Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly May 06-15, 2016: Vietnam Continues Political Crackdown, Violently Dispersing Peaceful Demonstrations on Environmental Issues

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly | May 15, 2016

tuần tin

[themify_box style=”blue comment rounded” ]

Vietnam’s communist government has continued its persecution against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, suppressing peaceful demonstration on environmental issues across the nation during the week.

Security forces in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations, severely beating and detaining many protestors. Authorities in major cities have deployed large number of police officers to set up patrol points in main streets to prevent gathering of local activists, and near private residences of activists to bar them from going out, especially during the weekend.

Responding to the ongoing intensified political crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement to express its concern about the increasing levels of violence perpetrated against Vietnamese protesters and urged Vietnam’s government to adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, and ensure that all the persons negatively affected, in this case fishermen, have access to effective remedies.

One week ahead of the upcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Vietnam, the Washington Post urged him to address human rights issue in talks with the local leadership. Vietnam must improve its human rights situation if the communist government wants to enhance comprehensive partnership with the U.S., the newspaper’s Editorial Board said.

On May 9, the newly-established Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON) issued a statement to condemn Vietnam’s persecution against peaceful protests in recent weeks. The VICSON has also requested the government to be more transparent on the ongoing environmental disaster in the central coastal region and take urgent actions to deal with the problem as well as thoroughly investigate the real causes and bring the violators to court.

Authorities in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai continue to harass Mrs. Tran Thi Hong, the wife of jailed Protestant Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh. They summoned her to local police station for interrogation about the recent meeting with U.S. diplomats.

And many other important news

[/themify_box]

============== May 9===============

VICSON’S STATEMENT ON THE SUPPRESSION OF VIETNAMESE PROTESTER FOR CLEANER ENVIRONMENT

Reality:

For more than a month, the North-Central region of Vietnam has experienced an environmental disaster. Yet, there has not been any official statement from Vietnam’s government to explain the causes and consequences of the disaster. The information which was disseminated through the state media was not sufficient to clear doubts and worries of the Vietnamese people. The government’s lack of information has created doubt and outrage amongst the population.

The government’s ability to manage the country was unacceptable. It was a foremost factor exacerbating the consequences of the disaster, which not only affected the region but also spread rapidly across the country. Faced with a high risk of food poisoning, the Vietnamese people were very afraid. The primary concern is that the government has not yet found satisfactory solutions to solve the problems, although the situation is becoming more serious by the day.

Vietnam has 3,260 km of coastline, tropical marine climate, and tens of millions of people living on the cost, whose livelihood depend entirely on fishing and sea-based industries. The environmental disaster destroying Vietnams’ marine habitat, and its consequences on the ocean, has threatened the survival of a large portion of the population.

Vietnamese citizens’ reactions:

Although the state media has tried to reassure public opinion, their efforts were not enough to neutralize the disbelief of the majority of Vietnamese people. Public opinion has become more reactive at various levels. Public outrage has culminated in protests in the past two weeks in the capital Hanoi, Saigon city, and other places across the country.

Thousands of protesters gathered on Sunday, August 1st and Sunday, August 8th, 2016 to demand the government to address the devastating environmental pollution.

Instead of welcoming the opinion of Vietnamese people, the government of Vietnam has chosen to suppress the protests.

Hundreds of people have been illegally arrested and beaten by police in Hanoi and Saigon city. It is worth to mention that women and children were among the most affected during the protests. The peaceful protesters have been continuously beaten and arrested during the last two weeks due to their outrage of the environmental disaster coupling through Northern and Central coastlines of Vietnam.

The freedom of assembly has been enshrined in Article No. 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Vietnamese government is a signatory party to. In addition, Article No. 25 of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam of 2013, maintains the right to freedom of opinion and speech, and gives legitimacy to peaceful demonstrations.

We, the thirteen organizations of the network of civil society organizations independent Vietnam (Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network- VICSON) state our views:

  1. Strongly condemn the repression of the Vietnamese Government against the peaceful marches for environmental protection. The Government of Vietnam has to stop this unconstitutional action and stop the repression of Vietnamese people immediately.
  2. The Government of Vietnam has the obligation to respect and protect the right tofreedom of expressionand freedom of establishing association which are recorded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Vietnamese government suppressed the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom to peacefully demonstrate the concerns of its citizens. This also means the government is limiting the civil, political, economic, and cultural rights of Vietnamese citizens.
  1. The authorities must immediately make the responsible of the environmental disaster accountable for the damage. Moreover, the government should provide accurate statistics of the impact the disaster will have on the national economy.
  2. The government should create favorable conditions for international environmental organizations and civil society organizations to conduct independent investigations into the incident and directly consult with the government on other environmental problems in Vietnam.

