GENEVA (12 April 2018) – A group of UN experts* has urged Viet Nam not to crackdown on civil society or stifle dissent after the jailing of seven human rights defenders for “conducting activities to overthrow the people’s government”.
Six human rights defenders were each sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison followed by a period of house arrest, last 5 April. The founder of Brotherhood for Democracy, Nguyen Van Dai, received the longest sentence: 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest. The defenders have two weeks to appeal against the sentences.
“We are deeply concerned at the way these peaceful campaigners have been treated and in particular over the use of Article 79 of the 1999 penal code of Viet Nam to charge and convict dissenting voices, mainly human rights defenders, especially as Article 79 carries the possibility of the death sentence or life imprisonment,” the experts said.
Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha, both human rights lawyers, were arrested in 2015 while attempting to meet EU delegates before an annual EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Trung Ton and Nguyen Bac Truyen were arrested in July 2017, amid a general crackdown on freedom of expression.
Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thu Ha, Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc and Nguyen Trung Ton are pro-democracy campaigners who are members of the Brotherhood for Democracy movement. The group was created in 2013 and consists mostly of former jailed dissidents who set up an online group calling for democracy.
The UN experts are particularly concerned that all six were held in pre-trial detention with very limited access to legal counsel, in a clear breach of international human rights standards, and that they were prosecuted in relation to their activities as human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists.
“We are also appalled by reports indicating that at least 12 supporters of the six human rights defenders, who were waiting outside the court during the day, were arrested and detained without charges,” said the experts. The supporters were allegedly holding signs saying “Democracy is not a crime”, “Justice for Brotherhood for Democracy” and “Stop suppressing Brotherhood for Democracy”.
On 10 April, another member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, Nguyen Van Tuc was sentenced to 13 years of prison and five years under house arrest on the same charges of Article 79 of the penal code.
In 2017, there was a substantial increase in the number of arrests and detentions of human rights defenders in Viet Nam. “We urge the authorities not to crack down on civil society to muzzle dissenting voices and stifle the people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law,” the experts stressed.
“We also call on Viet Nam to release all political prisoners and provide a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, in line with their international obligations and commitments,” the experts said.
The experts have already contacted the Government of Viet Nam to seek clarification about the issues highlighted.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously issued two opinions, one on the arbitrary detentions of Pham Van Troi and Truong Minh Duc, and one regarding the arbitrary nature of Nguyen Van Dai’s deprivation of liberty.
*The experts: Mr. Michel Forst, is Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, current Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.