Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly February 15-28: DTD, RSF Successfully Conduct Second Cyber Security Training Course for Activists despite Police Harassment

Defenders’ Weekly | Feb 28, 2016

tuần tin

On February 20-22, Defend the Defenders (DTD), in collaboration with the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières -RSF), successfully organized a cyber training course in Vietnam’s southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau despite constant harassment by the local police.

Authorities in Vung Tau deployed a large number of police officers, plainclothes agents, militia as well as many officers of the Border Guards of the Vietnam People’s Army to put the areas of Saigon-Binh Chau resort where DTD held the course at highest security level. Police violently entered the conference room where the course was carried out and ordered the participants to leave the room despite strong protest from activists.

On February 27, thousands of Vietnamese land petitioners rallied in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other big cities in the country to demand for justice. The peaceful demonstrations of land petitioners met violent suppression from authorities in localities as they sent large numbers of police officers and militia to disperse the gatherings. A number of land petitioners and social activists were detained for interrogation.

Vietnamese in many countries, including the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, France and Denmark also held rallies to support land petitioners in the home country and demand Hanoi to settle land disputes.

The London-based Amnesty International, the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders and five other human rights bodies issued a joint statement to request Vietnam’s communist government to unconditionally and immediately release human rights activists Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha who were arrested on December 16 last year and charged with anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.

And many other important news

 

============== February 15 ===============

President Obama needs to speak out on free elections in Vietnam

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch- The Washington Post: While it’s still anyone’s guess who will win November’s presidential election in the United States, I can tell you with certainty — before a ballot is cast — who will win this year’s election in Vietnam. It will be Gen. Tran Dai Quang. I even know who the next prime minister will be. His name is Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Am I a prophet? No, the reality is much more prosaic. Last month the Communist Party of Vietnam held its 12th party congress and decided, as it does every five years, on its candidates for president and prime minister. In May, to keep up the pretense of genuine elections, the country will go through the process of formally electing a new National Assembly. This will be stage-managed by the Communist Party, with a few token non-party members — already announced to be between 25 and 50 people — allowed to take seats. According to the well-worn script, in July the assembly will select Quang as president, who will then nominate Phuc as prime minister.

Decisions about who will lead Vietnam are usually made in private well in advance of the party congress. But this year the contest between current Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and incumbent Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong spilled into public view. It was an intense fight: The winner would hold the most important position in the country — general secretary of the Communist Party — and be able to issue instructions to the government, which is subordinate to the party. The loser would be forced into retirement.

In the end, Trong, the more conservative of the two candidates, emerged victorious. Even though a small group of party leaders chose the country’s next leaders — sidelining Vietnam’s 93 million citizens — Trong had the audacity to say that, “This congress is a congress that exhibits democracy, solidarity, discipline and wisdom.” Vietnam’s active social media community reacted with the humor and sarcasm for which it has become known. One Facebook user commented: “Yes, we have absolute freedom to vote for you.” Other commenters cited the famous poet Nguyen Duy’s line about the U.S. war in Vietnam: “Whichever side wins, the people still lose.”

Some observers will parse the fierce party fight for deeper meaning about the possibility of pluralism. Sadly, there is none, as the party has no intention of liberalizing. For proof, just think of the many pro-democracy campaigners in Vietnam’s prisons.

Ominously, the next president is the head of the notorious Ministry of Public Security, responsible for running Vietnam’s police state and arresting dissidents. In November, Quang boasted to the National Assembly that, from June 2012 until November 2015, “The police have received, arrested, and dealt with 1,410 cases involving 2,680 people who violated national security. . . . During this same period, opposition persons have illegally established more than 60 groups and organizations in the name of democracy and human rights, which have about 350 participants from 50 cities and provinces.”

Though they did not have a vote, the leadership contest kept many Vietnamese on the edge of their seats, highlighting the huge appetite for participating in the choice of their leaders. One might expect that the United States and European Union, which say that free and fair elections in neighboring countries such as Burma are required for closer relations and increased assistance, would support these aspirations by publicly calling for genuine multiparty elections in Vietnam. But the silence has been deafening.

