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Photo released by the Vietnam News Agency on January 5, 2021 shows Vietnamese bloggers Pham Chi Dung (right), Nguyen Tuong Thuy (front left), and Le Huu Minh Tuan (back left) during their trial in Ho Chi Minh city.
© 2021 STR/Vietnam News Agency/AFP via Getty Image
(Bangkok) – The Vietnamese government’s crackdown on dissidents has been unrelenting prior to the major Communist Party Congress set to begin on January 25, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. During this 13th Party Congress, meetings held every five years since 1986, officials will set new plans and select the politburo, the party’s leadership, the leader of the national assembly, and the country’s president and prime minister.
“Vietnam’s Communist Party is preparing for the pageantry of its party congress while sending people to prison for posting their views and opinions on Facebook, as millions worldwide do every day,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “For all its propaganda about an ‘era of independence, freedom, and happiness,’ the Vietnamese government is really only interested in its citizens’ silence and servility.”
On January 20, the authorities put Dinh Thi Thu Thuy on trial for articles and Facebook posts critical of the party and government. She had been arrested in April 2020 and charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” under article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code. After a perfunctory trial, a court in Hau Giang convicted and sentenced her to 7 years in prison.
On January 5, in a trial that lasted less than six hours, a court in Ho Chi Minh City ruled that the prominent bloggers Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan were guilty of conducting propaganda against the state. The three were associated with the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, founded in July 2014 to promote media freedom and democracy. The court sentenced Pham Chi Dung to 15 years in prison. Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan each received 11-year sentences. Each will have to serve an additional three years on probation after completing their prison terms.
In October, the police arrested Pham Doan Trang, a prominent dissident who co-founded the Liberal Publishing House to publish nonfiction books by Vietnamese authors on various social and political topics. In June, the police arrested three other contributors to the Liberal Publishing House: a former political prisoner, Can Thi Theu, and her sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu. All four were charged with conducting propaganda against the state.
The 13th Party Congress will determine the next national leaders for a country of more than 96 million people. The congress is neither democratic nor transparent. Vietnamese citizens are prohibited from discussing candidates for the top four positions of party secretary, prime minister, president, and chairman of the National Assembly, all of which were designated “top secret” (tuyet mat) under a decision signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in December.
“Concerned governments should speak out in support of Vietnam’s courageous dissidents and expand their calls for democratic reforms,” Sifton said. “The critics of one-party rule in Vietnam are not going away.”