The authorities in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An have scheduled to hold the first-instance hearing on November 30 to try local activist Tran Duc Thach on allegation of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s Criminal Code.
According to his lawyer Ha Huy Son, the trial will be open for public. However, it is unlikely his family members and friends as well as local activists will be permitted to attend the hearing, like in other political cases in the past.
Mr. Thach, born in 1952, is former prisoner of conscience from the central province of Nghe An, the home of late communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Thach is a founding member of the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy.
On April 23, security forces arrested Mr. Thach on allegation of conducting “Activities against the people’s government,” with the highest punishment of 20 years in prison or even death penalty. Police conducted searching for his house, confiscating a laptop, cell phones, a camera as well as VND9 million ($380) and $400, according to his family.
The state-controlled media reported that Mr. Thach has been continuously posting and sharing numerous articles on Facebook with content to distort the regime’s policies with the aim to trigger social disorders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was arrested for the first time in 2009 and sentenced to three years in jail and three years of probation on a charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code for claiming Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys), the two archipelagos also claimed by China, and demanding human rights improvement in the communist nation. Particularly, Thach, together with activists Vu Van Hung and Nguyen Xuan Nghia hang out a banner which states “Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belong to Vietnam” at Mai Dich Bridge in the capital city of Hanoi. His fellows were also jailed with lengthy sentences.
Thach was an officer of the communist army participating in the Vietnam War which ended in 1975 as the communist troops invaded the southern Vietnam Republic. After leaving the communist army in 1975, Thach wrote a memoir named “Obsessive mass grave” to describe how communist soldiers assaulted innocent civil people while invading South Vietnam during the Vietnam War in which the communist soldiers with the support of China and the Soviet Unions as well as the communist bloc in Eastern Europe defeated South Vietnam backed by the US and its allies and unified the country in 1975. In 1976, he self-immolated to protest unfair policies of authorities in Nghe An province and Dien Chau district. Due to the act, his face was deformed.
Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified its crackdown on local dissent from late 2015 when the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam prepared for its 12th National Congress. More than 100 activists have been arrested and charged with controversial allegations in the National Security provisions of the Penal Code 1999 or the Criminal Code 2015, many of them were sentenced to lengthy imprisonments of between five and 20 years.
BFD is the group that suffered the most from the ongoing persecution campaign of the communist regime. Its nine key members were sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison, and only two of them, human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha were freed but forced to live in exile in Germany. Thach’s latest arrest is related to BFD. In 2017, when Vietnam’s police arrested six key members of the group, he was summoned to a police station and interrogated for days about his activities in it.
After Thach’s arrest, Vietnam’s communist regime has detained a number of activists and bloggers and charged them with controversial accusations in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code. The detainees included Vice President of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Nguyen Tuong Thuy and its young editor Le Huu Minh Tuan, well-known blogger Pham Chi Thanh (aka Pham Thanh), and prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang, who was taken into custody on the day Vietnam and the US conducted the 24th Annual Human Rights Dialogue.
With the new arrests, Vietnam is holding at least 260 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’s statistics. More arrests are expected in the coming months as the ruling party is preparing for its 13th five-year congress slated in early 2021.