For the Obama administration, its “rebalancing” of relations with Asian countries and its attempt to contain the rise of China has meant that its focus has been on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, challenging Chinese claims in the South China Sea and increased security cooperation. Democracy gets mentioned but is not a priority.

This week President Obama has a golden opportunity to inject some long-missing values into his much-trumpeted Asia policy. As host of the first U.S.-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit on U.S. soil, he should not only demand the release of all political prisoners but, standing side by side with the Vietnamese prime minister, also call for the country to follow Burma’s example and hold genuine multiparty elections. Decades of international pressure created the political space for the elections last year that allowed voters in Burma to decide who should govern the country. Obama should have the same aspirations for the people of Vietnam. And he should say it in no uncertain terms.

President Obama needs to speak out on free elections in Vietnam

===== Feb 17 ====

PETITION TO END ONGOING HARASSMENT

To:

– International organizations

– UN Office

– UN Special Rapporteurs

– Human rights organizations

– Vietnamese and international civil society organizations

– Vietnamese and international media

– Bishop Antoine Vu Huy Chuong, Bishop of Da Lat Diocese

– Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, President of the Commission for Justice and Peace in Vietnam

– Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security

– Father Nguyen Hung Loi of Phu Son Parish

My name is Tran Minh Nhat and I am a former prisoner of conscience. I was arrested in 2011 and charged for “activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the Vietnamese Penal Code.

Since I was released from prison on August 27 2015, my family and I have been continually harassed and threatened by local authorities and thugs. Most recently, my family and I had our home raided and monitored during the Lunar New Year. This has threatened our peaceful lives.

On the evening of February 8 and 9, 2016, masked men stoned my home.

At approximately 1am on February 10, 2016, a pile of dried coffee plants next to my house were lit. The fire was so large that eight people were only able to contain and restrict the fire after three hours. If I hadn’t woken up to get a drink of water, our wooden house may have become a pile of ashes.

At noon on February 11, 2016, the masked men continued to throw stones at my roof.

On the evening of February 12, 2016, my house and my neighbor’s house were sprayed with pesticides which caused headaches, nausea and vomiting to anyone who left their house.

At approximately 11:45pm on February 13, 2016, the masked men continued to stone my home, throwing stones at the windows and light bulbs, leading to debris around and inside my home. On the same day, my older brother Tran Khac Duong was stopped by five Lam Ha police officers who threatened to physically attack and burn his home down. They cursed our ancestors and used profanity to insult him.

On February 14, 2016, the chickens we were raising in our garden died. The fumes from the pesticides were so strong that everyone had headaches and were nauseous. The cause of death of the chickens was from the poisoned rice they were eating. Our pepper vines were also chemically poisoned. We had reported these incidents to local authorities but they have refused to investigate these matters.

These incidents follow acts of intimidation which occurred during the Christmas and New Year Period in 2015. My older brother’s 155 coffee plants and 11 avocado trees were chopped mercilessly. Seven pepper vines were uprooted at my home.

On January 1, 2016, a second brother of mine had 382 pepper vines chemically poisoned. This was reported to local police and they had verified that 350 pepper vines were dead. 400 pepper vines on my property were also chemically poisoned. We never received any response from local inspectors despite these incidents occurring over two months ago.

These acts of harassment also occurred to children in the neighborhood who used to come to play and learn English at my home. They were threatened and prohibited by local Lam Ha police to come over to my home. My parents were extremely distressed upon this utmost abuse by Lam Ha police. My father was involved in arranged traffic accidents twice as someone deliberately swerved into his motorcycle. One of these incidents occurred on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

I myself was beaten by plainclothes police twice in November 2015.

The first incident occurred on November 8, 2015. I was on my way home from Saigon where I had a doctor’s appointment, obtained my university degree and attended a church service. I was with a former prisoner of conscience and while on the way home, we were abducted and brought to police station in Dinh Van. We were strangled, our arms were twisted ruthlessly and brutally beaten in presence of Lieutenant-colonel Đinh Huy Thai – head of Lam Ha District police.

The second time occurred on November 17, 2015. I went to the doctor to examine the injuries caused by the incident stated above. Just as I left the clinic about 100m, about eight police officers who beat me last time rushed up and physically attacked me again. This occurred in broad daylight and on the street in front of my father. When all involved were summoned to the local police station, there was no action taken against the police involved in the incident.