Vietnam, May 09, 2016

The signatory organizations:

1 / Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience

2 / Association of Con Dau Parish

3/ Bach Dang Giang Foundation

4/ Nhon Sanh Caodaist Bloc

5/ Brotherhood for Democracy

6/ Vietnamese Political & Religious Prisoners Friendship Association

7/ Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ

8/ Religious and Ethnic Minorities Defenders

9/ Association of Bau Bi Tuong Than

10/ People Claiming Rights to Live Association (PCRL)

11/ Vietnamese Women for Human Rights

12 / Defend the Defenders

13/ Association for Promoting Freedom of Religion and Belief

============ May 10=============

Many Vietnamese Bloggers Barred from Meeting with U.S. Senior Diplomat, One Detained

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on May 10 blocked private residence of a number of bloggers, barring them from attending a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski, who is visiting the communist nation to prepare for the upcoming visit of President Barack Obama to the Southeast Asian nation.

Among the victims of Hanoi police’s suppression are Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), Mr. Vu Quoc Ngu, executive officer of Defend the Defenders (DTD) and co-president of Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON), and blogger Le Anh Hung.

The bloggers said Hanoi’s authorities have deployed a large numbers of plainclothes agents to set up patrol points near their private residence, and block the activists when they tried to go out. A senior security officer in Thanh Tri district said he received an order from his supervisors not to allow Mr. Ngu to go out today.

Mr. Hung, who has many anti-corruption articles posted on Voice of America radio, was reportedly to be detained to a city’s police station in Tran Hung Dao Street. His situation is unclear.

Last month, security forces in Hanoi also detained many senior official of IJAVN and barred other members from participating in a meeting of the group which aimed to discuss the U.S.-Vietnam relations and the visit of President Obama. IJAVN fights for freedom of press in Vietnam.

During his stay in Hanoi, Mr. Malinowski and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel have worked with numerous government agencies to prepare the working schedule of President Obama who scheduled to arrive in the communist nation on May 22.

Mr. Malinowski planned to meet with representatives of local civil society organizations, including IJAVN to ask their proposals on strengthening the two countries’ comprehensive partnership and enhancing human rights situation in the Southeast Asian nation.

At a press conference in Hanoi on May 9, Mr. Russel said human rights and legal reform are one of five key issues of the upcoming visit of President Barack Obama to Vietnam.

Speaking with local media, Mr. Russel said the U.S. is interested in the ongoing legal reform in Vietnam, including amending the country’s laws in compliance with the Constitution 2013 and universal human rights standards.

The U.S. wants people in foreign countries, including Vietnam, to enjoy universal human rights, he said, adding the improvement in the issue is important for bilateral cooperation and stability and economic development of its partners.

A strong Vietnam with respected universal human rights will serve the interests of Vietnamese people, Russel said.

Vietnam considers independent civil society organizations illegal, and applies a number of measures to suppress them.

Along with banning international travel for political dissidents, social activists and human rights, Vietnam has also barred them from meeting with foreign diplomats.

Prior to the country’s general elections for the parliament and People’s Councils in the provincial, district and communal level and the upcoming visit of President Obama, Vietnam has intensified crackdown to silence local activists.

In the past two weeks, police have violently suppressed a number of peaceful demonstrations for environmental issues nationwide. Hundreds of activists have been detained for interrogation, and dozens of them, including women, elders and children have been severely beaten by security agents.

—————-

UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do calls on President Obama to speak out for human rights during visit to Vietnam

Vietnam Committee for Human Rights (VCHR): Venerable Thich Quang Do, the Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam has sent a letter to urge U.S. President Barack Obama to press Vietnam’s leaders on human rights when he visits the communist nation later this month.

In the letter, Venerable Do said President Obama should use his trip to speak out for the thousands of Vietnamese, young and old, men and women, farmers and workers, academics, journalists, bloggers and followers of all religious denominations who are suffering imprisonment, house arrest, assaults and harassments because of their engagement for religious freedom, democracy and the respect of human rights”.

