April 25, 2016
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly April 18-24: Prominent Dissident Honored with 2016 Gwangju Prize for Inspiring Democracy in Asia
Defenders’ Weekly | Apr 24, 2016
Medical doctor Nguyen Dan Que, a prominent Vietnamese dissident, and Malaysian Bersih 2.0 (Gabungan Pilihanraya Bersih dan Adil) are co-recipients of the 2016 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights from the South Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation for their contributions to human rights, democracy and peace.
Dr. Que was outspoken on behalf of those who had no voice, challenging the government’s practice of selectively favoring communist party members while neglecting the poor, the South Korean foundation said in its statement.
Security forces in Hanoi on April 24 detained five activists at a meeting at a local restaurant to mark the 3rd anniversary of the pro-democracy group named Brotherhood of Democracy. The detainees were freed in late evening of the same day without being tortured or questioned.
Vietnam remained at the 175th place (out of 180 countries) in Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 world press freedom index. The communist government in Hanoi has continuously harassed local bloggers and independent journalists in its campaign to silence political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.
On April 20, Mr. Nguyen Van Phuong was released after 17 years in prisons. In 1999, he was arrested and charged with conducting anti-state propaganda and terrorist acts under Articles 84 and 88 of the country’s Penal Code. Mr. Phuong, 53, denied he had conducted terrorist activities.
And other important news.
============ April 18================
Statement of Vietnamese Political & Religious Political Friendship Association about the torture of Mrs. Tran Thi Hong
Dear Mr. Sellers, Chief of Policy Dept, US Consulate General
In the morning of April 14th 2016, the public security agents in Gia Lai province took Mrs. Tran Thi Hong to the People’s Committee of Hoa Lu ward (Pleiku city, Gia Lai province) for interrogation. When Mrs. Hong declined to answer their questions in regard to the meeting between Mrs. Hong and US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom on March 30th 2016, the public security agents of Gia Lai province tortured Mrs. Hong right inside the People’s Committee of Hoa Lu ward. When they realized Mrs. Hong showed signs of a total collapse, the public security agents drove Mrs. Hong back to her house and threw her out near the house gate. Mrs. Hong’s neighbors and children had to carry her inside.
Mrs. Tran Thi Hong is the wife of Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, a prisoner of conscience currently being imprisoned at An Phuoc prison (Binh Duong province). In 2011, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment under Article 87 of the Penal Code: “sabotaging the solidarity policy, sowing division between citizens and the government”.
We hereby condemn the inhuman action committed by the public security of Gia Lai province, which violates Article 20 of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the international conventions that Vietnam has ratified such as Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
We urge you to bring attention to the case of Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and his family with the following specific recommendations:
- The public security force must immediately stop monitoring, assaulting, and torturing Mrs. Tran Thi Hong.
- Reprimand the public security agents and government employees who were involved in the torturing of Mrs. Tran Thi Hong.
- Release Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh unconditionally.
Nguyen Bac Truyen
Secretary of Vietnamese Political & Religious Political Friendship Association.
Wife of jailed Vietnamese human rights activist comes to U.S. with a plea
Los Angeles Times, April 17: Her food’s waiting — sizzling onion steak and fragrant catfish — but the woman on a mission does not pause between back-to-back interviews.
She’s done nine since leaving Vietnam and landing in Los Angeles last week, rushing to Orange County’s Little Saigon, fiercely staying on message, softly sharing a plea for her husband’s freedom.
Vu Minh Khanh, wife of famed human rights activist Nguyen Van Dai — beaten and imprisoned by the communist government in Hanoi — is determined that the American public and others “outside our community … know his work, his cause.”
“Now that I’m here in this country, I realize even more how much people suffer in my country,” Vu said. “How else can you describe it when you don’t have basic rights?”
Nguyen, a lawyer and blogger, left his Hanoi home in December to meet with European Union representatives in the country to research human rights issues.
Plainclothes officers stopped him and took him back to the house, where a police camera facing the front door monitors all who enter and exit. They confiscated three computers and USB sticks, Vu said. Nguyen was later charged with “conducting propaganda against the state.”
Four months later, authorities have not allowed Vu, other family members or friends to see or contact him, his wife said, adding that they also declined his requests for a lawyer.