I strongly denounce such acts of harassment and intimidation and arbitrary by police to rightful citizens. I urge authorities to properly investigate and ensure the safety of my family.

I hope international organizations and bodies will continue to support my family as we try to overcome these obstacles during this difficult time.

I have attached some photos regarding the incidents stated above.

With sincere gratitude,

Paul Tran Minh Nhat

(To see pictures provided by Mr. Nhat, click here: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/02/19/petition-to-end-ongoing-harassment/)

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Vietnam President Pays Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Killed by China in 1979 While Security Forces Suppress Anti-China Demonstration in HCMC

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang on Feb 17 paid a tribute to the fallen soldiers who were killed by Chinese invaders in the spring of 1979, in the northernmost province of Cao Bang. In Ho Chi Minh City on the same day, police violently suppressed local activists participating in a commemoration of the fallen martyrs.

During his tour in the northernmost province, President Sang went to Tra Linh Cemetery in Tra Linh district, Cao Bang province to lay flowers for the fallen soldiers killed during the war against the People’s Liberation Army of China 37 years ago.

Sang, who will step down in July after not being re-elected to the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam in its 12th National Congress in late January, also paid tribute to fallen soldiers in the anti-China invasion during his visit to Lang Son on Feb 16.

He is the first Vietnamese leader to make the move as the communist leadership for many years has ignored the brutal war in which tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed by Chinese invaders.

Meanwhile, security forces in HCMC on Feb 17 barred a number of local social activists from gathering in the city’s center to mark the Chinese attack which occurred in the country’s six northernmost provinces in 1979. Plainclothes agents and militia also dispersed other anti-China activists who successfully came to the city’s monument, and smashed their flowers, according to social network. Some activists said they were attacked by thugs.

Hundreds of social activists gathered in central Hanoi to mark the Chinese invasion without being disturbed by local security forces.

On Feb 17, 1979, China sent hundreds of thousands of soldier with heavy artilleries and tanks to invade six Vietnamese northernmost provinces of Vietnam. Chinese soldiers killed tens of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers and civil people, and destroyed all infrastructures there before withdrawing one month later.

The two countries exchanged fierce battles along their borderline until late 1980s when they agreed to cease fire.

The two communist nations normalized diplomatic ties in 1991 and ten years later, they elevated ties to strategic partnership. Hanoi and Beijing set up comprehensive strategic partnership in 2008.

The Vietnamese communists consider China as their biggest political ally, and have systematically ignored Chinese brutality against the country.

The Chinese invasion was described very brieflyly in Vietnam’s school history textbooks. As a result, few young Vietnamese know about the war.

Vietnam’s communist government has imprisoned a number of anti-China activists, including prominent woman human rights defender Bui Thi Minh Hang.

======= February 19 =========

Viet Nam must immediately release prisoners of conscience Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà

Amnesty International: Viet Nam must end the ongoing incommunicado detention of human rights defenders Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà which is in violation of their human rights, including the right to freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. All charges against Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà, who Amnesty International has designated prisoners of conscience, should be withdrawn and they should be immediately and unconditionally released.

An incommunicado detention is one in which a detainee is held without access to the outside world, particularly to family, lawyers, courts and independent doctors. The practice of incommunicado detention violates key rights of persons deprived of liberty and facilitates torture and other ill- treatment. Prolonged periods of incommunicado detention can themselves constitute a violation of the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment.

Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà were arrested on 16 December 2015 and charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code, ‘Conducting propaganda against the state’. All efforts by family and legal counsel to visit the pair since their arrests have been denied.

The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force in Viet Nam in 2015. In addition, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Viet Nam is also obligated to uphold the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, including to be brought promptly before a judge and to access to legal counsel, as well as to be treated with humanity and dignity. These are rights which are violated by incommunicado detention.

Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code outlines crimes of ‘Infringing national security’. While Article 58 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides for the suspension of the participation of legal counsel in cases involving charges of infringing national security until the conclusion of the investigation, Article 58 specifically violates the right of access to legal counsel under international human rights law, and deprives detainees of an essential safeguard against torture or other ill- treatment, the prohibition of which is absolute.

The UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment state that communication of a detained individual with family or counsel shall not be denied for more than a matter of days. In the current case, Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà have been denied access to family and counsel for more than two months. This is a prolonged period of incommunicado detention by any measure and constitutes a violation of the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment.

Commenting on the ongoing incommunicado detention of Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà, Champa Patel, Director of Amnesty International’s South East Asia and Pacific Regional Office said: “The incommunicado detention of Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà flies in the face of Viet Nam’s recent ratification of the Convention against Torture. When the government ratified the treaty, it publicly trumpeted its ‘unwavering’ commitment to ending torture and other ill-treatment. Đài and Hà are prisoners of conscience. To show the world that its commitment to end torture is one of substance and not just words, Viet Nam must immediately end the incommunicado detention of Đài and Hà, and release them immediately and unconditionally.”

Dr. Nguyễn Đình Thắng, President and CEO of Boat People SOS and co-founder of Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam, commented: “We find the arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention of Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thu Hà particularly troubling; their treatment underlines Vietnam’s lack of good faith when it ratified the UN Convention against Torture.”

“Human rights lawyer, Nguyễn Văn Đài, and his colleague Lê Thu Hà seem to have been arrested and subjected to harassment and incommunicado detention for trying to defend the human rights of people in Viet Nam”, said Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists Asia Director. “Their ongoing incommunicado detention sends a strong warning to lawyers and human rights defenders in Viet Nam that they should not speak out in support of human rights, and significantly erodes the rule of law.”

Background

Incommunicado detention of prisoners of conscience is in-built into Viet Nam’s system of intimidation, harassment and punishment of peaceful activists. Following arrests, activists are usually held without access to the outside world for periods of months and even years. During this period, activists are often subject to other violations, including torture or other ill-treatment, through prolonged solitary confinement and severe physical abuse.

Signed:

Amnesty International       Boat People SOS       Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Civil Rights Defenders                               International Commission of Jurists

VETO! Human Rights Defenders’ Network             Vietnamese Women for Human Rights

———————————-

Vietnam Government Continues Delaying Draft Law on Demonstration

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Ministry of Justice has once again asked the National Assembly (NA), the country’s highest legislature, to delay the submission of a draft law on demonstration to the second plenary of the NA’s 14th session in October 2016 instead of the 13th session slated in May.

There continues to be mixed opinions about the draft law that need time to address, Minister of Justice Ha Hung Cuong said at a meeting of the NA’s Standing Committee on Feb 16.

At the NA’s meeting in May 2015, the NA agreed to delay the draft law which was being formulated by the Ministry of Public Security but required the government to submit the draft in a year for “the necessity of the draft law”.

However, the government broke the promise and attributed the delay to a “lack of consistent ideas”.

The draft law was initiated by incumbent Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in 2011.

Responding to the delay, the NA’s Chief Nguyen Sinh Hung said that delaying a democratic draft law harms Vietnam’s prestige.

Vietnam’s pro-democracy activists have criticized the government for the long delay of the draft law which is necessary to promote and protect human rights, especially rights to hold peaceful demonstrations and express their discontent.

However, Vietnam has violently suppressed all kinds of demonstrations, even those protesting China’s tough moves in the East Sea.

Meanwhile, the government continues to use decrees and laws to criminalize people participating in peaceful demonstrations.

——————————————-

Vietnam Traffic Police Allowed to Seize Properties despite Strong Public Protest

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has empowered its traffic police to expropriate properties of citizens, including their vehicles and communication devices, despite strong public objection, state media has reported.

According to the ministry’s circular which became effective on Feb 15, traffic police can seize properties, including vehicles and cell phones of travellers. However, they need approval from the minister of public security or the chairman of the provincial executive body People’s Committee.

The regulation has triggered widespread concerns on police power abuse given the fact that traffic police are among most corrupt groups in the communist nation.

Mr. Le Van Cuong, member of the country’s legislative body National Assembly, said the ministry needs to build specific regulations for the implementation of its Circular 01 to avoid police abuse.

