Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly May 16-22, 2016: Vietnam’s Security Forces Torture Detained Environmentalists, Harassing Other Activists Ahead of Obama’s Visit

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly | May 22, 2016

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Security forces in Vietnam have intensified crackdown against political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders one week ahead of the parliament’s election and the upcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the Southeast Asian nation.

Police officers beat and tortured with electrical batons hundreds of environmental activists who were arrested on May 15 and held in a social rehabilitation center in Ho Chi Minh City before releasing them one by one until Thursday.

Security forces in HCMC have also attacked other activists and detained a number of human rights defenders, including former prisoners of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung and Truong Minh Duc.

Many international human rights organizations, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the London-based Amnesty International have condemned Vietnam’s ongoing political crackdown, requesting Hanoi to respect human rights obligations it has made.

Prominent political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has announced his plan to conduct hunger strike from May 24 to demand the Vietnamese government to respect the country’s laws and Constitution as well as international obligations, and conduct a referendum for the nation’s political course. He has rejected the government’s proposal to live in exile in the U.S., saying he will stay in the country to fight for multi-party democracy and human rights.

Many U.S. politicians, including 20 members of the U.S. Congress have urged President Obama to pressure Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience and improve its human rights records. Vietnam has violently suppressed local government critics ahead of the parliament’s election.
And many other news.

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=========== May 16===========

Obama Urged to Address Human Rights Issue during Visit to Vietnam

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 on the capacity of the head of the White House 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 is considered the most ambitious free-trade agreement undertaken by the U.S. and an important anchor of the U.S. pivot toward Asia.

As the 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 to Vietnam, 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 speaking out against the non-transparent ways of the government in dealing with the large-scale environment disaster.

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Facebook blocked in Vietnam over the weekend due to citizen protests

Tech Crunch: Facebook appears to have been blocked in Vietnam as a part of a government-imposed crackdown on social media, amid public protests over an environmental disaster attributed to toxic discharges from a steel complex built by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics. Dissidents are blaming wastewater from the steel plant for a mass fish death at aquatic farms and in waters off the country’s central provinces. Citizens have been using Facebook to organize rallies, which is likely the cause of the shutdown.

Instagram also appears to have been affected, according to reports.

In addition to helping protesters organize, social media has been used to share photos of people at rallies, holding up handwritten signs that read “I choose fish.”

Citizens are angry both at the steel company and their government’s inaction. Formosa had denied wrongdoing in the matter, and the Deputy Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources said the fish deaths had been caused either by a toxic algae bloom or industrial waste. He also denied that Formosa was to blame.

Police arrested up to 300 protesters in Ho Chi Minh City’s Paris Square, and many injuries were sustained during that process.

The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights recently referenced these protests in a press release, saying: “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.”

Protesters tried to rally for the third time on Sunday, but security in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City prevented major rallies taking place, Reuters reports.

The fish kill began in April, and a government investigation is still underway.

According to the Israeli proxy service Hola, whose software would be used to route around internet censorship like this (and which is capitalizing on this situation by way of press releases), both Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram were blocked on Sunday.

The company says it experienced a significant surge in downloads following the Facebook blockade.

“Though security forces have been preventing protesters from gathering in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, many citizens have been using Facebook to exchange information and organize rallies, thus the government is presumed to have shut the website down,” the company wrote on its blog.

We’ve confirmed via app store optimization firm Sensor Tower that mobile VPN applications in the country also saw a huge boost as users there are trying to circumvent the block. (See above chart). This pattern is similar to when WhatsApp was blocked in Brazil, and is a fairly good indication that a Facebook blockage was, indeed, in effect.
As another source of confirmation of sorts, the Head of PR & Comms for Opera & Asia posted on Twitter that their company saw a surge of VPN users from Vietnam, and suspected a Facebook block was to blame.
There are a number of Twitter reports of a blockage as well.