“Vietnam’s government has made no attempt to open the political system, nor establish the institutions necessary to safeguard its citizens’ rights. Forty-one years after the end of the Vietnam War, we still have no free press, no democratic opposition parties and no independent civil society,” he said in the letter.

The prominent dissident and 2016 Nobel Peace prize nominee, who heads the independent, non-recognized UBCV has been held under de facto house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon since 2003 without any justification or charge.

——————-

Canadian Senator Thanh Hai Ngo Concerned About the Impacts of the Environmental Disaster in Vietnam

Canadian Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, who has Vietnamese origin, on May 10 issued his statement expressing his deep concerns about the impacts of the environmental disaster in Vietnam.

“I am truly concerned about the serious impacts of the recent environmental disaster in Vietnam, where mass amounts of dead fish have washed up on the country’s central coastline and began to cover the southern coast.

“This environmental disaster has had financial, health and environmental implications for the Vietnamese people living in one of the most vulnerable regions. The mass fish deaths along Vietnam’s shores have also compromised the people’s human rights in that country. Peaceful demonstrators who have participated in organized rallies to express their concerns about the imminent pollution disaster have been detained and beaten by police. Such excessive use of force by Vietnamese communist law enforcement officers against peaceful protestors calling for a greater government response is reckless and troubling.

“Vietnam’s communist government must take stronger action to determine the real cause of this disaster and to alleviate the consequences. Moreover, government authorities must protect the rights of Vietnamese people to protest against such environmental disasters that interfere with the enjoyment of human rights.

“The Socialist Republic of Vietnam must fully respect the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which both Vietnam and Canada have also signed.

“The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, recognized in the International Covenant on Cultural, Economic and Social Rights, to which both Vietnam and Canada have signed.

“The Canadian government must urge the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to respect the right to freedom of assembly in keeping with international law, and to listen to the thousands of protesters calling for swift action to end the pollution and ensure that all those who have been poisoned by the polluted water receive proper treatment.

Senator Thanh Hai Ngo Concerned About the Impacts of the Environmental Disaster in Vietnam

==============

Vietnamese Police Officer Suspended after Slapping Citizen

Defend the Defenders: A police officer in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai has been suspended from work after he hit a civilian at the local police station early this month.

Police in Vinh Cuu district have confirmed that they suspended officer Nguyen Xuan Truong in order to clarify a case in which he slapped Nguyen Thi Thanh Hang, a local citizen, in the face during an argument at his station on May 1.

On the night of the incident, local officers carried out an inspection of the motorcycle of Nguyen Hoang Anh, Hang’s older brother, and ordered him to take his vehicle to the police station.

Anh refused to cooperate and left his motorbike at the scene, and the police brought it to the facility themselves.

Hang and her mother Nguyen Thi Ngoc Nga arrived at the police station later, asking for the reason of the police’s confiscation of Anh’s motorcycle. Mrs. Nga and Truong held a fierce argument.

As Hang attempted to stop the two from fighting, she got hit in the face by the police officer. Due to the attack, Hang’s eye was bruised while her mother was handcuffed. Police officers did not let Nga take her daughter to the hospital for treatment.

According to Colonel Pham Van Bay, chief of the Vinh Cuu district police department, apologies have been extended to Nga and her family while an investigation is underway, after which the individuals involved will be punished.

He admitted that it was unacceptable for a police officer to attack a civilian.

Tạm đình chỉ công tác công an viên tát phụ nữ

============== May 11===============

Saigon-based Activists Hold First Vietnam Human Rights Day May 11 amid Intensified Political Crackdown

Defend the Defenders: Dozens of activists in Saigon on Wednesday held the first meeting to mark the Vietnam Human Rights Day [May 11] amid the government’s intensified crackdown against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

Among attendees were Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, initiator of “Program for the Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights in Vietnam”, former political prisoners Le Cong Dinh, Pham Ba Hai, Tran Minh Nhat and Pham Minh Hoang, blogger Tran Bang and Duong Thi Tan.

During the meeting, Dr. Que highlighted the history of Vietnam Human Rights Day, an annual observance held in the U.S. on May 11 designated by a Joint Resolution passed by the U.S. Congress in 1994.

Dr. Que, who was recently awarded with the South Korean Gwangju Prize for Human Rights this year, said the resolution was based on his calling for enhancing democracy and human rights in Vietnam in 1990 right after being released from prison. Due to his call, the Vietnamese government arrested him for the second time and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Recognizing the need for additional human rights protection in the single-party Vietnam where the government has imposed restriction on freedom of association, assembly, press and speech, the U.S. Congress designated May 11 as Vietnam Human Rights Day to commemorate a “Program for the Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights in Vietnam” developed by Dr. Que.

