UN group calls for the release of political prisoner Tran Duc Thach

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The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has called on Vietnamese authorities to release poet, author and human rights activist Tran Duc Thach.

WGAD’s report, posted Nov. 4, called Thach’s arrest arbitrary and said he should be compensated for his time in jail.

Thach, 71, co-founder of the Vietnamese online Brotherhood for Democracy, was arrested on April 23, 2020. He was charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government” under Article 109 of Vietnam’s Penal Code and sentenced to 12 years in prison. .

Thach had previously served a three-year prison sentence after being convicted in October 2009 of “propagating against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.

TBEN group of human rights experts said Thach was subjected to constant harassment by Nghe An Provincial Police leading up to his arrest.

On the morning of April 23, 2020, about 20 plainclothes officers, believed to be from the provincial police security team, arrived at Mr. Thach’s home with a search warrant. Although the search warrant was read aloud, his relatives were not allowed to see the details. The police searched the house, seized some belongings and arrested Thach. The security service issued an arrest warrant against a relative of Thach only a day after his arrest.

The WGAD said that criticizing the regime and co-founding an organization is not a violation of national and international law. It said Thach was punished for exercising his right to freedom of association by helping to set up the Brotherhood for Democracy, a civil society organization that had been repeatedly repressed by the Vietnamese government, and for campaigning for human rights in social media.

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“His posts on Facebook are acts that are both unforeseeable and criminal and are protected by the Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international norms and standards. Because the law is so vague as to be meaningless, it cannot support the basis for Mr Thach’s detention and sentencing,” the UN document said.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees all forms of freedom of opinion and expression, including posting on the Internet, the WGAD said.

The group also criticized his trial, which lasted less than three hours after he spent eight months in solitary confinement.

During his eight-month detention, the former North Vietnamese army officer was not allowed to see his relatives and was only allowed to see his lawyer a day before the trial to prepare his defence.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, co-founder and chairman of the Brotherhood for Democracy, agreed with the WGAD report and called for the release of all political prisoners.

“Tran Duc Thach, as well as other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and nearly 300 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, have not committed any violations of Vietnamese law.

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“The arrest and detention of Mr. Tran Duc Thach and other prisoners of conscience by the Vietnamese government is in violation of Vietnamese and international law.”

A Vietnamese human rights activist currently living in exile in Germany told RFA that Thach and other prisoners of conscience convicted on charges such as “advancing anti-state propaganda”, “abuse of civil liberties” and “undermining” are only exercising universal human rights. such as freedom of expression, press, association and assembly to fight for a free and democratic Vietnam.

In the final section of the report, WGAD not only called for Thach’s release and compensation, but also asked the Vietnamese authorities to investigate the arrest, bring the offenders to justice and report to them on the implementation of the above requirements.

What does the Vietnamese government say about Thach’s case?

The Hanoi government has said it believes Thach was arrested for violating Vietnamese law, not for his democratic views, and that the arrest and sentencing were carried out in accordance with Vietnamese law, in line with international treaties and international standards which Vietnam has ratified.

It said Thach co-founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, which attracted members from across the country and allied itself with terrorists with the goal of overthrowing the Communist Party of Vietnam and the government.

Hanoi also said that Thach abused his freedom and democracy to publish many articles with distorted content designed to smear the regime and stir up anti-government sentiment.

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Over the past five years, WGAD has released dozens of documents stating that the arrest and sentencing of dozens of prisoners of conscience is arbitrary and calling on the Vietnamese government to release them.

“WGAD is right to brush aside the lame apology of the Vietnamese government for imprisoning Tran Duc Thach, who is clearly a political prisoner being held for expressing his beliefs,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, to RFA..

“The WGAD opinion explains in detail how Vietnam systematically violates international human rights law by detaining him, and Hanoi should take this opinion to heart and immediately and unconditionally release Tran Duc Thach.

“From the perspective of international law, it is not surprising that what Vietnam is doing to him is both illegal and unjustified.

“Both the US and the EU should strongly advocate that Vietnam let him go, in line with WGAD recommendations, and demand that Hanoi release the more than 160 other political prisoners also imprisoned by Vietnam on similar phony politically motivated charges. charges.”

Hanoi has always denied holding prisoners of conscience, saying it only detains those who break the law.

Translated by Ngu Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Mike Firn.