Four more activists were arrested in Vietnam on Sunday (30 July), the latest in a string of arrests seen as part of a general crackdown on freedom of expression, assembly and religion.
Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Bac Truyen, head of an association of former religious and political prisoners, activist Phạm Van Troi, and journalist and labour rights activist Truong Minh Duc were arrested on charges of initiating “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government” under article 79 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, which carries maximum sentences of life imprisonment or the death penalty, as Christian Solidary Worldwide reported.
The four men are all former political prisoners and have been repeatedly harassed and imprisoned for their activism. As World Watch Monitor reported in March, Nguyen Trung Ton and his colleague Nguyen Viet Tu were abducted and violently attacked on 27 February during a visit to meet fellow activists in central Vietnam.
According to the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, the four men will be prosecuted alongside the Christian human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, and his assistant Le Thu Ha, both of whom have been in custody since 2015 for “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” but now also face the much more serious charge of subversion.
In a statement on 28 July, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over “the intensifying crackdown in Vietnam against human rights defenders who have questioned or criticised the Government and its policies”.
This followed the sentencing of the well-known activist Tran Thi Nga last week, as well as a series of other arrests in the last few months. World Watch Monitor earlier this month reported the case of the Catholic blogger Mary Magdalene Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for posting what police called “anti-state reports”. In the week of her sentencing, the Catholic activist Peter Pham Minh Hoang was expelled to France because of his alleged attempts to “undermine national security”. Last week Lutheran pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, who was serving an 11-year prison sentence, was released on the condition he left the country.
Late last year World Watch Monitor reported how Vietnam’s National Assembly ratified a new Law on Belief and Religion amid extensive criticism from parliamentarians, human rights and religious groups, who deem it to be below international standards for human rights.