Vietnam pledges to protect fishermen prosecuted by Indonesia for alleged illegal fishing

By Khanh Lynh   December 14, 2017 | 07:45 pm PT
Two fishermen have been found guilty but claim they were forced into disputed waters by Indonesian forces.

A court in Indonesia's Ranai City on Tuesday sentenced two Vietnamese fishermen to either five months in jail or a IDR500 million ($37,000) fine for illegal fishing.

An appeal against the sentence has been filed by one of the fishermen and Vietnam is working to protect the rights of the fishermen, who claim they are innocent, according to foreign ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang.

"Representatives from the Vietnamse embassy in Indonesia have visited the fishermen and are following the case closely," Hang said in a statement on Thursday. "They are ready to take the necessary measures to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the Vietnamese fishermen."

The foreign ministry and the Vietnamese embassy have been working with Indonesian authorities since the fishermen were arrested in an effort to protect their rights. Vietnam has on multiple occasions asked Indonesia to carry out fair trials in accordance with international laws, and release fishermen and their vessels if there is no conclusive evidence against them.

Cao Van Hoang and Hua Van Trung, along with three other captains and their crews, were arrested by Indonesian authorities for alleged illegal fishing in Indonesian waters in April.

The 58 crewmen were later released, but the boats were impounded and their captains charged with bottom trawling in Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone, according to Vietnam News Agency. While bottom trawling is a fishing method allowed in Vietnam, Indonesia bans the practice due to the damage it causes to the sea bed.

The Indonesian court found Hoang and Trung guilty on Tuesday, and the other three captains are also facing similar sentences at their upcoming trials. The fishermen, however, insist that they have been wrongfully prosecuted.

At his trial, Trung claimed the group had been fishing in Vietnamese waters using a map provided by Vietnamese authorities at the time of the arrest, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

Following the arrest, armed Indonesian law enforcers sailed their boats into a disputed area claimed by both countries before forcing them to sign their arrest warrants, the newspaper quoted Trung as saying. The warrants were in a foreign language and had the new location's coordinates on them instead of the spot the boats were seized.

Trung's lawyer requested Indonesian authorities to extract data from his boat's GPS device to determine where the group was arrested. That court refused the request, claiming eyewitnesses and the signed arrest warrant provided sufficient evidence to find him guilty.

Hoang was also found guilty after the court concluded that there was enough evidence without needing to obtain data from his boat's GPS device. He has agreed to serve the five-month jail sentence.

Trung and the three other fishermen who are still awaiting their trials have been on hunger strike since Wednesday in protest against their prosecutions, according to Tuoi Tre.

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