August 24, 2015
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly August 17-23: Vietnam Legislators Demand Citizen Rights for Detainees
Defenders’ Weekly | Aug 23, 2015
Vietnam’s police forces must respect citizen rights of the detainees and arrested individuals in criminal cases as they are yet to be convicted by courts, said members of the Standing Committee of the country’s legislative body National Assembly (NA).
Leading Caodaists and Catholics have openly criticised the draft bill of beliefs and religions for “locking up” religion.
Steven Dane Russell, a member of the U.S.’s House of Representatives in Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district, decided to adopt one Vietnamese prisoner of conscience in a bid to demand for unconditional release of political prisoners in the Southeast Asian nation.
Australian Member of Parliament and Federal Opposition Whip Chris Hayes wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop regarding several cases of political prisoners who remain detained ahead of the upcoming Australia-Vietnam human rights dialogue.
Vietnam’s communist government decided to grant amnesty to 18,331 prisoners on the occasion of the country’s National Day [September 2]. Among those who will be released before their imprisonments end are 32 foreigners and one prisoner convicted for activities relating to national security.
and many other important news.
Vietnam Police Asked to Remain Loyal to Ruling Communist Party
Vietnam’s police forces must be absolutely loyal to the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) to strictly implement all policies of the party, said CPV’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.
In writings posted on state-run newspapers on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the police forces, Mr. Trong asked the forces to be cautious about dealing with complicated circumstances to protect the party and ensure social orders.
All policies of the party on security must be legalized for strict implementation, the communist leader said.
The police forces, together with the Vietnam People’s Army, is the main arm for the communist party to keep the country under a one-party regime. The Ministry of Public Security has received huge financial and human resources, observers said.
The ministry has intensified political crackdown on local dissidents and human rights activists. According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnamhas imprisoned thousands of political dissident, and still holds at least 135 people who peacefully criticized government’s socio-economic mismanagements and improper response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty.
Vietnam has always denied of holding any prisoner of conscience, saying only law violators are held.
Vietnam Legislators Demand Citizen Rights for Detainees
Vietnam’s police forces must respect citizen rights of detainees and arrested individuals in criminal cases as they are yet to be convicted by courts, said members of the Standing Committee of the country’s legislative body National Assembly (NA).
During a debate on the draft law of Criminal Procedure Code in Hanoi on Aug 17, Chairman of the NA Council of Ethnic Affairs Ksor Phuoc said detainees and arrested individuals should be allowed to meet with their relatives, receive basic items, and make phone calls and send letters.
NA’s Law Committee Chairman Phan Trung Ly said detainees and arrested people should not be fettered or shackled while Deputy Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General Le Quy Vuong said fettering or shackling does not affect the citizen rightsof detainees and arrested.
In order to prevent torture, detention facility should not be placed under the investigating agencies but other police units, legislators said. Many miscarriages of justice have been recorded recently due to police power abuse, lawmakers noted.
Other legislators said detainees and arrested people should not be held together with convicted individuals.
NA Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung concluded that the draft law should ensure citizen rights of detainees and arrested people since they are not convicted. They have rights to participate in elections, meet with their lawyers and get proper medical treatment.
Nguyen Hai Phong, deputy chief of the Vietnam Supreme People’s Procuracy proposes his agency to deal with denunciations against wrongdoings during detentions. So far, the Ministry of Public Security is responsible for settling the issue. His proposal met support from many other lawmakers.
Giaothong: Bị tạm giam vẫn có quyền bầu cử, gặp luật sư
School Teacher Interrogated for Posting Articles on Saigon Regime
Ms. Vo Thi Thanh Hai, a teacher of Nguyen Van Troi Primary School in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, has been interrogated by local police for her articles on the Vietnam Republic which ruled the Vietnamese southern region before 1975.
Police officers said her articles may affect her students, and asked her to remove them.
In response, Ms. Hai said she is strictly teaching her students with the program approved by the Ministry of Education and Training. The current laws have not forbidden citizens to post articles about Vietnam’s history on their Facebook pages, she said.
After the interrogation, the school’s leadership informed that it was demanded by the district’s department of education not to allow her to teach. She will be removed and relocated to another place, it said.
In response, Ms. Hai vowed to fight against discrimination of the local authorities as well as for human rights and the rights of poor students.
Vietnam Police Officer Lightly Disciplined for Spraying Pepper Spray at Citizen’s Face
Authorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Gia Lai on Aug 15 officially reprimanded a police officer for using pepper sprayon a local man, the Thanh Nien newspaper has reported.
