A democracy activist, human rights activist and charity fundraiser in Hanoi, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, has just been arrested, her relatives and activists from Vietnam told BBC News Vietnamese on April 7.
The event took place during the week that Vietnam had a new cabinet, headed by a former police lieutenant general in the position of new prime minister.
On Wednesday, April 7, 2021, the personal Facebook page of journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh, husband of activist Thuy Hanh, reported about the event:
“Nguyen Thuy Hanh was just arrested this morning. For unknown reasons, being taken away by a large group of people, she could be probed for criminal charges.
Nguyen Thuy Hanh only gave charity to help prisoners of conscience with difficulties through the 50K fund, but due to pressure from the authorities, she closed the fund and closed the account from the end of 2020. However, Hanh was still monitored, under house arrest since then.”
On this personal Facebook, Mr. Huynh Ngoc Kenh added that his wife was arrested “probably charged with an allegation.”
“Arresting Nguyen Thuy Hanh is a continuation of a series of intense arrests of civil society activists from the past few years and becoming more and more intense,” said Chenh on his Facebook.
BBC News Vietnamese asked Mr. Huynh Ngoc Chenh and he confirmed the incident occurred while he was visiting his hometown in Quang Nam and her arrest was followed a probing order.
“I am in my hometown, in Quang Nam, when it happened, they arrested and detained under the order of the prosecution agency.
My wife and I have prepared everything to receive for this day for a long time, Thuy Hanh herself has already prepared for this day, but when it happens, I still feel very shocked.
I want to be arrested, instead of Thuy Hanh, Hanh only does charity work to help prisoners of conscience.”
On the same day, two civil society activists and observers from Hanoi, who are quite familiar with Ms. Nguyen Thuy Hanh, confirmed the event with the BBC:
“I live near Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s dormitory and can confirm that Hanh’s arrest took place today, and Facebook as well as information posted on the FB of journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh, husband of Hanh was right,” said engineer Nguyen Lan Thang.
Some people living in Hanh’s apartment complex also confirmed to me that they witnessed the arrest. The flat where she lives is a rather high-end, luxurious apartment complex and not everyone can enter.
In the current context, when the personnel-fixing meetings as well as the election of the entire party, parliament, and government events are relatively complete, I think the arrest of Ms. Hanh at this time is relatively unexpected because people don’t understand why they arrest her now.
In fact, Hanh also has a lot of health problems, her health is not good and the work she does is not something terrible related to party affairs, or anything which could harm the safety of the regime, to the point of taking such drastic action on her.”
The reason for the arrest?
On the same day April 7, from Hanoi, Ms. Nguyen Nguyen Binh, writer and former lieutenant colonel of the Vietnam People’s Army, told the BBC:
“This arrest took place very suddenly, today about thirty security officers entered Thuy Hanh’s house and took her away, and especially her relatives have not been witnessed.
I think this arrest is very unreasonable. Hanh has previously set up a fund called the 50K Fund to help the families of prisoners of conscience who have difficulties.
Thuy Hanh also told me that the police and security also threatened her and pressured her to close the fund, Hanh said they even promised that if she closes the fund, they would return the amount of VND523 million ($22,700) that many people sent to the family of Le Dinh Kinh in Dong Tam.
Mrs. Hanh told me that she closed the 50K fund, closed it for several months, and they suddenly arrested her. People immediately said that they made an empty promise but would not pay back, and then it was true that they have no plan to return the sum. Hanh closed the fund, but they did not pay back the donations for Mr. Kinh’s family.
I just met Thuy Hanh, last week she also visited a number of prisoner families of conscience, Hanh told me that she was under constant surveillance.
Usually, authorities are placing activists like her under de facto house arrest, but Hanh told me recently that she has under constant close surveillance so many activists think she would be arrested soon.
Recently, Hanh often goes to the Buddhist temple. I think she has done nothing wrong so she should not be imprisoned.”
Born in 1963, Hanh used to run as an independent candidate for the National Assembly in 2016.
Another civil society observer did not want to be identified, told the BBC:
“Recently, the government and the security sector have strengthened the repression and arrests of dissidents, Vietnam has only had a new Prime Minister for two days, but the security side still proceeds to arrest Mrs. Nguyen Thuy Hanh.
I think that the group of officials in the government and the police that advocate for strong punishment against Dong Tam land petitioners is likely to be behind this move because Mrs. Hanh still requires the refund of donations for Mr. Kinh.
“In addition, along with many other recent arrests and repression cases, they want to send a signal that the government is intolerant, but on the contrary, they want to strengthen their hands so that the democracy and human rights activists in Vietnam are silent in this period, a moment of power transfer after the Party Congress at home is and still happening, while abroad, international supporting and monitoring on human rights in Vietnam is falling at a low level.”
Notice of Hanoi Police on the arrest of Ms. Nguyen Thuy Hanh
On April 7, information about the incident, a notice on the Hanoi City Police Portal entitled “Arrest 01 person who spread documents against the State” reported:
“On April 7, 2021, the Security and Investigation Agency – the Hanoi Police Department carried out the arrest and house search of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, born in 1963, on the charge of “Making, possessing, distributing or disseminating information, documents, items against the Communist State Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.
Currently, the case is being investigated by the Investigation Department of the Hanoi Police Department.”
Recently, on The Diplomat, author Sebastian Strangio stated that the appointment of a former police general (Mr. Pham Minh Chinh) as prime minister proves that the Communist Party of Vietnam will continue the hard-line against corruption and resist dissenting opinions.
However, it is a matter of public opinion to determine what is dissent, social criticism, or just pure civil society activities.
The Vietnamese government has so far declared that the party and state welcome all voices of criticism and constructive contributions of the people.
The state-controlled media and the ruling Communist Party’s propaganda agency often assert that there is no state suppression of dissidents, or freedom, democracy, and human rights activists.
According to the Vietnamese government, it arrests only law violators.