Since 1994, the U.S. Congress has marked the day every year, and Vietnam is only the country in the world for which the Congress has such a resolution.

However, due to local suppression, Vietnamese activists had no chance to mark the day. Vietnam’s security forces have taken all measures to prevent local activists from gathering.

On April 8, police in Hanoi violently dispersed a peaceful meeting at a local cafeteria of dozens of local activists who gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406, severely beating and detaining nearly ten of them.

Dr. Que said he hopes the Vietnam Human Rights Day to be popular and marked freely every year in the future with participation of thousands of people.

========== May 12==============

Vietnam Veteran Journalist to Hold Public Demonstration in HCMC to Protest Violent Suppression against Environmentalists

Defend the Defenders: Ho Chi Minh City-based veteran journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh has announced that he will conduct a public demonstration before the local government building on the coming Sunday [May 15] to protest the local authorities’ recent violent suppression against environmentalists.

On his statement publicized in social networks, Mr. Chenh, 64, said he will go to Nguyen Hue Street, a walking road near the city’s municipal building, at 3 PM of the day to sit there to express his support for environmental activists who have been severely beaten by HCMC security forces in recent weeks.

Mr. Chenh, who was a senior outspoken reporter of the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper, said he is ready to be subject to brutal attacks, detention and other degrading treatments by the city’s police in the same way other activists were treated in the past two weeks, especially in two last Sundays.

“The city’s police can attack me instead of assaulting females and children as they did on last Sunday,” said Mr. Chenh who was honored with the Netizen of the Year 2013 by the Reporters Without Borders.

Mr. Chenh, who is a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, said he may face illegal detention and torture of the city’s police. “I will not cooperate with the security forces and sit in the police station to protest if I am being arrested,” he said.

“Even they force me to go back to my house, I will come back to protest,” he declared.

“HCMC’s authorities can beat me, but they must return clean sea to Vietnam’s people,” he said.

In the past two weeks, security forces in Hanoi and HCMC and other areas have violently suppressed activists who peacefully rallied in major streets in these localities to protest the alleged discharge of toxic chemicals by the Taiwanese Formosa steel complex into Vietnam’s sea and demand the Vietnamese government to take urgent actions to deal with the large-scale contamination of sea water in the country’s central coastal areas as well as conduct thorough investigation to bring the environmental polluter to justice.

Many Vietnamese people believe that the Ha Tinh province-based Taiwanese factory, a unit of Formosa Plastic Corp., is responsible for the massive death of aquatic species in the central coastal region by throwing a huge volume of improperly-treated waste which contains very toxic chemicals in areas near the steel mill.

On May 1 and May 8, security forces in Hanoi, HCMC, Danang and Nha Trang detained hundreds of protestors. Many activists, including women and their children claimed that police officers and militia severely beat them during the detention and in police stations. Police also used tear gas to attack demonstrators.

Police released most of detainees on the same day but kept in custody a number of activists longer, tortured them before freeing on the next day.

Police also attacked activists who came to police stations to request immediate and unconditional release of the illegally-detained environmentalists.

On May 5, two Ho Chi Minh City-based environmentalists Lau Nhat Phong and Mac Vi Luc conducted public protest on environmental issues on Nguyen Hue Street, the same street that Mr. Chenh plans to go. They were detained in police station where they were allegedly tortured by police officers.

Meanwhile, Formosa, which discharged roughly 931,830 cubic meters of waste water into Vietnam’s sea in the first quarter this year, admitted that it imported 300 tons of very toxic chemicals, including CYC-VPrefilm900, CYC-Vprefilm400, CYC-Vclosetrol360, and CYC-VMA 796 for cleaning their machineries and pipes in its steel production project in Ha Tinh.

Vietnam is still conducting investigation on the mass deaths of hundreds of tons of aquatic species in the coastal areas of the four central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue. The environmental catastrophe, which started on April 6, has also killed vast areas of coral in the region.

————–

Authorities in Gia Lai Interrogate Pastor’s Wife over Meeting with U.S. Diplomats

Radio of Free Asia: Local police in Vietnam subjected the wife of an imprisoned Mennonite pastor to an intense interrogation about a meeting with a U.S. religious freedom delegation that visited the Southeast Asian nation two months ago.