Pham Thanh Trung, chief police officer of Ia Trok commune, received the lightest discipline for spraying pepper spray onto the face of Le Tien Phu, a local resident who refused to go to a police station to settle disputes in a local wedding party.
Authorities in Ia Pa district said Trung’s use of pepper spray was not in line with rules.
It’s wrong for Trung to use pepper spray while in plain clothes, said Nguyen Tat Lam, the district’s deputy police chief.
The disciplined officer will be under a 12-month probation period.
Power abuse among local police is rampant in Vietnam, especially at communal level, where police have limited training. However, Vietnam’s government has sought to give more power to police at the communal level while many lawmakers and experts have objected to the move.
Caodaists, Catholics Criticise New Religious Bill, Saying It Violates Human Rights
The Vietnamese government plans to introduce new legislation to regulate religions and faiths before the end of 2015 or in early 2016 at the latest. So far, its proposal appears to have not taken into account criticism from religious leaders who view the proposed new law as contrary to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and even a step backward compared to the Vietnamese Constitution of 2013 and the regulations of 2004.
In view of the situation, leading Caodaists and Catholics have openly criticised the draft bill for “locking up” religions, but their views have fallen on deaf ears.
Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) is in fact set to vote the new law at its next session. The outcome of the latter seems a forgone conclusion since many lawmakers have praised the bill, saying that it “is based on the Constitution of 2013″.
In its debate, the NA’s Standing Committee focused on ways to control religious activities, at home and among Vietnamese expats, and on the need to oppose the use of religion to undermine national unity.
However, this is exactly what religious leaders have criticised the most. In the latter’s view, the draft bill has an adversarial attitude towards religions. It fails to define religion and does not recognise the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even the Vietnamese constitution.
The law is full of restrictions, from requiring the registration of places of worship and activities to imposing constraints on personnel and programmes (which must be submitted a year in advance for approval). This makes any activity nearly impossible.
For Fr Anton Thanh Le Ngoc, a Redemptory’s priest, and representatives of five other religions, the draft is “a step backward compared to the Ordinance on Belief and Religion of 2004.” For them, “The new law imposes cumbersome procedures, stringent mechanisms, and a number of constraints that make religious activity impossible.”
On August 18, 37 leading Caodaists* sent an open letter to the Committee for Religious Affairs and the Vietnamese Fatherland Front to demand the cancellation of the new law.
For them, “the new draft bill is contrary to the purpose of democracy and freedom of Vietnamese law.” In fact, “The new law forces believers to register their faith and places of worship as a condition for official approval. This is contrary to progress and the civilisation typical of world society.”
What is more, “the new law compels religions to ask permission even for minor changes in personnel and organisation. Thus, the government’s action seems contrary to that of a civilised society.”
By contrast, the NA’ Standing Committee praised the fact that, through the new legislation, “the people can exercise their right to religious freedom under the law in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” signed by Vietnam in 1982.
As evidence of the “democratic” character of the new law, the Interior Ministry distributed the draft to religious leaders last April, asking for their opinion, but giving them only 13 days to reply.
The theatrical attempt to “appear democratic” generated strong reactions in the Catholic Church. Mgr Michael Hoan Duc Oanh, bishop of Kontum, wrote a letter to the speaker of the parliament, slamming the draft as “a violation of the right of religious freedom, which goes against the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.
The bill shows that the government plans to “interfere greatly in religious affairs” by implementing policies designed to “encourage corruption and give rise to abuse by local authorities.”
“The draft bill goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) and the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, as amended in 2013 (Article 24),” said the Standing Committee of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam in a statement released on 5 April 2015,
“We see this draft bill as a step backward compared to the Ordinance on Belief and Religion of 2004. The draft bill would create far too many complicated procedures, strict and binding mechanisms, hampering religious activities.”
The bishops ended their statement with a stern warning. “We do not agree with draft bill on faith and religion. Please consider drafting a different bill, one that is in tune with the trend of freedom, democracy and progressive society. A new draft bill should require prior consultations with religious organisations. The legal status of religious organisations must be especially recognised and protected.”
However, the government has so far ignored such demands and the NA discussed the old draft on August 14, and is set to approve.
* Caodaism is a syncretistic religion indigenous to Vietnam with about six million members.
