Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly May 23-29, 2016: Many Vietnamese under House Arrest, Other Detained during State Visit of U.S. President Obama

 

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly | May 29, 2016

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Vietnam’s security forces have kept many local activists under house arrest and detained a number of others during the state visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the Southeast Asian nation in a bid to prevent them from going to a meeting with the American leader.

One of the victims was former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung, who was severely tortured during the five-day detention which started on May 20.

As a result, only six out of 13 invited activists successfully came to the meeting of representatives of civil society with President Obama in Hanoi on May 24.

Police have continued their intensified crackdown against local environmentalists who have asked for the government transparency in the investigation into and solutions to the environmental disaster in the country’s central coastal region which has killed hundreds of tons of marine species. On Sunday May 29, security forces in Hanoi violently detained many environmentalists for hours when they conducted street sit-in demonstration in the city’s center to raise their concern over the en-mass death of fish in the central offshore.

Police in the Central Highlands province have continued their persecution against Mrs. Tran Thi Hong, the wife of jailed Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh. After beating her in April and May, the local police have asked her to write a statement saying her accusation of the police’s inhumane treatment against her family is wrong. Police say that they will continue to summon her until she makes such a statement.

Dozens of activists nationwide and abroad have been conducting hunger strike to support political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who started his planned long-lasting fasting in prison on May 24 to demand Vietnam to respect human rights and conduct a national political referendum. Thuc, who is one of Amnesty International’s prisoners of, is serving his 16-year imprisonment for his writings advocating for political and economical reforms in the Southeast Asian nation.

And other important news.

============ May 23=============

Many Vietnamese Activists Detained, Others Kept under House Arrest Prior to Obama’s Meeting with CSOs

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have detained a number of activists while keeping many others under house arrest few days ahead of the planned meeting between President Barack Obama and local civil society organizations (CSOs), human rights defenders have said.

Police have detained Hanoi-based blogger Doan Trang and Vu Huy Hoang while security forces in the central city of Nha Trang violently arrested bloggers Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Me Nam or Mushroom Mother) and Mr. Nguyen Ba Vinh.

On May 20, police in Ho Chi Minh City detained former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung, the founder and leader of the unsanctioned Republican Party of Vietnam, and questioned him until late afternoon of May 22. The young activist was forced to take a flight to his home province of Nghe An. However, Dung went missing after landing in Vinh Airport, and bloggers suggested that he was held by the local police.

Dozens of political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders across the nation have reported that they are under house arrest as local authorities have deployed a large number of police officers to station near their private residences and not allow them to go out.

During his three-day visit to Vietnam starting on Monday, President Obama has met with the local leadership to discuss measures to deepen the two countries’ comprehensive strategic partnership. He has a plan to meet with representatives of local CSOs to hear their opinions about the two countries’ ties as well as the human rights situation in the communist nation.

It is unlikely Obama will have chance to meet with representatives of independent CSOs due to Vietnamese police blockage.

Last week, police also applied the same tactics to block local activists and members of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, barring them from meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski when the two U.S. diplomats visited the communist nation to prepare for Obama’s visit.

Meanwhile, former prisoner of conscience Tran Ngoc Anh in Ba Ria-Vung Tau complained that the local police have continuously attacked her family’s members and threatened to burn her daughter’s cafeteria. Police have also blocked her from going to hospitals to seek medical treatment for her illness.

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Viet Nam: Shameful wave of arrests of activists as Obama visits

Amnesty International: Vietnamese authorities must end their crackdown on peaceful protesters and release all prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International said today.

As Viet Nam hosts U.S. President Barack Obama on a three-day visit, the authorities have pressed ahead with their assault on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly by arresting six peaceful activists and orchestrating a campaign of intimidation and harassment against dozens more.

“Even as it faces the glare of global attention with the US President’s visit, the Vietnamese authorities, shamefully, are carrying out their repressive business as usual,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

The six peaceful activists who have been arrested in recent days are: Nancy Nguyễn, Nguyễn Viết Dũng, Phạm Đoan Trang, Vũ Huy Hoàng, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, and Nguyễn Bá Vinh.

“Before leaving Vietnam, President Obama must insist on the release of all prisoners of conscience and a commitment that peaceful protests will be allowed,” said T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director for Amnesty International. “Human rights cannot be sacrificed for security and trade deals.”

