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VIETNAM: ARBTRARY DETENTION OF JOURNALIST NGUYEN TUONG THUY

The International League Against Arbitrary Detention urges the Government of Viet Nam to take all the necessary actions to implement the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Opinion No. 16/2023 concerning Nguyen Tuong Thuy starting for the Government of Viet Nam to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Thuy and to accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.


Read the full WGAD Opinion concerning Nguyen Tuong Thuy (Viet Nam) No.16/2023


HELD INCOMMUNICADO FOR 6 MONTHS AND CONVICTED UNDER A VAGUE LAW IN VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW


Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, born in 1950, is a Vietnamese citizen and resident of Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh City. A 22-year military veteran, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy has dedicated his post-military life to human rights advocacy, blogging, and journalism, focusing on civil rights and freedom of expression. He has been a vocal member of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Viet Nam and the Brotherhood for Democracy, engaging in critical reporting on human rights abuses, environmental issues, and government policies.  On 23 May 2020, after years of surveillance, harassment, and restrictions imposed by Vietnamese authorities, including being barred from international travel and repeated police questioning, Mr. Nguyen Tuong was arrested by State authorities at his home in Hanoi. 


Following his arrest, the Working Group noted that Mr. Nguyen Tuong was held incommunicado for 6 months and was not permitted to see his family members for 11 months, preventing him from prompt presentation before a judge, in violation of article 9 (3) and  9 (4) of the Covenant guaranteeing the right to challenge the lawfulness of the detention before a court. Moreover, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy was arrested, detained and convicted under article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code for allegedly “making, storing, spreading information, materials and items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”. The Working Group recalled that it had already found the language used in the law as overly broad and had raised the issue of prosecution under vague penal laws with the Government of Viet Nam on several occasions. Hence, the Working Group considered that the charge on which Mr. Nguyen Tuong is being detained is so vague that it is impossible to invoke a legal basis for his detention. 


For these reasons, the Working Group found that the Government of Viet Nam failed to establish a legal basis for Mr. Nguyen Tuong’s arrest and detention, rendering his detention arbitrary under category I.


DETAINED FOR PEACEFULLY EXERCISING HIS RIGHTS AS A HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE


The Working Group observed a disturbing pattern of suppression against individuals like Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who utilize their right to freedom of expression to critique government actions and advocate for human rights. The charges against Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy under Article 117 of the Penal Code highlight the use of national security laws to silence dissent and restrict freedom of expression unjustly. The Working Group considered that charges and convictions under article 117 of the Penal Code for the peaceful exercise of rights are inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant and recalled that it came to a similar conclusion during its visit to Viet Nam in October 1994, noting that vaguely defined national security offenses did not distinguish between violent acts capable of threatening national security and the peaceful exercise of rights.


The Working Group reaffirmed that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights, and to draw public attention to the observance of human rights, and especially emphasized  the right of human rights defenders to investigate, gather information regarding and report on human rights violations. In the case of Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, the Working Group concluded that his detention resulted from his exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression and participation in public affairs, contrary to articles 19, 20, 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 19, 22 and 25 (a) of the Covenant. 


The Working Group thus found that his arrest and detention is arbitrary and falling within category II.


CONVICTED  TO 11 YEARS IN PRISON DESPITE BLATANT VIOLATIONS OF HIS RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL


Given its finding that the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Nguyen Tuong is arbitrary under category II, the Working Group emphasized that no trial should have taken place. However, Mr. Nguyen Tuong has been tried and convicted to 11 years in prison and a further 3 years of house arrest, and was prevented  from appealing his conviction.


Moreover, the Working Group found that extremely limited access to legal assistance was granted to Mr. Nguyen Tuong which violated his right to equality of arms and to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal under article 14 (1) of the Covenant, as well as his rights to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence with counsel, as guaranteed under article 14 (3) (b) of the Covenant. The Working Group noted that the present case is another example of legal representation being denied or limited for individuals facing serious charges, suggesting that there is a systemic failure to provide access to counsel during criminal proceedings in Viet Nam. The Working Group also pointed out that Mr. Nguyen Tuong was convicted after a brief closed trial of approximately five hours, illustrating that as in other prosecutions of journalists and human rights defenders, the trial proceedings were rushed, with little time afforded to the defence to present their arguments. This context led the Working Group to conclude that  Mr. Nguyen Tuong’s guilt was determined prior to the trial which undermined Mr. Nguyen Tuong’s right to the presumption of innocence, guaranteed in article 14 (2) of the Covenant and article 11 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


Consequently, the Working Group concluded  that the numerous violations of Mr. Nguyen Tuong’s right to a fair trial and due process mentioned above are of such gravity as to render his deprivation of liberty arbitrary, falling within category III.


A DISCRIMINATORY PATTERN OF PERSECUTIONS AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN VIET NAM


The Working Group noted that Mr. Nguyen Tuong was targeted because of his activities as a journalist and for advocating for press freedom and human rights, particularly in respect of his critical reporting on human rights abuses in the country and issues with freedom of expression and pointed out that the discrimination faced by Mr. Nguyen Tuong reflects a broader pattern in Viet Nam of harassing and detaining human rights defenders for their work. In that context, the Working Group found that Mr. Nguyen Tuong’s arrest, conviction and sentence were an attempt to silence and punish him for sharing his views, an activity that is expressly protected by international law. 


Therefore, the Working Group found that Mr. Nguyen Tuong’s deprivation of liberty constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination based on political or other opinion, owing to his status as a human rights defender, which violates articles 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2 (1) and 26 of the Covenant, and rendering his detention arbitrary under category V. 


Finally, the present case is one of a number of cases brought before the Working Group in recent years concerning the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of persons, particularly human rights defenders, in Viet Nam. Many of these cases follow a familiar pattern of arrest that does not comply with international norms, lengthy detention pending trial with no access to judicial review, denial of or limited access to legal counsel, incommunicado detention, prosecution under vaguely worded criminal offences for the peaceful exercise of human rights, a brief closed trial at which due process is not observed, disproportionate sentencing and denial of access to the outside world. The Working Group expressed its concerns regarding the fact that this pattern indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in Viet Nam which, if it continues, may amount to a serious violation of international law.


CONCLUSIONS OF THE UN WORKING GROUP AGAINST ARBITRARY DETENTION


In the light of the foregoing, The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the detention of Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy was arbitrary and fell under categories I, II, and III, because his deprivation of liberty it was in contravention of articles 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2, 9, 14, 15, 16, 19, 22, 25 (a) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights . 


The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommended that the Government of Viet Nam take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy without delay, starting with his immediate release and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, as well as. Furthermore, the WGAD called upon the Government to urgently review its Penal Code and other national laws to ensure they are in alignment with Viet Nam's obligations under international human rights law.

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