Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (7 February) on the sentencing of the Vietnamese human rights activist Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years’ imprisonment:
Once again an activist in Viet Nam who has been peacefully campaigning on behalf of imprisoned human rights defenders, the environment and independent trade unions has been handed down a lengthy prison sentence. The Vietnamese Government thus remains intent on suppressing civil society as well as freedom of opinion and freedom to demonstrate. This is reflected above all in the unprecedentedly long prison sentences for crimes such as “abusing democratic rights” or “resisting state authorities”.
Viet Nam is thus violating international conventions which it has signed. Most importantly, however, the Vietnamese constitution itself guarantees freedom of opinion and freedom to demonstrate. It is therefore incomprehensible when critical citizens are convicted for their peaceful commitment, also towards the country’s socio-economic development, on the basis of alleged abuses of these very fundamental rights.
Moreover, Hoang Duc Binh – who has been campaigning for the legitimate interests of those living in central Viet Nam – is yet another activist to be convicted for political reasons. Many fishers and farmers have lost their livelihoods due to an environmental disaster caused by industrial sewage. In my view, working peacefully for their interests cannot be regarded as a criminal offence.
The simultaneous sentencing to two years’ imprisonment of Nguyen Nam Phong, the driver of a Catholic priest who is alleged to have refused to follow the orders of the police at a demonstration, also raises many questions.
I call upon the Vietnamese Government to refrain from detaining citizens for exercising their rights, to release political prisoners and to involve civil society and its legitimate demands in the political decision-making process.
Hoang Duc Binh campaigns for free and independent trade unions and political prisoners. Following an environmental disaster due to industrial sewage which caused a massive number of fish to die off the coast of central Viet Nam in spring 2016, he took part in protests and helped those who had lost their livelihoods as a result to demand adequate compensation.
A court in the central Vietnamese province of Nghe An decided that his activities were an abuse of democratic rights. He and Nguyen Nam Phong, the driver of a Catholic priest who was also campaigning on behalf of the victims of the disaster, were also convicted of resisting police officers.