One More U.S. Congressman Agrees to Adopt Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience
Steven Dane Russell, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district, has decided to adopt one Vietnamese prisoner of conscience in a bid to demand for unconditional release of political prisoners in the Southeast Asian nation.
Congressman Russell announced his decision at a meeting with Vietnamese American activists in his office in Oklahoma on August 18. He pledged to raise concerns on Vietnam’s violations on human rights and religious freedom at an international meeting between the Southeast Asian nations and the U.S. in Taiwan later this month.
The Boat People SOS, an organization of Vietnamese American fighting for human rights and democracy in Vietnam, said it will propose Congressman Russell to adopt Tran Vu Anh Binh, a music compositor arrested in 2011 by Vietnam’s communist government for his patriotic songs, and still is imprisoned in the one-party state.
Mr. Russell will join many other U.S.lawmakers who have adopted Vietnamese prisoners of conscience under the Defending Freedoms Project (DFP) launched in 2012 by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress in conjunction with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Amnesty International USA. The DFP aims to increase attention and support for human rights by encouraging Members of Congress to adopt cases and advocate on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world, including Vietnam.
Under the project, dozens of Vietnamese prisoners of conscience, including entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, land rights activist Bui Thi Minh Hang, independent blogger Ta Phong Tan, and compositor Viet Khang have been adopted by U.S. legislators.
Under international pressure, especially from U.S. Congressmen, Vietnam has been forced to release many political prisoners, including legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu, independent blogger Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay) and chemist Dinh Dang Dinh.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese communist government just decided to grant amnesty for 18,331 inmates on the occasion of the National Day [September 02], however, only one prisoner convicted for activities related to national security is included in the list which will be submitted to the state president for approval. No prisoners of conscience are included in the list
Australian MP Chris Hayes Raises Vietnam’s Voices of Conscience to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
Australian Member of Parliament and Federal Opposition Whip Chris Hayes wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop regarding several cases of political prisoners who remain detained ahead of the upcoming Australia-Vietnam human rights dialogue.
The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
CANBERRA ACT 2600
I write on the occasion of the forthcoming twelfth Australia-Vietnam Human Rights dialogue which is scheduled to be held in Canberra this year. This dialogue represents a crucial opportunity for the Australian government to raise pressing human rights concerns with Vietnam, particularly in relation to its adherence to international human rights obligations.
Although Vietnam has been a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1982 and more recently, a member of United Nations Human Rights Council, the evidence is that Vietnam continues to systematically suppress freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the country.
Bloggers, rights activities and religious leaders are being placed under intrusive police surveillance and subjected to intimidation, harassment and imprisonment for their views.
While the Australian Government has taken an active approach in addressing and monitoring these matters through our Embassy in Hanoi and our Consulate in Saigon, unfortunately, the records of human rights abuses in Vietnam remain alarmingly high.
I refer particularly to these cases:
- Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa and Nguyen Dang Minh Man
Arrested on 30 July 2011, together with 12 others from the Catholic Church for their involvement in mobilizing support and education for children living in poverty. The group were detained for close to two years under unspecified charges before being officially sentenced under article 79 of the Penal Code for “attempting to overthrow the government” in January 2013. In fact, this was the first in a series of arrests by the Vietnamese government in their crackdown on Vietnamese youth activists.
The People’s Court of Nghe An Province sentenced the group from 3-13 years imprisonment, with Dang Xuan Dieu and Ho Duc Hoa receiving the full 13 year term. Nguyen Dang Minh Man received an 8 years prison sentence with a further 2 years under house arrest.
This case has received great international attention with the United Nations Human Rights Office also expressing serious concerns over their vague convictions and outrageously lengthy sentences.
I have been advised that these prisoners of conscience have been brutally harassed in prison and subjected to filthy living conditions.
- Father Thedeus Nguyen Van Ly
Father Ly is a Vietnamese Roman Catholic priest who has been involved in the pro-democracy movement for which he was imprisoned for a total of 15 years.
On 30 March 2007, he was arrested and sentenced under article 88 of the Penal code for “conducting propaganda against the state” for his support of Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy organization.
During this prison term, he suffered multiple strokes which consequently left him paralysed in one arm and leg. He was released on medical parole in 2010 but was sent back to prison in 2011 to serve the rest of his eight year prison term.
For Father Ly’s ongoing imprisonment and continuous non-violent protests for religious freedom, Amnesty International adopted Father Ly as a prisoner of conscience.
