Vietnam releases 2 prisoners of conscience before jail terms end

Vietnam granted early release to two prisoners of conscience, each serving a five-year sentence following separate arrests and convictions in 2019 under a law frequently used by authorities to stifle dissent, other activists with knowledge of the situation said.
The two were convicted of violating Article 117 of the country’s penal code, which criminalizes “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items” against the state. Violators can be sentenced to from five to 20 years in prison. 
Authorities on Tuesday freed Huynh Thi To Nga, 40, about 10 months earlier than scheduled. Police arrested the doctor in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan. 28, 2019, along with her older brother, Huynh Minh Tam, for their online activities.
In November of the same year, they were sentenced to five years and nine years in prison, respectively, for negative comments they posted on Facebook about Vietnam’s leaders, national sovereignty, corruption and economic mismanagement.   
Nga’s brother is still serving his sentence in Gia Trung Prison in Gia Lai Province. 
Authorities also freed Nguyen Van Cong Em, 52, about 11 months earlier than scheduled, on March 26. He was arrested on Feb. 28, 2019, for allegedly using Facebook to distort information about the U.S.-North Korea Summit, which took place in Hanoi that month.
Police accused him of using four Facebook accounts to post and share stories and livestream videos with content distorting the summit and calling for protests during the event. 
Both former prisoners of conscience declined to give interviews to Radio Free Asia following their release.
Former prisoner of conscience Le Thi Binh, who was held in the same jail – An Phuoc Prison in Binh Duong province – as Nga from December 2021 to December 2022, told Radio Free Asia that Nga “followed the prison’s rules and tried hard when performing labor to get penalty mitigation and return home early.”
Authorities also accused Nga of taking part in illegal demonstrations, writing and posting nearly 50 articles inciting people to take to the street to protest against the government, call for freedom and democracy, and oppose the Cybersecurity Law. 
The law, which came into force in 2019, in part restricts citizens’ use of the internet and requires companies like Google and Facebook to delete posts considered threatening to national security.
Vietnam responds to U.N.
In a related development, Vietnam’s permanent delegation to the United Nations in Geneva issued a response on March 24 to a November 2022 request by the Special Procedures Branch of the U.N. human rights agency concerning the arbitrary arrests of nine activists.
Authorities convicted them of propagating untruthful information and abusing the right to freedom of expression and democracy to distort and smear the government.
Hanoi said the arrests, detention and conviction of Nguyen Van Nghiem, Le Van Dung, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, Do Nam Trung, Dinh Van Hai, Chung Hoang Chuong, Le Trong Hung, Le Chi ThanhTran Quoc Khanh, complied with Vietnamese law and Vietnam’s international human rights commitments.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Thursday that the Vietnamese government was “completely two-faced by refusing to comply with its international obligations but then writing its response as if it is doing so.”
“Hanoi’s stance has been regularly repudiated by the Special Procedures of the U.N. Human Rights Council, yet the government shamelessly keeps making the same argument,” he said in an email to RFA. “Judging by Vietnam"s rights abusing actions and total refusal to accept blame, much less change its practices, it"s hard to see why Vietnam thinks it deserves to be on the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
In October 2022, Vietnam was elected to the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, despite calls by human rights groups that the country should be excluded because of its dismal rights record. The Southeast Asian nation began its three-year term on Jan. 1, 2023.
Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


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