In addition to the arrests, dozens of activists have complained on social media that they are being prevented from leaving their homes by uniformed and plain-clothes police stationed outside.

Amnesty International has spoken to several activists in different cities around the country who are subjected surveillance and intimidation. Several activists have been physically attacked in the last week and Amnesty International is unaware of the arrests of any alleged perpetrators.

The authorities’ crackdown has included the banning of BBC journalists, and the blocking of social media sites including Facebook and Instagram.

“Vietnamese authorities must allow journalists do their job and individuals to express themselves freely,” said Djamin.

Viet Nam: Shameful wave of arrests of activists as Obama visits

============May 24=============

As Obama Presses Vietnam on Rights, Activists Are Barred from Meeting

The New York Times: President Obama won enthusiastic applause here on Tuesday with a supportive reference to Vietnam’s disputes with China, saying in a speech that “big nations should not bully smaller ones.” But several activists who had been scheduled to meet with him before the speech were prevented from doing so, underscoring the gulf with Hanoi on human rights.

The White House had requested the meeting as a signal to Vietnam’s Communist government that the United States cares about human rights here. Mr. Obama spent more than his allotted time with the six Vietnamese civil society leaders who did attend the meeting at a JW Marriott hotel, but he said that several others had been prevented from coming.

“Vietnam has made remarkable strides, the economy is growing quickly, the internet is booming, and there’s a growing confidence here,” Mr. Obama said when a group of reporters were briefly allowed into the meeting. “But as I indicated yesterday, there are still areas of significant concerns in terms of areas of free speech, freedom of assembly, accountability with respect to government.”

Human rights activists, who criticized Mr. Obama on Monday for lifting a decades-old arms embargo against Vietnam without obtaining concessions on human rights, said that Vietnam’s actions on Tuesday proved their point.

“Vietnam has demonstrated itself that it doesn’t deserve the closer ties the U.S. is offering,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. “Detaining or preventing civil society from meeting President Obama is not just an insult to the president, it’s also a human rights abuse in itself, a deprivation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of movement.”

The activists kept from the meeting included Nguyen Quang A, 69, a businessman who had tried to run this year as an independent candidate for Parliament but was disqualified by the government.

He had been detained by plainclothes security officers, he said later by telephone. They shoved him into a car outside his home in Hanoi at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, confiscated his cellphone, preventing him from contacting his family, and then drove him 50 miles east of Hanoi.

“I was taken on a touristic tour,” he said. The men declined to say why they were driving him around for seven hours, just saying to him, “You know why we have to do this.”

A prominent blogger and journalist, Pham Doan Trang, who had flown to the Vietnamese capital from Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, was also barred from attending. She had not been heard from since landing in Hanoi, according to Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

Ha Huy Son, a lawyer who specializes in defending dissidents in court, was also kept from the meeting. “Security people have been guarding me at my home for the last two days,” he told Agence France-Presse, saying he had been told he could go anywhere but to the embassy.

The use of security forces to keep the activists from an event that the Vietnamese government had agreed to suggests that the government may have been divided over the meeting. It is unusual for a government, even one with a poor record on human rights, to allow such a gathering with an American president to proceed and then prevent some guests from attending.

Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said that administration officials became aware Monday night that the government was preventing some activists from attending and that American officials had objected.

Still, he defended the decision to lift the arms embargo even if the government failed to immediately improve civil rights.

“We believe that broadly speaking what we’ve done through normalization in Vietnam is empowering the Vietnamese people,” he said, adding: “And that we can push that process forward much more effectively by deepening the relationship than by pulling back.”

Workers got a look at the president’s motorcade from behind a fence. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Obama also took advantage of his afternoon speech at the National Convention Center here to make the case for improving human rights in Vietnam.

The audience of about 2,300 well-dressed Vietnamese, seated in red velvet seats and almost certainly vetted by the government, cheered loudly when Mr. Obama appeared. They cheered again when he said, “Vietnam is an independent and sovereign nation, and no other nation can impose its will on you,” an apparent reference to China, which has claimed much of the seas just off Vietnam’s 2,000-mile coastline.

But the auditorium was notably silent when he broached the subject of human rights practices.

He said that the United States was not trying to impose its form of government on Vietnam, but that some values were universal. The rights to free speech, assembly and a free press, he said, were enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution.

“So, really, it’s about all of us, each country, trying to consistently apply these principles,” Mr. Obama said. “Making sure those of us in government are being true to those ideals.”