Tran Thi Hong, wife of pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, received a request from local authorities where she lives in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai at 2 PM on May 12, instructing her to come to their offices in 30 minutes to “work with them”— a euphemism for an interrogation.

Her husband, a prominent activist and pastor of a banned church, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in southeastern province of Binh Duong for “undermining unity” by maintaining ties with dissident groups and distributing material deemed to have “slandered” government authorities.

Hong, who suffered injuries from beatings by authorities on April 14 following the March 30 meeting with members of the U.S. delegation, responded that she could not meet with them because she had yet to recover from the earlier abuse.

“About an hour later, they told some members of the commune’s Women’s Union to go to my house and force me to come there,” she said.

The Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) is a mass organization with provincial, district and communal offices that implement policies of the communist government and programs for women and children.

“I was alone and could not resist them, so I went,” Hong said.

Ten people, including provincial police, city police, and members of the government-backed Vietnamese Fatherland Front, Women’s Union and the commune’s People’s Committee, took turns questioning her until 7.30 PM, she said.

“I was very tired during the talk,” she said. “They checked my blood pressure and saw that I was tired. They interrogated me about my meeting with the U.S. delegation on religious freedom on March 30. They told me the meeting was a violation of Vietnamese law.”

Hong told the authorities that the meeting did not violate any domestic laws, and that she and one of her children had been stopped, harassed and robbed while they were on their way to meet the American diplomats.

“I told them about the meeting with the U.S. delegation and questioned them about whether there is anything wrong with that?” she said.

“I answered some questions and ignored others,” Hong said.

Vietnamese Authorities Interrogate Pastor’s Wife Over Meeting With U.S. Diplomats

======= May 13=======

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Concerned about Increasing Violence against Vietnam Activists

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on May 13 has issued a statement to express its concern over the ongoing Vietnam’s intensified crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

“We are concerned about the increasing levels of violence perpetrated against Vietnamese protesters expressing their anger over the mysterious mass deaths of fish along the country’s central coast. We call on the Government of Viet Nam to respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with its international human rights obligations,” said Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville.

Last Sunday, authorities forcefully broke up demonstrations involving around 3,000 protesters in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Tear gas was used to disperse the protesters, and it was reported that about 300 people were beaten and arrested during the protests.

Some women and children were among those arrested and hurt. All of those detained have since been released.

The demonstrations followed smaller rallies on 1 May in the same cities. About a dozen people were hurt during the protests, which are a rare occurrence in Viet Nam.

Since April, tones of dead fish have washed ashore along a 200-km stretch of coastline in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces. Protesters accuse a Taiwanese steel plant of being behind the fish deaths. However, the government has said the fish deaths were the result of a toxic algae bloom.

We urge the Vietnamese authorities to adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, and ensure that all the persons negatively affected, in this case fishermen, have access to effective remedies.”

============May 14=============

Many Vietnamese Activists under House Arrest during Weekend One Week Prior to Obama’s Visit

Defend the Defenders: Many Vietnamese activists have reported that they are under house arrest during this weekend one week prior to the official visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the communist nation and the general elections for the country’s parliament and People’s Councils in all levels.

Saigon-based prominent human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists Le Cong Dinh and Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, bloggers Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Nguyen Xuan Dien, Le Dung, and Vu Quoc Ngu from Hanoi and many others are under de facto house arrest as local authorities are deploying a large number of plainclothes agents to monitor their private residences since May 14.

Police are setting up patrol points near their residences and do not allow them to go out in a bid to prevent them from attending peaceful demonstrations to raise their voices about the country’s socio-economic issues, particularly the ongoing environmental disaster in the nation’s central coastal areas where hundreds of tons of marine species have died due to sea water contamination, allegedly by very toxic chemicals.

During the week, Vietnamese environmentalists have called for national peaceful demonstration on Saturday and Sunday to demand the government to thoroughly investigate the environmental catastrophe in the central coastal region and take urgent actions to deal with the problem which is predicted to have negative impact on the country’s environment and socio-economic development for decades.

More than one month after the massive death of aquatic species in the central region, Vietnam’s government has yet to release official report on defining the real causes of the issue, saying relevant agencies are still conducting investigation.