I understand that Father Ly’s health is continuing to deteriorate in prison given the lack of treatment and medical attention.
- Ta Phong Tan
Ms Tan is a Vietnamese blogger who wrote many blog posts about the human rights abuses and corruption among police officers in Vietnam. Due to these critical posts against the Government, Ms Ta was arrested and charged in 2011 under article 88 of the penal code for “propagandizing against the government”.
Since her incarceration, she has held a number of hunger strikes to protest her mistreatment and that of other political prisoners. She is currently being held in solitary confinement and I am advised that has been subjected to poor prison conditions and abuse by prison officials.
In 2012, Ta Phong Tan’s mother died after setting herself on fire out of despair at the treatment of her daughter.
On 8 June this year, Amnesty International released a statement calling for Ta Phong Tan’s urgent release.
- Nguyen Viet Dung
Mr. Nguyen was involved in a peaceful protest with hundreds of Hanoi residents in April this year to protest against the Government’s decision to cut down Hanoi’s centenary trees. He was immediately arrested for wearing the South Vietnam Army uniform. Police accused him of “disturbing public order” and charged him under article 245 of the Vietnamese penal code.
Following Mr. Nguyen’s arrest, police conducted a search of his home and seized many other items associated with the former Republic of Vietnam.
He remains detained in prison with no set date of trial.
- Viet Khang
Also known as Vo Minh Tri, is a songwriter, singer and founding member of the Patriotic Youth League in Vietnam.
Viet Khang released two patriotic songs “Anh La Ai” (Who are You?) and “Vietnam Toi Dau” (Where is my beloved Vietnam?) calling the Vietnamese people to stand up to the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters who voiced their opposition to China’s claims over the Paracels and Spratlys.
He was arrested on 23 December 2011 and detained without trial. On 30 October 2012, Viet Khang was charged with spreading anti-government propaganda under article 88 of the penal code and sentenced to four years in jail with a further 2 years of probation.
- Doan Huy Chuong and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung
Doan Huy Chuong and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung have been imprisoned since 2010 for distributing leaflets and helping to organise a strike of 10,000 workers at the My Phong Shoe factory in Tra Vinh Province.
They were charged, together with Do Thi Minh Hanh, under article 88 of the penal code for “conducting propaganda against the state”. Nguyen Hoan Quoc Hung was sentenced to nine years in prison and Doan Huy Chuong and Do Thi Minh Hanh were sentenced to seven.
On 27 June 2014, Do Thi Minh Hanh was released from prison, an unprecedented move by the Vietnamese government. While the exact terms of her released have not been made public, the international community is also urging for the release of Doan Huy Chuong and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung who, like Do Thi Minh Hanh, have committed no crime other than peacefully standing up for workers’ rights.
These cases are just a few of the more prominent ones that are of concern to my community, nevertheless demonstrates the level of gross violations of human rights that is being committed in Vietnam.
As Australians, we believe in the protection and promotion of individual human rights which is vital to global efforts to achieve lasting peace, security, freedom and dignity for all. As Australians, we are committed to human rights as a reflection of our national values whereby a person’s liberty and freedoms are respected.
Therefore, given Australia’s role as a principal advocate for human rights in our region, it would be greatly appreciated, if you could, ensure these individual cases are raised when we next participate in the Australian-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.
Chris Hayes MP
Federal Member for Fowler
Chief Opposition Whip
Vietnam moves closer to passing controversial religion bill
Vietnam is moving closer to passing a restrictive law on religion, Christian groups have warned.
The country’s most powerful political organ, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly, discussed the bill Aug. 14 with few signs major amendments would be made before passing next year, said the religious freedom advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
“We know from our research that many religious leaders and community representatives have serious concerns about the draft, which could, in its current form, lead to further interference into religious life in Vietnam,” said Andy Dipper, the group’s chief operating officer.
Lawmakers consulted with religious groups on the law — currently in its fourth draft — although there have been few subsequent changes to its wording so far.
Critics of the draft warn it would require all group religious activity to be registered with authorities or face being outlawed, a system similar to China.
Vietnam has no current law managing faith groups, instead relying on a religious ordinance passed in 2004, followed by decrees in 2005 and 2013.
The draft law — if passed — would be considered “a step backward”, said Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the Vatican’s non-resident representative to Vietnam.
“The pontifical representation is monitoring the ongoing legislation about religion and belief,” Archbishop Girelli told ucanews.com.
