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Vietnam Committee condemns sentence of pro-democracy activist Tran Anh Kim as a “parody of justice”

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PARIS, 28 December 2009 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), condemned the sentence of Vietnamese pro-democracy activist Tran Anh Kim to five and a half years in prison and 3 years probationary house arrest at a perfunctory trial of less than four hours at the People’s court in Thai Binh Province today as a “parody of justice”.

“This trial shows, once again, Hanoi’s total contempt for its citizens rights, and brazen disregard of its binding international commitments as a State party to key UN human rights treaties” said Vo Van Ai.

Tran Anh Kim, 60, a former lieutenant colonel in the People’s Army, who had earned 11 medals, including 3 for his service in the Vietnam war, was convicted of working to “overthrow the state”. In his statement to the court, he said he was “figh[ing] for democratic freedom and human rights through peaceful dialogue and nonviolent means”.

The sentence was unfair, said Mr. Vo Van Ai, on three grounds: Firstly, because the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, Article 1) – which Vietnam signed and ratified in 1982 enshrines the right of all peoples to freely determine their own political status. Tran Anh Kim was using legitimate and peaceful means to fight for this right. Secondly, Hanoi condemned him in advance, by publicizing his forced “confessions” on the state-controlled television and media in August 2009, in violation of Vietnam’s Criminal Procedures Code, which guarantees the presumption of innocence until proven guilty (Article 9). Thirdly, his “confessions” concerned “spreading propaganda against the State” (Article 88 of the criminal Code), yet this charge was suddenly changed and he was sentenced under the much more serious charge of subversion (Article 79 of the Criminal Code).

Article 79 of the Criminal Code is one of the vaguely-worded “national security” laws condemned roundly at the UN Human Rights Committee during Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review in May 2009. A host of UN member states called on Vietnam to repeal or revise these laws, because they are completely incompatible with the ICCPR. Vietnam refused these demands, along with some 45 other concrete recommendations by UN member states to advance human rights and democratic reform (1). The European Parliament also condemned Vietnam’s “national security” legislation in a Resolution in November 2009 (2).

Indeed, as early as 1995, following an in-situ visit to Vietnam, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the abrogation of Article 79 (then Article 73), on the grounds that it “draws no distinction on the grounds of the use or non-use of violence”, and its wording “is so vague that it could result in penalties being imposed not only on persons using violence for political ends, but also on persons who have merely exercised their legitimate right to freedom of opinion or expression” (3).

Mr. Ai added that this trial in Thai Binh, said Mr. Ai, bore strong symbolic significance. Thai Binh Province is the cradle of Vietnamese Communism, and as such it received special treatment under Vietnam’s policy of “doi moi” (economic renovation). Despite this, in the late 1990s, unprecedented uprisings took place in Thai Binh, with tens of thousands of peasants demonstrating against official corruption and power abuse. In 1997, the Hanoi Institute of Social Sciences sent a team to Thai Binh to investigate these incidents, led by Professor Tuong Lai. In his report, Professor Tuong Lai concluded that the root cause of these massive demonstrations was the lack of democracy. “Democracy has been cruelly violated”, he wrote, calling on the Party to guarantee the peasants’ democratic rights (4).

“The Institute’s recommendations remained dead letter in 1997, because Party cadres were unwilling to concede their power and privileges. Today’s harsh sentence against Tran Kim Anh, a former officer decorated for his services to the VCP, shows once again how the Party is prepared to stifle its people’s aspirations for democracy to preserve the power of the one-Party state”.

Given this harsh prison sentence on Tran Anh Kim, Mr. Ai expressed grave concern for his four colleagues, i.e. human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, Nguyen Tien Trung, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Thang Long, who will stand trial on the same charges in late January 2010.

(1) See our press release “At the 12th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva: Vietnam scorns UN proposals for reform in Universal Periodic Review as dissidents await trial in Hanoi” (24 September 2009)

(2) See our press release “European Parliament condemns religious persecution and human rights violations in Vietnam and Laos” (26 November 2009)

(3) Visit to Vietnam, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Report to the 51st of the UN Commission on Human Rights, ref. ECN.4/1995/31 Add.4, §58.

(4) see “Stifling Democracy” – the voices of dissidents in Vietnam”, Quê Me, Paris 2003.

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