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VIET NAM: Trial against three pro-democracy bloggers to open on September 24

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BANGKOK-PARIS-GENEVA, September 21, 2012. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), together with the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), are deeply concerned at the judicial action against three pro-democracy bloggers. The trial against Mr. Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan before the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court is due to start on September 24, 2012, after several postponements.

On September 15, 2012, Dieu Cay’s lawyer was officially notified that Ms. Ta Phong Tan and Messrs. Dieu Cay and Phan Thanh Hai would be tried on September 24, 2012. The three outspoken bloggers were charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88.2 of the Criminal Code that has been frequently used to criminalise peaceful criticisms. If convicted, the bloggers could be sentenced to up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

The trial has been re-scheduled on several occasions (April and August 2012). Meanwhile Dieu Cay has been in prison pending his trial for 23 months (1). Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan have also been in pre-trial detention in Ho Chi Minh City for 23 and 12 months respectively. This prolonged pre-trial detention is a violation of national and international law, including Article 120 of the Vietnamese Criminal Procedures Code (2).

The Observatory and VCHR are extremely concerned that the bloggers will not receive a fair trial. In addition, the family of Dieu Cay has been put under pressure. Indeed, in the afternoon of September 16, 2012, Dieu Cay’s ex wife, along with the sister of Ms. Ta Phong Tan, were reportedly arrested and interrogated at the police station on accusations of causing a traffic incident after they got out of the taxi that drove them to a ceremony to commemorate the 49-day of Ta Phong Tan’s mother’s death. The same day, they were also assaulted by thugs in front of the police. It is to be recalled that on July 30, 2012, Ta Phong Tan’s mother, Ms. Dang Thi Kim Lieng, immolated herself outside the People’s Committee headquarters in Bac Lieu to protest against her daughter’s unfair imprisonment.

Dieu Cay, one of the founders of the Club of Free Journalists, is known for his writings calling for greater respect for human rights and democratic reforms. He is also known for his criticisms of China’s claims over disputed islands in the South China Sea. In January 2008, Dieu Cay and other activists staged an anti-China demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City. Before their arrests, Phan Thanh Hai had published a number of articles on his blog, including one that criticised and called for the repeal of Article 88 of the Criminal Code, while Ms. Tan had blogged about police abuse and violations of human rights by the State.

This crackdown on Internet activists has been continuous since 2008, including numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions (3). In addition, the Vietnamese government has drafted a new Decree on Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Information on the Network that, if passed in its current form, would grant the authorities expansive discretionary power to censor, control and possibly criminalise Internet use in Viet Nam. Moreover, last week, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered a crack down on three prominent blogs advocating for pro human rights and pro democratic reforms and denouncing corruption cases and called for the arrest of those associated with these sites. In June 2012, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution affirming that the right to freedom of expression on-line must be protected, and called on States to “promote and facilitate access to the Internet”.

The Observatory and the VCHR reiterate their call on the representatives of the diplomatic and international community in Hanoi to send observers to the trial of the three bloggers and to publicly and privately urge Viet Nam to drop all charges against Ms. Ta Phong Tan, Mr. Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay) and Mr. Phan Thanh Hai, and release them immediately and unconditionally.

Press contact:
VCHR: Vo Tran Nhat: +33 1 45 98 30 85
FIDH: Arthur Manet: + 33 1 43 55 25 18
OMCT: Isabelle Scherer: +41 22 809 49 39

(1) Dieu Cay was previously convicted on trumped-up charges of “tax evasion” after a manifestly unfair and closed trial in 2009. His current prolonged detention began on October 19, 2010, the same day he completed the prison term he received in 2009.

(2) Under Article 120 of the Vietnamese Criminal Procedures Code, pre-trial detention is limited to four months for “very serious” offenses. It may be extended three times for especially serious offences, and a fourth time in case it concerns a “national security” crime.

(3) See Observatory/VCHR non-exhaustive list of human rights defenders in detention or under house arrest (January 2012): on www.fidh.org or www.omct.org.
See also Joint Press Release issued on August 1, 2012. For more general information, see also the list of 180 political and religious prisoners submitted by the VCHR to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2012

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