Two Vietnamese Activists Imprisoned for Peaceful Advocacy

The Vietnamese authorities continue to step up their repression against civil society with the recent convictions of human rights defenders Trần Anh Kim and Lê Thanh Tùng on 16 December. Both are accused of intending to establish an organisation aiming to replace the current Communist regime with a democratically elected government under Article 79 of the draconian Penal Code. Trần Anh Kim (67) and Lê Thanh Tùng (48) received sentences of 13 and 12 years respectively.

“The heavy sentences handed down for peaceful online advocacy is yet more evidence that the Vietnamese authorities have no intention of ending their campaign of repression of civil society. Their unjustifiable convictions must be overturned and the two activists immediately and unconditionally released,” said Civil Rights Defenders in a statement today.

Even after serving these lengthy sentences, the activists, who have previously been incarcerated as political prisoners, will face probation/house arrest after serving their current prison terms. Both had been detained under national security provisions until their release in 2015, but were then subsequently re-arrested by security forces just a few months later.

Ahead of their so-called “open” trial, Vietnamese authorities placed several activists under de facto house arrest and arrested one in an apparent attempt to prevent them from gaining access to the Court to observe proceedings.

“This verdict epitomises Vietnam’s relentless attempts to silence those who use peaceful means to express ideas that are not in line with official positions. The fact that Trần Anh Kim and Lê Thanh Tùng were convicted solely on the purpose of intending to set up an organisation adds to this injustice,” said John Stauffer, Legal Director, Civil Rights Defenders.

This verdict comes at the end of a tumultuous year for human rights defenders in Vietnam; that has seen an intensive crackdown against freedom of speech and expression resulting in the arrest of several activists and bloggers, most notably Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh (also known as Me Nam or “Mother Mushroom”), the 2015 recipient of the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award, or sentencing them to hefty prison terms, as in the case of Nguyễn Hữu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Nguyễn Thị Minh Thúy.

Over a hundred political prisoners, including lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài, remain arbitrarily detained under various national security provisions. Blogger Nguyễn Văn Hải (known by his pen name Điếu Cày) was forced into exile in the United States after his release in 2014. While the protection of human rights is guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, in practice it is severely curtailed by vaguely-worded legal provisions that subject individual rights to the policies and interests of the state, in particular “national security.”

Civil Rights Defenders calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Trần Anh Kim and Lê Thanh Tùng, as well as of Me Nam and all other imprisoned human rights defenders, activists, journalists and bloggers, and urges the Vietnamese authorities to put an end to the persecution of independent or critical voices in the country.