UN condemns Vietnam’s detention of environmental activist

Nguyen Ngoc Anh was arrested in September 2018 and sentenced to 6 years in prison


RFA | 2023.01.26

The United Nations has condemned Vietnam’s 2018 arrest and detention of Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a 43-year-old environmental activist and farming engineer who was charged with conducting “anti-State propaganda.”

The U.N.’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called on the Vietnamese government to immediately release the activist and take corrective actions, saying his detention violated international conventions that Vietnam is party to. 

The U.N. entity also focused on the arbitrary nature of his detention, and the conditions Anh faces while in prison.

Prior to his arrest, Nguyen Ngoc Anh would post stories about the environmental pollution issues caused by the Formosa Steel Corporation factory in Ha Tinh province.  In 2018, he also participated in demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City against Vietnam’s draft Laws on Cyber Security and Special Economic Zones. 

Detaining citizens exercising their universal rights of free expression is incompatible with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was ratified by Vietnam, the working group added, noting that Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s case is one of several brought before the working group in recent years. 

No arrest warrant, injured in prison

On the day of his arrest, the U.N. entity said that “no arrest warrant was read or provided to [Anh] at the time. Following the arrest, the police conducted a search of his home and seized a number of items, including mobile phones and a laptop.” 

His family was largely restricted from visiting him, and guards at the prison always monitored the few visits that were allowed. 

During one of those visits, “Anh was unable to walk properly, suffering noticeably from an injury to his leg. He refused to discuss how he sustained the injury, showing fear that that might make his situation worse,” the report added. 

In October 2019, over a year after his arrest, Anh was reportedly assaulted by a cellmate and was left with several injuries. Afterward, “he was denied access to a medical practitioner and was refused any X-rays, and was given pain relief medication for two days only.”

The U.N. group was concerned that if it continued, the systemic problem of arbitrary detention in Vietnam “may amount to a serious violation of international law.”

According to the document, which was transmitted to Vietnam 60 days before publication, the Vietnamese government did not deny the allegation that Anh had been beaten by the police and his fellow inmates before and after his trial.

Accused of planning to overthrow government

Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s posts covered several issues regarding government response to disasters and economic crises, and reportedly included criticism of authorities.

Vietnam’s government claims that Anh allegedly used social media to post and share stories with content that they described as distorted or slandered. Authorities also accused him of promoting plans to overthrow the government.

Calls to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to seek comment rang unanswered.

“It is deeply alarming that activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh was convicted after exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Joe Freeman, Amnesty International’s Asia spokesperson.

“Advocating for a clean environment is not a crime, and neither is encouraging public participation in political life. Harrowing reports from families of prisoners also show that Ánh and many other activists in detention are enduring harsh conditions behind bars.”

Speaking to RFA on Jan 25, Nguyen Thi Chau, Anh’s wife said that her husband had been convicted for speaking up to protect the environment and condemn the authorities’ wrongdoings. She also affirmed that his imprisonment had severely affected her family’s mental and economic life and demanded an unconditional release of him.

“My wish is for my husband to be released from prison and my kids to live without discrimination,” she said. 

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Nawar Nemeh and Malcolm Foster.


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