The New York Times: I Am in Prison Because I Want Freedom for My Country

By YON GOICOECHEA

CARACAS, Venezuela — I write this from my cell in the dungeons of the Venezuelan secret police. I’m 32 and I’ve been a democratic activist for 12 years. I have two children, 8 and 5, who are my sun and moon. I have a wife whom I love and who now has to carry the burden of being married to a political prisoner.

One year ago, while I was going to speak at a news conference on behalf of the Popular Will political party, of which I am a member, I was intercepted by 10 or 15 undercover secret police vehicles. A couple of dozen armed agents tied my hands and covered my head with a black cloth. They transported me to the prison from which I now write, where I was locked in a cell without light or natural ventilation.

When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls. The door was blocked with black garbage bags, leaving the room in total darkness. There was rotten, worm-infested food on the floor alongside scraps of clothing covered in feces. It felt as if I had been buried alive.

I was denied any communication with the outside world and could speak with my lawyers only when I was taken to court. After 10 days, I was transferred to an administrative office inside the jail, where for the next seven months I slept on a mat on the floor. I have finally been moved to a cell with a bed, though one with no windows. I can see the sun only one hour a week.

Scarcely five years ago, I was studying for a master’s degree at Columbia University. Back then, I strolled with my family through the Morningside Heights neighborhood in Manhattan and hoped that one day I would use everything I had learned to rebuild my country.

But for me, as for so many other Venezuelans, political imprisonment has been the punishment for daring to dream of a democratic society, free of Communism and open to the global community. We just want what so many other people around the world take for granted: free elections, good governance, free expression, judicial independence, personal security and a modicum of economic liberty — something not even the Chinese Communist Party denies its citizens anymore.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way; the other 1,048 political prisoners and most Venezuelans share my dream. But an armed minority has managed to impose a regime of fear, corruption and blood. My case is evidence of that.

Last October, a court granted me parole — but my jailers ignored that order. Three months ago, the prosecutor in my case closed the investigation, establishing that I was not guilty of any crimes (I had faced trumped-up charges of possession of explosives). This means that there are no active judicial proceedings against me — I’m simply being held hostage in violation of the Constitution. The United Nations, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all described my detention as arbitrary and called for my release.

But I know I’m here for a just cause. My sacrifice and that of others like me will change millions of lives. Today, 93 percent of Venezuelans cannot afford food. Because of food shortages that are the fault of our corrupt and brutal government, nearly three-quarters of Venezuelans say they have lost on average about 17 pounds in the past year. A health minister was fired for releasing his department’s annual report, revealing that infant mortality has returned to 1950 levels.

I can’t imagine the despair of thousands of patients with cancer and other diseases who are in constant pain in hospitals that lack medicines. I don’t want to think of a father’s horror when his baby dies from a fever or diarrhea that could easily have been treated if he had access to medicine.

I’m in prison so that this stops happening. That conviction gives me strength.

My generation has made freedom its goal. I want to ask the people of the United States and the world to stand by our side. I ask the news media to report on what is being censored in Venezuela. I ask the nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups to keep denouncing abuses. And I ask investors to understand that no profits from doing business with a bankrupt government will surpass the benefits to come when Venezuela is once again operating in world markets.

We in the Venezuelan opposition have three main challenges right now. The first is overcoming the humanitarian crisis caused by shortages of food and medicine. The second is restoring democracy through peaceful means and avoiding civil war. The third is opening our economy to the world.

We aren’t asking anyone to solve our problems for us. We have taken responsibility for our country’s future. But Washington’s influence could either help us speed up the process or give some breathing room. The White House, together with the rest of the international community, has the capacity to pressure for negotiation and a peaceful transition to democracy. We are grateful for the support that the people of Europe, Latin and North America have shown; I only dare to ask for one more thing: resolve.

As for me, I’ll do everything in my power to keep resisting in prison. I’ll keep dreaming of going home to sleep in a clean bed surrounded by my family. I’ll keep dreaming of the day in which we all take to the streets to celebrate our freedom.

(Yon Goicoechea is a lawyer and political activist.)

