(New York) – The Vietnamese government should immediately release dissident writer and novelist Pham Chi Thanh and drop all criminal charges against him, Human Rights Watch said today.
Police arrested Thanh, 69, in May 2020 and charged him under article 117 of the penal code, which criminalizes the possession or dissemination of “information, materials and products aimed at opposing to the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam ”. On May 28, 2021, his lawyer was allowed to see Thanh for the first time. His wife, Nguyen Thi Nghiem, later wrote on Facebook that the lawyer told her that her husband had recently suffered an injury during a fall and had headaches and difficulty breathing. His trial in Hanoi is scheduled for July 9.
“Pham Chi Thanh is one of a long list of Vietnamese dissidents being sued for nothing more than their written words,” said John Sifton, director of advocacy for Asia. “There are no allegations that he committed a recognizable offense under international human rights law. “
Thanh (also known as Pham Thanh – Ba Dam Xoe) published his first novel, Hau Chi Pheo (About Chi Phéo), in 1991. The novel condemns land reform in North Vietnam in the 1950s and portrays local Communist leaders as corrupt, immoral, stupid and cruel.
In 2007, he lost his post as deputy editor-in-chief of Voices of Vietnam newspaper for writing anti-Chinese articles. In 2014, he self-published his second novel, Co Hon Xa Nghia (Scarecrow Socialism), which portrays socialism and the Vietnamese government in a very negative light. In 2019, under his pseudonym, he published a collection of writings criticizing Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong for being too close to China.
In a 2019 interview with the Vietnamese service of Voice of America, Thanh said: “I had followed the [Communist] Party and State for 41 years. Now, looking back, I found that our nation had backed off all over the place. What is the cause? The reason is that we don’t have a democracy. The reason is that the Communist Party maintains a dictatorship! I am fighting against the Communist dictatorship!
The police harassed and intimidated Thanh on several occasions. Between 2014 and 2016, they summoned him several times and questioned him about his handwriting. On December 6, 2015, police at Noi Bai International Airport banned him from leaving Vietnam for Bangkok, saying his travel ban was “to protect national security and order and social security.”
In November 2017, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Da Nang, security agents placed him under house arrest for several days. Before and during the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and former US President Donald Trump in Hanoi on February 27 and 28, 2019, Thanh was placed under house arrest. He posted online photos of men in civilian clothes posted outside his door, calling them “the ghosts outside my house on the night of February 26, 2019, to celebrate Trump’s arrival in Hanoi.”
In November 2020, six months after his arrest, Radio Free Asia reported that Thanh had been in a mental health facility for six weeks, where his wife was briefly allowed to visit him. The purpose of his admission to the establishment remains uncertain.
“Pham Chi Thanh has committed no obvious crimes, appears to be in poor health and has been detained for over a year without a lawyer,” Sifton said. “The Vietnamese authorities have no plausible justification for imprisoning him, and never have. He should be released and allowed to return home and to his family. “