Vietnamese authorities bar relatives, lawyers from meeting detained Facebooker
A rights group says there is ‘no acceptable reason’ for the move and called for his release.
RFA | 2023.03.03
Vietnamese authorities have barred relatives and legal counsel from meeting with a detained Facebook user under investigation for posting “illegal content,” prompting criticism from an international rights group, which called the move “a clear rights violation.”
Late last month, police in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho city arrested activist Le Minh The, 60, for posts on his Facebook page they allege were in violation of a vaguely worded law routinely used to suppress independent bloggers and journalists.
The was charged with “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to violate the State’s interests and legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals” under Article 331, state media reported at the time.
On Friday, The’s younger sister, Le Thi Binh, told RFA Vietnamese that guards at the Long Tuyen Detention Center had refused her family the right to see him, although they agreed to let them deposit money for him to buy food and other necessities, as well as deliver him some meals.
“On [Wednesday], I went to the detention center to see my brother The and send him some food,” she said. “However, the detention center’s staff said I could not see him while he is under investigation. I called the investigation team, but they did not answer.”
Binh, who completed a two-year jail term on the same charge in late 2022, said that the Binh Thuy District Police had yet to provide her family with any documents related to The’s arrest, including a report detailing a search of their home on Feb. 22.
RFA called Officer Ky, who is investigating The’s case, but he refused to confirm Binh’s claims and referred further inquiries to the Binh Thuy Police Department. A staff member at the Binh Thuy Police Department told RFA that a reporter would have to meet with senior officers in person for any information about the case.
State media reports detailing The’s arrest claimed he had posted “illegal content” on Facebook, but did not specify what post had violated the law. The last post on The’s Facebook account concerned U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Ukraine on Feb. 21, while other posts included content about Vietnam, a police summons for his sister, information about homegrown electric car maker VinFast, and a recent RFA article about a fortune teller-turned-priest.
“Looking at his livestreams and other content [on Facebook], I didn’t see anything against the State,” Binh told RFA, noting that most of the articles he shared were published by state media.
“He talked about some corrupt government officials who had already been arrested. He also livestreamed a video about polluted wastewater in his neighborhood.”
Prior sentence on same charges
The charges facing The are the same ones he was sentenced to two years in prison for in March 2019. He completed his jail term in July 2020, accounting for time spent in detention prior to his conviction.
Both The and his sister were refused visits from their families while they were under investigation for their earlier charges – a policy Hanoi Bar Association lawyer Ha Huy Son told RFA is only applicable to people accused of committing “offenses against national security,” which they were not.
Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said there is “no acceptable reason” for authorities to prevent legal counsel and relatives from visiting The.
“Every time the authorities commit such a clear rights violation, it undermines Hanoi's claims to be providing free and fair trials to those it prosecutes in court,” he said in an emailed statement to RFA. “What's clear is that the police believe they enjoy impunity to do whatever they want, and that laws do not necessarily apply to them."
Robertson said the fact that The was arrested for expressing his opinions on his Facebook page demonstrates the Vietnamese government’s intolerance of dissent.
“Although freedom of speech is a universal human right and should not be criminalized, in Vietnam the authorities often harass, intimidate, and arrest anyone speaking up against government policy,” he said.
Anticipating another significant jail term for The, Robertson called on the international community to take action. “Foreign diplomats should be demanding that Hanoi stop these kinds of arrests, and immediately and unconditionally release Le Minh The,” he said.
Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.
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