Many experts and environmentalists have blamed the Formosa steel plant of the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Corp. for causing the en-mass death of fish as it has discharged a huge volume of improperly-treated waste into Vietnam’s sea. The Taiwanese firm, which has carried out a $10 billion steel project in Vietnam’s central province of Ha Tinh and plans to raise its total investment in its complex in the province to nearly $30 billion, has admitted to importing over 300 tons of very toxic chemicals for cleaning its machineries in its Ha Tinh province-based plant. It has also admitted to have released roughly 931,830 cubic meters of waste water into Vietnam’s sea in the first quarter this year without being inspected by the local authorities.

Vietnam’s government has little tolerance for criticism and has applied measures to prevent and suppress all spontaneous public demonstrations although the right of freedom of assembly is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution. The Ministry of Public Security has used controversial government decrees, particularly Decree 36 to suppress peaceful rallies and charge protestors with causing public disorders under Article 258 of the Penal Code.

Meanwhile, many activists, including Saigon-based veteran journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh have announced plans to hold public protests on streets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to condemn the violent suppression against peaceful demonstrators, including women and children across the nation in recent weeks.

On May 1 and May 8, security forces in Hanoi, HCMC, Nha Trang and Danang violently suppressed environmental demonstrations in which thousands of activists participated. Police arrested hundreds of protestors and severely beat them during the detention and in police’s custody.

Meanwhile, President Obama will conduct his first and final visit to Vietnam on a capacity of the head of the White House on May 22-25. Vietnam’s human rights situation is among key issues of his talks with the local leadership.

Vietnam will carry out formal general elections on May 22 to elect the new parliament in the 14th tenure and People’s Councils in provincial, district and communal levels in the 2016-2020 period. In April, the rubber stamp parliament in the 13th term formally elected the new leadership, including the top legislator, the prime minister and the president.

The Vietnamese new leadership will continue to apply strict political control to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, foreign and local observers said./.

========May 15==========

Vietnamese Environmentalists Rally in Localities despite Intensified Crackdown ahead of Parliament Election

Defend the Defenders: Many Vietnamese activists have conducted peaceful demonstration on environmental issues in a number of localities despite the ongoing intensified crackdown one week prior to the general election for the country’s parliament.

Small groups of activists successfully escaped close monitoring of local security to gather in centers of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau and Hue and other places to voice their concerns about the ongoing disaster in the central coastal region which has killed hundreds of tons of marine species since April 6.

However, most of the protest lasted few minutes and police came to disperse, taking dozens of them to police’s custody for interrogation.

Hundreds of Catholic followers in Song Ngoc parish in Quynh Ngoc commune, Quynh Luu district in the central province of Nghe An led by Priests JB Nguyen Dinh Thuc and Tran Dinh Te took to streets and gathered in front of the local government building to demand fast investigation and urgent actions to deal with the massive death of fish in the central coastal region.

Numerous activists have been put under house arrest since late May 13 as local authorities have deployed plainclothes agents and militia to patrol near their private residences. Not allowed to go out, many of them have conducted sit-in protest to oppose the government’s violation of their right of free movement, and demand the government to settle issues related to the environmental disaster in the central coastal region.

Security forces have tightened control in major cities, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Authorities in these places have deployed numerous police officers who are equipped with modern weapons and devices to patrol main streets in these cities. Police officers have kept close eyes to people walking on streets and detain all suspected people, including tourists who just want to take pictures.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s government has yet to clearly define the causes of the en-mass death of fish in the four central coastal province of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue. Many experts and activists believe that the discharge of huge volume of toxic waste of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in Ha Tinh is the main cause for the disaster which can affect the environment and the livelihood of tens of millions of people in the region, especially the local fishermen.

The Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Corp, which has carried out a $10 billion steel project in Ha Tinh and plans to raise its total investment in its complex in the province to nearly $30 billion, has admitted to importing over 300 tons of very toxic chemicals for cleaning its machineries in its Ha Tinh province-based plant. It has also admitted to have released roughly 931,830 cubic meters of waste water into Vietnam’s sea in the first quarter this year without being inspected by the local authorities.

Vietnam’s government has little tolerance for criticism and has applied measures to prevent and suppress spontaneous public demonstrations although the right of freedom of assembly is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution. It has applied a number of controversial Penal Code articles such as 79, 88, and 258 to silence local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

On May 1 and May 8, security forces in Hanoi, HCMC, Nha Trang and Danang violently suppressed environmental demonstrations in which thousands of activists participated. Police arrested hundreds of protestors and severely beat them during the arrests and in police custody.

