,” Hah said, calling Vietnam’s ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and its their seat on the UN Human Rights Council “no more than empty gestures.”  

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn.

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