Human Rights Watch estimates that about 110 political dissidents are serving prison sentences in Vietnam. In March, Nguyen Huu Vinh, 60, a blogger, was sentenced to five years in jail for writing posts that were deemed to be against the government.

In the weeks before Mr. Obama’s arrival, the security police detained demonstrators protesting immense fish kills on the central coast, where tons of fish have washed up on shores close to a steel plant owned by a company in Taiwan. Some of the protesters had been beaten.

Mr. Obama has been received warmly in Vietnam, by a government eager for a powerful ally against China but also by ordinary Vietnamese citizens.

After his speech, as he met for a second time in two days with the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, scores of onlookers braved a downpour, cheerfully getting soaked for a glimpse.

Mr. Obama briefly waded into the crowd, shaking hands and saying, “Thank you.”

Later in the afternoon, he flew to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where tens of thousands of people lined the streets and cheered lustily as he drove by.

By then, Mr. Quang A had been returned to his house. There, he said, his 25-year-old son had been told by the police that “we took your father away because he was going to attend a meeting with Obama and we had to block him.”

============= May 25=============

Vietnam Jails Four Asylum Seekers Returned by Australia

Reuters: A court in Vietnam on Thursday jailed four Vietnamese for terms ranging from two to 2-1/2 years each for “organizing others to flee abroad illegally” after Australia sent back their group of asylum seekers, their lawyer said.

The 46 asylum seekers were aboard a small vessel intercepted off Australia’s remote west coast last year and were returned to Vietnam as a result of negotiations between the two countries.

The defendants, two men and two women, were crossing the border illegally for the first time in July 2015 and their 42 Vietnamese companions were relatives and acquaintances, lawyer Vo An Don told Reuters.

“The verdict is too heavy and lacks humanity,” Don said by telephone, adding that the defendants were likely to appeal against it. “They are too poor and just want a better life. They didn’t arrange it for money.”

Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

A spokesman for Australia’s department of Immigration and Border Protection said it was confident the Vietnamese government was upholding its assurance not to prosecute any of the returned people for their illegal departure.

“It is our understanding these prosecutions do not relate to the illegal departure of those returned, but relate only to a small number of individuals who authorities allege are responsible for organization of the venture,” the spokesman told Reuters on condition of anonymity, in line with departmental protocol.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the action violated defendants’ fundamental right under international law to leave their own country, however.

“Vietnam has blatantly broken its promise to the Australian government not to prosecute boat returnees,” said the group’s Australia director, Elaine Pearson.

Some of the returnees said that on their arrival in Vietnam, a Vietnamese official assured the group in front of the Australian consulate’s representatives that they would not be arrested or detained, according to lawyer Don and HRW.

Vietnam has been rebuked for its poor record on human rights, with dissidents, bloggers and religious figures being jailed in recent years.

U.S. President Barack Obama chided Vietnam on political freedoms this week, after critics of its communist-run government were prevented from meeting him during his first visit to the country.

=========== May 26===========

Vietnam Activist Says He Was Detained, Severely Beaten by Police during Obama’s Visit

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam detained two times a local activist, beating him severely during the three-day visit of U.S. President Barack Obama in a bid to prevent him from meeting with the American leader, the victim has said.

In the late evening of May 20, Nguyen Viet Dung, a former prisoner of conscience, was detained by security forces in Ho Chi Minh City when he left a cafeteria of his friend. A group of police officers severely attacked him and took him to a police station of Cau Kho ward in District 1.

Dung, who is the founder and leader of the unsanctioned Republican Party of Vietnam, said in police station police officers threatened him and used dirty words during interrogation. They also confiscated his cell phone, not allowing him to contact with his friends and relatives.

Security officers questioned him until afternoon of May 22 and took him to the Saigon-based Tan Son Nhat International Airport where they forced him to take a flight to his home province of Nghe An in the country’s central region.

Arriving in the Vinh Airport, Dung was re-arrested by the local police who took him into a car and started to beat him. They used their shoes to beat him and event stopped to take a stone on a road to attack him. Policemen threatened to cut his ears and remove skin in his arm where has an anti-communist tattoo he made during his one-year imprisonment which ended in April.

The attackers said they could kill him or make him disappeara without a trace. Later, they brought him to Huong Sen Hotel in Cua Lo town where police officers subjected him to constant interrogation and torture.