International human rights groups, along with elected officials worldwide, have condemned his arrest, attacking Vietnam for its “poor” record of religious persecution, lack of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
Nguyen is the founder of the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam, which trains human rights attorneys and promotes legal education. He has traveled from city to city, teaching young people how to report human rights violations and handle police interrogations.
In 2013, he launched the Brotherhood for Democracy with former jailed dissidents to coordinate human rights activities across Vietnam and to host forums in Hanoi and Saigon to mark International Human Rights Day.
“He’s one of the people who can do things. He’s organized. His activities back up his beliefs,” says Nancy Nguyen, a restaurant owner from Anaheim who reached out to help Vu, scheduling her Southern California meet-and-greets. She is assisting VOICE, the Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment, a global nongovernmental organization that helped set up Vu’s visit.
Hoi Trinh, VOICE’s founder, said Nguyen has done “nothing wrong.” In any democracy, what he accomplished “would be encouraged, commended and honored. Not thrown in jail without trial to this day.”
Brandon Hoang, a programmer from Santa Ana, is an ardent Nguyen admirer.
“I follow what he does online,” Hoang said. “Even though he is oceans away, I respect what he stands for, and I hope that here in America, others will also respect that and spread his gospel.”
Vu received a hero’s welcome after managing to sneak out of her country to rally supporters in the nation’s largest Vietnamese American community. In her loneliest, darkest hours, the church volunteer said she relies on her faith.
“I think and believe in the powers of God. If I become frail, it weakens the purpose,” she said of her resolve, as she prepared to field questions from a journalist with the BBC. She planned to follow that interview with a trip to Washington to try to persuade lawmakers familiar with the expatriate push for human rights and religious freedom to intervene in her husband’s case.
Late in the week, Vu sat with immigrant fans in a popular French-Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon, where a waitress approached, holding a Vietnamese-language newspaper with her picture on the front page. She struggled to maintain energy while the others ate lunch — the 15-hour time difference between her homeland and California had left her with little sleep the night earlier.
This is the second time officials have jailed her husband. Authorities tried Nguyen in May 2008, sentencing him to five years in prison under the same propaganda charges. In 2011, he was released to house arrest for an additional four years and barred from practicing law.
Before leaving Southern California, Vu expected to be the featured guest at a Little Saigon town hall meeting, promoting her husband’s activism. “Dai always tells me: ‘We want to live a life with meaning — not just for us but for those around us.’ That’s why we continue to do what we do.”
=========== April 19===========
IJAVN Statement opposing Hanoi Police Force’s severe suppression of IJAVN’s meeting
Prior to the 20th session of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Washington and Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s travel to prepare President Obama’s trip to Vietnam, Hanoi Police Force could have violated “ Politburo’s foreign policies” by suppressing a meeting to talk about the topic “Obama’s visit to Vietnam – The change we need”, held by IJAVN in Hanoi on April 17, 2016.
All the members of IJAVN’s managing board, some of IJAVN’s members and IJAVN’s guests were blocked at home or detained at police stations. Among those were Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Vu Quoc Ngu, Bui Minh Quoc, Pham Chi Dung, Doan Trang…
There were hints that Hanoi Police Forces directly and indirectly suppressed the meeting. And there were also clues that they “had ordered” thugs to intimidate journalists. Furthermore, they- Hanoi Police Forces – obviously applied “jungle law”.
The suppression might have been implemented under the secret command of Ministry of Public Security when a local police officer said “I don’t know if the Ministry Officers ordered anything else?” Their unofficial involvement stirs fears of MPS’s significant influences on “Poliburo’s Foreign Policies.
After the party chief’s visit to the U.S. in July 2015, Vietnamese “foreign policies” have been tilted to gradually accepting independent unions and civil society.
IJAVN is an independent civil organization which focuses on the freedom of press and speech. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss “Obama’s visit to Vietnam – The change we need”. This meeting would not only develop critical analysis, think tanks and media, but it could also give the government of Vietnam reliable and relevant information that could be used for their western pivot policies amid China’s increasing aggression and South China Sea tensions which could lead to war.
