Vietnam Human Rights Defenders March 07-13: RSF Unblocks Six More Censored Sites, Including Defend the Defenders’ Website

Defenders’ Weekly | Mar 13, 2016

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on March 11 announced that it launched Operation Collateral Freedom #2, in which it is unblocking access to websites that are censored in five countries and is unveiling the RSF Censorship Detector app. Defend the Defenders’ website vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net is one of those websites.

Other beneficiaries are Radio Free Asia (Vietnam), Sarawak Report (Malaysia), Boxun (China), Sendika.org (Turkey) and the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (Saudi Arabia).

The People’s Court of Hanoi on March 11 rejected appeal of Nguyen Viet Dung, the founder and leader of unsanctioned Republican Party of Vietnam who was charged of causing public disorders in April last year, but reduced his sentence to 12 months in prison from the 15-month sentence given by the Hoan Kiem district People’s Court in December. Mr. Dung was arrested on April 12 after participating in a peaceful demonstration against the city’s program to chop down 6,700 aged valuable trees in the city’s main streets.

On March 3, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released a statement concerning the arrest of Mr. Dung. In its statement, the Working Group said Dung’s deprivation of liberty is arbitrary and requests Vietnam “to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung without delay and bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

The Vietnamese communist government has decided to bring prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, co-founder of well-known Anh Ba Sam news website and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to court on March 23, nearly 23 months after their arrest in early May 2014. The duo will be tried for abusing democratic freedom to cause harm to the state under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.

Vietnam delayed their first hearing scheduled on January 19, few days prior to the 12th National Congress of the ruling communist party.

And other important news

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=========== March 07==========

Vietnam Security Forces Continue Harassment against Family of Imprisoned Religious Activist, Targeting His Wife and Children

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Gia Lai have continued harassment and intimidation against the family of Protestant Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, targeting his wife and children while he is in prison, said the Vietnam Women for Human Rights, an independent human rights advocacy group.

On March 7, while Mrs. Tran Thi Hong went to meet with Mr. Garrett Harkins, political officer of the U.S. General Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to report the ongoing harassment against her husband in jail, a dozen of police officers went to her private residence in Gia Lai to conduct administrative check. Their acts threatened her children of between five and 13 years old, who stayed in their house without their parents.

Police have also stationed near her house and continued to block the road leading to the house on March 8.

Mrs. Hong said security forces have maintained close surveillance over her house and intimidated the family in the past ten years. They had severely beaten Pastor Chinh and her wife many times before imprisoning him with an 11-year imprisonment in 2012 on charge of undermining national security under Article 87 of the country’s Penal Code.

Since putting him in jail, police have kept watch over the family, blocking foreign diplomats from visiting the pastor’s wife and children after Mr. Katherine Lawson of the U.S. Department of State visited them in Pleiku in 2014. In order to meet them, Mrs. Hong has to go to foreign diplomatic missions in Saigon, about 500 kilometers from her town.

Pastor Chinh is among the religious activists suffering most from Vietnam’s authorities in Gia Lai and Kon Tum who demolished their church in Con R’Bàng village, Vinh Quang commune in Kon Tum.

Mrs. Hong, an active member of the unsanctioned Vietnam Women for Human Rights, needs special attention of international human rights organizations and the public.

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LGBT Recognition Needs More Effort

Vietnam News Agency: There is still a gap between the laws protecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) rights and public opinion towards LGBT folks in Vietnam, according to the deputy head of the Ministry of Justice’s International Law Department, Nguyen Thanh Tu.

There should be better communication and joint cooperation between the government, business community, and social organisations in promoting LGBT rights and community involvement. — Photo vneconomictimes.com

An LGBT-themed event sponsored by the Economist newspaper debated this and other LGBT topics in Hong Kong on March 3.

Vietnam recently has made positive legal changes to protect LGBT rights, said Tu.

In 2014, the Law on Family and Marriage removed the prohibition of same-sex marriage. In November last year, the National Assembly legalised gender reassignment, recognising all transgender people and their legal rights within their new gender.

Up to 86 per cent of National Assembly deputies voted in favour of LGBT rights. But there is still a gap between the law and reality when it comes to tolerance of LGBT roles and rights, said Tu.

A survey of 3,000 LGBT people in Vietnam revealed that about 21 per cent still suffer discrimination in the workplace. About 44 per cent suffer discrimination in school. And more than 40 per cent suffer discrimination in their families, according to Tu.

The concept of a patriarchal family is central to some Asian countries’ cultural values. As a result, the idea of producing a son to carry the biological line is still powerful. The fact that homosexual couples can not produce biological children contributes to low LGBT acceptance in Asian countries including Vietnam, according to speakers.