“The local Church hopes to be more involved in the consultation in view of the new law being passed.”
In a strongly worded letter to Hanoi in May, Vietnamese bishops said the draft shows the communist regime “completely imposes its power on religious organizations and creates loopholes for executive bodies to carry out abuse of power”.
Observers warn the law represents the first major setback for religious freedom since Vietnam re-established ties with the Vatican, leading to Girelli’s appointment in 2011.
The U.N.’s special envoy for freedom of religion, Heiner Bielefeldt, made a landmark visit to the country in July last year in another sign of progress.
Vietnam ranks among the least religious nations in the world with just 27 percent of people recognized as followers of organized religions, according to a census last year. However, the population represents a diverse and often overlapping mix of faiths, with as many as 45 percent practicing folk religions, more than 12 percent Buddhist and nearly seven percent Catholic.
While authorities have recently improved their treatment of followers of organized religions, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the United Nations, minority faiths continue to face harassment by authorities, particularly those viewed as a political threat.
Minority Christian Montagnards living in Vietnam’s southern highlands face among the worst persecution of any group, Human Rights Watch said in a report in June.
Montagnard De Ga Protestants and Ha Mon Catholics continue to flee to Cambodia to escape “propaganda, proselytization and struggle” against unauthorized forms of Christianity. But many are forced back across the border by a Cambodian government that maintains close ties to Vietnam, Human Rights Watch said.
Former Prisoner of Conscience Thai Van Dung Vows to Continue Fighting for Democracy
Prisoner of conscience Thai Van Dung completed his four-year imprisonment on August 19. He was warmly welcomed by his family, friends and activists.
Speaking in an interview to SBTN news agency, Mr. Dung said he will continue his fight for human rights and democracy.
Mr. Dung is a social activist. He participated in many demonstrations to protest China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea.
He, together with 16 other young Catholic followers, was arrested in Hanoi on August 19, 2011 and convicted with “attempt to overthrow the people’s government.”
He was sentenced to four years in jail and additional four years under house arrest.
During his imprisonment, he conducted a number of hunger strikes to protest inhumane treatment of prison’s authorities against political prisoners.
Draft Law on Beliefs and Religions: More State Restrictions?
During its 40th session, the Standing Committee of Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) debated the draft law on Beliefs and Religions.
On August 20, a former official of the NA’s Office told BBC that the bill is a breakthrough in religious freedom while a religious clerk said the communist government tries to tighten control over religious.
The bill regulates that religious organizations need to ask for approval from local authorities for many activities, the clerk said.
Vietnam Grants Amnesty to 18,331 Inmates, Only One Political Prisoner Included
Vietnam’s communist government has decided to grant amnesty to 18,331 prisoners on the occasion of the country’s National Day [September 2], said the Amnesty Consultation Council at its meeting in Hanoi on August 22.
Among those who will be released before their imprisonments end are 32 foreigners and one prisoner convicted for activities relating to national security, the council announced without giving more details.
The list of inmates receiving amnesty on this occasion will be submitted to President Truong Tan Sang for approval.
No prisoners of conscience have been includeddespite strong domestic and international call for their release.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding at least 135 prisoners of conscience who have bravely criticized the government or spoke outagainst human rights violations as well as China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea. Many of them, including entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and blogger Ta Phong Tan, are serving long-term sentences of over ten years.
Hanoi always denies, saying only law violators are being held.
Blogger Truong Duy Nhat Convicted with Many Allegations Which Are not Listed in Penal Code
Blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who completed his two-year imprisonment three months earlier, has decided to appeal his case again since he had been convicted with the allegations which were not listed in the current Penal Code.
Mr. Nhat said the judges in the first-instance court and the appeal court violated fair trial standards as defending lawyers had not been allowed to defendhim.Even at the appeal trial, the judges did not permit him to speak before the jury took the final decision.
Two years ago, blogger Nhat was convicted under Article 258 of the Penal Code.
HCM City Authorities Harass Religious Delegation Visiting Can Gio Parish
On August 21, authorities in Can Gio district harassed a delegation of representatives of the Vietnam Inter-religious Council which visited Can Gio Catholic parish in the district.
Local authorities deployed many police officers and militia to block the road leading to the parish in order to prevent the delegation from visiting the parish. However, the delegation successfully entered the parish and met with the priests and followers.
Plainclothes security agents tried to cause troubles in the parish but they met strong protest from clerks and followers and were forced to withdraw.