Vietnam: Drop charges against dissident on Facebook

(Bangkok) – Vietnamese authorities should immediately release outspoken commentator Bui Van Thuan and drop the politically motivated charges against him, Human Rights Watch said today. The People’s Court of Thanh Hoa Province has set his criminal trial for November 17, 2022.

Police arrested Bui Van Thuan in August 2021 for posting comments on Facebook criticizing the Vietnamese government. Authorities charged him under Article 117(1) of the Criminal Code with “manufacturing, storing, disseminating or propagating information, materials and products aimed at opposing the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in prison.

“The Vietnamese government’s baseless prosecution of Bui Van Thuan for Facebook posts demonstrates the extent of its contempt for free speech,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Business partners and foreign governments should recognize that charges brought by authorities against a peaceful critic using Facebook threaten more than local activists.

Bui Van Thuan, 41, is a member of the Muong ethnic group from Hoa Binh province. His political interest began when he was a student at Hanoi National University of Education in the late 2000s. After graduating, he taught at private schools in Hanoi.

While working as a teacher, Bui Van Thuan participated in protests, including those against China as well as the environmental disaster caused by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel’s toxic waste dumping at sea in 2016. Bui Van Thuan expressed his support to fellow activists and political prisoners. , including Nguyen Trung Ton, Trinh Ba Tu and Can Thi Theu. He publicly boycotted the 2016 and 2021 national elections.

After his arrest, Cong an Nhan danthe National Police Newspaper, alleged that he “frequently posted and shared articles and images whose content was intended to propagate and distort Communist Party guidelines and policies, state laws, [and] tarnish the honour, reputation and image of [the late] President Ho Chi Minh and fellow Party and State leaders.

On his Facebook page, Bui Van Thuan regularly criticized the government on various political issues, including official pressure from the authorities to force people to vote in national elections. He has also frequently criticized the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an article, titled “Doing the math for the Communist Party”, on August 21, 2021, he calculated the population of Ho Chi Minh City and its basic needs, and concluded the government’s plan to send soldiers to Ho Chi Minh City for shopping. for people during lockdown just wasn’t feasible. As the plan was cut short, authorities obviously noticed Bui Van Thuan’s statement and arrested him nine days later.

The police repeatedly harassed Bui Van Thuan and her family. Bui Van Thuan reported that in late 2016, police pressured his landlord to evict him and his family. With the help of fellow activist Le Trong Hung, who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for defending the rights enshrined in the Constitution, the family was able to find a new residence.

However, in August 2017, the police pressured this landlord to evict them. They found another rental unit, but the landlord evicted them less than a day after they moved in. Facing constant harassment, Bui Van Thuan quit teaching in Hanoi and moved to Thanh Hoa province, where he made a living selling food on Facebook.

In the indictment against him, the August 21 post is among those listed as violating article 117 of the penal code. The indictment alleges that the publication of the Covid-19 plan is “based on a personal interpretation, devoid of concrete evidence and affects the work of preventing and combating the Covid 19 pandemic carried out by the Party and the State”.

On August 16, 2021, Bui Van Thuan also criticized the government’s call for financial donations from the people to help fight the pandemic. He wrote: “The Communist Party of Vietnam and its sprawling associations and organizations is a giant nest of parasites. They live like parasites of the sweat and labor of the people, and they have absolutely no effect except to drive the country away from development and civilization.

In the indictment, authorities alleged that the publication was criminal because it advanced a “baseless argument that insults the reputation and leading role of the Communist Party of Vietnam and its organizations, sowing doubt among the population”.

“Bui Van Thuan’s harsh criticism of the Vietnamese government should not constitute a crime,” Robertson said. “The Vietnamese government, although it controls all radio, television and print media in the country and regularly broadcasts official propaganda, still feels threatened by independent minds like Bui Van Thuan.”

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