Washington, D.C. – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued an opinion finding the Government of Vietnam to be in contravention of its international human rights obligations for the detention of blogger Phan Kim Khanh. Responding to a petition filed by Freedom Now and Dechert LLP, the UN concluded that Phan was detained for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association.
“We welcome the decision by the Working Group,” said Freedom Now Program Officer Karl Horberg. “Phan Kim Khanh has spent more than three years wrongfully detained, a victim of Vietnam’s sustained campaign against online freedoms. We are disturbed by recent reports that he is being held in inhumane conditions. We call on the Vietnamese government to comply with the United Nations and immediately and unconditionally release Phan.”
Prior to his arrest, Phan was a student and employee at a software company. In his free time, he managed websites and social media accounts which featured stories on corruption, politics, the economy, the environment, and other issues. His writings advocated for plural democracy, military de-politicization, free elections, and press freedom.
On March 21, 2017, the Police Investigation Security Agency of Thai Nguyen arrested Phan at his workplace. He was never presented with a warrant or informed of the charges against him. The next day he was formally charged with violating Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, which prohibits propagating or defaming the Government as well as making, storing, or circulating documents with contents against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
After being held for seven months in pre-trial (six months of which were spent incommunicado), Phan’s trial began on October 25, 2017 and lasted only four hours. Strict security prohibited many individuals from attending the trial. Of Phan’s family, only his father was allowed in the courtroom. Phan admitted in court to have run the blogs, but said that his main purpose was to fight corruption, and he did not know that reporting on corruption constituted a crime. He was sentenced to six years in prison followed by four years of house arrest.
Phan sought to appeal his conviction a few days after he was convicted, but prison officials refused to submit his request. In February 2019, Phan submitted a complaint regarding the failure of prison officials to forward his mail. Since the complaint, the prison authorities have badly mistreated him and threatened him with solitary confinement or withholding supplies if he does not stop seeking to challenge his conviction. Phan’s health has badly deteriorated since his conviction, in part, due to the mistreatment he is facing in prison.