[Translation] Laugh to death! The People’s Court in our country: what happened in Ba Sam’s hearing.

Photo: “In the name of the man pulling the strings, the court has come to a verdict”

On March 23rd 2016, Nguyen Huu Vinh (Ba Sam), and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, were sentenced to prison for 5 and 3 years for their role in blogs that were determined to be an “abuse of democratic freedoms and infringement upon the State’s interests”.  Nguyen Huu Vinh is a former police officer and son of the former ambassador to the Soviet Union. He opened his first blog in 2007 and was arrested in May 2014. See more about Ba Sam here.

On September 22 Vinh and Thuy had their first appeal hearing and were denied.

The following is a description of the original March 23rd trial’s events as written by one of Vinh’s attorneys, Nguyen Ha Luan. The Vietnamese source text was published by  Tễu on September 21st.


  1. Overview

Ba Sam’s (Nguyen Huu Vinh) hearing at the Peoples Court of Hanoi took a whole day. It began at 8:30 am and concluded at 4:50 pm, with a verdict that took 50 minutes to read.

From the start the court had a stressful atmosphere, one moment worth recalling is when the state (HDXX)[1] explained to the attorneys “The security agency requests that the attorneys do not bring computers into the courtroom” while the prosecution and the court had as many as three computers for their work. The attorneys were told, “if a computer is needed it will be provided”.

Obviously, not a single attorney borrowed anything from them because all of the attorney’s materials were left on their personal computers being held outside. Should they borrow the computers to play video games!?

It began with the charges brought by the representative of the prosecution, and as predicted, Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy both denied and rejected all of the charges brought against them.

Though they were separated for questioning, Mr Vinh and Mrs Thuy made identical and clear-cut declarations.

Nguyen Huu Vinh replied to the questions clearly, calmly and in detail. He didn’t act as though he were the target of the room’s vengeance, but had the aura someone standing in a forum to debate a topic dear to his heart.

Especially Thuy, today her face was cheerful and unflinching, making the spectators especially admire her.

Both the student and the pupil, still clear, precise, concise…..

As soon as the curtains opened. As a threat, the Judge rejected almost all of the attorney’s requests, except for the request to summon the witness Nguyen Ha Luan, which was replied to with “The court has recorded your request, if it is deemed necessary he will be summoned”. This promise was purposefully ignored for the length of the hearing.

From the beginning the judge searched for ways to shift the blame onto others “The attorneys not being allowed computers into the courtroom is at the security force’s request” as though the court was obeying orders from a higher level. So embarrassing for a court (HDXX) that claims to be independent and have the highest authority.

That aggressive yet pathetic sentence was spoken as if to coordinate the hundreds of security forces, both uniformed and plainclothes, to assemble and choke off the area from the gate all the way into the courtroom. Faces full of murderous rage were mixed with the bewildered young faces of those who had just entered the job, blended with the frightful faces of those inauspicious spirits[2] in gangster’s clothes prepared to crush the sign holding masses pushed across the street…

In the doorways going into the courtroom and into the newsroom coldly stood two scanners ready to peel away whatever was seen as a threat to the hearing that was, in name, public.

From out on the street into the courtroom, there was a siege mentality. [3] 

Inside the courtroom,  the two jurors meditated away their worries, all day not desiring to say a single sentence, taking no notice of the elderly judge tackling an arduous day’s work all by himself, straining to continuously interrupt the attorneys when they mention the problems with the hearing.

Nguyen Huu Vinh (Anh Ba Sam) and his blog

2. The arguments and temporary amnesia.

In order to shield the prosecution from Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy’s attorneys, the judge put in a day’s work that was truly beyond the ability of his old age.

These attorneys, all extraordinary, on their own organized all the issues to protect their clients. On one side, were the party members, like former vice director of the police (Tran Van Tao), former prosecutor (Trinh Minh Tan), or former vice chair of the national assembly office (Tran Quoc Thuan)… they took responsiblity for the most sensitive issues in the trial, the problems regarding the party membership of former officer of the security forces and party member Nguyen Huu Vinh.

The attorneys that didn’t have party credentials [4], including Ha Huy Son, Nguyen Ha Luan, and Nguyen Tien Dung, took responsiblity for pointing out procedural errors, and pointing out the serious gaps in the files in order to object to the legality of the evidence used in the indictment.

Tran Dinh Trien, once a party member, played ‘sweeper’[5] and kicked freely.

This may be the first time that a trial heard the issue of whether someone is a party member and the problem of settling a party member’s status has been brought up to argue and protect a defendant who “soiled the image of the party and the state…” like Nguyen Huu Vinh.

