Vietnam tries journalist and democracy activist as crackdown on dissent continues

By Ben Stocking, AP
Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vietnam tries dissident writer on assault charges

HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese journalist and democracy activist went on trial for alleged assault Friday as authorities continued a crackdown on dissent in which 16 people have been sent to prison in just over three months.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, 49, has been active in Vietnam’s small democracy movement, which has promoted political pluralism in a country where the Communist government does not tolerate political competition.

Human rights groups have described the case against Thuy as a perversion of justice in which undercover police watched thugs attack her — and then charged Thuy with assault.

Thuy’s supporters say that on Oct. 8, police prevented her from attending the trial of democracy activists in the northern city of Haiphong. That evening, prosecutors allege that Thuy and her husband, Do Ba Tan, assaulted two people after one of them complained that Tan’s motorbike was blocking the alley outside the couple’s home in Hanoi.

Prosecutors say Tan bashed one of the victims in the face with his motorbike helmet and Thuy threw bricks at them and beat them with a stick.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says the couple were roughed up by thugs who were waging ongoing harassment of Thuy.

“Charging the victim of a beating with assault is yet another example of Vietnam’s Kafkaesque efforts to silence government critics,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The thugs who attacked her, the people who sent them, and the police officers who refused to intervene should all be brought to justice.”

Thuy has been active in the dissident community since 2006, when she started organizations to help workers and assist farmers whose land had been confiscated by the government. Thuy, who worked for many years in Vietnam’s state-controlled media, later wrote for an online pro-democracy newspaper and published a blog.

Since then, thugs have thrown excrement and dead rodents at her gate and locked her out of her house, according to Human Rights Watch, and police subjected her to a “People’s Court” at which 300 people gathered in a public stadium to insult her.

She was also placed under house arrest and held in a detention center for nine months, the organization said.

In recent weeks, Vietnam has sent 16 democracy activists to jail. Some were convicted of spreading propaganda against the state, and others were convicted of attempting to overthrow the government by joining pro-democracy parties.

Among them was Le Cong Dinh, a prominent U.S.-trained attorney who represented high-profile corporate clients and also handled human rights cases. He was sent to prison for five years.

Western diplomats have decried the campaign against dissent, which they say is the result of political jockeying among Communist factions in advance of next year’s Party Congress, during which the country’s new leaders will be chosen.

But earlier this week, in a speech marking the party’s 80th birthday, party Chairman Nong Duc Manh said Vietnam was “determined to fight the plots of hostile forces who are … calling for a multiparty system and abusing democracy and human rights issues to sabotage our socialist regime.”

will not be displayed