Vietnam will hold formal general elections on May 22 to elect the new parliament in the 14th tenure and People’s Councils in provincial, district and communal levels in the 2016-2020 period. In April, the rubber stamp parliament in the 13th term approved the new leadership, including the country’s top legislator, prime minister and president.

The Vietnamese new leadership is expected to continue to apply strict political control to maintain the country under a single-party regime.

Meanwhile, President Obama will conduct his first and final state visit to Vietnam on May 22-25. Vietnam’s human rights situation is among the key issues of his talks with the Vietnamese leadership.

———————-

HCMC Security Forces Detain Activists for Sit-in on Street Protest against Violent Suppression of Environmentalists

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City have detained veteran journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh, Catholic priests Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Van Loc and many other activists when they conducted a sit-in on Nguyen Hue walking street to protest the local authorities’ recent violent suppressions of environmentalists.

As planned, Mr. Chenh, who was a senior outspoken reporter of the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper, arrived at the walking street to start his sit-in protest at 3 PM of May 15. Few minutes later, security forces took him into police custody in Ben Nghe ward.

Priests Thanh and Loc from the Saigon-based Ky Dong Redemptory Church, bloggers Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Vo Chi Dai Duong, Long Tran, Ha Nam, Lau Nhat Phong, Cao Tran Tuan, Vinh Le, Hoang Vuong, Vu Ngoc Lan, and Manh Kim as well as other environmentalists were also arrested for the same reason.

On his statement publicized in social networks several days earlier this week, Mr. Chenh, 64, said he will go to the walking road near the city’s municipal building in the afternoon of Sunday to sit there to express his support for environmental activists who have been severely beaten by HCMC security forces in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, security forces in Hanoi and HCMC have detained a number of environmentalists who publicly demanded thorough investigation of the massive deaths of aquatic species in the central coastal region and requested the government to have urgent actions to cope with the large-scale environmental disaster. Detainees reported that many of them were severely beaten while being arrested and during detention in police’s custody.

Police released some activists and still keep others in custody.

In the past two weeks, security forces in Hanoi and HCMC and other areas have violently suppressed activists who have peacefully rallied in major streets in these localities to protest the alleged discharge of toxic chemicals by the Taiwanese Formosa steel complex into Vietnam’s sea and demand the Vietnamese government to take urgent actions to deal with the large-scale contamination of sea water in the country’s central coastal areas as well as conduct thorough investigation to bring the environmental polluter to justice.

Millions of Vietnamese people believe that the Ha Tinh province-based Taiwanese factory, a unit of Formosa Plastic Corp., is responsible for the massive death of aquatic species in the central coastal region by releasing a huge volume of improperly-treated waste which contains very toxic chemicals in areas near the steel mill.

On May 1 and May 8, security forces in Hanoi, HCMC, Danang and Nha Trang detained hundreds of protestors. Many activists, including women and their children claimed that police officers and militia severely beat them during the detention and in police stations. Police also used tear gas to attack demonstrators.

Police released most of detainees on the same day but kept in custody a number of activists longer and tortured them before freeing them the next day.

Police also attacked activists who came to police stations to request immediate and unconditional release of the illegally-detained environmentalists.

On May 5, two Ho Chi Minh City-based environmentalists Lau Nhat Phong and Mac Vi Luc conducted public protest on environmental issues on the same street that Mr. Chenh was arrested. They were detained in police station where they were tortured by police officers.

In recent days, many Vietnamese activists across the nation said they have been under house arrest as local authorities have deployed many police officers and militia to make monitoring stations near their private residences to prevent them from going out.

Meanwhile, Formosa, which discharged roughly 931,830 cubic meters of waste water into Vietnam’s sea in the first quarter this year, admitted that it imported 300 tons of very toxic chemicals, including CYC-VPrefilm900, CYC-Vprefilm400, CYC-Vclosetrol360, and CYC-VMA 796 for cleaning their machineries and pipes in its steel production project in Ha Tinh.

Vietnam is still conducting investigation on the mass deaths of hundreds of tons of aquatic species in the coastal areas of the four central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue. The environmental catastrophe, which started on April 6, has also killed vast areas of coral in the region.