Vietnam’s government has blocked social media off and on over the years, though more recently leaders appeared to be embracing Facebook. In October, Bloomberg reported that Vietnam’s Communist government even set up its own page on the network dubbed “Government Information,” in an effort to reach the 30 million citizens who used the service.

Facebook has not yet responded to a request for comment.

It’s unclear at this time if the ban, implemented to crack down on the Sunday protests, is still in effect. It appears it may have been lifted, however, according to websites that track outages like outage.report and DownDetector.
It’s also unclear if it extended outside of Hanoi and Saigon, where the demonstrations were planned.

 

 

=========== May 17================

Twenty U.S. Congress Members Urge Obama to Address Vietnam’s Ongoing Suppression

Defend the Defenders: Twenty U.S. Congress members have sent a joint letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him to take specific measures to demand Vietnam’s communist government to end its ongoing suppression against political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

The joint letter, signed by Loretta Sanchez, Zoe Lofgren, Alan S. Lowenthal, Mark DeSaulnier, Christopher H. Smith, Susan A. David, Judy Chu and Keith Ellison and other 12 U.S. legislators, was sent to President Obama on May 17, five days ahead of his official visit to the Southeast Asian nation.

The twenty U.S. Congress members said they hope President Obama will engage directly with the Vietnamese people and send a clear message that America stands with Vietnamese who yearn for freedom during his visit to Vietnam which aims to define the future of U.S.-Vietnam relations.

The U.S. legislators said they are deeply troubled by the recent wave of political trials in Vietnam, the continued harassment and imprisonment of peaceful political activists, and the stepped up efforts by the Vietnamese government to restrict information.

They recalled that several months ahead of Obama’s visit, Vietnam detained prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and convicted six activists for so-called “propaganda against the state.” Security police have also routinely harassed and beaten activists as a way to silence dissent.

Hanoi continues to place restriction on the right of Vietnamese to receive and impart information, the Congress members said. The recent Vietnamese Law on Information seems to be an Orwellian attempt to restrict access to information, they noted, adding Reporters Without Borders recently placed Vietnam at the 175th out of 180 countries in press freedom.

The American lawmakers urged President Obama to convey their serious concerns about the ongoing arbitrary detentions of human rights activists and repression of freedom of expression in Vietnam. Giving a list of over 100 prisoners of conscience, they urged him to advocate not only for their release, but for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience with priority for Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Ho Duc Hoa, Dang Xuan Dieu and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc.

They urged President Obama to meet directly with Vietnamese human rights defenders and families of imprisoned activists to send a strong signal about the U.S. commitment to championing liberty.

Regarding U.S.’s consideration to remove its ban of lethal weapon sale imposed over Vietnam, the lawmakers said Vietnam must demonstrate a serious commitment to improving its human rights record before the Obama administration considers such a move.

The legislators also urge Obama to publicly articulate that Vietnam must be grounded on democratic principles and respect human rights to become a true comprehensive partner of the U.S.

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HCMC Police Still Hold Many Environmentalists after Detention on Sunday

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in Vietnam, have yet to release all peaceful protestors who were detained on Sunday [May 15], local bloggers said.

On Monday, the city’s police deployed huge number of police officers and militia and tightened security in the major streets to prevent southern activists from holding peaceful demonstrations to voice their concerns about the ongoing environmental disaster in the central coastal region which has killed hundreds of tons of marine species since April 6.

Police officers were patrolling and ready to disperse any gathering of people. However, a number of demonstrations with small number of participants still broke in many places in the city.

Shortly later, police came and arrested many activists and took them into custody. Dozens of activists, including Vo Chi Dai Duong, Long Tran, Nguyen Tan Nhuyen, Ho Nhat Minh, Hoang Dang Tue, Nguyen Huu Dung, Le Xuan Dieu and Cao Tran Quan were held in a social facility in No Trang Long street, Ward 13, Binh Thanh district.

Local activists said police released some protestors on Monday but still keep many detainees for interrogation.
The names of many detainees are unknown since they participated in the peaceful demonstration for the first time while police refused to reveal their identity.

