Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh released and sent into exile

For immediate release,

28 July 2017

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Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh released and sent into exile

Prisoner of conscience Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh has been released from prison and has arrived in the United States with his family on July 28th, 2017. He had been serving an 11-year sentence in Xuân-Lôc Prison in Đông-Nai province, Vietnam, for “undermining national unity policy” under Article 87 of the 1999 Penal Code. He has been granted early release on condition that he leaves Vietnam and goes into exile.

Pastor Chinh lived in the provinces of Kon-Tum and Gia-Lai in the Central Highlands of Vietnam from1988 where he became an outspoken advocate for the rights of indigenous and religious minority groups in the region collectively referred to as Montagnards, meaning people of the mountains. He was also a member of Bloc 8406, a unified coalition of political groups established in 2006 to advocate for democratic reforms in Vietnam, and of the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association. As a consequence of his activism, Pastor Chinh was routinely targeted by authorities in Vietnam. From 1988 to 2009, he was interrogated by police 298 times, and beaten on 19 occasions. In 2012, Pastor Chinh was sentenced to an 11-year prison sentence. While behind bars, he was alleged to have suffered a range of violations which may have constituted torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments or punishments, including denials of medical treatment; prolonged periods of solitary confinement; and verbal and physical abuses by other prisons with the apparent consent or acquiescence of prison staff.

Pastor Chinh’s wife, Tran Thi Hong, is also a human rights defender and an active member of our organization, Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. She has worked to provide emotional and material support to prisoners of conscience and their families, organizing prison visits, counseling and financial assistance to men and women who have been jailed for exercising their rights. She has also been targeted for her activism. In 2016, days after she had met with a visiting US diplomat to advocate on behalf of her husband, she was forcibly taken to a local office of the People’s Committee Administrative Office twice, where she was beaten by police over a three hour period. The following month, Mrs. Hong was subjected to a week of interrogation sessions and tortured on at least two occasions.

Pastor Chinh and Mrs. Hong have five children, ranging in age from 7 to 19 years old. They have also been subjected to harassment by authorities. Their youngest daughter, who is 7 years old, reported being followed home by police and their eldest son, who is 19, was slapped in the face and choked by police officers.

While the early released of Pastor Chinh is undeniably welcome, he should never has been jailed in the first place. The conditions imposed on his liberty are arbitrary and violate his right to equal treatment before the law, and also constitute an arbitrary deprivation of his right to nationality. Pastor Chinh was one of 84 prisoners of conscience identified by a 2016 Amnesty International report. We call on the Vietnamese government to immediately release all remaining prisoners of conscience in the country, especially “Mother Mushroom” Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thì Nga, both were founding members of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights without condition.