From: The New York Times

The New York Times: “It’s Very Easy to Die There”: How Prisoners Fare in Vietnam

Do Thi Mai, the mother of a 17-year-old boy who died after falling into a coma while in police custody, at home in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. “How did he turn out like this?” she asked. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

HANOI, Vietnam — Do Thi Mai said she was shocked to learn that her 17-year-old son, Do Dang Du, had fallen into a coma in prison a few weeks after he was arrested, accused by the police of stealing about $90.

The police initially said that Mr. Du’s severe head and leg wounds had been caused by falls in the bathroom, according to a family lawyer. “He was unconscious, so I couldn’t ask him,” Ms. Mai said.

Mr. Du died in the hospital a few days later, in October 2015, and members of his family told an interviewer that they believed he had been tortured in custody. The next month, two of their lawyers were assaulted outside the family home by what the lawyers said were eight masked men.

Nearly two years later, Ms. Mai is still searching for closure. “Two months before he died, he was healthy,” she said during an emotional interview at home on the rural fringe of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. “How did he turn out like this?”

Vietnam has been slowly updating its criminal justice system for years, under pressure from Western governments, and additional changes approved by the National Assembly in June are scheduled to take effect in January. But diplomats and rights groups have long suspected, based on interviews with former inmates and reports in Vietnam’s state-run news media, that prisons in the country have high rates of executions, forced labor and deaths in custody.

A recent government report on Vietnam’s prison system — which was posted on an official website a few months ago, possibly by accident, according to rights activists — appears to confirm many of the activists’ worst fears.

In one section, the report said 429 prisoners had been executed from August 2013 to June 2016, a rare admission from a one-party government that has long kept its execution process opaque. According to Amnesty International, that means Vietnam had the world’s third-highest execution rate over that period, after China and Iran.

Another section, referring to the period from 2011 to 2016, said 261,840 inmates had received vocational training, a term that rights activists say essentially means forced labor. In addition, the report said, the remains or ashes of 2,812 prisoners were approved for collection by family members, suggesting a high rate of deaths in custody for a prison population that the government says numbers less than 150,000.

The statistics “give us reason to doubt that governance is becoming less authoritarian and violent as Vietnam transitions to a market economy,” said Benjamin Swanton, a longtime social justice advocate and development consultant in Vietnam.

vietnam-prison-abuses - Đỗ Đăng Dư - Trong đó rất dễ chết – Tình trạng của những người bị giam ở Việt Nam 2
Official paperwork related to Do Dang Du’s death that his family said it received from the Vietnamese authorities. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to emailed questions about conditions in Vietnamese prisons.

Many officials in Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party support changes to the criminal justice system, said Pip Nicholson, a professor at Melbourne Law School in Australia who specializes in Vietnamese law. But party officials who advocate for Western-style rules, such as truly independent courts or the presumption of innocence until proved guilty, she added, are in the minority.

The result, policy experts and rights advocates say, is a court system where arrests almost always lead to convictions and a prison system where human rights are an afterthought. Corruption, impunity and violence in prisons are mostly tolerated, these advocates say, because the system serves the party’s interests by silencing dissidents and enriching prison guards.

“It’s very easy to die there,” said Doan Trang, an independent journalist in Hanoi who has written extensively about state-led repression in the country.

The recent government report presented prison statistics as part of a long-term process of changes in line with global trends. It noted, for example, that the number of crimes punishable by death in Vietnam had fallen to 22 in 2009 from 45 in 1993.

The report also said, however, that the number of people on death row in Vietnam had climbed to 681 last year from 336 in 2011, and that the government planned to build five new execution centers to accommodate demand.

The global trend is a reduction in the use of the death penalty, said Janice Beanland, a campaigner at Amnesty International. “This is why it’s a bit shocking to us to learn that, in actual fact, Vietnam has been executing people more regularly than we believed,” she said.

The government report said that Vietnam had improved vocational education in prisons and that inmates received training in tasks like sewing, construction, carpentry, mechanics, farming and the processing of agricultural products.

But former prisoners and human rights groups say that such labor is usually not voluntary, and that the cashews, garments and other products are exported from prison workshops for a profit.

Doan Huy Chuong, a labor rights activist who was released in February after a seven-year prison term, said it was common for prisoners to rise at 6 a.m. and do manual labor, without pay, until anywhere from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

vietnam-prison-abuses - Đỗ Đăng Dư - Trong đó rất dễ chết – Tình trạng của những người bị giam ở Việt Nam
Do Dang Du’s father, Do Dang Ung, adjusting a photo on a memorial altar for his son. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

Prisoners with money can bribe their way into hospitals if they fall ill, he said. “Without money, if they have a fever, they still have to work,” he added.