As a gesture of goodwill and transparency, IJAVN invited a senior official of the Communist Party to participate the meeting, but he did not respond to the invitation.
By suppressing IJAVN’s meeting, Hanoi Police Forces severely violated the freedom of press, speech and movements of journalists. They, therefore, commit a breach of the Constitution of Vietnam and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Vietnam signed in 1982.
IJAVN strongly opposes Hanoi Police Forces’ suppression and hereby informs this scandalous incident to the Government of Vietnam and the U.S. Government, the European Union and other international human rights organizations, and domestic and foreign media outlets.
Vietnam April 19, 2016
The Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam
Vietnam Makes No Progress in RSF’s 2016 Press Freedom Ranking
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam ranks 175th among the 180-country ranking for the freedom of press in 2016 rated by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
In RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index which is published annually and measures the level of freedom of information in 180 countries, Vietnam was accused of violating freedom of press, freedom of speech, democracy and human rights.
Socialist states such as China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos remained at the bottom of the rankings, with contraventions to press freedom carried out by authoritarian governments making the situation “very serious” in these countries, according to RSF.
Vietnam’s status is unchanged from the 2015 ranking, however Vietnam’s government is stepping up repression of old and new media even as they promote an image of an open, globalized economy, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
In the communist country currently, more than 30 bloggers and two journalists are imprisoned for allegedly abusing democracy and freedom while the government has used controversial articles such as Article 79, 88 and 258 to silence local dissents.
Vietnam Dissident Completes 17-year Imprisonment, Rejecting Charge of Terrorism
Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Van Phuong, 53, on April 20 completed his 17-year imprisonment on the charge of conducting anti-state propaganda and terrorist activities, social network has reported.
Mr. Phuong from the southern region was arrested on April 20 and later charged with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 and terrorist activities under Article 84 of the Penal Code.
In an interview given to reporters of the Brotherhood of Democracy three days after being released, Mr. Phuong rejected the charge of conducting terrorist activities, saying he has peacefully voiced his opinions against the mistaken socio-economic policies of the Vietnamese communist government. He claimed that he had not used any mean, including neither weapons nor explosive as he was accused.
Mr. Phuong said he was treated inhumanely by authorities in four prisons during the past 17 years. He was forced to work hard in a cashew processing factory where he was requested to un-husk 20 kilograms of cashew nut daily although his eyes are not good.
He was imprisoned in a dark, closed room up to six months. He was also fettered in a solitary cell for 14 days even though he did not break any prison rules. When he questioned the prison’s authorities for the disciplinary measures against him, they replied that they were ordered to do it but refused to unveil who issued the order.
Mr. Phuong said his health was very poor as he has not undergone proper medical check-up or treatment in the past 17 years.
Vietnam has used a number of controversial articles such as Articles 79, 88 and 258 in the Penal Code to silence local dissidents and social activists as well as human rights defenders. Mr. Phuong is one of many cases in which activists have been sentenced to long prison terms for exercising their political and civil rights enshrined in the country’s constitution.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam still holds around 130 prisoners of conscience.
You can watch the interview in Vietnamese here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHdqniAPA7M
The TPP: A Win for Vietnam’s Workers
The Diplomat: In the last decade, free trade agreements (FTAs) have expanded to cover more than traditional commercial matters like tariff reductions. Recent FTAs have increasingly included labor requirements to protect workers, especially in countries where companies pursue low-cost production through depressed wages, poor working conditions, and other subpar labor standards. This has dramatic effects on countries like Vietnam, where I have practiced law for 20 years. But even though FTAs regulating labor matters have increased dramatically in recent years, from four agreements in 1995 to 72 by 2015, Vietnam has refused to commit to labor requirements in FTAs — until now.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the first trade agreement to subject Vietnam to enforceable labor commitments like freedom of association, collective bargaining, and minimum work conditions. Additionally, Vietnam signed a labor implementation plan with the United States that identifies specific actions needed to comply with TPP and which are subject to an additional layer of enforcement. It is clear TPP lives up to its name as a “21st century agreement,” enacting the strongest labor provisions of any trade deal, giving the opportunity to improve living standards and the quality of work for Vietnam’s people. These advances range across a number of different areas:
Freedom of Association
The most far-reaching change to Vietnam’s labor landscape is on freedom of association. Currently, Vietnam only recognizes a limited right to organize. Vietnam’s Trade Union Law states that a trade union is a “socio-political organization of the working class and laborers… part of the political system of the Vietnamese society, placed under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam.” As such, Vietnam does not have a pluralistic union regime. In other words, workers are not allowed to establish more than one trade union focused on protecting their interests regarding their employment. Instead, the only option is to join the one trade union available, Vietnam’s General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), under the direction of the Communist Party.
