The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has called on Vietnamese authorities to release poet, author and human rights activist Tran Duc Thach.

The WGAD report, released Nov. 4, called Thach’s arrest arbitrary and said he should be compensated for his time in jail.

Thach, 71, co-founder of the Vietnamese Online Brotherhood for Democracy, was arrested on April 23, 2020. He was charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government” under Article 109 of the Code Vietnamese criminal and sentenced to 12 years in prison. .

Thach previously served a three-year prison term after being convicted in October 2009 of “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.

The Independent Human Rights Panel said Thach was constantly harassed by Nghe An provincial police before his arrest.

On the morning of April 23, 2020, approximately 20 plainclothes officers, believed to be from the provincial police security team, arrived at Mr. Thach’s home with a search warrant. Although the search warrant was read aloud, his family members were not allowed to see the details. Police searched the house, confiscated property and arrested Thach. The security agency did not issue an arrest warrant for one of Thach’s family members until a day after his arrest.

The GTDA said that criticizing the regime and co-founding an organization does not violate national and international law. He said Thach was punished for exercising his right to freedom of association by helping to establish the Brotherhood for Democracy, a civil society organization that had been repeatedly suppressed by the Vietnamese government, and for having campaigns for human rights on social media.

“His posts on Facebook are both unpredictable and criminal acts, and protected by the Covenant, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international norms and standards. Because the law is so vague that it makes no sense, it cannot justify the detention and conviction of Mr. Thach,” the UN document states.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees all forms of freedom of opinion and expression, including internet postings, the WGDA said.

The group also criticized his trial, which lasted less than three hours after spending eight months in solitary confinement.

During his eight months in detention, the former North Vietnamese army officer was not allowed to see his relatives and was only allowed to see his lawyer a day before the trial to prepare his defence.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, co-founder and president of the Brotherhood for Democracy, endorsed the WGAD report and called for the release of all political prisoners.

“Tran Duc Thach, along with other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and nearly 300 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, have committed no violation of Vietnamese law.

“The Vietnamese government’s arrest and detention of Mr. Tran Duc Thach and other prisoners of conscience violate Vietnamese and international law.”

A Vietnamese human rights activist currently living in exile in Germany told RFA that Thach and other prisoners of conscience were sentenced on charges including “anti-state propaganda”, “abuse of civil liberties” and ” subversion” only exercise universal human rights like freedom of speech, press, association and assembly to fight for a free and democratic Vietnam.

In the final part of the report, in addition to calling for Thach’s release and compensation, the WGAD also called on Vietnamese authorities to investigate the arrest, bring the offenders to justice and report back to them. on the implementation of the above requirements.

What does the Vietnamese government say about Thach’s case?

The Hanoi government has said it believes Thach was arrested for breaking Vietnamese law, not for his democratic views, and that the arrest and conviction were carried out according to Vietnamese law, in line with international conventions. and international standards that Vietnam has ratified.

He said Thach co-founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, which drew members from across the country and partnered with terrorists in an effort to overthrow the Communist Party of Vietnam and the government.

Hanoi also said that Thach took advantage of his freedom and democracy to publish numerous articles with distorted content intended to smear the regime and incite anti-government sentiment.

Over the past five years, the WGAD has released dozens of documents declaring the arrest and sentencing of dozens of prisoners of conscience to be arbitrary and calling on the Vietnamese government to release them.

“The WGAD is right to brush aside the Vietnamese government’s feeble excuses for imprisoning Tran Duc Thach, who is clearly a political prisoner detained for expressing his beliefs,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told RFA. ..

“The GTDA notice details how Vietnam is systematically violating international human rights law by continuing to detain him, and Hanoi should heed this notice and immediately and unconditionally release Tran Duc Thach.

“From the point of view of international law, it is not even obvious that what Vietnam is doing to her is both illegal and unjustified.

“The US and EU should strongly advocate for Vietnam to let him go, in line with WGAD recommendations, and demand that Hanoi release the more than 160 other political prisoners also imprisoned by Vietnam on equally bogus and false charges. politically motivated.

Hanoi has always denied holding prisoners of conscience, saying it only imprisons those who break the law.

Translated by Ngu Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Mike Firn.