The detainees may face criminal charges as the communist government has used controversial articles in the country’s Penal Code to criminalize people who exercise their universal human rights.

Vietnam has tightened security several weeks ahead of the general elections for the parliament and People’s Councils in provincial, district and communal levels scheduled on May 22.

Since May 1, police forces in Hanoi and HCMC as well as other localities have violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations in which people have demanded the government to be transparent about the massive deaths of aquatic species in the four central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue, and asked the government to take urgent actions to deal with the issue as well as thoroughly investigate the real causes of the disaster.

Police in Hanoi and HCMC have detained hundreds of people, beating them during the detentions and in custody, especially on May 1 and May 8. Police have also put many other activists under house arrest.

Vietnam has yet to release the final results of investigation about the environmental disaster while many experts and local activists believe it was caused by the discharge of huge volume of toxic waste at a steel plant in Ha Tinh province owned by by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Corp.

Vietnam has little tolerance for criticism targeting the government and suppresses spontaneous demonstrations. It considers unregistered civil society organizations as “reactionary groups”.

=============== May 18================

Vietnam Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Plans Long-lasting Hunger Strike, Rejecting to Live in Exile in U.S.

Defend the Defenders: Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, a prisoner of conscience serving his 16-year term, has announced that he will start a long-lasting hunger strike on May 24 to demand rule of law and a national referendum on political system in Vietnam, said his family members.

He announced his decision at a meeting with his family on May 14 at the Nghe An province-based Prison No. 6, saying he will not give up until his requests are fulfilled.

Mr. Thuc, an 50-year-old engineer, entrepreneur and human rights activist, has rejected the Vietnamese government’s proposal to live in exile in the U.S., declaring that he will stay in the country to fight for the removal of Article 79 of the Penal Code, under which he was sentenced to 16 years in prison and additional five years under house arrest.

Mr. Thuc was arrested seven years ago and accused of carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration under Article 79. After the unfair trial in 2010, he was held in Xuyen Moc Prison in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau. On May 5, he was transferred to Nghe An as the communist government has sought to persuade him to accept their suggestion to leave for the U.S. on the occasion of the visit of President Barack Obama to the Southeast Asian nation.

Thuc said during the transfer, he was handcuffed and gagged.

In his farewell letter to his father and family, he apologized for his decision to conduct a hunger strike, but he said he cannot live in a country where there are no rules and human rights.

Mr. Thuc, one of the London-based Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience, was the founder and president of EIS, an international internet and telephone line provider. He opened EIS as a computer shop in 1993 which assembled its own computers, and by 1994 the brand dominated the home PC market in Ho Chi Minh City. Later on it became an internet service provider, and in 1998 became the first Vietnamese ISP to branch out from dial-up to an integrated services digital network.

EIS started providing Voice over IP services in Vietnam in 2003. They developed subsidiaries, One-Connection Singapore, One-Connection USA /Innfex, One-Connection Malaysia and One-Connection Vietnam, to provide internet access and telephone lines internationally. One-Connection Vietnam’s operation license was withdrawn following Thuc’s arrest.

He began blogging under the pen name of Tran Dong Chan after he received no response to letters he had written to senior government officials. In 2008 he started co-writing “The Path of Viet Nam”, which assessed the current situation in Vietnam, with a comprehensive set of recommendations for governance reform focused on human rights.

He was arrested in 2009, initially for “theft of telephone wires”, and later for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration” against the state. He made a televised confession but later recanted, saying he was coerced.

His sentence was the longest ever passed on a Vietnamese dissident. His imprisonment was condemned by then British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis and U.S. Ambassador Michael W. Michalak. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded his detention was arbitrary and requested the Vietnamese government to release him and provide compensation. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and called for his release.
During his serving in Xuyen Moc Prison, he and other fellows had conducted a number of hunger strikes to protest the prison’s inhumane treatment against political prisoners. The prison’s authorities punished him by putting him in solitary confinement.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and they vow to keep the country under a single-party regime. The government has applied a zero tolerance policy with local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, using a number of controversial Penal Code articles such as 79, 88 and 258 to silence critics, along with deploying many measures to harass and intimidate local activists.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam holds over 100 political prisoners. Hanoi has rejected the accusation, saying it imprisons only law violators.

