Vietnamese authorities should immediately release land rights activist Truong Van Dung and drop all charges against him, Human Rights Watch said today. Police in Hanoi arrested Truong Van Dung in May 2022 on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state.” A Hanoi court is scheduled to hear his case on March 28, 2023. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Vietnamese authorities have convicted at least 163 people since 2018 for exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association under vague or overbroad laws that criminalize protesting or criticizing the government. At least 18 others have been charged and are awaiting trial. The authorities have brought many of these cases using the propaganda charge, criminalized under articles 88 and 117 of Vietnam’s penal code.
“Truong Van Dung is the latest in a long line of human rights defenders silenced by the Vietnamese government for protesting against human rights violations and advocating for reforms,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Democratic governments forging closer ties with Vietnam need to speak out publicly and forcefully in his support and call on Vietnam to release all political prisoners and take genuine steps toward reform.”
Truong Van Dung, 65, first became active in land rights advocacy in the 2000s, campaigning against forced confiscation of his own house. In the early 2010s, he joined other activists and began to advocate for basic rights, including freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Between 2011 and 2018, he also participated in numerous anti-China and pro-environment protests. He joined a protest opposing Vietnam’s problematic 2018 law on cybersecurity and publicly boycotted Vietnam’s national “elections,” a process controlled by the Vietnam Communist Party which is neither free nor fair.
He also publicly voiced support for numerous political prisoners and detainees, including Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Pham Doan Trang, Can Thi Theu, Nguyen Thi Tam, Trinh Ba Tu, Trinh Ba Phuong, Le Dinh Luong, Hoang Duc Binh, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Pham Chi Dung, Le Huu Minh Tuan, Do Nam Trung, and members of Hoi Anh em Dan chu (Brotherhood for Democracy).
In December 2013, Truong Van Dung and other activists founded a humanitarian group, Hoi Bau bi Tuong Than (Association of Gourd and Squash Mutual Assistance), to provide financial and spiritual support for political prisoners, land rights petitioners, and their families.
Truong Van Dung has experienced years of government harassment and intimidation, including police interrogations, house arrest, a travel ban, and physical assaults by plain-clothes agents. In March 2014, after being attacked and injured by men in civilian clothes, he told a reporter at Radio Free Asia: “I will not budge. The more they act [attack] this way, the more inspired I will be on my path, no less … I am very proud of myself. I did nothing to be ashamed of.”
After his arrest in May 2022, Truong Van Dung was held incommunicado for more than nine months. He was allowed to meet with his lawyer for the first time in March. His family has not been allowed to see him. Vietnam’s courts, controlled by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, are not independent and hearings and trials do not meet international standards.
“How can Truong Van Dung get a fair trial when Vietnam’s legal system isn’t independent and the laws under which he is charged violate basic international human rights standards – and what he has been accused of shouldn’t even be crimes,” Robertson said.