The People’s Court of Vietnam’s Dak Lak province will hold an appeal hearing on the case of local religious freedom activist Y Wo Nie (also known as Ama Quynh) on August 16.
The 52-year-old, from the Ede ethnic minority, was a deacon of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam. He was sentenced to four years in prison by the People’s Court of Cu Kuin district on May 20 this year.
Nie was charged with “abusing freedoms and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state, the lawful rights and interests of organizations and individuals,” as stated in Clause 2, Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
He is alleged to have taken pictures of three handwritten human rights reports and sent them to international organizations and also met with U.S. diplomats.
Nie did not have a defense lawyer at his trial but in the upcoming appeal session, Nguyen Van Mieng will defend him.
Mieng wrote on his Facebook page that Dak Lak province’s Department of Information & Communication made the initial assessment on Y Wo Nie, despite Vietnam’s commitment to international conventions on human rights.
“Contacting him at the Dak Lak provincial Police Department’s Detention Center, he was always cheerful,” Mieng said. “He always prayed day and night for the peace of the Church and his family. He extended his thanks to all the diplomatic missions, organizations and individuals concerned with his case.”
The indictment against Nie states that he wrote three reports, took pictures and sent them via WhatsApp to a number of overseas organizations.
The first report was on the religious and human rights situation of the Ede ethnic people in the Central Highlands and the second concerned violations of the right to religious freedom, which he sent to the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The third report was titled “On the situation of religious freedom in general and in particular for ethnic people in the Central Highlands.”
The indictment also shows that Nie met with representatives of Ho Chi Minh City’s U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Gia Lai province in June 2020.
Dak Lak-based human rights activist Vo Ngoc Luc, who monitored the original trial, told RFA:
“In my opinion, legally, all of these things are not wrong and do not violate the law. It is normal for some activists here to meet with consular offices.”
“As for taking human rights classes online, any form of learning is good. When people learn to know more about the law, that’s a good thing, not a crime.”
“As for the accusation of sending pictures, if the information is said to be distorted, there must be an evaluation to prove that they are fake images to slander and misrepresent. On the other hand, there was no conclusion and that proves the pictures he gave are real, all of which shows that he did nothing wrong.”
Talking about the upcoming appeal, Luc said that in political cases it is very rare to have sentences reduced. However, he said that if the verdict is upheld, it would adversely affect diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the United States.
RFA has emailed the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the USCIRF to request comment on the case but has yet to receive responses.
Nie was arrested in September 2021 and his actions were alleged to have “affected the political security situation, social order and safety, and the normal operation of state administrative agencies, and reduced the public’s confidence in the regime, and affected the image of the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as well as the prestige of the Communist Party of Vietnam in international diplomatic relations.”
Nie was previously sentenced to nine years in prison for “undermining the unity policy,” a ruling often used to imprison religious freedom activists among the many ethnic minorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands and northern mountainous areas.
Around two hundred thousand Ede Montagnard live in the Central Highlands, according to the non-profit organization The Peoples of the World Foundation, living mainly in Dak Lak province. Most Ede are Protestant Christians. Montagnard is a collective term for the ethnic minorities living in the mountainous region.
A recent report on religious freedom from the USCIRF criticized the Vietnamese government’s crackdown on Montagnard religious groups in the Central Highlands.