Activist jailed for supporting political prisoners in VietnamApr 9, 2021
Vietnamese authorities have arrested Hanoi-based democracy activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh, who is mostly known for establishing funds to help prisoners of conscience and their families. Thuy Hanh’s arrest marks a new low in Vietnam’s crackdown on peaceful exercises of fundamental human rights.
Nguyen Thuy Hanh, also known as Hanh Liberty, was arrested on the morning of April 7, 2021, a few days after the communist regime established the formation of its leadership for the next five years. She is charged under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code for creating, storing and disseminating “anti-state documents.” If convicted, she will face imprisonment of up to 20 years.
Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a self-nominated candidate for the 2016 national elections and popular Facebooker with over 45,000 followers, focuses her work on supporting prisoners of conscience and their families. She is known for establishing and running the “50K Fund,” which received donations from both inside and outside Vietnam to help families of prisoners of conscience overcome their financial challenges while their breadwinners are imprisoned for their peaceful activism.
Due to the pressure from the authorities and her deteriorating mental health, she decided to close the fund at the end of 2020. According to her husband, journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh, despite the fund suspension, their house remained under strict surveillance and both Chenh and his wife were followed by the police whenever they left the house.
It remains unclear what exactly she is being charged with. However, it is likely that her arrest is connected to her ongoing complaints and appeals to her bank who, in the name of “anti-terrorism,” has frozen her account without returning her over 500 million VND (about 21,700 USD). The money was raised in 2020 in a very short amount of time to support the family of the late Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed during the Dong Tam clash between locals and police.
Increased abuses of anti-state propaganda charges
Her arrest is part of the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and activists in Vietnam which has intensified since the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam this January. With national elections approaching in May 2021, human rights defenders, democracy activists, and self-nominated candidates for the elections have faced severe police harassment. In March 2021, the Vietnamese authorities arrested two self-nominated candidates Le Trong Hung and Tran Quoc Khanh, both charged under Article 117.
The vaguely defined Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code (previously article 88), i.e. “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” has been used almost exclusively to punish free speech and voices of dissent against state policies and officials. As one of the “national security” offences, the actual application of Article 117 has deprived those charged with it of their access to legal counsel and a fair trial. They may be detained incommunicado for many months or even years. The renowned human rights journalist Pham Doan Trang, for example, has not seen her lawyers or family for six months since her arrest in October last year.