Sometimes, Vietnam releases prisoners of conscience but forces them to live in exile in the U.S. in exchange for economic supports from Western countries. In 2014-2015, it brought legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu, bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay) and Ta Phong Tan from prisons to international airports and forced them to take international flights to the U.S.

Well-known land rights activist Bui Thi Minh Hang reportedly rejected an offer of exile and decided to remain in the country.

Vietnam has intensified political crackdown before and after the 12th National Congress of the ruling communist party. In the last ten days of March, it imprisoned eight dissidents and bloggers, including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Ba Sam). Hanoi also arrested human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai on December 16 last year.

In the last three weeks, security forces have violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues. Police have arrested hundreds of environmentalists and severely beaten many of them during the detention and while in custody.

Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City still hold dozens of activists who participated in the protests last Sunday. Freed activists claimed that police have used electrical batons to hit them during interrogation.

Vietnam will hold the general elections for the country’s parliament and People’s Councils in the provincial, district and communal levels on May 22. The vote is formal since the communist party already appointed its officials to key posts in the central agencies in April and in lower levels in late 2015.

Vietnam will also host U.S. President Barack Obama on his first and final visit on May 22-25. Human rights issue will be one of the main topics for talks between Obama and the host leaders.

Prior to his trip to Vietnam, many politicians and human rights activists have called on Obama to request Hanoi to improve its human rights records in order to boost bilateral economic and security ties.

The U.S. should not lift its ban on lethal weapon sale to Vietnam given the country’s severe human rights violations, said American activists, saying 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.

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HRW Condemns Vietnam Ongoing Crackdown against Environmentalists

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s government should immediately stop all harassment, intimidation, and persecution of environmental activists, said Human Rights Watch in its press release on May 18.

Condemning the ongoing crackdown on peaceful environmental protesters in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other Vietnamese localities, said the New York-based international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, adding that the government in Hanoi should respect Vietnamese citizens’ right to peaceful protest and release anyone still wrongfully held.

The statement was issued after security forces violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations with participations of thousands of environmentalists in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Vung Tau, Da Nang, Hue, and Nghe An on the last three Sundays in which protestors demanded a transparent government investigation into the recent mass fish kills off the central coast.

While the authorities only subjected the protests on May 1 to light harassment, police and other security forces used unnecessary and excessive force to end demonstrations on May 8 and May 15, the Human Rights Watch said.

“The Vietnamese government too conveniently forgets that the right to peaceful protest is a core right protected in Vietnam’s Constitution and international human rights law,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Rather than sorting out the environment disaster, the government has focused on breaking up demonstrations and punishing those calling for accountability,” he said.

The protests erupted in response to the government’s slow reaction to the abrupt appearance of hundreds of tons of dead fish along the shore of the Vung Ang industrial zone in Ha Tinh province. Carrying homemade banners calling for “clean water, clean government, and transparency,” groups of protesters in several cities gathered in public spaces to express their concerns. Protests by all accounts reported on social media and Youtube video clips were peaceful and featured sit-down actions, chanting of slogans, and singing and marching while carrying placards and banners.

On May 8 the government responded to the protests with what appeared to be a sophisticated, multi-pronged operation involving police and para-military forces deploying a wide range of tactics. Dozens of activists reported on social media that security forces placed them under effective house arrest on Sunday mornings, before the scheduled protests. Rights activist Nguyen Lan Thang and prominent musician and poet Do Trung Quan described thugs vandalizing their property by splashing red paint and rancid shrimp paste. The police also picked up people on the street that they suspected of supporting the protests and detained them for hours to ensure they could not take part in demonstrations.

