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Vietnam arrests rights defender for anti-state campaign

Rights group says Nguyen Thuy Hanh's arrest is a politically motivated attempt to silence an inspiring activist

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

Published: April 11, 2021 01:19 AM GMT
Vietnam arrests rights defender for anti-state campaign

Nguyen Thuy Hanh joins a demonstration in Hanoi to call on the government to release jailed bloggers. (Photo supplied)

Security officers in Vietnam have detained a well-known female activist who helps prisoners of conscience and their families for spreading anti-government material.

Colonel Dam Van Khanh, deputy of the investigating department of Hanoi City Public Security, announced on April 8 that Nguyen Thuy Hanh, 57, was detained for “making, storing or spreading information, materials or items for the purpose of opposing the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Article 117 of the Criminal Law.”

The charge carries a potential prison sentence of 5-20 years. She was taken to Detention Camp No. 2 in the capital.

Hanh, a Hanoi resident who often attends Catholic services to pray for jailed activists, will be detained for between four months and two years for investigation.

Her husband, blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh, who was away from home while police were searching their house on April 7, said police sealed the house and took away some of his books, her handwritten material and her cellphone.

He was told that his wife, who suffers from low blood pressure and vestibular disorders, could take with her some medicines. On April 9, Hanh was taken to her house to give her property to her husband but later returned to the camp.

Chenh, a former teacher, said lawyers Ngo Anh Tuan and Le Van Luan will register to defend her.

The blogger, who publishes thousands of critical posts on his own blog and social media, said police arrested Hanh for providing financial support to families of prisoners of conscience, which is alleged to cause danger to the government.

"It is unreasonable to take criminal proceedings against her, so they accuse her of anti-state activities," he said.

Hanh established the 50k (50,000 dong) Fund in 2018 with the purpose of raising funds to pay lawyers who defend rights and environmental activists.

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The fund later attracted benefactors inside and outside Vietnam and started giving financial aid to prisoners of conscience and their relatives.

Beneficiaries whose breadwinners are imprisoned were given monthly sums of 2-5 million dong (US$87-217) depending on their circumstances.

Hanh, who ran for National Assembly membership in 2016 as an independent candidate, also called for donations for the funeral of Le Dinh Kinh, a community leader from Dong Tam Commune on the outskirts of Hanoi who was killed by police in early 2020 in a bloody conflict over land between farmers and local government authorities.

At that time, Hanh said over 500 million dong was transferred to her bank account but the government froze the account and banned her from withdrawing the money.

Police officers threatened her and stationed themselves in front of her house for many months, causing her health to deteriorate so quickly that she decided to close the 50k Fund at the end of last year.

After her arrest, her supporters protested in Hanoi and called for her immediate release.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, said the arrest of Hanh “is a blatant and politically motivated attempt to silence one of the most respected human rights advocates in the country.”

He said she is an inspiring activist who has worked tirelessly to support unjustly detained people. “Despite police beatings and years of harassment, she has remained steadfast in her efforts to help and support those in desperate need.”

Hah urged the communist government to “immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Thuy Hanh and to end their relentless attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful critics. Authorities must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.”

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