The police officers threatened him that they could inject him with toxic substance or make him lose conscience. They ordered Dung to confess to anti-state activities and when he asked them to respect laws, they beat him again.

In the evening of May 24, three police officers deported him to his home in Hau Thanh commune, Yen Thanh district.

Mr. Dung, who was illegally arrested on April 12 last year and unfairly sentenced to one year in prison, said he felt pains in his whole body after the five-day detention.

Dung is among a number of Vietnamese activists being detained by Vietnam’s security forces during the visit of President Obama to the communist nation on May 23-25. Among victims are Dr. Nguyen Quang A and blogger Pham Doan Trang from Hanoi, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Me Nam- Mushroom Mother), Vu Huy Hoang and Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung in Saigon, and Vietnamese American Nancy Nguyen.

Police also put many other political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders nationwide under house arrest during Tuesday-Wednesday in order to prevent them from meeting with President Obama who had talks with representatives of civil society in Hanoi on May 24.

Police released Hanoi-based activists after Obama left the capital city to Ho Chi Minh City while in Saigon, police removed their patrols near private residences of local activists when the American president took his flight to Japan where he will attend the summit of the Group of Seven (G-7).

In addition to barring local activists from going abroad, Vietnam’s government does not want them to meet with foreign diplomats and politicians inside the country. During his stay in Hanoi, President Obama invited nine representatives of local civil society for a discussion, however, only a few of them successfully attended the meeting while the others, including Dr. A and blogger Trang, were blocked.

The freedom of expression and assembly and the right of free movement are enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution 2013.

========May 28=========

Vietnam Authorities Continue Torturing Wife of Jailed Pastor

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Gia Lai have continued harassing Mrs. Tran Thi Hong, the wife of imprisoned Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, said the Vietnam-U.S. Lutheran Alliance Church.

In the mornings of May 27 and 28, police officers in Hoa Lu ward of Pleiku city broke the door of the private residence of Mrs. Hong and violently took her to the police station for interrogation after she refused to go there as they requested, Secretary Pastor Nguyen Hoang Hoa from Vietnam-U.S. Lutheran Alliance Church’s Executive Committee cited her son Nguyen Tran Cong Huy as saying.

Earlier on the evening of May 26, Hong informed Hoa that she had been summoned by the local authorities but she would not go there.

Police said they will continue to harass her until she makes written statement which would say her reports about persecution against her family are wrong.

Mrs. Hong has been in police’s constant persecution and harassment since April after she met with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David N. Saperstein and other American diplomats on March 30 to report about her husband’s situation in prison as well as harassment against her and children in the past several years.

Police officers in Hoa Lu ward had severely beaten her many times during interrogation in the local police station in the past few months. They have also threatened her children who are between five and 13 years old.

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

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

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

In late April, 33 domestic and international human rights organizations and religious groups, including the London-based Amnesty International, Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders, and Vietnam-based Defend the Defenders, issued a joint statement to request Vietnam’s government to stop harassing Mrs. Hoa and her children.

For more details about Gia Lai police’s persecution against Mrs. Hong family, you can read at: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/04/14/police-in-vietnams-central-highlands-brutally-beat-wife-of-imprisoned-pastor-questioning-her-about-meeting-with-u-s-diplomats/

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Many Vietnamese Activists Conducting Hunger Strike to Support Jailed Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Defend the Defenders: Dozens of former prisoners of conscience, political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders in the country and abroad have conducted hunger strike to support prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who launched an indefinite fasting in his prison cell from May 24 to demand for rule of law and a national referendum on the political system in Vietnam.

After Mr. Thuc unveiled his plan for refusing eating, the Former Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience and other human rights organizations have called on Vietnamese activists to conduct at least a one-day hunger strike to support him and pressure the Vietnamese communist government to ask for his immediate and unconditional release.

The number of fasting activists to support Mr. Thuc is increasing. His family members have also joined the campaign. Most of them have done it for one day while others have gone on longer.

Activists have fasted in different time and said they would continue until Thuc is released or his life is saved.

Earlier this month, Mr. Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment, was transferred from the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau to the Prison No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An.

On the occasion of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam, the government proposed for Mr. Thuc to live in exile in the U.S., however, the 50-year-old engineer, entrepreneur and human rights activist rejected the proposal, 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 for posting articles calling for political and economic reforms.

Mr. Thuc was arrested seven years ago and accused of carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration under Article 79.  He is one of the London-based Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience.