During the protests, police and para-military forces blocked off streets with a massive show of force. During the protests in Hanoi and HCMC, security agents forcibly pulled people from among the ranks of the marchers, manhandled them, and arrested and transported them to local police stations. Activists were also assaulted by security agents when they showed up outside the police stations to protest these arrests.

While the authorities used force to stop the demonstrations on May 8, the next Sunday, May 15, officials took massive pre-emptive measures to stop large demonstrations from occurring in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Smaller protests that formed in their place were disbanded by overpowering police forces. Normal access to Facebook was also blocked for most of the day. Credible reports on social media indicate that a number of detainees were taken to an administrative holding center where “social deviants” are incarcerated and reeducated. Some remain in detention at the time of this writing. Others have been attacked by the state media, which has accused them of accepting money and taking orders from foreign “reactionary” groups.

The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam ratified in 1982. International human rights standards limit the use of force to situations in which it is strictly necessary. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials may only use force if other means remain ineffective or have no promise of achieving the intended result, Human Rights Watch said in its statement. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

“Instead of allowing peaceful protesters to demonstrate, the government appears to be upping the ante with its use of force,” Robertson said. “The authorities in Hanoi should be stepping in to reverse this ugly development.”
Meanwhile, activists in HCMC reported that police kept hundreds of demonstrators for interrogation and released them one by one until late May 18. Detainees said they were beaten with electrical batons and treated inhumanely in police custody.

============= May 20=============

Human Rights Central Element of Vietnam-U.S. Relationship: Daniel Kritenbrink

Defend the Defenders: Human rights has been and will continue to be a central element of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, said Daniel Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian Affairs of National Security Council at a press conference of the Department of State on May 18, four days prior to the visit of President Barack Obama to the Southeast Asian nation.

“We want to see a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam, a Vietnam that respects human rights and the rule of law. We believe this will allow Vietnam to best contribute to regional stability and enable its people to reach their fullest potential. Real progress on protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, including through legal reform, is crucial to ensuring that Vietnam and our relationship achieves its full potential,” said Mr. Kritenbrink at the event with participation of Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel R. Russel.

As with other parts of the two countries’ relationship, the two sides have made important progress, yet challenges obviously remain and the U.S. will acknowledge and address forthrightly those differences, he said.

The U.S. and Vietnam have great potentials in developing bilateral ties in coming years, Kritenbrink said, adding the two former enemies are cooperating on everything from health, nonproliferation, climate change, to peacekeeping and wildlife trafficking.

Vietnam obviously is a partner in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Vietnam is a partner in upholding the Law of the Sea and the rule of law in maritime space, in resolving peacefully the tensions and disputes in the South China Sea. Vietnam is a partner in sustaining the important Mekong River as a source of livelihood to millions of people and multiple nations that line its banks, he noted.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Russel, who visited Vietnam last week to prepare for the visit of President Obama said the upcoming visit signifies the substantial progress that the two countries have made in this relationship. Stronger bilateral relations with Vietnam which is an increasingly important partner for us on a whole range of issues, benefits both nations, he said.

“We’re working together to promote human rights and support important legal reforms in Vietnam,” Russel said.
To address the past, the U.S. is helping Vietnam deal with the legacies of the war, including unexploded ordnance, including remediation of dioxin. To build a brighter future, the U.S. is making preparations to fully implement TPP, which brings significant benefits to both countries in the region. The U.S. is investing in Vietnam’s youth through programs like the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative, YSEALI, and the Fulbright University, he noted.

Obama will be the 3rd U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the normalization of diplomatic relations just over 20 years ago, following President Bush’s 2006 trip to the Southeast Asian nation as part of APEC and President Clinton’s historic trip to the country in 2000. The president will discuss with Vietnamese leaders about ways for the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership to advance cooperation across a wide range of areas, including on economic, people-to-people, security, human rights, and global and regional issues, Mr. Kritenbrink said. Through his official meetings and public engagements, Obama will highlight the depth and breadth of our partnership and the remarkable progress that our two countries have made in recent years, he added.

