PARIS, 16 April 2012 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (pen-name Dieu Cay) Phan Thanh Hai (Anh Ba Saigon) and Ms. Ta Phong Tan (Justice and Truth) and drop all charges against them. The three are charged under Article 88.2 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code on “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” which is punishable by ten to twenty years in prison.
“Dieu Cay has been detained incommunicado for the past 17 months in gross violation of domestic and international law, and he should never have been arrested in the first place. A trial under these conditions would be nothing other than a parody of justice” said Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.
Diplomatic sources told Dieu Cay’s family that the trial could take place on 17 April 2012, and the State-controlled press reported on 14th April that the Supreme Procuracy transferred the case to the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court. However, Dieu Cay’s lawyers Ha Huy Son and Nguyen Quoc Dat said that it was also possible that the trial could be postponed until after the “sensitive” date of 30th April, anniversary of the Communist take- over and the fall of Saigon. The three are charged with posting 421 articles on their blogs that “distorted and opposed the State.”
The lawyers were allowed to see Dieu Cay on March 29th for the first time, and have met him a second time since. They say that Dieu Cay has lost a lot of weight in prison. However, he continues to reject the accusations laid against him and insists that he has committed no crime. His lawyers said that Dieu Cay refuses to sign any papers concerning the case, and even refused to read the Indictment drawn up by the prosecution. They fear that if Dieu Cay persisted in this attitude, they would have little chance of obtaining an acquittal or even a light sentence.
Dieu Cay, born in 1952, a prominent blogger and founder of the “Club of Free Journalists” was first arrested in April 2008 and sentenced to 30 months in prison on alleged charges of “tax evasion”. In fact, he had staged demonstrations during the Olympic Flame relay to protests China’s incursions on the Paracel and Spratly Islands and written articles denouncing violations of human rights in Vietnam. The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights alerted the United Nations of his case, and in 2009 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention pronounced him a victim of arbitrary detention and called for his release (Opinion 1/2009).
Instead of releasing Dieu Cay on completion of his sentence (19 October 2010), the authorities detained him under a second charge of “spreading propaganda against the SRV” (article 88). Since then, his family have been denied all visits and not even informed of his whereabouts. They had serious concerns for his health, and did not know if he was dead or alive. This 17-month detention contravenes Vietnam’s Criminal Procedures Code (Article 120) which limits pre-trial detention for “national security offenders” to a maximum of four months, extendable three times only in “serious cases”, after which the detainee must either be released or “other deterrent measures” may be applied.
The other two bloggers to stand trial with Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan are also members of the Club of Free Journalists. Phan Thanh Hai, born in 1969, was arrested on 18 October 2010 and has remained in detention since then, also in violation of the Criminal Procedures Code. His lawyer is Doan Thai Duyen Hai.
Ironically, one of the articles posted on his blog was entitled “I disrespect the Kinbg and Article 88”. Citing Montesquieu’s writings on the vague definition of lèse-majesté, or disrespect for the monarch in feudal times, Phan Thanh Hai denounced the equally vague definition of “spreading propaganda against the SRV” under Article 88. This article violates Article 69 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression, and Article 53 which enshrines the right of all citizens to “participate in the administration of the State and management of society, the discussion of problems of the country and region; he can send Petitions to State organs and vote in referendums organized by the State”.
“Do we have the right to call for the abrogation of Article 88? I say that we do. As citizens who have voted for our elected representatives, we are entitled to petition the National Assembly and urge them to repeal any laws that are useless, obsolete, or which go against the people’s interests. This is our right”, he wrote.
Ms. Ta Phong Tan, born 1968, a former Policewoman, posted articles on the Internet on Police abuse and state violations of human rights. She was arrested on 5 September 2011. She is defended by lawyer Nguyen Thanh Luong.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights calls on Vietnam to immediately release these three bloggers who are detained for the legitimate expression of their peaceful opinions. All charges against them should be immediately dropped and they should regain their full citizenship rights.
“Vietnam has signed most key UN human rights treaties and it is candidate for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council in 2014-2016. Yet it continues to blatantly flaunt its disrespect of the most basic human rights. Vietnam must respect its international commitments and call off this mockery of justice before it is too late”, said Vo van Ai.