The ministry should rethink the circular to protect the right of citizens to their property which is enshrined in the country’s Constitution 2013, Mr. Cuong noted, adding that the Constitution is the highest legal document for the country and other legal documents must comply with it.

Last month, the ministry also issued a circular requesting drivers to purchase fire distinguishers for their vehicles. The regulation met strong protest of car owners while experts said fire distinguishes may cause harm to cars since they could easily explode at high temperature.

Vietnam is a police state, said political observers, adding many police generals have been appointed to leading posts of the ruling party and state agencies.

================= February 23 ===============

DTD, RSF Hold Cyber Training Workshop in Southern Vietnam Despite Police Harassment

Defend the Defenders (DTD), an independent human rights group in Vietnam, in collaboration with Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières -RSF), successfully organized a cyber training course in Vietnam’s southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau on February 20-22 despite constant harassment by the local police.

As many as 27 social activists, political dissidents and human rights advocates, mostly from the southern region, attended the three-day workshop which was held in Saigon-Binh Chau resort in Xuyen Moc district, about 150 kilometers from Saigon.

Among them are prominent political dissidents Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, bloggers Tran Bang, Huynh Ngoc Chenh and Le Anh Hung, former prisoners of conscience Duong Thi Tan, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, Luu Trong Kiet, Huynh Ngoc Tuan, Nguyen Van Rang, and human rights activists Nguyen Thi Nhung, Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, Hanh Nhan and others.

The course, instructed by IT expert Ton Phi, focused on basic cyber security knowledge which will help activists to protect themselves from computer viruses and government-based cyber attacks amid increasing political crackdown in Vietnam, where the communists vow to keep the country under a one-party regime and consider all independent civil society organizations as “reactionary groups”.

During the course, local authorities deployed a large number of police officers, officers from the Border Guards of the Vietnam People’s Army and militia to kept constant surveillance and caused harassment to participants.

Around 100 police officers and officers of the Borders Guards of the Vietnam People’s Army arrived at the resort early Saturday, putting the area at the highest security level, said one of the resort’s staff.

In the beginning, when the first meeting of the course was held in a rented conference room of the resort, police and army officers blocked the room. Later, a man who introduced himself as an officer from the province’s Department of Information and Communication, asked the course organizers about the content and permission. He ordered the course to be stopped, saying the organizers need to get approval first from his department.

The participants refused to suspend their workshop, saying their activities are not illegal and just focus on cyber security matters. They also refused to sign any administrative minutes prepared by the Department of Information and Communication despite threats made by security officers. They even invited authorities to take part in the training course.

Police rejected the invitation to attend the course but sent some officers to enter the room to keep watch and take pictures and videos.

Finally, police violently opened the conference room’s doors, charged in and ordered the participants to leave the room. Police also requested the hotel staff to cut off electricity of the room, and threatened to seize the projector, laptops and other equipment of the activists.

Police also ordered the hotel owners to terminate the renting contract of the conference room between the hotel and the course organizers. In response, the organizers decided to hold the remaining two meetings in one of their rented rooms in the resort.

However, police did not give up but continued to make troubles for the course. They ordered the hotel staff to request the activists not to gather in their rooms, and sent plainclothes officers to film the activists.

The activists strongly protested the police’s moves, saying the moves were illegal and disturbed them.

Police threatened to detain activists and charged them with causing public disorders but the activists replied that the police were the trouble-makers.

Police in Ba Ria-Vung Tau kept constant surveillance on the activists until they left the province in the afternoon of Monday.

This was the second training course on cyber security organized by DTD and RSF, a France-based international non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press.

The first course was held in the northern city of Haiphong in late July last year. It was also harassed by the local police.

Many participants said they found the course very useful for their online activities in the country which is considered as one of the biggest enemies of Internet, said Mr. Vu Quoc Ngu, an executive officer of Defend the Defenders.

Similar courses should be organized for other social activists in Vietnam, he added.

======= February 24=============

Vietnam Committee on Human Rights attends Asia Pacific Religious Freedom Forum in Taiwan

PARIS, 24.2.2016 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) described a pattern of grave violations of religious freedom in Vietnam at the Asia Pacific Religious Freedom Forum (APRFF), a high-level gathering of international personalities and organizations engaged in the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.

