Human Rights Watch Says Taiwan Courts Should Ease Bureaucratic Burdens for Formosa Plastics Petitioners

Notable events:

  • Human Rights Watch Urges Taiwan Courts to Ease Bureaucratic Burdens for Victims of Formosa Plastics Pollution
  • Two Dong Tam Villagers Released, One Denounces Police Torture
  • Long An Police Request Medical Records of Buddhist Practitioners for ‘Incest’ Investigation
  • State Department Expresses Concerns over Sentencing of  Dissident Blogger Phan Tat Thanh

Human Rights Watch Urges Taiwan Courts to Ease Bureaucratic Burdens for Victims of Formosa Pollution

Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at the New York-based rights advocate Human Rights Watch (HRW), has published a letter outlining the bureaucratic hurdles faced by Vietnamese victims of the environmental disaster that involved the Formosa Plastics Group in April 2016. The Taiwan-related company Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh, located in Ky Anh City,  discharged its untreated toxic wastewater off the Vietnamese coastal area, leading to massive fish deaths and the loss of livelihoods of local fishing communities.

The Vietnamese government has harshly cracked down on protests that erupted following the environmental disaster and imprisoned many local activists and journalists who reported on this incident. They included blogger Pham Doan Trang, labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, and Nguyen Nam Phong, a driver who took petitioners to an event where hundreds of people were gathering to file court petitions against Formosa Plastics. According to HRW, at least 41 activists involved in multiple protests were sentenced, and 31 of them are currently behind bars.

Many of the victims have filed lawsuits against the company in Taiwan courts to seek justice. However, in an eventual decision, Taiwan’s Supreme Court requested the plaintiffs have their court documents notarized at Taiwan’s mission in Vietnam, its de facto embassy. The request proves nearly impossible given the Vietnamese government’s continuous persecution of victims of the Formosa disaster and other advocates.

In her letter, Gossman called on Taiwan courts to adopt alternative notarization methods for these petitioners and extend the submission deadlines of the court documents, which is by the end of this week. “The courts should not compound injustice by accommodating Vietnamese government repression,” she wrote.

Two Dong Tam Villagers Released, One Denounces Police Torture

Vietnam released Le Dinh Quan and Bui Van Tien, two villagers from Dong Tam Village in Hanoi, before their release from prison due to good behavior. Quan, 48, and Tien, 45, were sentenced to five years in jail following a police raid in the village in January 2020, which resulted in the deaths of three police officers and the village leader, Le Dinh Kinh. Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, Kinh’s two sons, received the death penalty for the alleged murder of these officers.

The release of Quan and Tien marked more than four years since the incident occurred. After his release, Quan told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the police tortured and forced him to sign a fabricated confession admitting his role in resisting police officers in the attack, even though he had just returned home from a distant province to celebrate Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, and unfortunately got caught in the violent skirmish.

Quan added that during the interrogation, the police investigators coerced him to admit that he was a member of a group that he was in charge of defending the disputed plot of land in Dong Tam. The Investigators also made him confess that Kinh had received money from overseas, which he had shared with others. Other detainees in the case were subjected to physical violence to make them give false statements, Quan added, saying that he saw others returning to their cells with bruises and signs of torture.

Despite Quan’s allegations of police torture, the judges dismissed his accusations. He was initially accused of “committing murder,” but the court suddenly changed his charge to “resisting officials on duty” on the fifth day of the trial. Furthermore, Quan said he was forced to perform hard labor during his imprisonment without payment or adequate food. Previously, on April 9, three other Dong Tam defendants, Le Dinh Uy, Le Dinh Quang, and Nguyen Van Quan, were released nine months before their sentence was completed.

Long An Police Request Medical Records of Buddhist Practitioners for ‘Incest’ Investigation

As part of the investigation into an alleged “incest” crime, the Long An Police Department on May 13 filed a request to the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health that requires hospitals and clinics in the city to provide the medical documents of three religious practitioners of Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent Buddhist temple and orphanage located in Duc Hoa District, Long An Province.

According to state media, the Security Investigation Agency of Long An Provincial Police requested medical documents and relevant data from three nuns, Le Thanh Huyen Trang, 31, Le Thanh Ky Duyen, 31, and Vong Kim Xuan, 29. These individuals previously lived in Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City.

Previously, the Security Investigation Agency alleged that Duyen was the daughter of Le Tung Van, its head monk, and Le Thu Van, his sister. However, the practitioners said that Duyen was adopted and bears the family name of Le Tung Van. The monks and nuns also denied the police’s allegations regarding “incest.”.

In 2022, a Long An court sentenced Le Tung Van to five years in charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Penal Code. Le Thu Van received a similar charge, but she remains out on bail due to poor health. 

According to the defense lawyers of Tinh That Bong Lai, the Long An Provincial Police took DNA samples from the practitioners in the temple to use as evidence of the alleged “incest.” The samples were taken at least thrice between 2021 and 2022 without authorization. Nguyen Van Mieng, one of the temple’s lawyers, said that the police had also violated the privacy rights of the defendants with the collection of their medical information. He added that the 2009 Law on Medical Examination and Treatment stipulates that a patient’s medical records must be kept confidential for at least ten years.

State Department Expresses Concerns over Sentencing of Dissident Blogger Phan Tat Thanh

In an email interview with VOA News’ Vietnamese language service, the U.S. Department of State expressed concerns about dissident blogger Phan Tat Thanh’s eight-year prison sentence and called on Hanoi to respect the freedom of expression of social media users in Vietnam.

The panel of judges concluded in the trial that Thanh, a former administrator of a dissident Facebook page called “Nhật ký yêu nước” (A Patriot’s Diary), had “published information that contained propaganda to slander and distort the [Communist] Party’s guidelines and policies.” It called Thanh’s alleged activities “very serious,” and said that they “posed a dangerous threat to society and would  have an impact on national security.”

“We call on Vietnam to maintain its international obligations and commitments on human rights and make efforts to promote respect and protection of human rights,” the statement said. The spokesperson also urged the Vietnamese government to respect individuals’ rights to exercise their freedom of speech, association, and religion or belief and release those who are unjustly detained.

Politics of Memory in Vietnam: A War Fought Twice

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ May 15

“In Vietnam, acts of remembrance always carry political meaning. They are often used to legitimise Communist rule while delegitimising the “Other” — be they French, Americans, or the former Republic of Vietnam. Despite recent rapprochement with the United States, particularly through the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership established in September 2023, Hanoi continues to view the Vietnam War (known domestically as the War of Resistance Against America, or Kháng chiến chống Mỹ) as a cornerstone of its legitimacy. In so doing, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) portrays itself as the driving force that guided the nation through wars and conflicts towards “independence, freedom, and happiness,” as echoed in the national motto. By contrast, the authorities have avoided commemorating the brief yet bloody 1979 border war with China too publicly, for fear of antagonising Beijing and sparking more anti-China sentiment when China has become one of Vietnam’s key economic and political partners.”


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