The 15th directive of the Politburo of the communist party, relating to the investigation of party members with signs of malfeasance, caused a raucous debate when general Phan Anh Minh’s declaration [6] at the beginning of the month was taken up by Nguyen Huu Vinh ‘s party affiliated attorneys for his defense.

However, although even the prosecution had used Nguyen Huu Vinh’s party membership as a rational for returning his file to the police for further investigation, both prosecutors suddenly didn’t know, didn’t hear, didn’t remember anything, as if the 15th directive were fabricated by some clique (maybe the attorney’s clique), or possibly they suddenly fell into a state of “temporary amnesia…”

And MR Judge, every time the problem of party membership and the 15th directive was mentioned the judge would lose his mind searching for a way to block the attorneys with the rationale “that has nothing to do with anything, the court requests the attorneys to move on to another issue”.

Wanting another issue, he immediately got another issue when the non party attorneys pointed out the serious errors in the procedural regulations and requested that the two prosecutors must seriously address the breaches in the investigation, and asses the legality of the evidence used in the indictment, the situation became more and more grave.

As soon as we began the defense, the attorneys requested that both the court (HDXX) and prosecution settle two things:

First: the court (HDXX) ought to make known, do they see it necessary to call more witnesses as the attorneys had requested and they had promised at the beginning of the hearing?

The court silently reneged on their promise.

Second: since the court declared that they are following the directives of the security agency, and therefore the attorneys cannot bring their computers into the courtroom, there has been a clear influence from an agency without jurisdiction, so what of the supposed independence of the court? The attorneys request that the prosecution must enforce their jurisdiction and follow through on their mission to “supervise the judgement process” in order to express the independence and objectivity of this court.

The prosecution was also silent.

The disorganization of the rebuttal strategy, which aimed to avoid the duty and jurisdiction of the procedural operators caused the people to be truly disappointed.

After they helped each other to successfully slip away from all the issues raised by the attorneys, the court and the prosecution quietly sighed in relief and began their work.

The arguments used by the investigators, prosecution, and court to indict Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy relied on “collection of electronic material saved computers” yet none of those computers were present, instead only having printed documents.

This caused people to burst out laughing, recalling the scenario of the IT student who could only study by paper and pencil, when the course was over he didn’t know the difference between a television screen and a computer monitor.

When the attorneys brought up the regulations regarding the transferring of electronic materials into trial evidence, both the court and the prosecution were startled, as if they had never heard something so stupid.

In the final appraisal of the Ministry of media and information (Bo TTTT), the document concluded that the articles posted “caused the loss of reputation, and weakened the people’s faith in the party and the government…”. This was objected to by the attorneys, who pointed out that it this very same group of appraisers had violated the ministry’s regulations. The court and prosecution seemed to no longer even hear what the attorney’s were saying…

The temporary amnesia appears to have spread uncontrollably throughout the court.

Still, the two honorable prosecutors diligently noted down all the issued raised by the attorneys. Then, through an extraordinary effort, they replied to completely different issues altogether! When the attorneys reminded them that they were mistaken, they only received the polite response: “We are finished arguing”.

Throughout the whole argument Nguyen Huu Vinh was holding back a smile.

As usual, the lawyers objected until they were hoarse, then finally rested. The temporary amnesia suddenly disappeared when the verdict was brought out. Old Mr judge didn’t forget to formally declare “the defendants have the right to appeal have to pay the court fees!”

Period. Done. Everyone already knew what the outcome would be.

[1] HDXX is Hội đồng xết xử, roughly, judgment committee. In this case it includes a judge and two jurors. In a more serious case it could included a second judge and a third juror. Since the article makes clear the collusion that the name itself already hints toward, I’ve opted to translate it as ‘the court’.

[2] Cô hồn is lonesome ghost, usually the victim of a tragic event, it is an inauspicious spirit that dwells on the street luring others to a similar fate. This word has been adapted to mean street people, mostly criminals and addicts. In this case it’s being used to refer to the plainclothed thugs hired to beat on people who politically protest, and who in the description are mixed in with the crowds of police.

[3] the phrase used is “as though defending against a coup”

[4] Thiếu tính đảng means lacking a party essence. The author is being sarcastic, this is a way for him to point out their lack of credentials, but also that a group of Vinh’s attorney’s aren’t ‘party types’, or in other words opposed to the party.

[5] A piece of football jargon translated as ‘sweeper’, here the Italian word “libero” is used to describe a free roaming striker.

[6] Earlier that March, General Phan Anh Minh made a controversial speech  in which he stated that “at least 50% of smuggling cases have the navy’s fingerprints on it” and that police forces are hampered by “directive 15”. He says, “The majority of suspects involved in corruption cases are party members, but (directive 15 says) the police are not allowed to organize the surveillance of party members.” Ba Sam’s lawyers used this directive to try to get the evidence against him thrown out, since he is a party member.

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