The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (pen-name Dieu Cay), Phan Thanh Hai (Anh Ba Saigon) and Ta Phong Tan (Justice and Truth) and drop all charges against them. The three are charged under Article 88.2 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code for “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” This crime is punishable by ten to twenty years in prison.
“Dieu Cay has been detained incommunicado for the past 17 months in gross violation of domestic and international law, and he should never have been arrested in the first place. A trial under these conditions would be nothing other than a parody of justice,” said Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.
A prisoner of conscience, Dieu Cay has been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. He co-founded the independent Free Vietnamese Journalists’ Club in 2007 and is a popular blogger. He has written articles critical of China’s foreign policy on Vietnam and taken part in peaceful protests. He is due to be tried on April 17th.
Dieu Cay’s lawyers Ha Huy Son and Nguyen Quoc Dat said that it was also possible that the trial could be postponed until after the “sensitive” date of April 30th, the anniversary of the Communist take-over and the fall of Saigon. The three are charged with posting 421 articles on their blogs that “distorted and opposed the State.”
The lawyers were allowed to see Dieu Cay on March 29th for the first time, and have met him again for a second time. They say that Dieu Cay has lost a lot of weight in prison. He continues to reject the accusations against him and insists that he has committed no crime. His lawyers said that Dieu Cay refuses to sign any papers concerning the case, and even refused to read the Indictment drawn up by the prosecution.
He was first arrested in April 2008 and sentenced to 30 months in prison on alleged charges of “tax evasion.” He and his blog were under surveilience for several years because he advocated for democracy and human rights, exposed corruption and and criticized China. The agency which arrested him had nothing to do with taxes: it was the Internal Security and Counter-Espionage Departments of the Ministry of Public Security. Yet the government denies targeting him.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights alerted the United Nations of his case, and in 2009 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention pronounced him a victim of arbitrary detention and called for his release.
Concerned about reports last year that he was gravely ill, Amnesty International issued an urgent action for his release, calling prison conditions in Vietnam “harsh,” and adding that poor food and limited health care force prisoners to be reliant on additional supplies from their families.
Amnesty said he was held incommunicado for several months after being transferred to a prison further from his home in Ho Chi Minh City, making it difficult for his family to visit him: “Political prisoners held incommunicado are particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment.”
Instead of releasing Dieu Cay on completion of his sentence on October 19th, 2010, the authorities detained him under a second charge of “spreading propaganda against the state” (Article 88). Since then, his family have been denied all visits and not even been informed of his whereabouts. They had serious concerns for his health, and did not know if he was dead or alive. This 17-month detention contravenes Vietnam’s Criminal Procedures Code (Article 120) which limits pre-trial detention for “national security offenders” to a maximum of four months, extendable three times only in “serious cases”, after which the detainee must either be released or “other deterrent measures” may be applied.
The other two bloggers to stand trial with Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan are also members of the Club of Free Journalists. Phan Thanh Hai, born in 1969, was arrested on October 18th, 2010 and has remained in detention since then, also in violation of the Criminal Procedures Code.
“Do we have the right to call for the abrogation of Article 88? I say that we do. As citizens who have voted for our elected representatives, we are entitled to petition the National Assembly and urge them to repeal any laws that are useless, obsolete, or which go against the people’s interests. This is our right,” he wrote.
Born in 1968, Ta Phong Tan is a former Policewoman who posted articles on the Internet on Police abuse and state violations of human rights. She was arrested on September 5th, 2011. She is defended by lawyer Nguyen Thanh Luong.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights calls on Vietnam to immediately release these three bloggers who are detained for the legitimate expression of their peaceful opinions. All charges against them should be immediately dropped and they should regain their full citizenship rights.
“Vietnam has signed most key UN human rights treaties and it is candidate for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council in 2014-2016. Yet it continues to blatantly flaunt its disrespect of the most basic human rights. Vietnam must respect its international commitments and call off this mockery of justice before it is too late”, said Vo Van Ai.