The Forum, held in Taoyuan, Taiwan, from 18-21 February 2016, was organized by the Democratic Pacific Union, led by former Taiwanese Vice-President Annette (Hsiu-lien) Lu and the US-based China Aid, presided by activist and former political prisoner Bob Fu. Over 100 religious leaders, legislators, government representatives, journalists and civil society activists from 27 countries around the world took part in the APRFF, which is the first organization of its kind to bring together such a wide range of international personalities and organizations to discuss strategies to protect and promote religious freedom in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

International participants included Commissioner Katrina Lantos-Swett of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Members of Parliaments from Taiwan, Indonesia, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel and European Union, with video messages from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, and US Congressman Christopher Smith.

“By bringing together so many influential international and regional specialists, the Forum provided a rare opportunity to work together and exchange ideas, and opens new perspectives to advance religious freedom and collectively address the serious violations of this freedom confronting Asia and the Pacific region”, said Võ Trần Nhật, VCHR Executive Secretary, panelist at the event.

In his presentation, Võ Trần Nhật described how Vietnam, rather than seeking to promote freedom of religion or belief, has set up an elaborate system of restrictions and controls aimed at draining religious freedom and human rights of their very substance. Of particular concern, he said, was the new draft “Law on Belief and Religion” currently under debate in Vietnam’s National Assembly (5th Draft), which grossly contravenes the rights enshrined in Article 18 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a state party.

Võ Trần Nhật also unveiled the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights’ new report entitled: “Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam: State Management of Religions.” The report analyses the new draft Law as well as other religious legislation in Vietnam, and demonstrates that they are designed to impose state control and turn religions into tools of the Communist Party. Religious communities refusing to submit to its dictates risk harsh persecution.

The VCHR report contains an important section on Vietnam’s policy of “stealth repression” against non-recognized, independent religious organizations such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), or its affiliated “Buddhist Youth Movement”, which are subjected to pervasive harassments, travel restrictions, Police surveillance and economic sanctions. It described the case of UBCV Patriarch Thích Quảng Độ, 2016 Nobel Peace prize nominee, subjected to diverse forms of detention (internal exile, prison and house arrest) over the past 30 years on account of his peaceful engagement for religious freedom, democracy and human rights.

“Vietnam systematically violates freedom of religion and belief, and the new draft law, if voted as such, will subject religious communities to the control of the one-Party state. Urgent measures must be taken to prevent this happening”, said Võ Trần Nhật.

In its recommendations, the VCHR report called on Vietnam to withdraw the 5th draft Law on Belief and Religion and prepare a new draft that conforms to Vietnam’s obligations under Article 18 of the ICCPR, in consultation with religious and belief communities (both recognized and unregistered), international legal experts and the UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB. It called on the international community to ensure that bilateral relationships with Vietnam be dependent on measurable progress on freedom of religion and belief and human rights, and include specific provisions on the respect of these rights in trade agreements such as the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, or implementing legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other economic agreements to which Vietnam is a party. The report also urged the US to re-designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations as recommended by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in their 2015 annual report.

At the closing of the APRFF, participants adopted the “Taiwan Declaration” which underscored the crucial role of freedom of religion or belief and human rights in general for democracy, economic development and the expansion of civil society, and pledged to establish and reinforce existing networks of religious freedom advocates committed to promoting religious freedom in their respective countries and abroad, including the creation of both governmental and non-governmental mechanisms to promote religious freedom and related human rights in the Asia Pacific region.

============= February 25=========

Political Dissident under Constant Harassment since Being Freed last August

UCA News: Paul Tran Minh Nhat, who was released from prison last August after being sentenced to four years in prison for sedition, was brutally attacked with stones at his house by a dozen security officials on Feb. 22. Nhat was injured in the head during the attack.

Then Nhat and his mother were moved to their relatives’ house one kilometer away to avoid the attack. However, security officers and other attackers continued stoning the house.

Nhat’s family members said the attackers had been watching their house for months.

The attackers shouted at them, threw stones at the house, and prevented them from hospitalizing Nhat. The attack took place while his family members were reciting evening prayers at their home in Highlands Lam Dong province’s Lam Ha District.