——————

Vietnam Rejects OHCHR’s Report, Saying It Is Based on Unverified Information

Defend the Defenders: Ambassador Nguyen Trung Thanh, Vietnam’s permanent representative to the UN, has rejected the statement of the spokesperson of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on May 13, saying the statement is inaccurate, biased and based on unverified information.

Speaking with reporters on May 15, Mr. Thanh said Vietnam has respected and ensured people’s fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom to gathering and the right to freedom of speech, in compliance with the country’s 2013 Constitution and international standards on human rights.

In Vietnam, personal rights and freedoms must be exercised in line with the country’s laws and without affecting security, public order, moral standards, public health and rights and interests of others, the ambassador said.

Actions that provoke violence and disturb social order, affecting people’s lives need to be prevented within the framework of law and for the sake of the community, he noted.

Referring to the recent environmental incident in the central region, the government, relevant localities and socio-political organizations have been working together to support affected residents, said the diplomat.

Vietnam, with support from international experts and partners, is working as fast as possible to establish the causes of the incident and is providing regular updates on it on the mass media, Thanh stressed.

Vietnam welcomes international cooperation, including the UN in dealing with the situation in a scientific, unbiased and constructive spirit, he said.

On May 13, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the statement to express its concern over the ongoing Vietnam’s intensified crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

“We are concerned about the increasing levels of violence perpetrated against Vietnamese protesters expressing their anger over the mysterious mass deaths of fish along the country’s central coast. We call on the Government of Viet Nam to respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with its international human rights obligations,” said its Spokesman Rupert Colville.

The UN agency cited that on May 8, Vietnamese authorities forcefully broke up demonstrations involving around 3,000 protesters in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Tear gas was used to disperse the protesters, and about 300 people were beaten and arrested during the protests. Some women and children were among those arrested and hurt.

The demonstrations followed smaller rallies on 1 May in the same cities. About a dozen people were hurt during the protests, which are a rare occurrence in Vietnam.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urges the Vietnamese authorities to adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, and ensure that all the persons negatively affected, in this case fishermen, have access to effective remedies.

Meanwhile, security forces in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on May 15 violently dispersed peaceful environmental demonstrations. Police officers arrested dozens of activists, many of them were reportedly severely beaten. Police also put dozens of other activists under house arrest and tightened maximum security in centers of Hanoi and HCMC, arresting all suspect people, including tourists who just wanted to take pictures during holiday, local bloggers reported.

—————

Obama Must Address Human Rights Issue during Visit to Vietnam: Washington Post

Defend the Defenders: U.S. President Barack Obama must pay attention to Vietnam’s dismal record on human rights during his upcoming visit to the Southeast Asian nation, the Washington Post newspaper said.

The call was made one week prior to Obama’s first and final trip as U.S. president to the communist nation.

Although Vietnam has enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years, it remains a one-party state that denies freedom to its people and rules by force, the newspaper said, adding the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam holds a monopoly on power for decades and restricts basic rights such as freedoms of speech, opinion, press, association and religion, often through physical intimidation and harassment. The nation’s Penal Code also criminalizes the exercise of many basic rights.

The U.S. and Vietnam are among 11 countries members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement which considered the most ambitious free-trade agreement undertaken by the U.S. and an important anchor of the U.S. pivot toward Asia.

As a nation most affected by China’s expansionism in the East Sea (South China Sea), Vietnam is eager to buy more high-tech weaponry from the U.S. while Obama is considering whether to lift the remaining ban on arms sales, partially relaxed two years ago to allow maritime purchases.

The lifting of the arms ban appears reasonable, but Obama should insist on real improvements on human rights before proceeding, the Washington Post said, adding that his words are important and Vietnamese leaders cannot get a free pass.

President Obama should meet with local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders during his stay in Vietnam to support them in promoting human rights situation in the country, the newspaper said.

One day earlier, the Editorial Board of the New York Times said this is not the time for the U.S. to completely lift its ban of lethal weapon sale to Vietnam due to its poor human rights records. The communist party controls all institutions in Vietnam, permits no free elections, holds over 100 political prisoners and has yet to meet its obligations under the new trade agreement to allow labor unions.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has tightened security several weeks ahead of the parliament’s election scheduled on May 22. Police forces have severely beaten and detained hundreds of environmentalists who have attended peaceful demonstration to demand urgent measures to deal with the massive death of aquatic species in the country’s central coastal region. The local authorities also put numerous of others under house arrest to prevent them from voicing against the non-transparent ways of the government in dealing with the large-scale environment disaster.