Regarding the U.S.’s removal of its lethal weapon embargo which has been imposed over Vietnam since 1985 due to its poor human rights record, the two officials said the U.S. is considering this move. “The State Department has a process under U.S. law and regulations to evaluate any request that is made for sales on a case-by-case basis, and there is a process that includes consideration of human rights and the potential for any given weapons system being used in ways that could support domestic police or other non-military purposes. So this is something that we would look at very carefully in any event based on any future requests by the Vietnamese,” Russel said.

During the three-day stay in Vietnam, President Obama will be hosted by his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang, and meet with other local senior leaders, including communist’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.
While in Hanoi, Obama is also scheduled to deliver a speech on U.S.-Vietnam relation and meet with members of civil society. He will also travel to Ho Chi Minh City, where the president is expected to meet with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative, entrepreneurs and the business community.

President Obama is scheduled to meet with representatives of civil societies, including independent organizations. However, local activists have little chance to meet him as they face trouble from security forces. Last week, many activists invited to meet with Russel and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski, were kept under house arrest.

============ May 21============

Vietnamese Activists Urge President Obama to Press Hanoi to Release Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Defend the Defenders: Twelve Vietnamese human rights organizations and 235 activists have sent a joint statement to U.S. President Barack Obama to ask him to pressure Vietnam’s government for immediate and unconditional release of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving the 7th year of his 16-year imprisonment for his peaceful political activities.

The letter was sent just few days before the visit of President Obama to the communist nation scheduled on May 23-25. Human rights issues is among key topics between the guest and the local leadership.

In their letter, the signatories said Mr. Thuc is a patient activist fighting for human rights in Vietnam and highly respected by the Vietnamese people. He was arrested on May 24, 2009 for his political writings, and unfairly sentenced to 16 years in jail on the two court proceedings of first and final instances latter, of which the hearing procedures were conducted in violation of all Vietnamese legal regulations and internationally recognized legal standards.

Mr. Thuc has been treated inhumanely in different prisons in Vietnam in the past seven years, his family said.
Many times, the government has proposed Thuc to live in exile in the U.S., the latest proposal was made last week, few days ahead of the visit of President Obama to the communist nation. However, Thuc has rejected, saying he will remain in the country to fight for multi-party democracy and human rights.

On May 14, Thuc announced that he will conduct a hunger-strike to death from May 24 to demand the Vietnamese government that the rule of law must be respected, and a referendum must be organized to vest authority and rights in the Vietnamese people in order to determine the political regime of their nation.

The signatories said they are really concerned about the health and life of Thuc when he decides to conduct long-lasting fast. The Vietnamese government must take full responsibility if he dies due to endless hunger strike, they said.

Considering the U.S. as the leading country in the promotion of and fighting for the common value of human rights in the world, the signatories urged President Obama to (i) ask the Vietnamese government to free Mr. Thuc immediately without any condition, (ii) consider imposing political and/or economic sanctions against the Vietnamese government if its refusal of releasing Mr. Thuc causes his death as he would carry out endless fasting.

============ May 22=============

Vietnamese Security Forces Continue Detaining, Beating Activists Prior to Parliament’s Election, Visit of President Obama

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese security forces have continued to apply violent measures against local political dissidents, human rights defenders and social activists, detaining and severely beating many of them and putting others under house arrest.

Police have persecuted, intimidated and harassed dozens of activists during the week as they have tightened security prior to the general election for the country’s legislative body National Assembly and People’s Councils in provincial, district and communal levels, and the upcoming visit of President Barack Obama to the communist nation.

On May 19, Tran Hoang Han, young activist in Saigon was beaten by thugs when he was riding his motorbike. On the same day, two young activists Nguyen Huu Tinh and Nguyen Phuong from the southern city of Vung Tau were stopped by traffic policemen. Later, the duo was severely beaten by plainclothes agents before being taken to a police station for questioning.

