PARIS, 8th June 2018 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) welcomes the release of prominent human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài and his assistant Ms. Lê Thu Hà from prison in Hanoi. They were released late on Thursday evening (7th June) and put immediately on a plane to Germany, along with Nguyễn Văn Đài’s wife Vũ Minh Khánh. They have been offered political asylum by the German government.
Members of the “Brotherhood for Democracy”, Đài and Hà were sentenced in April 2018 to prison terms of 15 and nine years respectively on charges of “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government” (Article 109 in the amended Criminal Code).
“We are happy and relieved that Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà are no longer languishing in jail and we commend the German government for their patient and determined efforts”, said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái.
However, he added “The Vietnamese government deserves no credit for their release. Hanoi arbitrarily deprived these brave human rights defenders of several years of their lives and now releases them on condition of their exile. Vietnam should stop using dissidents as bargaining chips to obtain commercial advantages from Western countries and cease its cynical policy of “exporting dissent” by forcing its critics into exile”.
Vietnam is anxious to obtain ratification of an EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement that was finalized in 2015. Ratification has been delayed because of Vietnam’s lack of progress on human rights and labour rights, and also because of Germany’s protests over the kidnapping of Trịnh Xuân Thanh, former chairman of the giant state PetroVietnam Construction Company (PVC) who was seeking political asylum in Germany. The German government accused the Vietnamese intelligence service of the kidnapping. Thanh was accused of “embezzlement” and condemned to two life sentences in January and February 2018 in Hanoi.
Võ Văn Ái stressed that Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà were simply exercising legitimate activities guaranteed under the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam is a state party. “They should not have been arrested in the first place. They should be formally acquitted of their sentence and should be allowed to return to Vietnam as free citizens whenever they choose”, he said.
Nguyễn Văn Đài was first arrested in March 2007 for holding informal human rights workshops at his office in Hanoi. He was sentenced to five years in prison (reduced to four years on appeal) and four years house arrest under Article 88 of the Criminal Code. Released in 2011, he continued his human rights advocacy, founding the Brotherhood of Democracy in 2013, and making human rights submissions to bilateral human rights dialogues and UN mechanisms. He was arrested again on 16 December 2015 as he went to meet with members of the European Union delegation in Hanoi for the annual EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue. Detained virtually incommunicado for over two years, he was put on trial on 5th April 2018 with other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy. The group all received harsh sentences. Protestant Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn, journalist Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển and Phạm Văn Trội, who received jail terms of seven to 12 years, appealed against their sentences on 4th June 2018, but they were upheld by the Hanoi Appeal Court.
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