STATEMENT FROM CIVIL SOCIETIES AND NGO’S IN VIETNAM AND ABROAD RE. THE TRIAL OF THE “BIA SON” GROUP

Cong an Bia Son

Jun 17, 2015

TO:

– Vietnamese Compatriots in and out of Vietnam

– Democratic Governments of the World

– International NGOs

– Churches of All Denominations in the World

More than three years have gone by since the arrest and trial of the “Hội đồng Công luật Công án Bia Sơn” (literally, “Bia Son Council for Public Law and Public Trial,” henceforward abbreviated to “Bia Son case”), the largest political trial case in Vietnam in the last 30 years.  The trial at the Court of First Instance in Phu Yen, after more than one week sentenced on 4 February 2013 Mr. Phan Van Thu (alias Tran Cong), 68 years old, to life imprisonment, he being considered the key person in this trial; the remaining 21 persons received heavy sentences from 10 to 17 years imprisonment each.  In July 2014, the Vietnamese communist authorities arrested three more persons.  So by now they have thrown in jail 25 persons in this Bia Son case with a cumulative total of one life imprisonment plus 309 years of imprisonment to be followed by 110 years of probation.  Twenty-two persons in the group are charged with the crime of “plotting to overthrow the people’s government” in accordance with article 79 of the Penal Code, and three persons accused of “illegally storing, utilizing and dealing in explosive materials”!

Unfortunately, although this unjust case (with its enormous cumulative sentence) has received some attention from public opinion, the reactions from the defendants’ families were rather weak.  But now, they have taken their cases to the Supreme People’s Court to ask that their loved ones be retried in an appeal court (RFA broadcast of 11 June 2015), at the same time they have asked for the help and support of all justice and human rights loving persons.

In the face of this severe miscarriage of justicce, the undersigned independent civil societiesunanimously agree to make the following statement:

1- Basing ourselves on the declarations made by the defendants in court and according to the analyses made by experts of the court charges, as well as on the testimonies of the defendants’ family members regarding the matter (especially the Testimonial Letter of Mrs. Vo Thi Thanh Thuy, wife of Mr. Phan Van Thu), we can say that the “Bia Son” case is a frame up case meant to rob citizens’ property under the pretext of calling a purely religious group a “reactionary political organization.”

Indeed, this religious group is a Buddhist sect founded by Mr. Thu in 1969 under the name of “Ân Đàn Đại Đạo” (“The Great Path of Providential Grace”), which at a point had a relatively strong following.  After 1975, the Vietnamese communist authorities confiscated many temples and other properties of this sect while imprisoning its founder for several years in an effort to stamp out his group.  After Mr. Thu was out of jail, however, many of his followers, on learning that he was an employee working at the Da Bia ecotourism site (belonging to the Quynh Long Company, Hao Son hamlet, Hoa Xuan Nam village, Dong Hoa District, Phu Yen province), went and joined him.  Mr. Thu therefore revived his denomination, he came up with “the doctrine of Common Assets” (“Chủ thuyết Công bản” in Vietnamese), “the Program of Public Legislation” (“Cương lĩnh Công luật Đại hóa”) and “the Enlightened Philosophy of the Nine Scriptures” (“Cửu Kinh Minh Triết”) which, taken together, are no more than the preachings that he used to lead the followers into the religious life, practicing the universal justice of the universe so as to return to the fount of wisdom: the True-the Good-and the Beautiful.  At its peak this sect (or religious organization) had about 300 followers throughout Central and Southern Vietnam, who worship in small groups.  Their doctrine was public knowledge as it was available on the Internet.

At the same time, the followers combined their means and resources to build the 46-hectare Da Bia ecotourism site into an assemblage of sixty constructions scattered throughout the area, which attracted more and more tourists to the site and yielded a significant amount of income.  It is this last factor which aroused the greediness of those in power!  To test the financial resources of the Quynh Long Company, on 3 December 2011, the Phu Yen provincial authorities fined them 300 million VN dong for “building on as yet unauthorized grounds and not reporting on estimated environmental impacts”!?!