Rights advocates said they were especially worried about the government report’s claim that the remains and ashes of 2,812 prisoners were approved for collection by family members.

In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch said that prisoners who died in custody were often being held for minor infractions and that the official explanations for their deaths “strained credulity and gave the appearance of systematic cover-ups.” It quoted survivors as saying that police officers had sometimes beaten them to extract confessions for crimes that they denied committing.

“Do I think they start out with the idea of beating someone to death? No,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But do I think that there’s no accountability or controls in the system? Yes. And that’s the fundamental problem.”

In the case of Mr. Du, the teenager who died in custody in 2015, police investigators said for months afterward that his head injury — an inchwide gash — had been caused when his cellmate kicked him on the top of his head, not by a fall in the shower as they initially said, according to Le Luan, one of the family’s lawyers.

The cellmate, Vu Van Binh, was later sentenced to 10 years in jail for “deliberately inflicting injuries.” But Mr. Luan said in an interview that he believed the police explanation of Mr. Du’s death was littered with forensic inconsistencies.

For example, he said, citing an X-ray he provided to The New York Times, the wound was on Mr. Du’s forehead, not the top of his head. It was also hard to imagine, he said, how Mr. Du’s severe leg injuries could have been caused by falling onto a toilet in the bathroom, as the authorities claimed.

The causes that the police described “could not have created such serious wounds,” Mr. Luan said. “There must have been another incident.”

Members of Mr. Du’s extended family said in a separate interview that they were still not sure how he had died.

The only certainty, they said, is that something about the official explanation does not add up.

“He did something wrong,” Mr. Du’s grandfather Do Dinh Van said as he stood beside a makeshift altar that the family had created for the boy in their bare living room. “But he didn’t deserve to die.”

Source from “It’s Very Easy to Die There”: How Prisoners Fare in VietnamThe New York Times : 

Amnesty International: Viet Nam: activists held incommunicado may face life in prison

URGENT ACTION
ACTIVISTS HELD INCOMMUNICADO MAY FACE LIFE IN PRISON
Three Vietnamese activists, Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội, are being held incommunicado at B14 prison in Hà Nội after their arrests on 30 July 2017. They have a range of pre-existing health conditions that require treatment and face a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.

Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội are members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group formed by human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài in 2013 to peacefully advocate for democracy in Viet Nam. They were arrested separately on 30 July 2017 and are accused of “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The vaguely-worded offence,which falls under the overbroad “national security” section of the Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.All three men suffer from pre-existing health conditions that require access to medication and medical care. Trương Minh Đức has a heart disease and high blood pressure. Following a stroke in mid-May, he needs daily access to a number of medications in order to safely control his condition and help prevent another stroke or a heart attack. Nguyễn Trung Tôn suffers from kidney and prostate problems for which he takes medication. In addition, he has badly injured knees after he was abducted and beaten by unknown men in February 2017. Phạm Văn Trội has stomach ulcers for which he takes medication. Although their wives have attempted to pass on medicine via prison authorities, they are unsure whether it has been delivered, since they have not been able to visit their husbands.

All three men suffer from pre-existing health conditions that require access to medication and medical care. Trương Minh Đức has a heart disease and high blood pressure. Following a stroke in mid-May, he needs daily access to a number of medications in order to safely control his condition and help prevent another stroke or a heart attack. Nguyễn Trung Tôn suffers from kidney and prostate problems for which he takes medication. In addition, he has badly injured knees after he was abducted and beaten by unknown men in February 2017. Phạm Văn Trội has stomach ulcers for which he takes medication. Although their wives have attempted to pass on medicine via prison authorities, they are unsure whether it has been delivered, since they have not been able to visit their husbands.Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices under international human rights law and standards. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a

Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices under international human rights law and standards. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence is an essential part of the right to a fair trial.Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:

Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:- Release Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội immediately and unconditionally as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association;

– Release Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội immediately and unconditionally as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association;- Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and

– Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and- Ensure an immediate end to the arbitrary arrests and harassment of members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and other activists who peacefully express their views.

