Washington, D.C. – On September 19, 2017, Freedom Now and lawyers with the international law firm King & Spalding LLP, filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of behalf of Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy. Freedom Now hopes to obtain an opinion from the UN Working Group that the Government of Vietnam’s detention of the online activist is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Over the past two years Vietnam has intensified its crackdown on online dissent, arresting nearly two dozen activists and tightening restrictions on access. The imprisonment of Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy is representative of this troubling deterioration of internet freedoms,” said Freedom Now Legal Director Kate Barth. “The government’s continued detention of Mr. Nguyen violates his fundamental human rights including his right to freedom of expression. Freedom Now calls on the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Nguyen; we are confident that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will come to the same conclusion.”
Prior to his arrest, Mr. Nguyen graduated from college with a degree in education and worked with his mother at a market. He was active on social media, specifically Facebook, on which he made statements and reposted articles criticizing governmental corruption, acts of police violence, and deficiencies in the local educational system on his personal Facebook page.
Mr. Nguyen was arrested on August 28, 2015, the same day as police arrested his cousin Nguyen Huu Thien An, an active member of a youth movement, who was apprehended spray painting an anti-government slogan on the side of a police station. Mr. Nguyen is not a member of the youth movement, but was arrested regardless and released three days later. Almost immediately upon his release, Mr. Nguyen posted on Facebook calling for the release of his cousin.
Mr. Nguyen was arrested again on November 21, 2015 and held incommunicado for nine months during which time he was not able to communicate with his family or a lawyer of his choosing.
Mr. Nguyen’s family hired two domestic lawyers to represent him, however the prosecutor’s office replaced these lawyers with government-selected counsel. The trial which was held on August 23, 2016 was closed to the public. Mr. Nguyen’s family attempted to attend the trial, but police at the courthouse denied the family’s entry by claiming that the family lacked an invitation from the court. Mr. Nguyen’s mother had her phone taken away after attempting to record the scene and was forcibly removed from the courthouse and taken to a local commune police station until the trial was over. Eleven activists attempted to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to attend the trial, but were detained by police en route.
Mr. Nguyen was convicted under article 88 of the penal code for spreading anti-government propaganda and sentenced to three years in prison. According to state media’s description of the trial, Mr. Nguyen had posted articles that distorted the policies of the Communist Party and had called for the overthrow of the government. The judge was quoted as saying that his actions were very serious and had damaged confidence in the leadership of the Communist party and hurt social order.
Following the trial, Mr. Nguyen was immediately placed in a solitary cell. His mother was unable to visit him until February 2017—15 months after his initial arrest.