Vietnam: Drop Charges Against Dissident on Facebook

(Bangkok) – The Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the 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 scheduled his criminal trial for November 17, 2022.

Bui Van Thaan was detained by the police for commenting on Facebook about the Vietnamese government. The authorities charged him under penal code article 117(1) with “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials and products that aim to oppose 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 disregard for free expression,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Trade partners and foreign governments should recognize that the authorities’ charges against a peaceful critic using Facebook threatens more than local activists.”

Bui Van Thuan (41), is a member the Muong ethnic group of Hoa Binh provincial. He became interested in politics as a student at Hanoi National University of Education during the 2000s. He taught in Hanoi’s private schools after he graduated.

Bui Van Thun was a teacher but participated in protests. These included those against China and the environmental catastrophe caused by Formosa Ha Tinh steel’s dumping of toxic waste at sea. Bui Van Thuan supported fellow activists and political prisoners such as Nguyen Trung To, Trinh Ba Tu and Can Thi Theu. He boycotted the 2016 and 2021 national elections.

His arrest led to his release. Cong an Nhan dan, the national police newspaper, alleged that he “frequently published and shared articles and images with content to propagandize and distort the guidelines and policies of the Communist Party, the State’s laws, [and] Smear honor, reputation, or images [the late] President Ho Chi Minh and comrade leaders of the Party and the State.”

Bui Van Thun regularly posted criticisms of the government on Facebook about various political issues. This included official pressure from authorities to make people vote in national elections. He also frequently criticized the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In one post, entitled “Doing the math for the Communist Party,” on August 21, 2021, he calculated the population in Ho Chi Minh City and their essential needs, and concluded the government’s plan to send soldiers to Ho Chi Minh City to shop for people during lockdown was simply not feasible. While the plan was cut short, the authorities evidently noticed Bui Van Thuan’s statement, and arrested him nine days later.

Bui Van Thuan’s family has been repeatedly harassed by the police. Bui Van Thuan claimed that his landlord forced him and his family to move out in late 2016. Le Trong Hung, a fellow activist, helped the family to find a new place. He is currently serving five years for his promotion of rights enshrined under the Constitution.

In August 2017, however, the police pressed the landlord to move them out. They moved into another rental property and the landlord expelled them within a few days. Bui Van Thuan was subject to constant harassment and decided to quit teaching in Hanoi. He moved to Thanh Hoa province where he sold food via Facebook.

According to the indictment, the August 21 posting is listed among the offences under article 117 of penal code. The indictment alleges that the post about the Covid-19 plan is “based on personal interpretation, lacking concrete evidence and affects the work of preventing and fighting against 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 people to help it fight the pandemic. He wrote, “The Communist Party of Vietnam and its tentacle associations and organizations is a giant nest of parasites. They live parasitically from the sweat and work of the people, and they have absolutely no effect except for pulling the country back away from development and civilization.”

In the indictment, the authorities alleged that the post was criminal because it makes a “baseless argument that insults the reputation and leading role of the Communist Party of Vietnam and organizations, sowing doubts among the people.”

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

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