To close the gap between law and reality, there should be better communication and joint cooperation between the government and the business community, both of which often remain silent on LGBT rights issues. Social organisations should also be encouraged to promote LGBT rights and community involvement, said Tu.

According to Hoang Tu Anh, Director of the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, family should also play a role in promoting LGBT rights.

“While some parents accept their gay child, many find it hard to accept the truth and have negative reactions towards their child”, said Tu Anh.

“Parents should bear in mind that it is happiness and how a child enjoys his life that matters”, she added.

“More projects for the LGBT community to make their voices heard must be made available, so that the public becomes aware that LGBT is not something new”, said Tu Anh.

Vietnam is the sixth country in Asia – and the second country in Southeast Asia – to allow gender reassignment and to recognize transgender people.

====== March 08============

Chained to Chores, Vietnamese Women Remain Unequal to Men: Study

Thanh Nien News: Rigid traditional attitudes that confine women to the exclusive role of domestic caregivers while freeing men for everything else are the basic cause of gender inequality in Vietnam, a new study finds.

Speaking at a conference to announce the findings of the study about social factors determining gender inequality in Vietnam, the director of Hanoi-based Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) shared a telling anecdote.

When asked what tasks his wife do at home, Khuat Thu Hong recalled, a man can give a long list. When asked, “What do you do then?” the man responds, “I’m the pillar of the family.”

According to the study, which surveyed about 8,500 women and men countrywide from 2013-2015, women undertake 12 out of 14 domestic tasks, ranging from cooking to caring for senior or sick family members. Men primarily do one or two — maintaining and fixing household appliances, and representing the family in contacting local authorities.

To achieve gender inequality, the study suggests women must be freed from their endless domestic tasks without sacrificing families’ well-being.

The study has found that it is partly the prescribed caregiver role internalized by women themselves that prevents women from matching men in education and employment.

Women are more likely than men to have a lower secondary school education or lower, while less likely to have upper secondary school or higher levels of education. Young women are expected to sacrifice their formal education for the benefit of their male siblings and tend to give up their formal education to perform family caregiver roles.

More than 20 percent of the women surveyed did not work because of household chores, compared to only 2 percent of men.

Women are also less likely to get promoted or given a chance to improve their professional qualifications, and the number of women promoted to a higher position is less than half the number among men.

In property ownership, an important factor of bargaining power, it is again the men who often own the most valuable property, including production facilities and vehicles. Almost 50 percent of women do not own residential land and only one fifth of women own land or houses, while more than half of men are sole owners of land or houses.

When it comes to sexual relationships and domestic violence, married women are far less likely to initiate sexual activities and are less satisfied with their sexual activities than men. Double standards tolerating men’s freedom in sexual activities while blaming women for the same conduct are still prevalent among 50 percent of the respondents.

Women also report significantly greater levels of all forms of domestic violence than men, with almost 99 percent of domestic violence cases sinking into silence, reflecting the belief that domestic violence is a private matter and should be kept behind closed doors. Many also still believe it is natural for men to commit violence because they have the right.

Women’s care-giving role and the common assumption that men are better as leaders also limit women’s abilities to take part in social-political activities. The percentage of women who are party members is less than half that of men, and of women working in local government is only one third that of men.

In general, there is little awareness of gender-related laws such as the Law on Gender Equality, the Law on Marriage and Family, and the Law on Control and Prevention of Domestic Violence, with only up to 6 percent reporting they have a clear understanding of the laws.

With these and other findings, the study suggests women and men seek alternatives to traditional gender roles; existing laws that promote gender equality be enforced; and key social services such as childcare and elder care be improved to reduce the burden of housework on women.

Hong said what is happening in Vietnam and to Vietnamese women and men is the tension between positive government policies and long-lasting patriarchal Confucian values, between ideals and practice.

Her observation is reflected for instance by one finding in which though most people surveyed hold relatively equitable gender attitudes on the value and roles of sons and daughters, in reality there are still couples who apply common scientific and medical methods to have a male child.

Hoang Tu Anh, director of Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, particularly emphasized the media’s role in promoting gender equality.

She cautioned about the negative influence of tabloid media coverage which often portray women as commodities that can be bought, mindlessly repeat and perpetuate sexist views.

In response to another observation that women’s domestic labor should be included in GDP calculation, ISDS’s Hong said this is an issue that is being discussed a lot worldwide, but there is yet any comprehensive research about the subject.

Some efforts have been made to quantify women’s domestic labor in Vietnam, and amounts paid to professional domestic workers can be used to estimate the monetary value of women’s domestic work.

