A land rights activist accused of giving interviews to foreign media and storing illegally printed books was sentenced to six years in prison for “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
Only Truong Van Dung’s wife was allowed to attend the half-day trial as a witness. Many activists in Hanoi told Radio Free Asia that they had been forced to stay at home or were prevented from getting near the court.
According to his 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, 65, was convicted 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.
‘Latest in a long line’
His wife, Nghiem Thi Hop, told RFA that defense lawyers argued that he did not conduct the interviews as alleged in the indictment. But prosecutors said the Hanoi Department of Information and Communications concluded that it was Dung who spoke to the program.
She said police used physical violence against Dung during interrogations.
Dung has 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 of Vietnam 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.
Before the trial, Human Rights Watch called on Vietnam to drop all charges against Dung. The organization’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said in a statement on Monday that Dung was “the latest in a long line of human rights defenders silenced by the Vietnamese government for protesting against human rights violations and advocating for reforms.”
At least 11 activists have been detained for investigation on Article 88 charges while they await a scheduled date for their trial.
Sentence in case tied to U.S.-based organization
In a separate case, an appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld sentences for two people accused of being members of the Provisional Government of Vietnam – a U.S.-based opposition group described by Vietnamese authorities as a terrorist organization.
Nguyen Van Nghia, 48, and Duong Thi Be, 41, were sentenced to seven years and five years in prison, respectively, according to the online edition of the People’s Newspaper.
Both were charged with “carrying out activities to overthrow the people’s government” under Article 109 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. They were first sentenced in October by Kien Giang province’s court.
Based in Orange County, California, the Provisional Government of Vietnam was founded in 1991 by former soldiers and refugees loyal to the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam that was overthrown and absorbed by North Vietnam in 1975. The group now refers to itself as the Third Republic of Vietnam, according to its website.
According to the indictment, Nghia visited the homepage of the Provisional Government of Vietnam in 2014. He also participated in a “referendum” in 2018 to elect Vietnamese-American citizen Dao Minh Quan, who leads the organization, as president of the Third Republic of Vietnam.
More than 60 arrests since 2017
Nghia was also said to have recruited many people to join the organization, and at the end of October 2021, he registered Be, his girlfriend, to be a member of the organization. He also allegedly called on government and military officers in Vietnam to join the organization.
Later in 2021, he was assigned to be the official spokesman for the organization in Vietnam.
According to RFA statistics, at least 60 people in Vietnam have been convicted for being members of Dao Minh Quan’s organization since 2017. They were all charged with “carrying out activities against the state,” and many were accused of committing violent and terrorist acts, including making petrol bombs and burning airport garages.
However, some people, including Tran Van Luong, who was sentenced to five years in 2017 and released last year, have told RFA that they were not a member of the organization.
According to Luong, police arrested him only because he had been dissatisfied with the Vietnamese government and had voiced his criticism on Facebook. Then they forced him to make statements that he had contacted Dao Minh Quan’s organization.
A leader from the organization told RFA that it would take action to help the arrestees in Vietnam. The official did not disclose what would be done.
Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.