“The serious attack shows that local authorities flagrantly violate the laws, disregard human life and invade basic human rights,” Redemptorist Father Anthony Le Ngoc Thanh told ucanews.com.

Redemptorist Father Joseph Truong Hoang Vu described the attack as an “inhuman action.”

In a statement released by the Redemptorists’ Justice and Peace Office and the rights group Good News to the Poor, Father Vu accused the authorities of “destroying the victims’ income and leave them completely destitute.”

He said earlier this month, thugs hired by police poured chemical pesticides around Nhat’s house causing family members to feel sick, killing livestock and crops. The assailants also attempted to set fire to the house and on another occasion vandalized the house and threatened Nhat’s family members, Father Vu said.

“Nhat has petitioned local authorities many times to prevent such attacks but they have had no replies,” Father Vu said.

Since his release from prison last August, Nhat has been physically attacked and threatened by police.

Father Vu also accused security officers of protecting the assailants. “Without security officers’ order, the thugs do not dare do such actions,” he said

The priest noted that Nhat works as a reporter for Good News to the Poor and as a human rights advocate. “Consequently he suffers brutal attacks and harassment from local government authorities,” he said.

Father Thanh said Nhat’s case is typical of dissidents, democracy and human rights advocates, who suffer state-sanctioned harassment and persecution.

Attack on Vietnamese dissident condemned

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Activists Rally for Election in Vietnam, Challenging Communist Rule

Vietnam Right Now: A campaign to challenge the Communist party in upcoming legislative elections is gathering momentum despite signs that the police are closely monitoring potential independent candidates.

Ten civil society activists in Hanoi have joined the veteran pro-democracy campaigner, Dr. Nguyen Quang A, announcing they will also stand for seats on the National Assembly in May.

The initiative reflects the growing confidence of activists as they seek to rally popular support for an open challenge to the Communist party’s monopoly on power.

Dr. A’s campaign has emerged as a rallying point for government critics, who see an opportunity to test recent statements by Communist party leaders that Vietnam practices a high degree of democracy.

A former party member, army officer and entrepreneur, Dr A says he will campaign on an agenda of legal reform, proposing the repeal of repressive and unconstitutional laws.

Another independent candidate, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, posted a video clip saying she would run in order “to exercise my rights as a citizen.”

She said her priorities would be to internationalize the territorial disputes between China and Vietnam, and to protect women from domestic violence.

Some of the candidates say they have already received visits from the police to question them about their intentions.

Some potential candidates said they would wait and assess the reaction of the police before deciding whether to run.

Human rights activists see an opportunity to raise their profile by standing for election.

None of the independent candidates, however, appear to believe they have a realistic chance of winning a seat, because of a nomination process that is controlled by the Communist party and its proxies, such as the Fatherland Front.

Their aim is to test the reaction of the authorities, and to expose to public view the procedures that are used to impede a democratic process.

Analysts said the emergence of independent candidates, nonetheless, indicated that the democratic movement was getting stronger, and had much improved its use of social networking and the rapid dissemination of information.

The campaign could prove embarrassing for the Communist party if its claims to back a democratic system are exposed to public view as a sham.

The candidates will have an opportunity to highlight the tactics used by the Communist party to exclude opposition candidates during the nomination process.

In past elections the number of candidates and elected deputies has been fixed in advance through a process known euphemistically as “structuring” the National Assembly.

The party says this process ensures that the right level of representation is assigned to various social groups including women, peasants, industrial workers, entrepreneurs, ethnic minorities, and religious communities.

However, more than 90% of legislators have always been party members.

The majority stays silent or expresses no independent opinions in a body that has largely served as a rubber stamp, intended to give some form of procedural legitimacy to rule by the Communist party, which sets policy guidelines and controls the executive branch of government.

A few delegates, however, have raised critical voices in the past and have received praise in the media for what is often cited as their “honesty and bravery”.

Some even took on a heroic stature in the eyes of the public, most notably Nguyen Minh Thuyet, Le Thi Nga, and Nguyen Dinh Xuan, but any dissent is contained within a strictly controlled format.

Despite this, voter turnout has been extremely high in previous elections and the dissident candidates do see some opportunities to benefit from this apparent public enthusiasm for elections.