Yet, Hong said, there remain things that cannot be calculated in monetary terms, such as all the love that a woman puts into her work.

The study’s recommendations indeed include raising public awareness about existing laws, such as the 2014 Law of Marriage and Family, which regards housework done in the family by a spouse as income-generating labor.

The study also recommends conducting more research on the other side of gender issues — men and masculinity — to help develop a comprehensive picture, since most efforts have been oriented towards women.

We assume that men have no problems, but they do, Hong said. Most victims of traffic accidents or street violence, for instance, are men, she said.

ISDS’s study was sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Oxform Novib and the Australian Government.

===== March 11 ===========

Collateral Freedom #2: RSF Unblocks Six More Censored Sites

Reporters Without Borders: To mark World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is today launching Operation Collateral Freedom #2, in which it is unblocking access to websites that are censored in five countries and is unveiling the RSF Censorship Detector app.

The aim of this operation – the continuation of Operation Collateral Freedom #1, launched a year ago – is to make online information accessible in countries where it is banned and to dissuade “Enemies of the Internet” from targeting news websites.

After unblocking 11 news websites in 2015, RSF is now providing access to six other sites that are blocked in their respective countries – Radio Free Asia and Defend the Defenders (Vietnam), Sarawak Report (Malaysia), Boxun (China), Sendika.org (Turkey) and the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (Saudi Arabia).

The operation is based on the technique of mirroring. RSF creates a “mirror” copy of the blocked site on a cloud hosting service provided by a major Internet company such as Fastly, Amazon, Microsoft or Google. To block access to the mirror, a government would at the same time deprive thousands of its country’s companies of the essential technological services provided by these Internet giants. This “collateral” economic and political damage would be hard to justify.

This year, RSF is breaking new ground by providing the public with an exclusive application developed specially for this operation. The developers, Brendan Abolivier and Clément Salaün, have created an extension to the Google Chrome browser that facilitates access to the mirror version of the targeted sites. Whoever goes to one of these blocked sites will see the icon of the RSF Censorship Detector app turn red. By clicking on it, they will be automatically redirected to RSF’s unblocked mirror.

In the past year, the servers dedicated to Operation Collateral Freedom have handled more than 64 million requests and provided more than 587GB of data. During the first few days, the operation’s success forced RSF to expand the capacity of the servers in order to handle the massive volume of traffic.

Since then, RSF has created other mirrors and is using additional hosting services. As a result, it is able to create an alternative mirror if a country decides to block all the services of one of the companies used. The list of mirrors and services employed is regularly updated on github.com. RSF will keep Operation Collateral Freedom going for as long as the resources available allow.

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Hanoi Court Rejects Appeal but Reduces Imprisonment of Leader of Unregistered Republican Party of Vietnam

Defend the Defenders: The People’s Court in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on March 11 rejected the appeal of Nguyen Viet Dung, the leader and the founder of unsanctioned Republican Party of Vietnam who was sentenced to 15 months in prison on charge of causing public disorder under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code in a first-instance trial on December 14 last year which failed to meet international standards of fair trial.

However, the court reduced his sentence to 12 months in prison without unveiling reasons for the sentence reduction in an appeal hearing in which the defense of the defendants’ lawyers was ignored, said well-known lawyer Vo An Don, who was one of the two lawyers defending Mr. Dung.

The two-hour trial was conducted with maximum security as Hanoi’s authorities deployed a large number of police officers, plainclothes agents and military to the court’s areas. Unlike the first hearing, family members of the defendants were allowed to enter the court room to attend the hearing.

Hundreds of social activists and land petitioners gathered on streets near the court building, hanging banners and chanting to demand for unconditional and immediate release of Dung. Police briefly detained blogger Tran Quang Nam who tried to interview lawyer Vo An Don after the hearing.

On April 12, 2014, Mr. Dung and four friends were detained by Hanoi security forces right after they participated in a peaceful demonstration in the city’s center to protest the local government’s plan to chop down 6,700 aged valuable trees in some of the city’s main streets.

The police released his friends but kept Dung and accused him of “causing public disorders”. Following Mr. Dung’s arrest, police conducted a search of his home and seized many other items associated with the former Republic of Vietnam.

Blogger Doan Trang and Tuan Anh, organizers of the green protest, said in their statement to the court that Mr. Dung and his friends peacefully attended the demonstration on April 12. However, the court ignored their opinions.

The detention of Mr. Dung has drawn great concern among Vietnamese and international human rights bodies. The unsanctioned Vietnam Blogger Network (VBN) released a statement condemning his arrest, saying his participation in the peaceful demonstration is not public disturbance.

