Vietnam urged to drop charges against Catholic dissident

Trial delay for human rights campaigner accused of disrespecting national flag
Vietnam urged to drop charges against Catholic dissident

Huynh Thuc Vy protested against Vietnam's government by splashing white paint on the national flag. (Photo supplied) reporter, Hanoi
November 21, 2018
An international rights group has called on Vietnam's government to respect freedom of expression and withdraw charges against a Catholic rights advocate who is awaiting trial for insulting a national emblem.

"Vietnam should drop all charges against human rights campaigner Huynh Thuc Vy, who faces trial under article 276 of the 1999 penal code for allegedly disrespecting the national flag," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

Vy's trial, which was due to take place on Nov. 22, has been rescheduled for Nov. 30 by the People's Court of Buon Ho in Dak Lak province.

The court said in a Nov. 20 announcement that the rescheduling of the trial was because "the court building is under repair and relevant prosecutors are busy with unexpected work."

HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said Vy has been targeted by the authorities.

"For years, Vietnam has sought any excuse to punish Huynh Thuc Vy for her tireless advocacy of human rights and democracy, and in their desperation the authorities have now latched on to the splattering of a flag with white paint," said Robertson.

"It is wrong to put protecting a national symbol first over protecting the rights of the nation's people."

The New York-based group said that on the day before Vietnam's National Day in September 2017, Vy protested against the government by splashing white paint on the national flag.

She wrote on Facebook: "The nation is bottom-deep in debt! There's nothing to celebrate for. Formosa; Complete contamination; Cancer; Fake Medicine; Prisoners of Conscience; Human Rights Violations; About to Lose Our Country … I protest against celebrations by painting the red flag white."

Government authorities accused Vy of disrespecting the national flag and ordered her not to leave her residential area pending further investigation of the charge.

Vy, 33, is a political blogger whose writing has spread extensively on the internet. Her father, Huynh Ngoc Tuan, served 10 years in prison from 1992 to 2002 for attempting to send a novella and several short stories critical of government policies to overseas audiences.

Due to her father's status as a political prisoner, Vy and her family suffered harassment, intimidation and politically motivated discrimination from authorities during her childhood.

"Sending Vy to court and ultimately prison shows just how desperate Vietnam is to shut down activists in order to limit their influence on society and politics," Robertson said.

He called on the European Union and other foreign donors and trade partners to "call out Vietnam and demand it fulfil its promises to improve its abysmal rights record if it wants closer political and economic relations."

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