Two land rights activists and human rights advocates lose appeals, sent back to prison

Hoa Binh province’s police arrested activist Trinh Ba Tu on June 24, 2020

On August 17, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi upheld the first-instance judgments against two land rights activists and human rights advocates Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam while both had a stoic attitude and were ready to accept the verdicts issued by the court.

Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong was sentenced to ten years in prison and five years of probation, and Ms. Nguyen Thi Tam was given six years in prison plus three years of probation in the first-instance trial in late December 2021 for the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Immediately after the hearing, lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, one of the three lawyers defending Mr. Phuong, told Radio Free Asia that the hearing was over in the morning, and afternoon it was time for judge discussion as a pre-planned or show hearing in other political cases.

The time for debating was short because they intended to limit the time for it. Upholding happens in political cases.”

Talking about the two activists in the hearing, Mr. Mien said:

Their attitude was very generous. Mr. Phuong and Ms. Tam have excellent defenses of the work they have done. Both are very politically strong.”

Lawyer Mieng in a status line on Facebook quoted the Procuratorate as saying during the trial: “Breaching the trial period of 8 months instead of 90 days does not change the nature of the case.”

In Article 346 of the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code, the time limit for preparing the appeal hearing for the Higher People’s Court is 90 days from the date of receipt of the case file, while both activists’ first-instance hearing was held in mid-December last year, but their appeal hearing was held eight months later.

Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh in a comment on Facebook said: “Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong sat cross-legged to attend the trial as if unrelated. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tam opened her mouth to ‘slam’ all the time until she was put in a closed car.”

Police violently chase away the family and friends of two activists

Police, including plainclothes ones, were deployed to blockade the court area, preventing relatives and friends of two activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam from approaching.

Their relatives were not allowed to attend the public hearing, not only that, but they were also violently kicked out of the court area.

Before the trial, the two families applied to attend but received no response.

Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, Do Thi Thu, told RFA that when her family approached the gate of the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi, they were chased away by security forces, forcing them to leave the court area.

Even when she was sitting at a bar far from the courtroom, she was grabbed by a plainclothes security guard who forced her to go further.

When they chased me, I went to the bar, they went to the bar and dragged me away. While dragging me by the neck, one guy cursed me very harshly, not only that, he also slapped me,” said Mrs. Thu.

Many Duong Noi residents and some activists went to the court area to accompany the families of the two activists, but they were also forced by security forces to leave the court area.

Ms. Thu said her family had anticipated the verdict upholding because “from the time being arrested until now, my husband has maintained he is not guilty, so they will not reduce my husband’s sentence.”

Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong, born in 1985, and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tam, born in 1972, both in Duong Noi commune, outside Hanoi, were arrested on June 24, 2020.

Mr. Phuong’s mother, Mrs. Can Thi Theu, and younger brother Trinh Ba Tu were also arrested on the same day after the four activists strongly spoke out on social media against the riot police’s attack on Hoanh village, Dong Tam commune during the night of January 9, 2020, killing Mr. Le Dinh Kinh and arresting dozens of others.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls on Vietnam to release two activists

A day before the appeal hearing, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a press release urging Vietnam to drop the charges and release Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong and Ms. Nguyen Thi Tam because they are not guilty but only exercising their civil and political rights.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia-Pacific division, called on international donors, UN agencies, and diplomats in Hanoi to speak out against the sentencing of Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, and asked the appeal court to overturn unjust sentences against them, who campaigned for justice for thousands of people who unjustly lost their land in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s hollow promise to support the country’s farmers by providing them with the land is exposed by the authorities’ rights abusing treatment of Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam. These two farmers were forced into political activism because the government forcibly confiscated their land, prompting them to act to recover that land so they could support themselves and their families. These two activists’ struggle involved spending literally years campaigning for justice for farmers who have lost their lands and livelihoods to rapacious government officials, ruling Communist Party cadres, and their crony business partners who think nothing of snatching land for their own projects. In their single-minded pursuit of power and profits, government and Communist Party of Vietnam officials have forgotten that farmers were among the original supporters of the revolution, and now they are throwing farmers’ interests out the window. International donors, UN agencies, and Hanoi-based diplomats should vocally oppose the rights-abusing treatment of Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, and demand the appeals court quash their unjust convictions for actions that simply constituted peaceful advocacy using their civil and political rights.” (Translated)

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