Activist faces trial after 2 years in detention

Vu Minh Khanh (centre) has led an international campaign for her husband’s release. Photo courtesy Reuters.

The Vietnamese government is preparing to bare its teeth this week with a display of communist justice designed to intimidate its critics into silence.

For more than two years, the human rights lawyer and democracy advocate, Nguyen Van Dai, has been held without trial and denied all access to family members and supporters.

On April 5th, he will finally be brought before a judge, along with five fellow activists, and charged with plotting to overthrow the state.

The relentless pattern of recent similar trials suggests that he will be convicted after a cursory hearing and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment.

The signs are that that this time the sentence will be even harsher than usual.

Prosecutors are employing the most fearsome weapon in their arsenal, article 79 of the penal code, a vaguely defined subversion charge used against the government’s most intractable opponents.

Repressive one-party rule

Nguyen Van Dai has shown himself to be fearless in his opposition to the Communist party’s monopoly on power.

A committed Christian and one of the founders of the pressure group, the Brotherhood for Democracy, he is convinced that the tide is turning against repressive one-party rule and that young people will demand a more pluralistic system.

After his release from a previous period of imprisonment and house arrest, he resumed his activities in 2015 amongst Christian communities in highland areas and amongst the young in the cities.

He explained to Vietnam Right Now in the months before his arrest in December 2015 that only with a democratic system could Vietnam reach its full potential as a leading nation in Southeast Asia.

It was Dai’s successful outreach to young people, recently enlightened by access to the relative freedom of the internet, that appears to have convinced the authorities to crack down.

He was first charged with conducting propaganda against the state, a charge that has led to terms of imprisonment of up to ten years.

However, with the consolidation, in 2016, of conservatives in the leadership around the General-Secretary of the party, Nguyen Phu Trong, prosecutors added the further charge of subversion.

The trigger was the arrest of four other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, who were rounded up in a series of raids last year and accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

They will stand trial alongside Dai and a blogger associated with the Redemptorist church office in Ho Chi Minh City, which campaigns for civil rights.

Dai has received international recognition for his peaceful campaigns, and his trial is likely to lead to further condemnation from western countries.

However, Vietnam has come to doubt the strength of the West’s commitment to promoting human rights and pluralism.

The Communist party has found that it can crush its critics with impunity and still be courted as a valued economic and strategic partner by the outside world.