Based on the facts, the VBN considers the arrest of Mr. Dung by Hanoi’s police as arbitrary detention, showing the power abuse of police forces in the capital city. The arrest is a serious violation of human rights, it noted.

Several days after the trial, the London-based Amnesty International issued a statement calling Hanoi to immediately and unconditionally release him, saying it is concerned by the proceedings leading to Dung’s conviction which did not comply with the right to a fair trial.

Australian lawmaker Chris Haynes wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to warn her about the case of Dung and urge her to take actions for his release.

On March 3, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released a statement concerning the arrest of Mr. Dung. In its statement, the Working Group said Dung’s deprivation of liberty is arbitrary and requests Vietnam “to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung without delay and bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Mr. Dung’s arrest and imprisonment are closely related to his role in the establishment of the Republican Party of Vietnam, local observers said, adding the ruling party has vowed to keep the nation under one-party rule, and ordered the local security forces not to allow opposition to be established.

Recently, Vietnam has intensified crackdown against local government critics and human rights activists before and after the communist party’s 12th National Congress which was held in late January.

The communist government has used controversial Articles 79, 88 and 258 of the Penal Code as well as other spurious charges such as tax evasion and public disorders to stifle local dissents who bravely speak out about corruption, poor economic management and weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

According to international human rights bodies, Vietnam is imprisoning at least 130 political dissidents, bloggers and human rights activists while Hanoi says it holds no prisoners of conscience but only law violators.

Last year, Minister of Public Security General Tran Dai Quang, who is expected to be the next president for the 2016-2021 period, labeled 60 unregistered civil societies as “reactionary groups”.

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Vietnam to Try Prominent Blogger on Mar 23 after Nearly 23 Months of Detention

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist government will bring prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to court on March 23, nearly 23 months into their detention.

Mr. Vinh and Ms. Thuy, who were arrested in early May 2014, will be tried on allegation of “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.

If found guilty, they could face imprisonment of up to seven years, according to the Vietnamese law.

The People’s Court of Hanoi will be in charge of the trial, according to the notice sent to the defendants and their lawyers.

Some observers said there is little chance that the court will release the duo as a gift for U.S. President Barack Obama who is scheduled to visit the communist nation in May. President Obama has urged Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience, including Mr. Vinh and Ms. Thuy.

Earlier this year, the same court was set to try the duo on January 19, few days ahead of the 12th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. However, the government postponed the first hearing, attributing the absence of some member of the People’s Jury of the court as the reason for the delay.

Mr. Vinh, a 58-year-old son of a senior communist official, was accused of posting online articles carrying out “incorrect contents that aim to defame the party and state,” on AnhBaSam news website which has millions of regular readers.

After the arrests of Vinh and Thuy, the governments and politicians of the U.S., EU countries, and Canada as well as international human rights groups have called on the Vietnamese government to release the duo, saying they did nothing wrong but exercised their right of freedom of opinions and expression which is enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution.

The Vietnamese communist government has used controversial articles such as Article 79, 88 and 258 to silence local critics, social activists and human rights defenders.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that independent news providers in Vietnam are subject to enhanced Internet surveillance, draconian directives, waves of arrests and sham trials in its annual Press Freedom Index released in December 2014.

In recent months, Vietnam has arrested a number of dissidents, including human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, former political prisoners Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung and charged them with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. The arrested activists could face imprisonment up to 20 years.

In addition, many activists have been brutally attacked by thugs and sometimes by police officers. The victims include former political prisoners Tran Minh Nhat and Tran Ngoc Thach, labor activists Do Thi Minh Hanh and Truong Minh Duc, land rights activists Tran Thuy Nga and Nguyen Huy Tuan and prisoner of conscience Truong Minh Tam. In the most recent cases on January 7-8, Mr. Tuan and Mr. Tam were kidnapped and robbed.

Many international rights groups have called on Vietnam to take measures to stop persecution against local dissident and conduct thorough investigation to bring perpetrators to court.

Other activists have been under constant persecution of police. On February 4, police detained pro-democracy activist Ngo Duy Quyen for one day, and searched the private apartment of his mother-in-law where he and his wife Le Thi Cong Nhan, a former political prisoner, live. Police confiscated $600 and a number of personal items, including laptops, cell phones and books.

For weeks, police in Ho Chi Minh City have barred former prisoners of conscience Do Thi Minh Hanh and Truong Minh Duc from going out. Hanh, Duc and Nhan are key figures of the unsanctioned labor union named Lao Dong Viet (Viet Labor) which has provided legal assistance for local workers in disputes with their employers.