Vietnamese authorities have ignored the latest application for the release of political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc from a 16-year prison term, as they have many times in the past.
He was arrested in May 2009 for writing online articles criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state and convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
Thuc is being held at Detention Center No. 6 in Nghe An province in Vietnam’s North Central Coast region and has already served most of his sentence of 16 years but still faces five years’ probation.
On Nov. 4 Thuc’s father Tran Van Huynh sent an application to the president asking for him to exempt Thuc from the remaining two years and six months of prison and drop the probation term.
“My child is always proud of the things he has done to contribute constructively to the development of the country, even though because of those things he has been wrongly convicted of ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government’,” Huyn wrote in the petition, which received no response.
Thuc, 56, was an entrepreneur and former General Manager of Vietnamese internet phone company One Connection Internet (OCI).
He was sentenced under the 1999 Penal Code but has repeatedly asked for the charges against him to be changed to involvement in “preparation to commit a crime,” under Vietnam’s revised 2015 Penal Code, which only calls for a five-year sentence.
Thuc has been applying to the Supreme People’s Court to be exempted from serving his remaining term since 2018, when he had spent more than eight years in prisons and detention centers.
His brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan, told RFA Thuc petitioned many Vietnamese leaders and agencies asking them to respect the law and release him. Tan said prison authorities were only willing to send one of Thuc’s petitions to the Supreme People’s Court so the family petitioned the president, prime minister and other bodies.
“They didn’t deny it but they didn’t reply either,” Tan said. “The State of Vietnam’s declaration to build a rule-of-law state must be based on respecting the law and legal procedures and [they must] release Thuc.”
In an article posted on his personal Facebook page, lawyer Ngo Ngoc Trai argued that Thuc could be classified as “preparing to commit a crime” because he was not active in establishing or participating in an organization aimed at overthrowing the government, but only established the “Chan Research Group” with five members who left the group before he was prosecuted. Trai said, because the research group lacked rules, regulations and a hierarchy it could only be considered the forerunner of a political organization in the distant future. According to the Penal Code, establishing the group is just a ‘preparatory act’.
Lawyer Le Cong Dinh told RFA the two first-instance and appellate judgements did not mention ‘preparing to commit a crime’ because the Penal Code did not have this provision in 2010.
“The new law adds the act of preparing to commit a crime,” he said. “Considering the acts of Mr. Thuc and his co-conspirators only stop at that level, Mr. Thuc and his family asked the court to reconsider on the basis of the law.”
Dinh said the Penal Code recognizes the principle of applying the law in favor of the person serving the sentence. Therefore, when there is a new regulation in favor of the sentenced person, the court must review the original sentence.
Thuc’s health has been a continuing source of concern to his family following a series of hunger strikes lasting 100 days during which he called for his release, asked for improved prison conditions and protested police treatment following his arrest.
The U.S., Australia, Canada, European Union, the U.K. and many international human rights organizations have repeatedly spoken out about Thuc’s case, calling on the government to release him.