The VGCL has poorly represented and protected the rights and legitimate interests of its members and workers. In my time here, we have barely seen the presence of VGCL in demonstrations and strikes for social insurance or payment of backwages to hundred of workers when enterprises close down. This inaction is due to the lack of independence and representation in trade union leadership. Essentially, members of VGCL from the district level all the way to the top are government officials instead of workers. This will change with the TPP.
Article 19.3 requires all TPP parties to adopt and maintain regulations that comply with the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including freedom of association. This broad requirement is detailed in the U.S.-Vietnam Plan for the Enhancement of Trade and Labor Relations, which lays out the statutes and language for Vietnam to come into compliance with the TPP. Key reforms include provisions that ensure all workers be permitted to “form a grassroots labor union of their own choosing … without prior authorization” and with the right to “autonomously elect its representatives.” This means that workers can finally organize unions independent from the VGCL that are run by workers. This is significant because it empowers employees to protect their own interest — particularly when it comes to collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining is the negotiation between the representatives of the labor collective and the employer to establish working conditions formalized in a collective labor agreement (CLA). As a result, a CLA between employees and employer will define working conditions, labor usage, and obligations of each party in their employment relationship. The CLA serves as the basic document detailing legal requirements in each enterprise and grants workers the chance to negotiate with their employer for labor terms better than statutorily required. As such, a CLA is critical in an employment relationship.
Given their importance, many enterprises in Vietnam have prepared and implemented CLAs. However, many enterprises often use CLAs to temporarily deal with pressure from authorities and include terms contrary to or less favorable than statutorily required. The reason for such low-quality CLAs range from a lack of awareness of procedure to government influence on self-selected union leaders. Given the wide range of issues preventing high-quality CLAs in Vietnam, the TPP makes a number of important reforms.
Article 19.3 requires all TPP parties to adopt and maintain regulations for the “effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.” Moreover, the TPP supports better negotiating outcomes by ensuring unions can consult “international worker organizations” regarding labor union activities like collective bargaining and securing autonomy of grassroots labor unions from upper-level unions. Combined with the protection for independent association, the TPP gets to the heart of the system plaguing collective bargaining from adequately serving worker’s interests in Vietnam–setting the regulatory framework for improved labor conditions.
Vietnam is held accountable to these labor commitments through TPP’s enforcement mechanism. Like all TPP partners, Vietnam is subject to dispute settlement with the weight of trade sanctions if it systematically fails to uphold its commitments under the Labor Chapter. More significantly, the details in the implementation plan must be completed before any benefits of the trade agreement can flow to Vietnam. Therefore, there are two layers of enforcement specifically for labor obligations: one to facilitate rapid regulatory reform, and another to maintain compliance.
With this comprehensive approach, I am optimistic the TPP will bring positive changes to the labor environment in Vietnam over the next five years. When labor unions finally speak with the voices of workers, there will be improvement in living standards and individual rights. This is exactly what the TPP promises. As such, both the United States and Vietnam must urgently take action to pass the TPP and seize the opportunity for a better civil society in Vietnam.
Oliver Massmann is the General Director and practicing lawyer at Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.
============== April 21=============
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security and the Dutch Embassy in the Southeast Asian nation co-organized a training course on implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, state media has reported.
The two-day event starting on April 19 attracted participation of over 20 delegates from the Ministries of Public Security, Foreign Affairs, and Justice and the Dutch Embassy.
On the first day, Professor Dr. Lieutenant General Nguyen Ngoc Anh, head of the MPS’s Department of Justice and Administrative-Legal Reforms, presented Vietnam’s efforts in the implementation of the convention as well as the results of the first training course organized by the La Hay-based Clingendael Institute of International Relations.
