In the first week of June, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) released its opinions on the arrests of Mr. Nguyen Bao Tien, a driver and a collaborator of the Liberal Publishing House, and Mr. Chau Van Kham, a Vietnamese Australian– a member of the California-based Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan).
According to two documents No. 13/2022 and 35/2022 approved by WGAD during its 93rd session from March 30 to April 8, 2022, this agency considers the arrest of Mr. Nguyen Bao Tien and Mr. Chau Van Kham arbitrary and requires the Government of Vietnam to take necessary steps to remedy their situation immediately and in accordance with relevant international conventions, including those set forth in Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“Mr. Chau Van Kham’s connection to Viet Tan cannot be grounds for arrest”
Mr. Chau Van Kham, 72 years old, according to WGAD, was arrested on January 13, 2019, on charges of “operating to overthrow the people’s administration.”
Mr. Kham was later sentenced to 12 years in prison on another charge of “terrorism aimed at opposing the people’s administration” simply because he was a member of Viet Tan, an organization labeled a “terrorist” by Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security but has been described by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as a moderate activist group advocating for democratic reform.
The WGAD said it was not the general rule to arrest Chau Van Kham without a warrant in violation of Article 9 of ICCPR.
The agency said the deprivation of his liberty was arbitrary because he was only exercising the freedoms of conscience and belief as well as the right of expression enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR.
The WGAD also said he had limited consular access from the Australian Mission in Vietnam and legal assistance. His connection to Viet Tan could not be grounds for arrest, the agency said.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Mr. Do Hoang Diem, Chairman of Viet Tan, said:
“Right now we are in Australia and the purpose of our trip is to meet Australian politicians and elected officials to campaign for Mr. Chau Van Kham.
This UN ruling comes at a very timely time. With this verdict, it is clear that Mr. Chau Van Kham is innocent… We will fight for Mr. Kham to be free and return to his family.”
The Government of Vietnam March 2022 also responded to the Working Group on the case of Australian citizens.
The Hanoi government says that Mr. Kham was arrested for violating Vietnamese law, not for his democratic views, and that the arrest and sentencing were carried out in accordance with Vietnamese law consistent with international conventions that Vietnam has ratified.
Hanoi also reiterated that the government has announced Viet Tan as a terrorist organization with the aim of overthrowing the Government by many methods such as armed activities, directly threatening national security and social order, recruiting and training members in the use of weapons and explosives, etc.
In the case of Mr. Kham, Vietnam said he illegally entered Vietnam on January 11, 2019, under the direction of Viet Tan to organize recruitment and training for sabotage and terrorist activities.
Since Mr. Kham’s arrest, many civic groups and parliamentarians in Australia have called on the government in Canberra to put pressure on the Vietnamese government to demand his release. However, he is still detained and forced to do hard labor in prison in Vietnam.
“Arrest Mr. Nguyen Bao Tien for violating freedom of expression”
Another document of the Working Group also mentioned Mr. Nguyen Bao Tien, 36 years old, is a book carrier and voluntary collaborator of Liberal Publishing House – a publishing establishment not registered with the Vietnamese government and was founded by imprisoned activist Pham Doan Trang.
He was arrested on May 5, 2021, on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison during the trial on January 21, 2022.
WGAD said Mr. Nguyen Bao Tien was punished only for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression and association as provided for in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR. During his detention and trial, he was deprived of the right to have a defense attorney.
The Vietnamese government in a written response in March said that Nguyen Bao Tien was arrested for violating national law and that during the arrest and trial, his rights were guaranteed.
The Vietnamese side also said that he owned and distributed 108 books with content defaming the regime’s policies in order to call for the overthrow of the people’s government.
In the last 5 years, WGAD released dozens of documents stating that the arrest and conviction of dozens of prisoners of conscience, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Le Van Dung, etc. are arbitrary and ask the Vietnamese government to release them.
However, Vietnam has sentenced them to lengthy imprisonments and placed them in prisons with severe living conditions.