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Urgent Interventions

Vietnam: Land rights defender Trinh Ba Tu continues to be tortured in prison

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

New information
VNM 001 / 0422 / OBS 026.3
Torture and ill-treatment /
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Vietnam
December 8, 2022


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Vietnam.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about renewed acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against Mr Trinh Ba Tu while in detention. Mr Tu is a land rights defender who has been vocal about land grabbing and its impact on small-scale farmers across the country, along with his mother Can Thi Theu and brother Trinh Ba Phuong, who are also being arbitrarily detained.

On November 21, 2022, for the first time in two months, Trinh Ba Tu was allowed to receive a visit from a family member in Thanh Hoa Prison No. 6, Nghe An province. His father had attempted to visit him three times previously, after taking a six-hour trip from his home in Hoa Binh Province to the prison each time, but was regularly denied access to his son. Trinh Ba Tu told his father he continued to be subjected to disciplinary procedures amounting to torture and ill-treatment . These include incommunicado detention and 10 days of solitary confinement with foot shackling. He also informed his father he had lost at least 10kg due to the hunger strike he carried out from September 6 to September 28, 2022. Trinh Ba Tu and his father were kept physically separated by a glass partition and remained under strict surveillance during the visit.

At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Trinh Ba Tu remained detained in a cell with three other inmates in Thanh Hoa Prison No. 6. He has been denied access to letters sent by his brother Trinh Ba Phuong, and is subjected to hard labour. While in detention, Trinh Ba Tu remains at high risk of further acts of torture and ill-treatment. Prison No. 6 in Nghe An is notorious for its harsh detention conditions and particularly cruel treatment of political prisoners. The prison is 300 km away from Trinh Ba Tu’s home in Hoa Binh Province, making it extremely difficult for his family to visit him.

The Observatory recalls that Trinh Ba Tu started a hunger strike on September 6, 2022 to protest the ill-treatment he and other detainees had been subjected to while in detention. Prior to his hunger strike, he had been placed in solitary confinement for ten days, during which he was severely beaten and denied access to the toilet, as a punishment for writing a complaint against the prison authorities for allegations of ill-treatment against other detainees. On September 20, 2022, during a family visit, Trinh Ba Tu was dragged out of the visiting room, as he was explaining his father the acts of torture and ill-treatment prison officers had subjected him to. Trinh Ba Tu’s father was later informed that his son had been placed under disciplinary measures but the prison officers refused to provide any details about the length or application of these measures.

The Observatory further recalls that Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, and Trinh Ba Phuong were arbitrarily arrested on June 24, 2020, under Article 117 of the Criminal Code (“making, storing or disseminating information, documents, materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”). Their arrest and detention are connected to their work denouncing on social media the excessive use of force against farmers of the Dong Tam Village, about 25 km Southwest of Hanoi, during a deadly police raid conducted in January 2020, in which a farmer and three policemen died.

On May 5, 2021, Trinh Ba Tu and Can Thi Theu were sentenced by the Hanoi People’s Court to eight years of imprisonment each under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Their conviction and prison sentence were upheld on appeal on December 24, 2021 and are final.

Trinh Ba Phuong was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment and five years of probation on December 15, 2021, by the Hanoi People’s Court. His conviction and prison sentence were upheld by the Hanoi High People’s Court on August 17, 2022 and are final. During the investigation, he was subjected to acts of torture and ill-treatment, and was confined to a psychiatric hospital for one month in March 2021.

The Observatory condemns in the strongest terms the above-mentioned acts of torture and ill-treatment, and urges the Vietnamese authorities to protect and respect Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Phuong’s right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment, and to carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned allegations and hold those responsible accountable.

The Observatory further condemns their ongoing arbitrary detention and calls on the authorities to quash their prison sentences and to immediately and unconditionally release them.

The Observatory urges the Vietnamese authorities to stop misusing Article 117 of the Criminal Code to prosecute human rights defenders and silence dissent in Vietnam, and recalls that several United Nations Special Procedures declared that this article is “overly broad and appears to be aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human rights to freely express their views and share information with others”.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Vietnam asking them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, Trinh Ba Phuong, their relatives, and of all other human rights defenders in Vietnam;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, and Trinh Ba Phuong, as their detention is arbitrary and is merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Carry out an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into the alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment against Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong, in order to hold those responsible accountable;

iv. Quash the prison sentences of Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, and Trinh Ba Phuong and put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them, their relatives and all human rights defenders in Vietnam, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

v. Repeal or significantly amend Article 117 of the Criminal Code to bring it into line with Vietnam’s international human rights obligations, and ensure prison regulations uphold and facilitate the rights of people in detention or imprisonment and comply with international standards on the treatment of detainees and prisoners, including the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Le Thanh Long, Minister of Justice of Vietnam; Email: longlt@moj.gov.vn / botuphap@moj.gov.vn
  • Mr. Tran Van Son, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), Email: vpcp@chinhphu.vn
  • H.E. Ms. Le Thi Tuyet Mai, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland; Email: geneva@mofa.gov.vn
  • Embassy of Vietnam in Brussels, Belgium; Email: vnemb.brussels@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Vietnam in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, December 8, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • Tel FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
  • Tel OMCT: +41 (0) 22 809 49 39
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