Mr. Bart Hogeveen and Mr. Adriaan Zondag, two experts from Clingendael, presented contents of the convention and the Dutch experiences in its implementation as well as the plan for the 3rd training course on the issue.
The Netherlands was among the first countries adopted the convention while Vietnam signed it in 2013 and ratified it a year later.
Police torture is a thorny issue in Vietnam. According to the Ministry of Public Security, 226 detainees and suspects died in police custody in the period between October 2010 and September 2014, and police said most of their deaths were caused by illness and suicides while social networks and the families of the victims said their deaths were caused by police power abuse.
More than ten of people were reported to have died in police stations or outside related to police officers so far this year, according to state-run media.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said police torture is systemic in Vietnam.
Only a few Vietnamese policemen have been disciplined with light sentences for torturing suspects.
Vietnam Says U.S. Reports on Its Human Rights Based on Incorrect Information
Defend the Defenders: The annual report on human rights in Vietnam in 2015 issued by the U.S. Department of State refers to inaccurate information and presented a biased assessment on implementation of human rights in the Southeast Asian nation, said Spokesman Le Hai Binh of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Speaking at a regular press conference in Hanoi on April 21, Mr. Binh said the report released by the U.S. Department of State on April 13 recognized some results of Vietnam in ensuring human rights.
Vietnam always stands ready to engage in candid and open discussions with all countries including the US on the outstanding issues over which we still have differences of opinion, Binh said.
Vietnam is ready to frankly discuss with other countries, including the U.S., on these differences to enhance understanding and promote comprehensive cooperation, he noted.
According to the report of the U.S. Department of State, Vietnam is an authoritarian state monopolistically ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2011, were neither free nor fair, despite limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The Vietnamese government began implementing laws in accordance with constitutional amendments, including human rights-related articles, promulgated in January 2014. In November the National Assembly passed several laws affecting the rights of its citizens, including a new penal code, criminal procedure code, law on custody and temporary detention, civil code, and civil procedure code. The criminal procedure code and the custody law codified the presumption of innocence, placed the burden of proof in criminal proceedings on the state, recognized a limited right to remain silent in certain circumstances, and loosened regulations on the right to counsel. The penal code retained vague national security provisions and in some areas added new offenses criminalizing preparatory acts, the report said.
The most serious human rights problems in the country were severe government restrictions of citizens’ political rights, particularly their right to change their government through free and fair elections; limits on citizens’ civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, association, and expression; and inadequate protection of citizens’ due process rights, including protection against arbitrary detention, it said.
Other human rights abuses included arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life; police attacks and corporal punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention for political activities; continued police mistreatment of suspects during arrest and detention, including the use of lethal force and austere prison conditions; and denial of the right to a fair and expeditious trial. The judicial system was opaque and lacked independence, and political and economic influences regularly affected judicial outcomes. The government limited freedom of speech and suppressed dissent; exercised control over and censorship of the press; restricted internet freedom and freedom of religion; maintained often-heavy surveillance of activists; and continued to limit privacy rights and freedoms of assembly, association, and movement. The government continued to control registration of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) closely, including human rights organizations. Authorities restricted visits by human rights NGOs that did not agree to government oversight. Authorities and NGOs recorded higher numbers of human trafficking victims, possibly attributable to growing demand among neighboring countries as well as the country’s decision in 2012 to improve its efforts to track and investigate cases. The government maintained limits on workers’ rights to form and join independent unions and did not enforce safe and healthy working conditions adequately. Child labor persisted, especially in agricultural occupations, the report said.
The government sometimes took corrective action, including prosecutions, against officials who violated the law, and police officers sometimes acted with impunity, the report said, adding police corruption persisted.
You can read the full report here: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015
Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese medical doctor Nguyen Dan Que and Malaysian Bersih 2.0 (Gabungan Pilihanraya Bersih dan Adil) are co-recipients of the 2016 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights from the South Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation for their contributions to human rights, democracy and peace, according to a report by foreign media.
Nguyen Dan Que is a pro-democracy activist living in Vietnam’s southern economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Bersih 2.0 is the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections in Malaysia.
