Free Democracy Activist Mother, Sons: Vietnam

Human Rights Watch

The Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the democracy campaigner Can Thi Theu and her two sons and drop all charges against them, Human Rights Watch said today. Can Thi Theu and her younger son, Trinh Ba Tu, face trial on May 5, 2021. All three have been detained since June 2020.

Over the past decade, Can Thi Theu, along with her husband, Trinh Ba Khiem, and two sons, have engaged in numerous protests and campaigns over human rights, land rights, and environmental protection, among other issues. The authorities have previously jailed her and her husband, and have repeatedly harassed and intimidated them and their family.

“Can Thi Theu and her family have been outspoken defenders of human rights in Vietnam,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “The Vietnamese government should be listening to people like this brave family, not throwing them in jail.”

In separate arrests on June 24, 2020, police in Hoa Binh province and Hanoi detained Can Thi Theu, 59, and her sons Trinh Ba Tu, 32, and Trinh Ba Phuong, 36. The three were charged with conducting propaganda against the state under article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code. The authorities the same day also arrested Nguyen Thi Tam, 49, a land rights activist who campaigned with the family, and charged her under the same provision. She remains in police custody awaiting trial.

For nine months, officials blocked legal counsel from meeting with Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu, in violation of international human rights standards. Their family members were not allowed to see them. No trial date has been set for the older brother, Trinh Ba Phuong, who continues to be held without access to legal counsel or family.

Vietnam has arrested hundreds of dissidents in recent years and 137 political prisoners are currently serving criminal sentences related to their human rights advocacy or criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch research found. During the first four months of 2021, the authorities arrested an additional 10 dissidents, including the prominent rights campaigner Nguyen Thuy Hanh. Courts have convicted at least 12 dissidents during this period and have imposed sentences ranging from 2 to 15 years.

Can Thi Theu emerged in the mid-2000s as a prominent land rights activist who fought against government confiscation of land. In April 2014, the police arrested her for filming government land confiscation and later sentenced her to 15 months in prison for “resisting against those who are on public duties,” under article 257 of the penal code. Her husband was also arrested on the same day and served 14 months in prison on similar charges.

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