2- Then all of a sudden, on 5 February 2012, 200 policemen from Phu Yen province descended on the Da Bia ecotourism site, started arresting people, closed the company operations, and gathered “the criminal evidence” consisting of “19 explosives, 10 walkie-talkies, one pair of binoculars, two laptops, one camera, one film-making camera, over 12,000 US dollars, nearly 190 million VN dong, and hundreds of documents” (according to VNExpress).  On 8 October 2012, the Phu Yen province Procuracy completed the charges leveled against Mr. Phan Van Thu and 21 other defendants so as to try them as the main culprits of a political organization called (by the State) the “Hội đồng Công luật Công án Bia Sơn” (“Bia Son Council for Public Law and Public Trial”). Besides the many errors and contradictions contained in the indictment, the charges were clearly absurd vilifications such as: “Mr. Thu’s group has built a by-laws, regulations and a program of action so as to provide guidance for the future activities of the organization, i.e. the formation of local religious groups.  Besides, they also carry out propaganda to entice the people to join them and donate their material wealth and effort to become the political forces of the organization in various localities.  The defendants have also come up with a national name, a national flag, a national anthem, a Capital city and a national day, a central and regional administrative machinery…  And the plan is that starting in 2013 Mr. Thu would be leading the ‘Bia Son Council’ and his followers and imperial clan to accomplish the overthrow of the Vietnamese state so as to establish the so-called Dai Nam Kinh Chau country…”  Furthermore, with their customary lying propositions, the charges also said: “The organization also created and wrote many documents distorting the main program, lines and policies of the [Communist] Party and Government, slandering and badmouthing the current regime, singing the doctrine of common assets so as propagandize and luring a number of the people’s masses, gradually getting them to abandon the ideology of the revolution and the socialist ideology in our social life, thus weakening the masses’ faith in the leadership of the Party and Government, causing them confusion and anxiety, even doubts about our current regime”!?!

On 4 February 2013, the Phu Yen provincial court sentenced 22 persons of the group on the ground that they “plotted to overthrown the people’s government” in accordance with Article 79 of the Penal Code.  At this first instance trial, the court was unable to produce any credible evidence, it could only state vague charges based on made up evidence.  Mr. Thu reported that during the interrogation process, the investigating police picked two songs among the psalms that he composed and forced him to admit that one of them was meant to be the national anthem.  They picked a rock in the shape of a turtle in the ecotourism site and called it the national emblem of the organization.  A small rock that somehow looks like a Chinese character chop which was found by the management after an avalanche at the site, the police investigator immediately identified it as an official stamp.  And the day the “An Dan Dai Dao” faith was established (15 September 1969), the police investigator called it the group’s National Day.  The group did not have any flag, the police investigator took the Buddhist international flag and said it was the group’s flag.  The so-called government departments were copied on the organigram of the tourist company, or on the divisions that are meant to help in the propagation of the faith–all of which are now said to be aimed at the overthrow of the government.  “Names in the faith” (called “pháp danh” in the Buddhist tradition) are said now to be “nicknames” or aliases in a revolutionary party.  And the ecotourism site’s slogan, “Ecology first, then our religion’s founding temple” (“Tiền sinh thái, hậu tổ đình”) is taken to mean that the tourism activities are meant only to raise funds toward the building of future worship halls, “hiding under the guise of ecotourism to build bases of operations”…

In summary, from a religious organization with its own personnel divisions, its scriptural writings and its own doctrine, all genuine expressions of a religious faith, the Communist court in Phu Yen blatantly and forcefully represented it as a “political organization,” a “reactionary organization” working against the regime.  It thereafter clapped upon the defendants (who are no more than true and simple believers, most of them of advanced age) long sentences (of 10 years imprisonment or more), which surely would result in the deaths of some of the defendants before they could serve out their sentences.  The whole rigamarole in order to “legally” dispossess the owners of a very successful ecotourism site and keep them from ever taking it back.

What is worthy of attention is that while all 22 defendants stubbornly denied the political aims attributed to them, saying that their organization had no other objective than the religious life, the court-appointed lawyer, Attorney Nguyen Huong Que, a lawyer belonging to the Bar Association of Phu Yen, instead of speaking on behalf of the defendants as demanded by his professionalism, only stepped up in front of the court to confirm the “crimes” of the defendants as charged to then ask for leniency, after which he lied to AFP that all his clients had entered a guilty plea and considered their sentences to be fair!  The Vietnamese newspapers, like Công An (“Public Security”), Tuoi Tre (“Youth”), Thanh Nien (“Young Ones”), Phap Luat (“The Law”), instead of providing real, accurate information to the public, chose to throw their honor to the wind and follow in the terrible footsteps of the authorities and vilify these innocent victims.

