An appeals court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Wednesday upheld the 12-year prison sentence handed to dissident writer Tran Duc Thach in December, sending him back to prison to serve his full term without hearing any arguments from his lawyer.
Thach, 69 and a founder of Vietnam’s online Brotherhood for Democracy, had heard only on Monday that the trial would be held, attorney Ha Huy Son told RFA on Tuesday.
Thach’s appeals hearing lasted just under two hours and was held without arguments between Thach’s defense attorney Ha Huy Son and government prosecutors, Son told RFA’s Vietnamese Service following the trial.
“It seems that the court had arranged its verdict ahead of time, as it was clearly made without any consideration being given to what Thach had actually done,” he said.
Arrested on April 23, 2020 Thach had been charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Government” under Article 109 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code for Facebook postings exposing government corruption and human rights abuses.
The Brotherhood for Democracy is not recognized by the Vietnamese government, and many of its members have been imprisoned since its founding in 2013.
Speaking at Wednesday’s trial, a government prosecutor called Thach’s actions “dangerous to society,” saying they had threatened national security and undermined public trust in Vietnam’s political system.
Thach’s first trial had been compromised by “serious violations of legal proceedings,” Thach’s defense team said in a closing statement, noting that Thach had been tried on charges under the 2015 Criminal Code, which came into effect in early January 2018, well after his alleged offenses.
Prosecutors on Wednesday had also enjoyed full access to Thach’s case file, while defense lawyers were not allowed to have a copy of it, attorney Ha Huy Son said.
Thach had previously served a three-year jail term after being convicted in October 2009 of “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” and his return to prison now comes amid a new surge of jailings and convictions following a spate of arrests last year in the run-up to a top-level Communist Party conference in January.
‘I’m not frightened at all’
Separately, police in Hanoi at the weekend summoned Trinh Ba Khiem—the husband of detained Dong Tam land-rights activist Can Thi Thieu and father of their two sons—ordering him to remove live-stream postings on Facebook they said were defaming the Communist Party.
“They said that the communist regime would arrest me and punish me harshly if I kept putting videos up on social media,” Khiem told RFA, adding that it’s likely now that he will be jailed following the arrests of his wife and sons.
“My wife and children are already in prison, so I’m not frightened at all, even if they jail me for 20 years or if I die in prison,” he said.
During his meeting with police, Khiem asked to see his son Trinh Ba Phuong, who was transferred from a detention center to a state-run psychiatric hospital in early March for “evaluation” after refusing to speak to police investigators – the third prisoner of conscience known to have been sent for psychiatric treatment.
A well-known land-rights activist in Hanoi, Phuong was arrested on June 24, 2020 with his younger brother, Trinh Ba Tu, and his mother, Can Thi Theu, on charges of “creating, storing, and disseminating information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
The three family members had been outspoken in social media postings about the Jan. 9, 2020 clash in Dong Tam commune in which 3,000 police stormed barricaded protesters’ homes at a construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, killing a village elder.
Can Thi Theu meanwhile met on Tuesday with a defense lawyer for the first time since her arrest in June, her attorney, Le Luan, wrote on his Facebook page, describing his client as “mentally strong.”
Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, Theu’s daughter Trinh Thi Thao confirmed the meeting, adding she had given Le Luan a letter she had written to her mother, along with photographs of her mother’s four grandchildren.
“The lawyer said that we would meet with Trinh Ba Tu on another day,” she said.
Can Thi Theu had earlier served a 20-month prison term after being convicted in 2016 of “disturbing public order” for joining protests with others over their loss of land which was taken by the government to give to private companies without payment of adequate compensation.
While all land is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.