The Hanoi Higher People’s Court has rejected the appeal of well-known human rights campaigner Tran Thi Nga, upholding the sentence of nine years in prison and five years of probation given by the lower court in late July on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.
The one-day appeal hearing in the northern province of Ha Nam on December 22 failed to meet international standards for fair trial as the trial held by the People’s Court of Ha Nam province did on July 25, said lawyer Ha Huy Son, who defended Ms. Nga in the trial and in the appeal hearing.
Noticing examiners of the case evidences were absent, the Hanoi-based lawyer proposed the judge to postpone the hearing, however, the judge rejected his proposal.
Her lawyers also recognized inconsistence of statements of witnesses who provided unfavorable evidences for her in the trial and the hearing. However, their findings were not respected by the judge.
The appeal hearing was held without presence of the defendants’ relatives and friends as well as foreign observers. Authorities in Ha Nam deployed a large number of police, plainclothes agents and militia to block all the roads leading to the court room.
Police also detained a dozen of activists coming from Hanoi to support Ms. Nga, holding them in a local police station until the end of the appeal hearing. Activists Mai Phuong Thao (Facebook account Thao Theresa), Trinh Dinh Hoa and Truong Dung were brutally beaten by a group of around ten police officers in custody who also robbed their belongings, including six smart phones and three wallets and their ID cards.
Many activists in other localities, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh were placed under house arrest today, Facebookers said.
One day prior to the appeal hearing, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch called on Vietnam to release Ms. Nga immediately and unconditionally. “Instead of engaging in discussions with critics, the government is increasingly using harsh sentences and abusive treatment to stifle dissent,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.
Ms. Nga was a migrant worker in Taiwan. While working there, she assisted Vietnamese workers to demand Vietnamese brokers to take responsibility to ensure the rights of migrant workers.
Upon her return to Vietnam, about ten years ago, she assisted land petitioners who lost their land due to illegal seizure from local authorities.
She also participated in many anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi from 2011 to 2016 to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), as well as in peaceful gatherings to demand multi-party democracy.
Due to her activities, Vietnam’s communist government, particularly authorities in Ha Nam province constantly harassed and persecuted her and her two children. She was detained many times and was placed under de facto house arrest for most of the last two years.
In May 2014, she was attacked by plainclothes agents in Hanoi who broke her right leg and caused a number of severe injuries to her body.
Police in Ha Nam also targeted her kids, throwing dirty sauce containing decaying shrimp at them. Her private residence in Phu Ly city was attacked with paint and dirty substances many times.
Despite government intimidation and assault, Nga has continued to speak out against political injustices and broader state violence. She is part of a growing community of Vietnamese bloggers using Facebook and YouTube to foster political activism and solidarity, many of whom have been detained under vague national security laws as part of the government’s ongoing crackdown on free speech.
Ms. Nga is among six distinguished women human rights activists in Southeast Asia the London-based NGO Amnesty International recognized their works on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8) this year. Nga, Sirikan Charoensiri from Thailand, Maria Chin Abdullah from Malaysia, Tep Vanny from Cambodia, Leila de Lima from Philippines and Wai Wai Nuwho from Myanmar have faced harassment, threats, imprisonment, and violence for standing up for human rights in the region.
Since her arrest on January 21 this year, Nga has not been permitted to meet with her relatives, including her two kids at four and seven.
After her arrest, many foreign democratic governments and a number of international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders called on Vietnam’s communist government to immediately and unconditionally release her and other activists who have been imprisoned just because of exercising the right of freedom of expression which is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.
The arrest and conviction of Nga are part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on local dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers.
Since the beginning of this year, Vietnam has arrested at least 24 activists and sentenced ten activists to between three and ten years in prison. Prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh or Mother Mushroom, land rights activist Tran Thi Nga, blogger Nguyen Van Hoa and anti-corruption activist Phan Kim Khanh are among sentenced.
Many activists have been arrested and charged with serious and controversial articles 88 and 79 (subversion) in the national security provision of the Penal Code. Five activists namely Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Thu Ha, Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do and Ho Hai were arrested in 2015-2016 but still held in pre-trial detention without being tried.
On December 21, Vietnam convicted five activists from the southern province of An Giang on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda,” giving them total 19 years in prison and ten years under house arrest. The group was said to hang flags of the Southern Vietnam, a regime ruled the southern country but overtaken by communist troops in 1975.
“Tran Thi Nga and other Vietnamese activists put themselves at grave risk to speak out against rights violations happening in their country,” said Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam’s friends and donors need to honor their fight by pushing for their unconditional release,” he said at a press release on December 21.
Vietnam has little tolerance to government critics. According to Human Rights Watch, the communist government holds over 100 political prisoners while Defend the Defenders, BPSOS and 13 other partners recently released a list of 165 prisoners of conscience on their Now! Campaign.