Hoàng Phong is a 25-year-old community organizer from the Catholic community in Nghe An Province and a recent graduate of the Vinh University of Technology Education. He’s an avid soccer player and contributed much to campus athletics.
Despite a busy life on campus, he has been a dedicated Christian social justice activist and an early member of the John Paul II Pro-life Group. Friends say he has often successfully advised women to seek alternatives other than abortion and spends a lot of his time working with orphans. He has been active in promoting blood donations, helping victims of natural disasters, and has organized candlelight vigils at Vinh diocese for social justice. Recently, he has begun work at an FTP provider. His simple, friendly demeanor and his mentorship has earned him the admiration of younger peers in the church community.
Hoàng Phong was arrested late December at a Nghe An post office in Quynh Luu while picking up a Christmas package and was charged with “distributing anti-government leaflets” that called for political pluralism and criticized the government. The charges also allege that he was “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” – a violation of Article 88 of the penal code.
Hoàng Phong, along with three other Catholic activists, were tried in Hanoi on May 25, 2012, after just a half day of hearings. The Independent Catholic News reports that a line of armed police guarded the court’s entrance. Media reports say thousands of supporters gathered outside the courthouse in solidarity of the four accused. Hoàng Phong received an 18-month suspended sentence,,.
According to Viet Tan, the families of the accused did not receive notice of the hearing until hours before the trial and were only allowed to meet with their lawyers.
Human Rights Watch has called on the Vietnamese government to immediately release Hoang Phong and the other three activists. “It’s absolutely shameful that the Vietnam government is putting these Catholic activists on trial, and may send them to prison for years for nothing more than expressing their views and distributing leaflets,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prosecuting these four activists shows the contempt Vietnam has for freedom of religion and expression.”
Hoàng Phong had been arrested once before, on Aug. 3, 2011, but was released after three days.