– Ensure an immediate end to the arbitrary arrests and harassment of members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and other activists who peacefully express their views.PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 20 OCTOBER 2017 TO:

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 20 OCTOBER 2017 TO:

Prime Minister
Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Prime Minister’s Office
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Email:
nguoiphatngonchinhphu@chinhphu.vn
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Public Security
To Lam
44 Yết Kiêu St. Hoàn Kiếm District Hà
Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Email: ttll.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to:

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy
Prime Minister
Phạm Bình Minh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On the morning of 30 July 2017, Trương Minh Đức and his wife were stopped on a street in Hà Nội by Vietnamese officials in plain clothes and forcibly escorted to a local police station where an arrest warrant was read. The same morning Phạm Văn Trội and Nguyễn Trung Tôn were arrested by police at their homes in Hà Nội and Thanh Hoa province, respectively, where arrest warrants were also read out. A fourth individual, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, was forcibly disappeared on the same morning (see https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/6964/2017/en/%20for%20further%20information/). According to State-run media, all four men are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Hà Nội on 16 December 2015 and, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, is charged with “committing propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code and “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79.

Trương Minh Đức is a former journalist and prisoner of conscience. Prior to his arrest he worked as an administrator for the Brotherhood for Democracy and as an advocate in the Viet Labour movement, educating workers about their human rights. He was arrested in 2007 and imprisoned for five years after being convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Penal Code for reporting on land grabs in a number of Vietnamese publications. In May 2009, his detention was found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Opinion 1/2009), however he remained in prison until the end of his sentence. Since his release from prison in 2012, authorities have frequently raided his home, making it difficult for his family to earn a living from renting spare rooms at the back of their property. His adult children have been repeatedly questioned by officials about his activities and he has been badly beaten on a number of occasions by men in plain clothes whom he recognized as security officials.

Nguyễn Trung Tôn is a Protestant pastor and former prisoner of conscience who has written about and promoted freedom of religion in Viet Nam. He was arrested in January 2011 in connection with his writings and imprisoned for two years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code. Nguyễn Trung Tôn and his family have been harassed for many years by authorities and unidentified assailants. Human waste, oil, and dirt have been thrown at both a market stall operated by his wife and their family home on a number of occasions. In February 2017, Nguyễn Trung Tôn and a friend were abducted in Quang Binh province by unidentified men and badly beaten. He was hospitalized and required surgery to repair injuries to his knees.

Phạm Văn Trội is a writer, activist, and former prisoner of conscience. He has provided advice to workers and land grab victims and written about human rights and democracy. He was arrested in September 2008 for his writings promoting multi-party democracy and imprisoned for four years, including six months in solitary confinement, after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code. In May 2009, his detention was found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Opinion 1/2009), however, he remained in prison until the end of his sentence.
Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights which has resulted in the arrest and arbitrary detention of at least fifteen peaceful activists and government critics since January 2017. Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care, falling far short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards.

Name: Trương Minh Đức , Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội
Gender: male

UA: 204/17 Index: ASA 41/7059/2017 Issue Date: 8 September 2017

Amnesty International: Missing Human Rights Defender At Risk Of Torture: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển

URGENT ACTION

MISSING HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER AT RISK OF TORTURE

Former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was last seen on 30 July 2017 after dropping off his wife outside her place of work in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. Although State media reported that he was arrested by authorities, more than three weeks later his wife has received no official confirmation from police as to the accusations against him or his place of detention. He is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and has preexisting medical conditions that require treatment.

The whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển remain unknown since he was forcibly disappeared on 30 July 2017. According to State media reports, he was arrested for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The offence, which falls under the vaguely worded “national security” section of the Penal Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment. On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at

On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at B14 prison in Ha Noi. Despite requesting information from police, the family of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển have received no similar confirmation as to his whereabouts and they fear for his safety. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển suffers from heart and bowel conditions that could deteriorate if he does not have access to the medication he requires.