Born in April 1942 in Hanoi and receiving an MD from Saigon University, Mr. Que has fought for human rights and democracy and criticized the communist regime’s discriminatory health care policy.
He was outspoken on behalf of those who had no voice, challenging the government’s practice of selectively favoring communist party members while neglecting the poor.
In 1976, he joined forces with some friends who shared his frustration at the lack of basic human rights in Vietnam and founded the non-violent National Progressive Front. Dr. Que was arrested in 1978 along with 47 fellow activists and was detained for ten years without formal charges or a trial, beaten, tortured and placed in solitary confinement.
Respected non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch pressed for his release and the doctor was freed in 1988 in deteriorated health conditions.
Que was not silenced by this horrific experience. He founded the Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights to return to the Vietnamese people the right to choose their own form of government according to their will through free and fair elections.
He was arrested one month later in June 1990 and tortured and imprisoned without a trial. In November 1991, Que was brought to trial on charges of trying to overthrow the government. Despite vocal opposition by the U.S. Congress, Que faced a brief trial, without witnesses or legal representation, and was ultimately sentenced to 20 years of hard labor and five years of house arrest.
However, he never gave up what he was doing for human rights and democracy. For instance, he established the Vietnamese Bloggers Network and the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights Association in 2013. At the start of 2014, Que called for all former prisoners of conscience to unite in a league across the country and continue rallying for human rights and democracy in Vietnam. In this context, he and his colleagues founded the Association of Former Prisoners of Conscience.
Dr. Que’s quest for freedom for his people and the persecution he has suffered have inspired men and women around the world to speak out on his behalf. Among them, the Robert F Kennedy Memorial Centre for Human Rights presented Que with the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award. Inspired by his courage and his persistent determination to fight for a free and democratic Vietnam, the US Congress honored him by passing Joint Resolution SJ 168. President Clinton subsequently signed it into Public Law: 103- 258 designating 11 May as Vietnam Human Rights Day.
The Bersih 2.0 rally (also called the Walk for Democracy) was a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur held on 9 July 2011 as a follow-up to the 2007 Bersih rally. The rally, organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), was supported by Pakatan Rakyat, the coalition of the three largest opposition parties in Malaysia, but was deemed illegal by the government.
The committee found that the value of human rights and peace were realized by Nguyen Dan Que and Bersih 2.0 and highly praised Que’s achievements that inspired other Asian regions.
The Washington Post: Nguyen Huu Vinh is a Vietnamese blogger better known by the name Ahn Ba Sam. He’s no radical; he was once a police officer in the Ministry of Public Security in Hanoi, later a private investigator, and is the son of a former Vietnamese government minister who served as ambassador to the Soviet Union. After leaving the police, Mr. Vinh started several popular blogs that provided links to articles about social, political, economic and cultural issues in Vietnam, drawing from state media and from activists.
The blogs were too much for Vietnam’s authoritarian rulers, who control the major news outlets and restrict speech, association and religion. In May 2014, Mr. Vinh was detained, along with his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. They were held in prison throughout last year, without trial, a period when Vietnam was in the final throes of negotiating with the United States over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Then, on March 23, the bloggers were put on trial, accused of “abusing rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.” Prosecutors said some of the articles on their site had “untruthful and groundless contents” that tarnished the country’s image. Mr. Vinh was sentenced to five years in prison and his assistant to three years. Both insisted at the one-day trial they were innocent. The presiding judge thought otherwise, and said the articles they had posted “present a one-sided and pessimistic view, causing anxiety and worry, and affecting people’s confidence” in the Communist Party and the government, and “go against the interests of the nation.”
Vietnam has previously prosecuted bloggers and discourages dissent in other ways, too. According to Human Rights Watch, last year at least 45 bloggers and rights activists were beaten by plainclothes agents. Late last year, the state’s thugs badly beat up Nguyen Van Dai, a prominent human rights activist and lawyer. He led a workshop on human rights in early December in Nghe An province and was assaulted by plainclothes goons. On Dec. 16 in Hanoi, he was formally arrested and thrown into solitary confinement. His wife, Vu Minh Khanh, told us he has not been allowed visitors or contact with his family. He was told his arrest was for “conducting propaganda against the state.” He was fighting for a freer and more open Vietnam.
