Nov 13, 2016

VNHRN Announced 2016 Vietnam Human Rights Award Winners

Lawyer Vo An Don, the Vietnamese Bloggers' Network, and two activists for victim of injustice Tran Ngoc Anh and Can Thi Theu were selected from 22 nominations.

Little Saigon (11-13-2016) - At a press conference in Little Saigon today, Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNHRN) announced that the 2016 Vietnam Human Rights Award is to be presented to Lawyer Vo An Don, the Vietnamese Bloggers' Network, and two activists for victim of injustice Tran Ngoc Anh and Can Thi Theu. Those winners were selected from a list of 22 nominations received from Vietnam and abroad.

Created in 2002 the Vietnam Human Rights Award has been bestowed to 36 individuals and 2 organizations who have made outstanding contributions to and have demonstrated influence on the promotion of justice and human rights movements in Vietnam. It is also an opportunity for Vietnamese in the Diaspora to show their solidarity with those who have engaged in the relentless fighting for Vietnamese people’s basic rights.

This year, the awarding ceremony will take place in Boston, Massachusetts, USA on the 68th Anniversary of the International Human Rights Day. The event is being organized by VNHRN in collaboration with the Vietnamese American Community of Massachusetts and the Movement of the Vietnamese Laity in Diaspora - Boston chapter.

The following are the brief highlights of the 2016 Award winners:

The Vietnamese Bloggers' Network

With its formal introduction to the public in Vietnam on the 65th anniversary of International Human Rights Day, Dec 10, 2013, the Vietnamese Bloggers Networks (VBN), an assemblage of many bloggers linked together in an “open” network, has made significant contributions to the fight for democracy and human rights, especially freedom of speech in Vietnam during the last four years.

Following are some of the VBN’s activities:

In 2013: Circulating its “258 Declaration” to call on the world to work for the abolition of Vietnam’s Criminal Law Article 258, “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State,” starting the practice of flying human rights balloons, and especially distributing on the street the “Human Rights Handbook” to people nationwide.

In 2014: Starting the campaign “We Want To Know” to demand that the State inform its citizens of their fate following the 1990 Vietnam-China Thanh Do Conference; organizing demonstrations against the threat from Communist China; and opening Human Rights Coffee talks to discuss human rights issues.

In 2015: Together with other civil society groups, starting the Human Rights campaign “We Are One” to call on Vietnamese in and out of Vietnam to participate. One of the remarkable activities of this campaign was the “Global hunger strike for prisoners of conscience in Vietnam,” with the united support of thousands of Vietnamese in cities around the world.

In 2016: Joining in the fight against the “poison-releasing Formosa group,” along with other environmental-protection activities; distributing the “Vietnam Bloggers Network’s sentiments and appeals” to call on all the people to protect the environment, demand that Formosa leave Vietnam, and prosecute the responsible elements.

Many VBN members have been repeatedly arrested and tortured, including bloggers Nguyen Hoang Vi, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Pham Thanh Nghien, Duong Dai Trieu Lam, Trinh Kim Tien, and many others. The most current suppression of VBN was the detention of blogger Me Nam Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh on Oct 10, 2016, allegedly for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” The detainee was regarded as VBN’s most critical figure, a brave and persistent human rights female fighter, and a recipient of the “2015 Civil Rights Defender” prize of the Swedish Civil Rights Defenders.

For its effective, nonviolent activities, the Vietnam Bloggers Network, a noble assembly of human rights fighters, deserves the Vietnam Human Rights Award 2016.

Lawyer Vo An Don

Lawyer Vo An Don was born in 1977 in Phu Yen Province. After graduating from university in law and social sciences, he first worked for Internal Affairs of the Provincial Communist Party Committee of Phu Yen. He realized that the work he had to perform did not align with his aspirations or expertise, and enrolled in the study of law. He subsequently opened a private law office in his hometown, Phu Thu, Tay Hoa District, Phu Yen Province.

As a young man filled with enthusiasm and idealism for social justice, lawyer Vo An Don used his expertise and professional status to provide legal support to hundreds of disadvantaged people without charge, while he was himself leading a modest life. He showed particular courage in confronting communist authorities in sensitive court cases; namely, the Ngo Thanh Kieu police brutality case, where the victim was beaten to death by Phu Yen police in 2012, and the case of 14 year-old Tu Ngoc Thach, also beaten to death by police, in 2013. Furthermore, he did not hesitate to take on the defense of victims in political cases, among them student Nguyen Viet Dung, accused of causing public disorder, land-expropriation victim Nguyen Van Thong, accused of abusing democratic freedoms, and land-expropriation victim Can Thi Theu, also accused of causing public disorder.

For his persistent pursuit of justice, especially justice for the disadvantaged, lawyer Vo An Don has encountered difficulties caused by the government as well as threats that have ranged from anonymous insults to attempts by the police, the prosecutor’s office, and the courts to revoke his lawyer’s license.

