The ICJ condemned decision of the People’s Supreme Court on 12 December 2014 affirming the unfair convictions of human rights defenders Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Van Minh and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh respectively to three, two-and-a half and two years imprisonment.
“The conviction of these three human rights defenders should be quashed and they should be immediately released from detention,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director. “This is another instance of the Vietnam government misusing the courts to punish human rights defenders for peaceful activity in exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and religion.”
The three had been arrested in February 2014, along with 18 others, but they alone were charged under Article 245 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for “causing public disorder.”
The group had been on their way to visit a fellow human rights defender, Attorney Nguyen Bac Truyen, when they were stopped by police officials on the pretext of disrupting traffic.
They were then beaten and detained by unknown men in civilian clothing.
Bui Thi Minh Hang was an outspoken advocate for farmers and also helped to support religious groups.
She had previously been subject to administrative detention at a “re-education camp” for five months before being released in April 2012.
Nguyen Van Minh and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh are both religious workers of the independent, but officially banned Hoa Hao Buddhist Church.
“The trial and appeal process in this case again fell short of international fair trial standards,” Zarifi said. “Vietnam’s government has been heavily criticized for failing to meet its obligations under international law to provide fair trials, and this case highlights the failures of the judicial process in the country.”
The appellate hearing lasted approximately six-and-a half hours.
As with the trial of first instance, the public was not allowed to observe the trial, in contravention of Vietnam’s international legal obligation to ensure a public trial for accused persons.
Friends and family of the Defendants were barred from leaving their homes, stopped from attending the trial and at least 30 people who made it to the courthouse were reportedly beaten and arrested arbitrarily.
The families of the Defendants were not informed until two weeks following their arrest.
Under international law, including the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, to which Vietnam is a party, a detainee must be given notice and their families are to be informed upon their arrest, yet.
Vietnamese law also requires that conclusions of any investigation be sent both to the Prosecution and the Defendant’s lawyers.
However, the lawyers of the accused did not receive any information regarding the possible charges until days before the trial.
The Defendants were not able to receive assistance from their attorneys to file their appeal, as under Vietnamese law, it is only after the appeal has been filed and accepted by the appellate court that convicted persons may identify the lawyer of their choice.
The chosen lawyers are recognized and allowed to participate in the case only after the court approves their application for a “defence counsel’s certificate” or “advocacy certificate”.
These limitations on free choice of legal representatives contravenes international standards
In this case, as in other instances, Defendants were only able to access documents needed for their appeal days before the hearing
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that no court shall refuse to recognize the right of a lawyer to appear before it on behalf of his client, unless the lawyer has been disqualified in accordance with domestic law.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects, among other rights, the right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal; freedom of expression; freedom of association; and freedom of religion.
The ICJ is concerned that conduct of Vietnamese officials has resulted in a violation of these rights in respect of the three human defenders.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia-Pacific Regional Director, (Bangkok), t:+66 807819002, e-mail: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org