We have been hopeful that Vietnam’s inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal would nudge its rulers toward greater openness and tolerance, but Ms. Khanh said the human rights situation is “dreadful” and growing worse. Even though the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not explicitly about democracy, the United States ought to bring up human rights at every opportunity, to drive home the point that blogging and human rights workshops are consistent with an open and free society. President Obama, due to make his first visit to Vietnam next month, ought to carry the message personally. Vietnam’s besieged bloggers and human rights defenders would find it encouraging.
======= Apr 23=======
Defend the Defenders: All Vietnamese activists who self-nominated to run for seats in the country’s parliamentary election scheduled in May have been eliminated from further running in unfair manners, observers said.
Dozens of activists had decided to test the democratization process in Vietnam by registering as self-nominees for the parliament election on May 22. However, they were eliminated in unfair consultations and meetings with “selected voters” in their localities organized by the Vietnam Fatherland Front, a mass organization under the umbrella of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).
During the meetings in which participants, mostly security agents and people selected by local authorities, criticized activists and charged them with groundless accusations. The activists were not allowed to give feedback nor introduce their working plan if they were selected as legislators.
Finally, “selected voters” conducted ballots in which local authorities manipulated the results as they wanted.
On April 19, the VFF’s Presidium approved 1,121 eligible candidates to run for the election of the country’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) of the 14th tenure.
The VFF approved a list of 197 candidates from central organizations and agencies, while 735 other candidates were voted through at the 3rd consultation meetings in provinces and cities.
Only some so called “independent individuals” have been put in the final lists of the candidates. Some of them are also senior officials in government-based organizations.
The number of candidates for People’s Councils in the provincial level is 6,462, media reported.
According to the VFF’s provincial and municipal standing boards, the meetings gathering opinions from voters on candidates have been held in a democratic and transparent manner in line with regulations.
Vietnam will hold the general election for the parliament and People’s Councils in the provincial, district and communal levels on May 22. The number of communist members will continue to dominate the parliament in the next five-year tenure.
In late March and early April, the rubber stamp parliament in the 13th tenure formally approved the new leadership followed the 12th National Congress of the ruling party in late January, including NA’s Speaker Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, President Tran Dai Quang and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. They are set to be re-elected by the next parliament which is scheduled to hold the first meeting on July.
====== April 24==========
Hanoi Police Detain Five Activists during 3rd Anniversary of Brotherhood of Democracy
Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on April 23 detained five activists while they gathered with others to mark the 3rd anniversary of the pro-democracy group Brotherhood of Democracy.
Police arrested Ly Quang Son, Pham Minh Vu, Do Tuan, Do Gia Long and Truong Dung at noon when the activists were taking their lunch at a local restaurant, and released them in late evening of Sunday.
Activists reported that they planned to hold a meeting in a cafeteria in Giai Phong Street, however, local police requested the owner not to serve the members of Brotherhood of Democracy and its guests.
The activities then moved to a restaurant nearby, however they were also rejected under police pressure.
Finally they went to a restaurant in Hoang Cau Street to take lunch there. When they were taking their meal, police officers came to detain the five activists. Police also wanted to carry out an administrative check on other activists; however, they met strong protest from the activists who requested the police to show the order and reasons for checking.
The detainees said they were not beaten by police officers but Ly Quang Son complained that his iPad was broken during the detention.
The detention aims to trouble activists as security forces don’t want local activists to meet and form larger group.
Brotherhood of Democracy was established by human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested on December 16 last year, together with his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha. The duo was charged with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.
The pro-democracy group has hundreds of members across the nation. Vietnam’s government has considered it politically very dangerous to its monopoly of power and has harassed its members in the past three years.
In order to maintain the country under a one-party regime, the Vietnamese communist government has not tolerated any criticism and made all efforts to prevent the formation of opposition party.
On April 8, Hanoi police also severely beat and detained eight activists during a meeting in a cafeteria to mark the 10th anniversary of the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406. Police kept the detainees in custody until mid-night of the same day.
Vietnamese political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders are subject to regular harassment, persecution and other inhumane treatment at the hands of local security forces, observers said.