Aside from his human rights activism as a lawyer, Mr. Vo An Don also showed courage through his public involvement by asserting his civil and political rights and twice running for office, in the National Assembly and the People’s Council of Phu Yen Province. The first time was in 2011; the second, in 2016. Lawyer Vo An Don was subjected to government-orchestrated denunciations by his neighborhood’s Voter Conference and the Phu Yen Province lawyer association, which declared him unfit to run for office due to his Facebook postings, his interviews with overseas media, and his lack of participation in local and workplace duties.

His actions have mobilized the support of those concerned about human rights. In December 2014, a number of domestic and overseas websites launched a “Letter of Support for Lawyer Vo An Don” that received hundreds of signatures from human rights activists in Vietnam.

The young lawyer’s deeds, abilities, fearlessness, and in particular his devotion to human rights and human dignity have attracted affection and admiration from victims of government abuses as well as from all individuals committed to justice. The Vietnam Human Rights Network solemnly honors lawyer Vo An Don with the 2016 Vietnam Human Rights Award.

Ms. Tran Ngoc Anh

After 1975, Ms. Tran Ngoc Anh and her family was forcibly relocated to the unexplored region of Xuyen Moc, of Ba Ria province, under the disguise of a plan dubbed "New Economic Zones." After 17 years of hard work, sweat and tears, her family has turned 10 acres of wasteland into arable land. By 1993, the local government decided to forcibly confiscate the land of 294 households in the area with armed public security agents. Her family's 10-acres land was taken and turned into private properties for officials. She instantly became an employee of the new owner of the land that her family had owned not long before.

Faced with this absurdity and injustice, Ms. Tran Ngoc Anh decided to peacefully protest and complain to authorities. For the last 23 years, from 1993 to date, she has traveled from South to North along with the other land-grab victims, held several collective petitions and taken to the streets, at times with hundreds of participants petitioning for their cause. She was arrested and beaten by police several times and is now suffering from injuries caused by police violence. In January 2010, a Vietnamese court sentenced her to a 15-month in prison on charges of "causing public disorder."

After her release from prison, she continued her work to achieve justice and basic rights. In December 2013, she founded and led the Solidarity Movement of Land-grab victims in a fight for genuine justice and for a society with full respect for human rights in Vietnam. In addition to organizing complaints and protests, she also regularly posts her own writings on these themes on her personal Facebook page.

Starting as a land-grab victim, Ms Tran Ngoc Anh has looked beyond her own interests to become a symbol not only for land-grab victims but also for Vietnamese people as a whole in their quest for freedom and democracy from authoritarian oppression.

Ms. Can Thi Theu

In 2007 and 2008, the Ha Tay provincial government initiated a forced land expropriation of farmers for new urban development projects. The impacted farmers were enraged because they were deprived of their only means of livelihood, without adequate compensation. As a resident of Duong Noi Ward, Ha Dong District, Ms. Can Thi Theu gathered the victims of unlawful land acquisition to petition for their legitimate rights and to dialogue with the government.

The government, however, blatantly disregarded justice and the law by ignoring the farmers’ legitimate demands. In early 2010, the government sent thousands of public security agents, military personnel, and hooligans to bulldoze crops and graves in Duong Noi Ward and seize the land in Area B of Le Trong Tan Urban Project. They also used gangsters to threaten the families of the victims. In April 2014, the second illegal encroachment continued on a larger scale, involving thousands of security agents. Many people were beaten and arrested, including Ms. Theu and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem.

In September 2014, Ms. Theu and Mr. Khiem were sentenced to 15-month and 18-month prison terms, respectively, on charges of "resisting officials on duty." Since her release from prison in July 2015, undeterred, Mrs. Theu continued her fight for the victims of land expropriation against the abusive government’s oppression. Along with fellow petitioners and human rights advocates, Mrs. Can Thi Theu joined lawsuits and protests against land confiscations, unfair trials, and governmental collusion with the Formosa steel plant, which had been polluting the environment and endangering the livelihoods of the people in the Central Vietnam provinces. As a result of her actions, she has been frequently pursued, assaulted, and arrested by the police.

On June 10, 2016, Mrs. Theu, once again, was detained and indicted on charges of "disturbing public order." On September 20, 2016, the Dong Da District Court sentenced her to 20 months in prison. Currently, she is detained in Area No. 1 of Hoa Lo Detention Center and has not been allowed to receive medication or visits from relatives.

While starting out as a petitioner trying only to reclaim her family’s land, Ms. Can Thi Theu, like Ms. Tran Ngoc Anh, moved beyond her personal interests to fight for all exploited farmers and peasants. Given her record of perseverance in the face of frequent imprisonment, continuous persecution and beatings by the communist regime, Ms. Can Thi Theu deserves to be cited as an example of the peaceful but firm struggle for the victims of land expropriation, in particular, and for the Vietnamese people in general.


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