A former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a follower of Hòa Hảo Buddhism, a minority religious tradition centred primarily in the south of Viet Nam. He was arrested in 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State for providing legal advice to land grab victims. On 24 February 2014, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển and his wife were pulled from a taxi in Ha Noi by men in plain clothes and severely beaten while on the way to the Australian embassy to discuss the harassment they had faced from police in Đồng Tháp province in the lead up to their wedding. His wife has recalled four other specific incidents in 2015 and 2016 when one or both of them were beaten or attacked by men in plain clothes.
Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:

+ Immediately disclose the whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển;

+ Release Nguyễn Bắc Truyển immediately and unconditionally if he is in State custody, as it appears he has been deprived of his liberty solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association;

+ Pending his release, ensure that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and is allowed access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, and adequate medical care.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 3 OCTOBER 2017 TO:

Prime Minister
Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Prime Minister’s Office
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Email:
nguoiphatngonchinhphu@chinhphu.vn
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Public Security
To Lam
44 Yết Kiêu St. Hoàn Kiếm District Hà
Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Email: ttll.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister
Phạm Bình Minh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Before his arrest, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was working for a Christian church in Ho Chi Minh City, contributing to a charitable program that supports war veterans. He has monitored and reported on the harassment of religious minorities in Viet Nam and in 2014 he met with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief during a country visit to Viet Nam. He has also provided legal advice to victims of land grabs and police harassment, and helped to facilitate charitable support to the families of prisoners of conscience.

The three other activists that were arrested the same day as Nguyễn Bắc Truyển are Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Ha Noi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, from Thanh Hoa province. Each of them has previously been imprisoned for their peaceful activities (see https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/6855/2017/en/). A fifth individual, Nguyen Trung Truc, was arrested on 4 August 2017. According to State media, all five men are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, is also accused of committing an offence under Article 79 of the Penal Code (see ASA 41/3098/2015 ).

Although Hòa Hảo Buddhism is an officially recognized religion in Viet Nam, historically there has been tension between its adherents and the Communist Party of Viet Nam. Individuals and families who choose to practice the religion independently of State-sanctioned religious authorities often face harassment from authorities.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a former prisoner of conscience. He was arrested in November 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State. According to his wife, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, he was accused of giving incorrect information to victims of land grabs, thereby turning them against the government. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was released from prison in May 2010 but was briefly detained again on 9 February 2014 when police raided the home of Bui Thi Kim Phuong, his fiancée at the time, in Đồng Tháp province days before their planned wedding. He was accused of stealing money and property but was released after twenty-four hours. The accusations and investigation were later dropped due to lack of evidence, however uniformed and plain-clothed police continued to threaten and harass the couple and their family for the rest of the month, including by following them, throwing waste at the house and allegedly cutting the water supply.

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights which has resulted in the arbitrary detention of at least fifteen activists and government critics since January 2017. Prisoners of conscience are routinely held for long periods of pretrial, incommunicado detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence, an essential part of the right to a fair trial, is denied. Both the prohibition against torture and other illtreatment and the right to a fair trial are provided in treaties that Viet Nam, as a state party, is legally obliged to abide by, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care, falling far short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement as a punishment for prolonged periods. For more information see the Amnesty International report, issued in July 2016: “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and Ill-treatment of Prisoners of Conscience in Viet Nam”, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/4187/2016/en/.

Name: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển
Gender: male
UA: 197/17 Index: ASA 41/6964/2017 Issue Date: 22 August 2017

Amnesty International: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PUBLIC STATEMENT

1 August 2017

Index: ASA 41/6855/2017

Viet Nam: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer

On 30 July 2017, Vietnamese authorities arrested four activists in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Thanh Hoa province. They are Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, a Protestant pastor from Thanh Hoa province; Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Hanoi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, 49, from Ho Chi Minh City. Each of the four, all men, has previously been imprisoned for his peaceful activities. The four are prisoners of conscience, having been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and association. Amnesty International calls on the Vietnamese authorities to release all four immediately and unconditionally, release all other prisoners of conscience and end its policy of intimidating, arresting and punishing peaceful activists.

The four activists have been accused of “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The offence, which falls under the vaguely worded “national security” section of the Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.

The arrests are part of an intensifying crackdown on the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Viet Nam that has seen lengthy prison sentences handed down to two prominent human rights defenders in the last five weeks. Prior to the most recent arrests, at least seven other activists had been arrested in the last six months.

The four men arrested on Sunday are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and has, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, been detained without trial for more than 18 months. Both Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha were initially accused of “conducting propaganda” against the state under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. However, according to Vietnamese police and state-controlled media, Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha are now accused of committing an offence under Article 79 along with those recently arrested.

