The Observatory has been informed about renewed acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against Mr Trinh Ba Phuong in detention. Mr Ba Phuong 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 Tu. All three of them have been arbitrarily detained since June 24, 2020.
On October 12, 2023, during a family visit in An Diem Prison, in Quang Nam Province, where he is arbitrarily detained, Trinh Ba Phuong informed his relatives about the punishment inflicted upon him and two fellow inmates by the prison authorities between September 9 and 19, 2023.
According to Trinh Ba Phuong, on September 9, 2023, he and three other prisoners peacefully protested against the Vietnamese government’s human rights record by holding banners made with pieces of paper in Division 34 of An Diem Prison. After more than 30 minutes, 10 prison guards confiscated the banners and brutally beat them in the presence of the prison ward. Trinh Ba Phuong was grabbed by the neck and pushed against the wall, causing him bruises on his chest. He was subsequently handcuffed and taken to a disciplinary cell, where he remained detained in solitary confinement with his feet shackled until September 19, 2023. The shackles were removed for only 20 minutes every morning to allow him to wash his body. After the 10-day punishment period, he was transferred back to his cell. To date, he has neither been treated nor examined by any medical personnel.
The Observatory condemns in its strongest terms the disciplinary punishment perpetrated against Trinh Ba Phuong and his two fellow inmates while in prison, and recalls that this is not the first time the human rights defender has been subjected to ill-treatment and acts of torture. His brother Trinh Ba Tu has been subjected to disciplinary punishment on multiple occasions in Thanh Hoa Prison No. 6, in Nghe An province, including solitary confinement, beatings, foot shackling, and hard labour.
The Observatory recalls that Trinh Ba Phuong was arbitrarily arrested in Hanoi on June 24, 2020, on charge of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. On the same day, in Hoa Binh Province, his mother and brother, Ms Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu, were arbitrarily arrested on the same charge. 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 December 15, 2021, Trinh Ba Phuong was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years of probation. On August 17, 2022, his conviction and prison sentence were upheld by the Hanoi High People’s Court and the sentence is 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.
Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu were sentenced by the Hanoi People’s Court to eight years of imprisonment each under Article 117 of the Criminal Code on May 5, 2021. Their convictions and prison sentences were upheld on appeal on December 24, 2021 and are final. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, they remained detained in Thanh Hoa Prison No. 5 and Thanh Hoa Prison No. 6, respectively, and their detention conditions remained unknown.
The Observatory expresses its grave concern over the high risk of torture and ill-treatment Trinh Ba Phuong, Can Thi Theu, and Trinh Ba Tu face while in detention.
The Observatory expresses further concern about the physical integrity and psychological well-being of the three human rights defenders’ families, who have been subjected to threats and short periods of arrest to intimidate them and prevent them from attending the trials of their relatives.
The Observatory further notes that Trinh Ba Phuong remains detained 850 km away from his home; while Trinh Ba Tu and Can Thi Theu are detained at a distance of 300 km and 120 km from their homes, respectively. The continued detention of the above-mentioned human rights defenders in remote prisons has a punitive effect on them and their families, as each prison visit requires high traveling costs and onerous journeys, and consequently cannot take place regularly.
The Observatory urges the Vietnamese authorities to protect and respect Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, and Can Thi Theu’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 of torture and ill treatment 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”.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Vietnam, asking them to:
1. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, their relatives, and all other human rights defenders in Vietnam;
2. Immediately and unconditionally release Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, as their detention is arbitrary and is merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
3. Carry out an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into the alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment against Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, in order to hold those responsible accountable;
4. Quash the prison sentences of Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, and Can Thi Theu, 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;
5. 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.
- Mr. Pham Minh Chinh, Prime Minister of Vietnam; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter : @VNGovtPortal
- Mr. Bui Thanh Son, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam; Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @MOFAVietNam / @FMBuiThanhSon
- Ms. Pham Thi Thanh Tra, Minister of Home Affairs of Vietnam; Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Le Thanh Long, Minister of Justice of Vietnam; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org/ email@example.com
- Mr. Tran Van Son, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG); Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
- H.E. Ms. Le Thi Tuyet Mai, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland; Email: email@example.com
- Embassy of Vietnam in Brussels, Belgium; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Vietnam in your respective country.