======= February 26 =======

Vietnam Human Rights Record Remains Poor: Amnesty International

Defend the Defenders: Restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly remain severe in Vietnam over the past years as the authorities prevented peaceful activists from exercising their fundamental rights, according to Amnesty International.

The governments are painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national “values”, Amnesty International Campaigner for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Janice Beanland told the Radio Free Asia.

In 2015 alone, the number of prosecutions of individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression fell from a year earlier but violent physical attacks against activists remained a grave concern, Ms. Beanland said.

During 2015, there were at least 45 prisoners of conscience who are still in prison after unfair trials, and we have seen reports that there were physical attacks against almost 70 individuals during the year and more than 30 violent attacks.

That’s a large number, she said.

The attackers were uniformed police, police in plainclothes people or those recognized as police.

Regarding the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Vietnam tends to fall under the radar for the international community as it tends to face less criticism than other countries, despite the fact that it has some very serious human rights concerns.

Amnesty International, therefore, would like to see the international community be much more forthright about the problems there currently are in Vietnam, according to Ms. Beanland.

Vietnam, which has been criticized for poor human rights records, has joined a number of trade pacts with partners in different parts of the world. The communist country used to be put in the list of countries of particular concern (CPC) for its backsliding on religious freedom by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). But economic interests that foreign partners are pursuing have somewhat eased the pressure on the single-party country.

=== February 27 ===

Thousands of Land Petitioners Rally across Vietnam, Many Detained and Beaten

Defend the Defenders: Thousands of land petitioners nationwide rallied in main streets in big cities across Vietnam on Saturday [Feb 27] to demand the return of their properties. Many of them were detained by local authorities, according to social websites.

Around five hundred land petitioners gathered in Quang Trung Street in the capital city of Hanoi. Coming from different provinces and cities, the petitioners unfurled banners that say “Je Suis Dan Oan” or “I am a land petitioner” and chanted slogans to request authorities to return their confiscated properties.

Authorities in Hanoi sent hundreds of police officers, plainclothes agents and militia to suppress the peaceful demonstration, arresting some land petitioners, including Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong, two sons of prisoners of conscience Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Khiem from Duong Noi commune. Mr. Tu said he was severely beaten by police officers during interrogation in the Ha Dong district police station.

In Saigon, the biggest economic hub in the communist nation, hundreds of land petitioners started a peaceful demonstration in the city’s center at around 9 AM. About a half hour later, police came and violently dispersed them, brutally beat many and detained all land petitioners and a dozen social activists who came to support them.

Among the detained were blogger Do Duc Hop, former political prisoner Huynh Anh Tu, land petitioners  Tran Ngoc Anh, Nguyen Thi Kim Em and Doan Thi Nu. The three latest women were reported to be severely beaten by police who released them in the afternoon.

Police took land petitioners to different places far from the city’s center and released them. They questioned activists Hop and Tu before freeing them in late afternoon.

Vietnamese in many countries such as the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, France and Denmark also hold rallies today to support land petitioners in their home country as they mark February 27 as International Day for Vietnam Land Petitioners.

Vietnam has tens of thousands of land petitioners as all land in the communist nation belongs to the state and people have only the right to use it. Authorities in many provinces and cities have seized large areas of land from local residents for building urban areas and industrial projects without paying reasonable prices.

In many places, local authorities have taken land and compensated with very low prices and later sold the land to property projects developers at prices thousand times higher than the compensation rate.

Due to low compensation, thousands of people have opposed land seizure. They have gathered in big cities including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to demand for justice. Many of them have no residence and have to live on the streets in Hanoi near the government office for receiving denunciations.

Land petitioners have been subjects of police abuse who periodically destroy their tents on the streets. Many of them have been brutally attacked by police, plainclothes agents and militia.

A number of land petitioners have been arrested and charged with causing public disorders when they peacefully protested their land appropriation. Many of them have been imprisoned between one and three years.

Vietnam needs to change its current Land Law in a bid to deal with illegal land seizure, said social activists, adding land ownership should be separated into state, public and private land.

Illegal land seizure by authorities in localities has caused great public dissatisfaction and social instability, which threatens the communist regime, activists said.