Statement of Defend the Defenders Regarding Arrest of Human Rights Defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh

Defend the Defenders, April 7, 2021

Press release

On April 7, the Vietnamese communist authorities detained human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh, accusing her of “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code with potential imprisonment of between seven and 12 years, even up to 20 years if is convicted. Security officers from the Hanoi Police Department reportedly conducted Mrs. Hanh’s private residence while there were any of her relatives during the arrest and the house search.

Human Rights Defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh

Currently, Mrs. Hanh is held incommunicado in the Temporary Detention Center No. 2 under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department. The pre-trial detention may last at least four months.

Mrs. Hanh is one of the most active advocates of democracy and human rights in Vietnam for many years.

She is a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group that has been severely persecuted since 2015 with many key members being arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.

She has established and managed the 50K Foundation to support prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, supporting hundreds of people being arrested or suffered other forms of prosecution of the communist authorities just for exercising freedom of expression and paying their concerns about the country’s issues.

In 2020, Vietnamese in the country and abroad sent their material support to Mrs. Hanh’s Vietcombank account for the family of killed-by-police elderly communal leader Le Dinh Kinh and detained land petitioners in Dong Tam commune, My Duc district, Hanoi after the raid of about 3,000 riot policemen to Hoanh village on January 9, 2020. However, Vietnam’s authorities demanded Vietcombank freeze her account and still hold VND523 million ($22,700), the financial supports for Dong Tam land petitioners.

Over the years, the Vietnamese communist authorities have taken many measures to suppress her in order to force her to stop the operation of the 50K Fund, including summoning to the police station for interrogation, placing her de facto under house arrest on many occasions, and defaming her in the state-controlled media. The culmination of persecution was her arrest on Wednesday morning.

Defend the Defenders believes that Mrs. Hanh only works for human rights and does not violate the laws of Vietnam. Her arrest is illegal and arbitrary, like hundreds of activists’ arrests in recent years.

Defend the Defenders requests the Vietnamese communist government to immediately and unconditionally release Mrs. Hanh, notify her family of her condition, and give her access to a lawyer.

In order for the country to develop sustainably, the Vietnamese communist government needs to respect the human rights of all people, fulfill international commitments on human rights, and enable human rights defenders to work without fear of revenge.

We call on the Vietnamese people and the international community to give a strong voice to demand the Vietnamese communist government end its persecution of social activists and human rights defenders.

On behalf of Defend the Defenders

Director Vu Quoc Ngu


Biography of HRD Nguyen Thuy Hanh

Mrs. Nguyen Thuy Hanh was born on May 5, 1963, in Vietnam’s northern province of Hai Duong. Her father passed away when she was young. When she was five years old, her mother remarried, then she and her older sister who is two years older than her lived with their grandparents. She is married to veteran journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh, who was born in 1952.

After graduating from university, Mrs. Hanh started working for a state-owned tourism firm. In 2000, she became the foreign relation director of foreign-invested Vietnam KCP Sugar Company and KCP India Group. She retired in 2015.

Mrs. Hanh has been involved in civil society affairs since 2011, participating in numerous peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi and other localities to protest China’s expansionism in the East Sea (South China Sea), to object to Hanoi city authorities’ plan to chop down thousands of aged trees on the city’s main streets, request for human rights, and take part in charity activities to support victims of injustice as well as activists-at-risks.

In the period between 2011 and 2018, along with activities that aim to demand multi-party democracy and human rights, Mrs. Hanh sought financial resources for imprisoned prisoners of conscience and activists who suffered from police attacks. In the beginning, she used her own money to help them. Later, when the communist regime’s number of victims rose sharply, she called on other people in the country and abroad to join her efforts.

In 2014, she took part in operating a fund for victims of legal miscarriages who have gathered in Hanoi from other provinces nationwide to submit their complaints to state agencies. They are subjects of persecution from the Hanoi police forces.

In 2018, Mrs. Hanh set up and operated the 50K Fund which called for a contribution of VND50,000 ($2.1) from every Vietnamese to help families of prisoners of conscience. She used her bank accounts to receive the contributions which came mostly from foreign-based Vietnamese in the beginning and later from people in the country as well. Some individuals sent a big sum up to VND50 million. Hanh used these contributions and re-allocated these funds to prisoners of conscience’s families, sending between VND2 million and VND5 million to each family depending on their economic difficulties. She publicized monthly financial reports on the fund’s activities openly on her Facebook account so all contributors should check and verify them.

Thanks to its transparency, the fund got popular and substantial support from thousands of Vietnamese both in the nation and in foreign countries. Its contributions became valuable for prisoners of conscience’s families who are often harassed by the local authorities who strive to halt their economic activities.

Due to its popularity, Vietnam’s government sought to halt the fund. It threatened beneficiaries- families of prisoners of conscience and created difficulties for Mrs. Hanh. She was beaten twice when she accompanied relatives of prisoners of conscience during their prison visits, including the brutal attack near Prison camp No. 6 in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province in mid-July 2019.

In late 2019, the Hanoi Police Department set up a special investigation project to monitor and investigate Mrs. Hanh’s activities. Since then, she has been under close surveillance, being followed and placed de facto under house arrest on many occasions. She was abducted many times by police officers who later took her to a police station for interrogation about the 50K Fund.

On January 9, 2020, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security sent around 3,000 riot policemen to launch a bloody raid in the Dong Tam commune, My Duc district, Hanoi. Policemen shot to death communal leader Le Dinh Kinh, the spiritual leader of the local land petitioners victims of land grabbing. After the attack, police imposed access restriction to the locality so that the funeral of Mr. Kinh was carried out in a close circle as people outside of the area were prevented from attending. Many people wanted to contribute financial support for his family. Land rights activist and human rights defender Trinh Ba Phuong asked Hanh to represent Mr. Kinh’s family to receive the donations. Mrs. Hanh agreed and used her account in Vietcombank for that purpose. She received VND570 million of contribution for Mr. Kinh’s family just for the first three days. However, Vietnam’s authorities ordered Vietcombank to freeze her bank account before she transferred it to the family.

On January 15, 2020, on her way to the Vietcombank’s office to file her complaint about her bank account’s freezing, she was kidnapped by police officers who took her to the Ministry of Public Security’s investigation agency for interrogation and mental torture.

Prior to her arrest on April 7, she was summoned five times to the police station for questioning about the 50K Fund. She was placed in close surveillance many months before her detention.

On April 3, 2021, Mrs. Hanh asked her attorney to send her petition to the Ministry of Public Security regarding freezing her account in Vietcombank.

Four days later, on April 7, she was arrested by the Hanoi police and charged with “Making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” per Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code. Currently, she is held incommunicado, the common practice in political cases in Vietnam.