3- This trial occurred at the same time as the case of the fishery pond of the Doan Van Vuon brothers in Tien Lang, Hai Phong.  They also had the local authorities send a large contingent of policemen to forcefully take over their property and destroy their homes in January 2012.  They were brought to trial in April 2013 to receive a cumulative sentence of 15 years 6 months in jail (for the two brothers) and two years and 9 months of a suspended sentence for the remaining six persons.  Their very productive profit-making fishery pond (nearly half of which was the end-product of their hard labor gaining on the sea) was confiscated.  Recently, according to the website Dan Lam Bao (“Citizen Journalists”) of 10 June 2015, the Dutch businessman Trinh Vinh Binh on 30 April continued to demand from the State of Vietnam 1 billion U.S. dollars in compensation because the latter had blatantly violated the secret agreement between him and Vietnam in 2005.  The reason was that in 1987, he took 3.5 million U.S. dollars to Vietnam to invest there.  He was at first very successful and turned those million into 30 million U.S. dollars.  In 1998, however, the Vietnamese government confiscated his entire assets and put him on trial, at first sentencing him to 13 years of imprisonment, which was reduced to eleven years on appeal.  Luckily he managed to flee abroad.  He went back to Holland and in 2005 sued the Vietnamese government asking for 100 million U.S. dollars in damage.  When it became clear that they would lose, the Vietnamese government agreed to an out-of-court settlement in which they would pay him 15 million U.S. dollars right away in 2005 and they would restore to him his entire assets in Vietnam, including plants, warehouses, and real estate by 2012 at the latest.  But this second part of the settlement, the government has failed to honor up to now.  That is why Mr. Binh went back to suing them!

4- All the above cases and innumerable others like them clearly point to one reality, and that is, the private ownership of land is not recognized in Vietnam, and this right is very often violated most egregiously.  Former CPV Secretary-General Nguyen Van Linh used to promise: “There will not be cases of fattening the pigs in order to kill them.”  In reality, this is happening all the time, otherwise how could so many Party members and cadres become so rich overnight?  The powerful big shots, who only have a very thin conscience, only wait for the people to invest money and effort in dozens of years to build up some business, then they would jump in in the name of the Party and the state and rob the people of their property!  Not satisfied with robbing people of their wealth, they would do everything in their power to eliminate the spiritual strength and the financial capability of their victims so that they would have no way to ask for justice.  This kind of daytime robbery is supported by the collusion and scheming of the local police, the local procuracy, the court and the shameful cooperation of the state appointed lawyers and of even the press!

5- We therefore vehemently protest against the trial of and the sentences given to Mr. Phan Van Thu and his colleagues.  We demand that the Vietnamese authorities return to them at once their freedom, their honor and their assets which belong to this totally innocent Buddhist sect.

Statement dressed in Vietnam on this 15th day of June 2015.

          Independent civil societies who have agreed to sign on to this Statement:

          1- Bạch Đằng Giang Foundation.

          2- Bauxite Việt Nam.

          3- Civil Societies Forum. Representative: Dr. Nguyễn Quang A.

          4- The Traditional Cao Dai Church, represented by: Members of the Governing Board Hứa Phi, Nguyễn Kim Lân, and Nguyễn Bạch Phụng.

          5- Allied Lutheran Churches of Vietnam and the U.S.  Representative: Pastor Nguyễn Hoàng Hoa.

          6- The Genuine Hoa Hao Buddhist Church.  Representative: Mr. Lê Quang Liêm, Chairman.

          7- Democratic Assembly of Vietnam.  Representative: Mr. Lâm Đăng Châu.

          8- Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association.  Representative: Attorney Nguyễn Bắc Truyển.

          9- Association to Protect Religious Freedom.  Representative:: Ms. Hà Thị Vân.

          10- Association to Protect Religious Freedom Rights.  Representative: Ms. Hà Thị Vân.

          11- Mutual Association of “Melons and Squashes.”  Representative: Mr. Nguyễn Lê Hùng.

          12- Former Prisoners of Conscience Association.  Representative: Dr. Nguyễn Đan Quế.

          13- Women for Human Rights Association.  Representative: Mesdames Trần Thị Hài, Trần Thị Nga, Huỳnh Thục Vy.

          14- The Cow-shed Protestant Church.  Representative: Pastor Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng.

          15- 8406 Bloc for Freedom and Democracy.  Representative: Engineer Đỗ Nam Hải.

          16- Vietnam Human Rights Network.  Representative: Dr. Nguyễn Bá Tùng.

          17- National Congress of Vietnamese Americans (NCVA).  Representative: Professor Nguyễn Ngọc Bích.

          18- The Nguyễn Kim Điền Fathers Group.  Representative: Rev. Father Nguyễn Hữu Giải.

          19- Justice and Peace Office of the Redemptorist Church.  Representative: Rev. Father Đinh Hữu Thoại.

          20- Overseas Catholic Laity of Vietnam Movement.  Representative: Mr. Phạm Hồng Lam.

          21- Struggle Movement of Solidarity Among Victims of Land Injustice.  Representative: Mrs. Trần Ngọc Anh.

          22- Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Sangha.  Representative: The Most Venerable Thích Không Tánh.

          23- Organization to Protect Religion and Ethnic Minorities.  Representative: Mr. Huỳnh Trọng Hiếu.

          24- Organization of Canadian Youths for Human Rights in Vietnam.  Representative: Mrs. Khuê Tú.