Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Human Rights Commissioner, issued the following statement today (6 April) on the long prison sentences given to Nguyen Bac Truyen, Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thu Ha, Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc and Nguyen Trung Ton:
The verdict that was pronounced against six Vietnamese human rights activists is a cause for concern. The convicted individuals are advocates for strengthening the rule of law, making public administration more transparent and increasing the role of civil society – in short, for a better Viet Nam. They are thereby exercising rights that are expressly guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution and that Viet Nam has committed itself to upholding in international treaties: freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association. These individuals are now being sent to jail for their commitment to a brighter future for Viet Nam.
I am also concerned about disregard for the rule of law in connection with the investigations and the legal procedure. Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha were kept in pre-trial detention for more than two years – without any contact to fellow detainees, without legal counsel and with very few visits from their family members. Following the arrests, many of the families were for several weeks not informed of their relatives’ whereabouts or of the criminal charges they faced. Some of the lawyers are saying that procedural rights in connection with the criminal cases were infringed on.
The alleged members of the Brotherhood for Democracy received the following prison sentences: Nguyen Trung Ton and Truong Minh Duc: 12 years each; Nguyen Bac Truyen: 11 years; and Pham Van Troi: 7 years. Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced by the People’s Court in Hanoi to 15 years in prison for “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government”. His assistant Le Thu Ha was handed down a 9-year prison term.
The human rights defender Nguyen Van Dai was previously imprisoned from 2007 to 2011 for advocating democratisation and the rule of law. He was disbarred, had his lawyer’s license revoked, and was not permitted to leave Viet Nam, even after having served his sentence. In late 2015, Dai and Le Thu Ha were arrested for “conducting propaganda against the state” (Article 88 of the Penal Code). In July 2017, the authorities added “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government” to the charges. At that time, the authorities also arrested the four other activists who were sentenced today: Truyen, Troi, Duc and Ton.
The German Government and Members of the German Bundestag, as well as numerous German and international organisations and civil-society actors, are all campaigning for the release of the activists. Then Foreign Minister Steinmeier called for the release of Dai during his visit to Viet Nam in October 2016. In 2017, Dai was awarded the Human Rights Award of the German Judges Association.