PARIS, 23 September 2012 (VCHR) – International outcry against the detention of bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (better known by his blog name Dieu Cay), Phan Thanh Hai (blog AnhBaSaigon) and Ta Phong Tan (Truth and Justice) is intensifying before the trial of the three bloggers which opens at 8.00am on Monday 24 September 2012 at the Supreme People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The international community denounces the unfair legal process, and calls for the acquittal and immediate release of the bloggers, who risk sentences of up to twenty years in prison under Article 88.2 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.
Gerald Staberock, Secretary-general of the Geneva-based World Organization against Torture (OMCT), described the trial as a “travesty of justice” and called on the judges to prove that they are not “mere agents of the state” be releasing the three bloggers (Radio Free Asia, 23.9.2012):
“These bloggers have done nothing other than express their opinions through legitimate means, and we have clear indication that there was a power struggle to decide how harsh or how lenient the sentence should be, which gravely violates the whole notion of presumption of innocence. We are very concerned that a travesty of justice will take place on Monday.
“For many years the Vietnamese authorities have done everything to silence all social, political, human rights and pro-democracy dissent. Independent human rights organizations are not allowed to register or operate; the official media is extremely controlled and subjected to censorship.The only space that remains is the Internet social media. That is why these cases are so significant, because it is the last remaining space that people have.
“As a lawyer, I launch an appeal to the judges. We know that the judicial system in Vietnam is not independent. But the individual judges have the opportunity on Monday to prove that they are not mere agents of the State. They should live up to their ethical and legal responsibility as judges to ensure a fair trial and acquit these people who have done nothing other than express their opinions.”
The Observatory of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the OMCT and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights said in a statement (23.9.2012) that “the prolonged pre-trial detention” of Dieu Cay and Phanh Thanh Hai (23 months) and Ta Phong Tan (12 months) “is a violation of national and international law”. The organizations called on the diplomatic and international community to send observers to the trial and “publicly and privately urge Vietnam to drop all charges against Ta Phong Tan, Dieu Cay and Phan Thanh Hai and release them immediately and unconditionally”.
Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this month on behalf of the VCHR and the French NGO Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de L’homme said:
“Vietnam represses bloggers and journalists beneath a veneer of legality that is totally incompatible with international law.” The cases of Dieu Cay, Phanh Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan, he said, “which are just the tip of the iceberg, show that the rule of law is not yet a reality in Vietnam. Citizens can be accused of phantasmagoric crimes or be condemned in advance before they are brought to trial if it suits the authorities, and have no other choice but to remain silent”. Presenting the Human Rights Council with a list of 180 religious and political prisoners in Vietnam, Mr. Ai called on the UN: “In accordance with the [UN Human Rights] Council’s 2012 resolution on freedom of expression on the Internet, bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay), Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan should be immediately released.”
In recent months, all around the world, high-level international expressions of concern and appeals for the release have been launched for the three bloggers.
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights expressed concern about “ongoing persecution of bloggers and people who use the Internet and other means to freely express their opinions. In particular, we are concerned that the upcoming trial of Mr. Nguyen Van Hai (also known as Dieu Cay), Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan for “conducting propaganda” against the State is directly linked to their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, including their online publications about social and human rights issues. The trial, which was scheduled for 7 August and was just postponed indefinitely, will reportedly be closed and witnesses will not be called, raising concerns that the process will not comply with fair trial guarantees. We urge the Government of Viet Nam to fulfill its commitments with respect to ensuring fair trial guarantees and to consider promptly releasing the accused for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and association” (Statement, OHCHR, 3 August 2012).
U.S. President Barack Obama, on International Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2012, in paying “special tribute to those journalists who have sacrificed their lives, freedom or personal well-being in pursuit of truth and justice”, declared “we must not forget others like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam”.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her visit to Vietnam in July 2012, raised concerns about human rights, including the continued detention of activists, lawyers and bloggers for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas, and stressed: “In particular, we are concerned about restrictions on free expression online and the upcoming trial of the founders of the so-called Free Journalists Club.”
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights urges Vietnam to heed these international appeals and respect its obligations to the international community and its own people to uphold the rule of law by acquitting Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan at the trial on Monday and releasing them immediately and unconditionally.