After 19 long months of investigative detention following his Dec. 16, 2015 arrest, renowned human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai was finally charged with a crime on July 30.
Vietnamese authorities charged Dai, 35-year-old legal associate Le Thu Ha and four other human rights activists, including Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, 45, with "carrying out activities with the purpose of overthrowing the Peoples' administration," under article 79 of the Penal Code.
The latter four were taken into custody on July 30, according to state news outlets. Sources said they assume their names came from examination of Dai's computers or were obtained from him by "enhanced interrogation."
State-run Viet Nam News reported that the Investigative Security Agency of the Ministry of Public Security had commenced legal proceedings against Dai. If found guilty of the serious charge, Dai could face 12 to 20 years in prison or even the death penalty. Officials have labeled him the "instigator."
Dai has already served eight years in prison and was under house arrest from 2007 to 2015.
His wife, Vu Minh Khanh, who has courageously dared to advocate internationally for him, is reported to have been allowed to see him only twice during the 19-month investigation period - contrary to Vietnamese law, which stipulates monthly family visits. Her first visit came right after his arrest, and the other in January 2017.
In early April, authorities at the Hanoi airport prevented Khanh from boarding a plane to Germany, where she was to receive a human rights awards from the German Association of Judges on her husband's behalf.
Pastor Chinh Exiled with Family
On July 28, pastor, long-time advocate and prisoner-of-conscience Nguyen Cong Chinh, his wife Tran Thi Hong and children arrived in Los Angeles, California, their exile a condition of Pastor Chinh's early release from prison.
Often in trouble with authorities, the maverick pastor and human rights/religious freedom activist was sentenced in 2011 to 11 years in prison for "undermining national unity."
His wife was very vocal and public about his solitary confinement, abuse and deprivation of treatment for serious medical conditions while incarcerated. She reported that authorities assaulted her after she divulged the abuse of her husband to U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom David Sapperstein on his visit to Vietnam in April 2016.
Aggressive advocacy by U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioners and other advocacy organizations finally secured his early release, but with the condition of immediate exile.
Though Vietnam has undergone stunning economic reforms in the last three decades, it tolerates no political dissent or what authorities see as threats to their power. Religion-motivated advocates are deemed especially dangerous.
On June 29, well-known Catholic human rights activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, nicknamed "Mother Mushroom," was convicted of "spreading anti-state propaganda" and sentenced to 10 years of incarceration.
Ambassador for Religious Freedom Named
On July 26 President Trump nominated Kansas governor and former long-time senator Sam Brownback as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. Religious freedom advocates, who have been promoting a quick replacing of out-going Ambassador Sapperstein, consider this a strong choice.
Brownback, a devout Catholic, was an active participant in the passing of the original 1998 U.S. Law on International Religious Freedom that created the position he has now been nominated to fill.