Wife of Vietnamese music teacher on trial calls for his release

A day ahead of his trial on Tuesday, the wife of a music lecturer arrested in early September on charges of "conducting anti-state propaganda” said he is innocent and called for his release.

Dang Dang Phuoc, 60, an instructor at Dak Lak Pedagogical College in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, often writes on Facebook about educational issues, human rights violations, corrupt officials and social injustice.

Police arrested him on Sept. 8 and charged him with "making, storing, spreading or propagating information, documents and items aimed at opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” He faces up to 12 years in prison.

His case has drawn international attention, including from Human Rights Watch, which also urged Vietnam’s government to release him Monday. 

In a statement, the rights group slammed authorities for targeting those who highlight corruption in the Southeast Asian nation, despite claims that they are working to eradicate graft.

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Phuoc’s wife Le Thi Ha said that her husband’s arrest had caused her family to lose its “primary pillar” and left them in a state of shock.

“In Vietnam, whomever [the authorities] arrest, when the arrests take place, and how many years in prison the arrestees are sentenced to ... all are in their hands,” she said. “However, to me, my husband is innocent. My wish is that my husband be released unconditionally.”

Anti-corruption advocate

During the past decade, Phuoc has campaigned against corruption and advocated for better protections for civil and political rights. He has signed several pro-democracy petitions and called for changes to Vietnam’s constitution, which grants the Communist Party a monopoly on power.

After Phuoc’s arrest, police summoned Ha for interrogation at least twice and threatened to have her fired if she shared information about his case on social media.

According to an indictment obtained by RFA, the Dak Lak Provincial Police’s Investigation Security Agency examined a recent recording of Phuoc’s and found it to “slander the government in order to reduce people"s trust in management and administration of the government and the state.”

On Monday, Ha said that her family and close friends plan to attend his trial on Tuesday, but questioned whether the court will allow it.

“Although the authorities said the trial would be open to the public, there are many precedents in Vietnam that show that even family members were not allowed to attend trials for political dissidents and activists,” she said. “I don’t know how my husband’s trial will go.”

Home under surveillance

In the meantime, she said, police have kept a close watch on her household, sending plainclothes officers to document the activities of her family members over the weekend.

“Their people are still stationed at the road leading to my house,” she told RFA. “Being aware of many previous cases in which family members of prisoners of conscience received invitations but were still prevented from attending the related trials, I have left my home to increase the chance of being able to attend my husband’s trial.”

On Monday, Phuoc’s defense lawyers met with him and said that he has been “well-treated” in detention, describing him as “optimistic, positive, healthy, and showing no signs of depression or psychological crisis at all.”

“Of course he admitted to the act, but as for the crime, he said he was exercising his right to speak the truth,” lawyer Le Van Luan said. “For tomorrow, he prepared the content of his defense. Basically, the defense is strong, covering the entirety of his case.”

In a statement on Monday, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson echoed Ha’s call to set Phuoc free.

“The Vietnam government makes use of its abusive and overly broad laws to prosecute people who call for reforms,” said Robertson. “The authorities should immediately drop the charges against Dang Dang Phuoc and other activists who play a critical role in rooting out the malfeasance and corruption that the government claims to oppose.”

He slammed the government for its contempt for freedom of expression, noting that it is extended “even to activists who sing a few songs criticizing them.”

“The European Union, which concluded a free trade agreement with Vietnam containing human rights conditionality, and other trade partners, should call out the government for its unrelenting rights violations,” he said.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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