Jailed Viet Dissident is Latest in Rising Crackdown

In the latest sign of the increasing crackdown against dissidents by Vietnam’s government, Nguyen Van Oai, a citizen journalist and human rights defender, was sentenced earlier this week to five years in prison and four additional years of house arrest for “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” and failing to execute judgments” while on parole for “attempting to overthrow the government” in 2013.

The 36-year-old Oai is the co-founder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience. He has been a subject of government harassment since at least 2011 when he campaigned openly on mistreatment of political prisoners and writing about social injustice on his Facebook page. He is one of at least 20 dissidents who have been arrested or exiled since the beginning of this year.

Although the freedom of expression provisions of the now-dormant TransPacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement between 12 littoral Pacific nations were considered to be imperfect, President Donald Trump’s decision to void the agreement is considered by critics to have emboldened the leaders of nations like Vietnam, Cambodia and others to intensify their efforts to round up dissenters. Whether that is true, it is certain that Vietnam and Cambodia in particular have made serious moves to silence critics.

In Cambodia, on Sept. 3 police arrested opposition leader Khem Sokha and forced the closure of the Cambodia daily. NGOs and other press outlets critical of the Hun Sen administration across the country.

Vietnam’s media minders have also cowed Facebook and You Tube into taking down content that the regime considers seditious. However, David Brown, an authoritative analyst with long experience in Vietnam, wrote on Sept. 18 that “there is a problem, however: a causal connection between Trump’s indifference and the crackdown on alleged subversion is both implausible and unprovable. Vietnam’s internal security agencies and their political masters have their own reasons for what they do.”

In Vietnam, Kaylee Dolen, content manager for the 88 Project, which shares the stories of persecuted dissidents, wrote movingly in Asia Sentinel of the daily harassment on July 20 that imprisoned opposition figures face, including isolation, withholding of newspapers and letters denial of menstruation supplies for women, barred visits from lawyers, medical treatment and even light.

Here are the 20 dissidents arrested since January.


Courtesy Viet Tan

Front Line Defenders, a Dublin, Ireland-based NGO with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders at risk, issued a statement saying the organization “strongly condemns the conviction of human rights defender Nguyen Van Oai, which it believes is solely motivated by his peaceful and legitimate work for human rights in Vietnam, and calls on the Vietnamese authorities to quash his conviction and immediately release the human rights defender.”

Although Oai’s trial was billed as “public,” no members of his family were allowed to attend and police deployed trucks with jamming devices to block cellular phones.

“They just need the trial as a farce, to be able to pronounce the decision,” Oai’s wife Ho Thi Chau wrote in a letter published on Facebook. “He will be the only one standing there to witness their sham performance.”

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) ruled in 2013 that the Vietnamese had violated international law by arbitrarily detaining Oai.

"The latest sentence of Nguyen Van Oai by the Vietnamese Government is particularly shocking in light of the fact that an independent U.N. body had already ruled that his earlier conviction for free speech activities violated international human rights standards, standards that Vietnam itself agreed to respect," said Stanford law professor Allan Weiner. "The case shows clearly that without steadfast external pressure, the Vietnamese government will not respect the right of free expression or accord basic human dignity to its citizens."