A group of police officers attacked the private residence of former prisoner of conscience Tran Ngoc Anh in Vung Tau. One policeman threatened to kill Mrs. Loan, Anh’s daughter while another police officer named Quang beat Loan when she was with her baby. Due to the attack, Mrs. Loan received severe injuries in her breast and was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment.

Police from the central province of Thanh Hoa arrested local activist Nguyen Van Trang (facebook account Trang Nguyen) while security forces in Ho Chi Minh City detained former political prisoner Nguyen Viet Dung, the leader and founder of the unsanctioned Republican Party of Vietnam on mid-night of May 20 when he was with other activists in HCMC. Security officers from the Ministry of Public Security interrogated him until the afternoon of May 22. On the evening of Sunday, Dung was brought to the Tan Son Nhat International Airport and forced to take a flight to his province of Nghe An.

Local bloggers also reported that Vietnamese American Nancy Nguyen, who came to visit HCMC few days ago, was missing after meeting with some local activists. Activists suggested that she was kidnapped by the local security forces.
Many activists, including Tran Bang, Huynh Cong Thuan, labor activist Do Thi Minh Hanh and Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, have been blocked from going out of their private residences during the week. Police officers threw stones at Mr. Bang’s relatives when they tried to film security officers who stationed near his private house.

Former political prisoner Truong Minh Duc, who was attacked by police officers many times in the past, was detained by HCMC police when he stayed in a local hotel. Police officers violently took him to an election poll and later to his home against his will.

Thugs also threw dirty mess consisting Mam Tom (a substance made from decaying shrimp) at the house of blogger Vu Huy Hoang and broke window glass of the house with stones.

On Sunday 15, authorities in HCMC detained hundreds of environmental activists and held them in a local rehabilitation facility which is used for holding sex workers and drug addicted people. Police allegedly used electrical batons to beat and interrogate the detainees before releasing them one by one by Thursday.

Meanwhile, on May 22, Vietnam held the general election for the parliament and People’s Councils in three levels. The poll is merely a formality as the ruling communist party has already made appointments for the key leadership posts, including the top legislator, the president and the prime minister, and senior posts in the localities.

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Enforced Labor Rampant in Vietnam Prisons: Viet Labor

Defend the Defenders: Enforced labor is rampant in Vietnamese prisons where between 100,000 and 200,000 prisoners were forced to work without being paid, said Lao Dong Viet (Viet Labor), an independent trade union in the Southeast Asian nation.

Viet Labor made this conclusion based on its investigation conducted in September-December last year. The researchers interviewed over 40 former prisoners from the three regions of the country.

In prisons, inmates have been forced to work like slaves in very poor conditions. They have been often beaten by prisons’ guards. The most popular works for prisoner are removing shells of cashew nut without wearing gloves, making bricks, making clothes, and farming and their products are for export and domestic consumption.

Enforced labor is founded in 56 prisons out of 60 prisons across the nation. Prisoners have been forced to work for 40-50 hours a week.

Viet Labor considers the activity as organized by the communist government which bring huge profits for the communist party’s leaders, prisons’ authorities and companies involving in the activity.

Viet Labor, members of which have been persecuted, intimidated and harassed by Vietnam’s government, has urged the Vietnamese authorities to improve prisoners’ living conditions and working environment as well as pay for prisoners who can have some money when they are freed.

Currently, most of prisoners have no many after serving their sentences. Once being freed, they face many difficulties, including discrimination. As a result, many of them have been forced to commit crimes and come back to prison.

In the past, the New York-based Human Rights Watch also released a report about enforced labor in Vietnam’s rehabilitation facilities where drug addicts, HIV-infested, criminal prisoners and prisoners of conscience were forced to work in very poor conditions.

The Human Rights Watch said one of the dangerous work is cashew nut processing as cashew nut shell is poisonous and harmful for eyes and hands.

You can read full report in Vietnamese here: https://laodongviet.org/2016/05/17/tu-nhan-an-don-lao-dong-nha-nuoc-an-loi-quat-roi/