Nguyễn Văn Đài is a well-known human rights lawyer. In 2006 he founded the Committee for Human Rights in Viet Nam – now called the Vietnam Human Rights Centre – and was one of the original signatories to an online petition calling for freedom and democracy in Viet Nam, which garnered the support of thousands. Between 2007 and 2011, Nguyễn Văn Đài served four years in prison after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state. In April 2013, he founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, envisioned as a coordinated and collective movement for achieving democracy in Viet Nam.

Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn has written about freedom of religion and corruption in Viet Nam. He was arrested in January 2011 and convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state, serving a sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

Phạm Văn Trội was arrested in September 2008 for unfurling banners, distributing leaflets, posting information on the internet criticizing government policies, and calling for democracy in Viet Nam. In October 2010 he was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and served a sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Journalist and labour rights activist Trương Minh Đức has written about corruption and abuse of authority in Viet Nam. He was arrested in May 2007 and in March 2008 was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, serving a sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a human rights lawyer who in 2007 was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment. Since his release in May 2010, he has been a vocal member of an association of former prisoners of conscience.

A sustained crackdown on human rights

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights. In the last five weeks, two prominent human rights defenders were convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

On 29 June 2017, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, also known by her blogging pseudonym, Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom), was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for her activities on Facebook and other social media, including writing, uploading and sharing articles and video content critical of the ruling Communist Party of Viet Nam and the state. On 25 July 2017, Trần Thị Nga was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for “posting video clips and documents containing anti-state propaganda on the internet”. The videos related to issues such as pollution of the environment and corruption. Both decisions have received widespread international coverage and been condemned by local and international human rights groups, United Nations human rights experts, and diplomatic representatives of the United States and the European Union in Vietnam.

Both Trần Thị Nga and Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh had raised concerns about the authorities’ response to the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, which severely affected fish stocks in several Vietnamese provinces. The incident has impacted the livelihoods of up to 270,000 people and led to sustained activism and protests across the country on a scale rarely seen.

Others who have recently been arrested include Trần Hoàng Phúc, a 23-year-old activist arrested on 3 July under Article 88 of the Penal Code for allegedly posting material critical of the government on social media and Lê Đình Lượng, a political dissident who was arrested on 24 July under Article 79 of the Penal Code. At least five other activists arrested since November 2016 are currently held in incommunicado pre-trial detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence is an essential part of the right to a fair trial. Both the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment and the right to a fair trial are provided in treaties that Viet Nam, as a state party, is legally obliged to abide by, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The ICCPR also protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), peaceful assembly (Article 21), and association (Article 22). It also protects the right to liberty and security of a person, which includes the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9).

Amnesty International urges the Vietnamese authorities to comply with Viet Nam’s human rights obligations, and drop all charges against those who have been peacefully carrying out activities to promote and protect human rights and/or peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, opinion or belief, assembly, and/or association. The international community must condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the current crackdown on human rights in Viet Nam, and advocate for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

BACKGROUND Amnesty International has documented information on at least 90 persons currently deprived of liberty whom the organization considers prisoners of conscience, including bloggers, labour and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice who have been convicted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. In many of these cases there have been concerns about unfair trials, incommunicado detention, and torture and ill-treatment of those detained. Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Treatment of prisoners of conscience has been documented by Amnesty International in a report, Prisons within prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam , July 2016, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/4187/2016/en/.

ENDS//

Public Document****************

The Diplomat: What’s Behind Vietnam’s Rising Violence?

The rise of physical violence committed against activists is a troubling trend.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch, “No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam”, documents the rise of physical violence committed against activists, mainly by plain-clothed “thugs,” some of whom may be police or soldiers, and most of whom target their victims in very public place.

Nguyen Trung Ton, a pastor and blogger, and a friend, were set upon by a group of men after exiting a bus in February:

[They] took our belongings, stripped our clothes off, covered our heads with our jackets and beat us repeatedly with iron tubes. They did not tell us any reason. The van moved and they continued to beat us [in the van]. There was a driver and at least six other men.