For more details about Mr. Thuc, please read: Vietnam Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Plans Long-lasting Hunger Strike, Rejecting to Live in Exile in U.S.

Many Vietnamese prisoners of conscience, including legal experts Cu Huy Ha Vu, prominent bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay) and Ta Phong Tan, had conducted long-lasting hunger strikes to protest inhumane treatments of prisons’ authorities against inmates, especially political prisoners. They ended fasting after the prisons’ authorities agreed to meet their requests.

However, it is unlikely that Vietnam’s government will accept Mr. Thuc’s requirements as the communists have vowed to keep the country under a one-party regime, said observers, adding the life of Mr. Thuc is threatened as he is determined to continue his fasting until his demands are met.

=========== May 29============

Hanoi Security Forces Detain Many Environmentalists for Street Sit-in Demonstration Related to Mass Killing of Aquatic Species in Central Coastal Region

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on May 29 detained a number of environmental activists who conducted a street sit-in demonstration in the city’s center for government’s transparency in the mass killing of aquatic species in the country’s central offshore.

Among detainees are bloggers La Viet Dung, Tran Thuy Nga, Nguyen Thi Thuy Hanh, Dang Phuong Bich, Truong Van Dung, and Nguyen Van Phuong.

Local activists reported that shortly after Mr. La Viet Dung and Ms. Nga hang unfurled their banner “We want to know why fish die massively”, security agents violently took them to a car and drove away.

Police also detained four other activists when they were heading to the city’s center. Police also tried to arrest blogger Mai Phuong Thao when she was in a cafeteria in the city’s old square.

Activists said police took the detainees to unknown locations. They may face accusation of causing public disorders, which carries a maximum prison sentence of two years, under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code.

In afternoon, Hanoi police released all detainees after confiscating a number of their possessions, including cell phones and cameras. Activist Phuong said he was severely beaten by police officers and militia during police’s custody.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s government has yet to reveal the real causes of the en-mass death of aquatic species in the four central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue since early April. Experts and many activists believe that the toxic waste discharged by a giant steel plant of the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Corp. in Ha Tinh is causing the death of hundreds of tons of marine species in the sea off the central coastline.

Instead of publicizing the causes of the environmental disaster in the central coastal region and taking urgent actions to deal with it, state media has propagandized that the fish caught in the region is safe for consumption. They have also launched campaign to call on Vietnamese people to purchase fish harvested by local fishermen and make visits to the beach in the region.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that salt produced in the affected areas contains permissible residues of heavy metals and is safe for cooking and food processing. The ministry’s conclusion is highly questionable as it was made based on fast testing of only a few samples taken in the same localities which have not reported the exact serious situation, said environmentalists.

Local social networks have reported the suspected poisoning of a number of people who consumed seafood taken from the shore of Nghe An province, the neighbor province of Ha Tinh where the steel plant of Formosa is located.

Many whales were reported to have beached and died in the central coast. However, state media was reportedly forced not to cover their deaths.

Thousands of Vietnamese activists have rallied in big cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang and Danang since early May to demand the government to carefully investigate the en-mass death of fish and adopt proper measures to prevent further pollution and clean the water. In response, Vietnam’s police have violently suppressed the peaceful demonstrations, severely beaten and arrested hundreds of people, including the elder, female and children.

On May 15, police in HCMC arrested hundreds of activists, holding them in a local rehabilitation facility, which is used for holding sex workers, criminals and drug addicts, for interrogation. Many detainees claimed that they were beaten by electrical batons during interrogation before being released several days later.

The Ministry of Public Security has also deployed huge number of police and plainclothes agents to the private residences of many political dissidents, social activists and human rights, putting them de facto under house arrest to prevent them from taking part in demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese in foreign countries, including Japan, France, Australia and the U.S. have rallied in front of Vietnam’s diplomatic corporations to raise their concerns about the massive death of fish and the slow actions of the Vietnamese government on the case.

The UN Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights, dozens of U.S. Congress members and many international human rights organizations, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the London-based Amnesty International have condemned Vietnam’s suppression against peaceful environmentalists.

Vietnam’s government has strived to maintain high growth rate of gross domestic products (GDP), allowing foreign countries to develop many industrial zones without paying special attention to environmental consequences, said economists and environmentalists.

It has a zero tolerance on critics and used a number of controversial articles such as 79, 88 and 258 to silence local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding over 100 prisoners of conscience./.