Briefing notes: harsh sentencing of human rights defenders in Viet Nam

Today, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the following briefing notes on the sentencing of land rights defenders in Viet Nam:

We are deeply troubled by the harsh sentencing of human rights and land rights defenders convicted of spreading anti-State propaganda in Viet Nam. In the span of three days this week, four prominent human rights defenders – Trinh Ba Phoung, Nguyen Thi Tam, Do Nam Trung and independent author Pham Doan Trang were sentenced to up to 10 years in jail and 5 years on probation under articles 88 and 117 of Viet Nam’s Criminal Code, all following prolonged pre-trial detention.

Trinh was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five on probation; Nguyen to six in prison and three on probation; Do to 10 years in jail and four on probation; and Pham to nine years’ imprisonment. Journalist Le Trong Hung, who had announced his intention to run for political office as an independent, is facing trial on 31 December on similar charges. He has been held since March 2021, without access to a lawyer and without being allowed to meet his family.

The charges against these five people, who were reporting on human rights and land rights and who were arrested in 2020 and 2021, appear to be part of a campaign to silence and intimidate those who raise their voices in defence of human rights. All the cases follow similar worrying patterns that raise serious issues concerning the presumption of innocence, the legality of their detention, and the fairness of their trial. There is prolonged incommunicado pre-trial detention, prosecution under the vaguely worded offence of “spreading anti-State propaganda”, denial of access to legal counsel and closed trials that do not respect international fair trial standards.

We urge the authorities in Viet Nam to immediately release all these individuals as well as the many others arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression. We also call on the Government to repeal all legal provisions that violate fundamental freedoms. The articles of the criminal code under which these charges were brought are vague and overly broad and thereby inconsistent with international human rights norms.

Cases of this kind contribute to a climate of self-censorship in the country and have a chilling effect on media freedom. They also prevent people from exercising their fundamental rights and engaging in public debate on issues of importance.

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