And this happened to the pro-environment activist Nguyen Thi Thai Lai when she was leaving a restaurant with a friend:

Four young men, like four water buffalo, blocked our motorbike. They grabbed me by my neck and threw me on the ground. They beat me until I fainted. They kicked me in the face – look at my [bruised] face. They kicked me in the face. They kicked me and beat me until I fainted.

While “physical attacks against human rights activists and bloggers in Vietnam are not a new phenomenon,” as the Human Rights Report notes, there does appear to be a trend away from detention and towards public violence. The report states:

In 2014, during an especially contentious phase of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership between Vietnam and the United States, the number of people convicted for political crimes in Vietnam decreased to 31. However, according to the Association of Former Prisoners of Conscience, the number of physical attacks increased to at least 31 incidents targeting 135 rights bloggers and activists.

In 2015, the number of reported convictions continued to decrease, with only seven activists convicted throughout the year. On the other hand, according to research by Human Rights Watch, roughly 50 bloggers and activists reported that they were assaulted in 20 separate incidents. In 2016, at least 21 rights campaigners were convicted while at least 20 physical assaults were carried out against more than 50 people.

“Marxism needs a dictator,” according to the late Russian-American literary giant Vladimir Nabokov, “and a dictator needs a secret police”. The secret police in Vietnam, however, is hardly that secret. In 2013, Carl Thayer, then of the Australian Defense Forces Academy, estimated as many as 6.7 million Vietnamese work in some fashion for the country’s numerous security agencies – so about one in six people.

In 2015, when I met Pham Chi Dung, an activist who founded the Independent Journalistic Association of Vietnam, and who worked for the Ho Chi Minh City’s security bureau for sixteen years before becoming disillusioned, he knew that two security agents had followed him from his house to our café rendezvous. And he knew they would follow him home again. (He was arrested once again a few months after we met).

The use of paid (one assumes) bullies to attack activists, however, is different from the use of security agents to spy on or arrest dissidents. When an activist is threatened by the police or military, at least he recognizes his attacker. The uniform reveals all. People know who is his attacker and for whom his attacker works. As a result, he understands the message that comes from up-high; we want to cripple all activism. In a sense, then, some credit must go to a government that sends its police or military to do its dirty work; at least it’s being honest about its motives.

The use of plain-clothed attackers is different. It’s dishonest. It’s cowardly. The removal of a police or military uniform (if that is the case) before an attack is an effort to distance the boss from the violence. Not only that, it is an attempt to say: the regime isn’t against activists, fellow citizens are.

Because of this, a corollary is necessary to the view of Human Rights Watch; the use of plain-clothed thugs isn’t just an effort to “sow fear and uncertainty among activists” but, as well, to sow fear and uncertainty among those who might become activists.

For the secret police to arrest an activist is to silence that critic. For the police or military to beat an activist is to demonstrate that the regime won’t put up with criticism. But for a plain-clothed thug to attack an activist is to publicly humiliate that activist.

Indeed, an imprisoned activist is removed from society; a beaten activist is forced to show his scars to all, perhaps a more effective deterrent. A detained activist, also, often inspires more activism; his or her release becomes a motivating reason for protest.

The fact that friends and family are often targeted in the attacks, as the Human Rights Watch report makes clear, also changes the game. Every committed activist has considered their own imprisonment. But violence against one’s family compels a different response. Self-sacrifice is one thing but having to also sacrifice your family makes a person think again about continuing.

The changing tactics of the Vietnamese regime no doubt reflect changes in the pro-democracy, human rights movement. Social media, the modern-day samizdat, has become almost impossible for the regime to censor as it would like. Activists have also become more emboldened, willing to protest and demonstrate publicly. And with closer ties to the United States and the European Union (which agreed to an important free-trade agreement that will probably take effect next year) the risk of irking these partners is potentially too important economically. Plain-clothed thugs, therefore, provide some distance between the regime and the violence.

Moreover, the rights-movement is simply much stronger than it once was. As I have written before, the growth in environmental activism has coalesced disjointed parties: middle-class urbanites and poor rural farmers, democrats and nationalists, have been united under the banner of they all have a stake in. (The fact that some of the attacks were committed while activists were visiting one another was most likely intended to show the dangers of solidarity.) This is unprecedented in modern Vietnamese history, and the regime knows it.

Amnesty International: Open letter on Prisoner of Conscience Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức

On the 8th anniversary of the arrest of POC Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức – and half way through his 16-year prison sentence – the Directors of 12 Amnesty International offices call for his immediate and unconditional release. The letter also calls on Viet Nam’s prison authorities to ensure that their treatment of Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức adheres strictly, as a minimum, to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) so that he is treated with dignity and respect while he is incarcerated.

Ref: TG ASA 41/2017.002 Index: ASA 41.6234.2017
To Lam
Minister of Public Security
Ministry of Public Security

19 May 2017

Your Excellency

RE: OPEN LETTER ON TRẦN HUỲNH DUY THỨC

We are writing to draw your attention to the situation for Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức, who is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence at Prison No 6 in Nghe An province.

Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức, a successful entrepreneur and advocate for social and economic reform, has been imprisoned since 24 May 2009, when he was arrested on charges of “theft of telephone lines”. Authorities later initiated a criminal investigation under Article 88 of Viet Nam’s 1999 Penal Code for “conducting propaganda against the state,” but subsequently charged him with “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration” under Article 79. On 20 January 2010, Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức was tried, convicted and sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment with five years’ house arrest on release. His trial fell short of international standards for fair trial, disregarding the presumption of innocence and right to a defence. The prosecution provided no evidence to support the indictment. According to observers, the judges deliberated for only 15 minutes before returning with the judgment, which took 45 minutes to read, suggesting it had been prepared in advance of the hearing.

Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising his human right to freedom of expression in his writing and his calls for peaceful social and economic reform. We therefore urge that he be immediately and unconditionally released, and his conviction quashed.

As Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức reaches the half-way point of his sentence, we are particularly concerned that he is held in conditions that do not meet international standards and that are negatively affecting his health and well-being. During the course of his imprisonment, he has been transferred several times, without prior notice to his family, who have to travel long distances to visit him. Rule 59 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 and provides that “Prisoners shall be allocated, to the extent possible, to prisons close to their homes or their places of social rehabilitation.”

In his current location – Prison No. 6 – he is not provided with enough light in his cell when the electricity is switched off every morning so that he can read and write comfortably. Rule 14(a) of the Nelson Mandela Rules provides that “The windows shall be large enough to enable the prisoners to read or work by natural light and shall be so constructed that they can allow the entrance of fresh air whether or not there is artificial ventilation.” Rule 14(b) provides that “Artificial light shall be provided sufficient for the prisoners to read or work without injury to eyesight.” Yet prison officials have refused to either improve the situation themselves or allow his family to provide artificial lighting in the form of a small battery-run lamp. As a consequence, his eyesight is badly affected, a condition for which hehas received no examination or treatment in the prison. Other rights to which he should be entitled have also been denied by the prison authorities, such as the transmission of letters between him and his family and access to reading material, in breach of Rules 58(1) and 64 of the Nelson Mandela Rules, respectively. He has also been threatened with reprisals for speaking up for the human rights of other prisoners.

We call on Viet Nam’s prison authorities to ensure that their treatment of Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức adheres strictly, as a minimum, to the Nelson Mandela Rules so that he is treated with dignity and respect while he is incarcerated.

Finally, we urge once more that Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức and all other prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam are immediately and unconditionally released. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Viet Nam must respect and protect the human right to freedom of expression. By imprisoning people like Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức, who has done nothing but express his opinions peacefully, Viet Nam is failing in its obligations under international human rights law.

Yours sincerely

Claire Mallinson
Director, Amnesty International Australia

Shamini Darshni
Director, Amnesty International Malaysia

Sylvie Brigot-Vilain
Director, Amnesty International France

Altantuya Batdorj
Director, Amnesty International Mongolia

Markus N. Beeko
Director, Amnesty International Germany

Grant Bayldon
Director, Amnesty International New Zealand

Mabel Au
Director, Amnesty International Hong Kong

Anna Lindenfors
Director, Amnesty International Sweden

Usman Hamid
Director, Amnesty International Indonesia

Hideki Walkbayashi
Director, Amnesty International Japan

Jose Noel Olano
Head of Office, Amnesty International Philippines

Piyanut Kotason
Director, Amnesty International Thailand

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK

Margaret Huang
Director, Amnesty International USA

Resource: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/6234/2017/en/