Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly May 30-June 5: Vietnam Has Yet to Publicize Results of Investigation on Fish Massive Death in Central Coast, Violently Suppressing Environmentalist

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | Jun 05, 2016

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Vietnam’s communist government has refused to publicize the results of the its investigation on the serious contamination of sea water in the central coastal region which has caused the en-mass death of marine species in the past few months, suppressing peaceful demonstration of environmentalists who voiced to demand for the government’s transparency on the case.

Two months after fish started to die massively in the four central coastal provinces, the government said it completed the investigation. However, it will keep the investigation results for further consultation. It has triggered anger among local activists who have called for nationwide demonstration to request the government to take urgent actions to deal with the environmental disaster as well as name the real causes for the catastrophe and bring the violators to justice.

In response, the Vietnamese security forces have launched crackdown, arresting nearly one hundred of peaceful protestors in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Danang and other localities. Many activists have been severely beaten while others are still under police’s custody.

Prominent political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who announced to conduct indefinite fasting in Prison No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An to demand for government’s human rights respect and a referendum for the country’s political course, agreed to shorten his hunger strike on June 7 after 15 days. Mr. Thuc took the move after other activists urged him to save his life for longer way to fight for political pluralism and human rights in Vietnam.

The Office of UN Human Rights Commissioner on June 2 issued a statement condemning the on-going suppression of Vietnam’s authorities against Mrs. Tran Thi Hong, the wife of imprisoned Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh. Since mid-April, local government in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai have summoned her to the local police station where they in interrogated and tortured her. The police said they will stop persecution her only if she admitted that her meeting with foreign diplomats to report about the harassment against her husband is wrong.

Prominent government critic Dr. Nguyen Quang A on June 2 was kidnapped by Hanoi police few hours ahead of his scheduled meeting with two senior diplomats from the EU.

And other important news.

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============= May 31=============

 Vietnamese Communal Police Chief Accused of Illegal Arrest, Torture

Defend the Defenders: Huynh Tan Tra, communal police chief in Vietnam’s central coastal province of Phu Yen has been accused of illegally arresting a local citizen and meting out corporal punishment to him in March, the Tuoi Tre newspaper has reported.

Nguyen Kim Thanh, 20, residing in Hoa Dinh Dong commune, Phu Hoa district, has submitted a denunciation letter to local authorities, stating that Tra and his officers had wrongfully detained and caused injuries to him during interrogation.

Thanh was kept in custody as he was suspected to throw rocks and break the windows of Tra’s house.

Vo Thi Su, Thanh’s mother, said the police chief, along with two other officers, came to their house at around 2:00 AM on March 29, requesting to enter the residence to examine their family register. The police officers escorted the man to the station on their motorbike, she said.

Upon arriving at the police station, Thanh was accused of attacking Tra’s house together with his friends. When the man rejected, Tra hit him in his back several times with his baton, handcuffed the man left arm to the chair and went on to beat him in his waist, the victim said.

The police officer also attacked his detainee with an electric baton and released him two hours later, the victim claimed.

Su said that her son crumbled and lost consciousness the moment he reached his house, with several bruises found on his back and abdomen, adding the officers detained Thanh without any warrant, decision or evidence.

The family was invited to the police station for a meeting on March 31, during which Tra explained his reason of arrest, admitted that it was wrong for him to beat Thanh, and offered to pay all his medical bills.

The police chief also arrived at Thanh’s house, offering VND1 million ($44.59) and asking him not to file any lawsuit, which was turned down by the family, the newspaper said.

On April 1, Thanh was taken to a local clinic and diagnosed with soft tissue injury, the mother said.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Nhi, chairwoman of the People’s Committee in Hoa Dinh Dong commune, asserted that she was not aware of the administrative check, arrest, or assault.

Illegal detention and torture is rampant in Vietnam, especially in communal level, according to state media.

The Human Rights Watch, in its release last year, reported that police abuse is systemic in Vietnam, causing hundreds of deaths of detainees and suspected people in police station.

The Ministry of Public Security reported that 226 detainees and suspects died in police’s custody between October 2010 and September 2014, and police said most of their deaths were caused by illness and suicides while social networks and the families of the victims said their deaths were caused by police power abuse.

More than ten of people were reported to die in police stations or outside related to police officers so far this year, according to the state-run media.

Few Vietnamese policemen have been disciplined with light sentences for torturing suspects.

Vietnam ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014, however, many people were found dead or with severe injuries when they were detained in police station nationwide.

============ June 01=================

Vietnam Prominent Political Prisoner Agrees to Shorten Hunger Strike on June 7 after Meeting with Family

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese prominent political dissident Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment, has agreed to shorten his hunger strike on June 7 after meeting with his family in a prison on June 1, local social networks have reported.

Mr. Thuc, who had announced to launch 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, made this decision after receiving a letter from numerous activists who asked them to end his hunger strike to save his life to continue to fight for the country’s cause for multi-party democracy and human rights improvement. A group of former political prisoners, including prominent lawyer Le Cong Dinh, Pham Ba Hai and Le Thang Long also came to visit him, however, they were not allowed to meet him.

However, Thuc will continue his fasting until June 7, making his fasting to last 15 days.

Last month, he was transferred from a prison in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau to the Prison No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An.

Before the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Vietnam on May 23-25, Hanoi pledged to release Thuc in condition that he agrees to live in exile in the U.S. However, Thuc refused the proposal, saying he would stay in the country to fight for democracy and human rights.

His plan to carry out indefinite hunger strike has attracted domestic and international community. Many foreign politicians and human rights organizations as well as domestic activists have expressed their concerns about the life of Thuc. They have voiced to ask Vietnam’s government to release him, and strived to call on him to halt the fasting plan.

Hundreds of Vietnamese activists worldwide have conducted hunger strike to support Thuc, who is one of the London-based Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience.

Mr. Thuc was arrested seven years ago and accused of carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration under Article 79. In fact, his writings aimed to advocate political and economic reforms in the communist nation.

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.

In the past seven years, Thuc had conducted a number of hunger strikes to protest human rights violations of prisons’ authorities.

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

Vietnam Prominent Political Prisoner Agrees to Shorten Hunger Strike on June 7 after Meeting with Other Dissidents

======== June 02=======

Vietnam Security Forces Kidnap Leading Dissident Prior to His Lunch with EU Diplomats

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces on June 2 kidnapped Hanoi-based prominent dissident Nguyen Quang A, few hours prior to his lunch with senior diplomats from the European Union (EU), the victim said on his Facebook account (https://www.facebook.com/a.nguyenquang.16?fref=ts).

Dr. A was detained by plainclothes agents in the early morning near his private residence in Long Bien district. The plainclothes agents, who patrolled his house from the evening of Wednesday, took him to a car and drove to Lang Son.

The Hungary-trained expert on telecommunication said he was with indoor clothes when police officers detained him, adding he was invited by EU’s FTA Chief Negotiator Mauro Petriccione to take a lunch at the private residence of EU’s Ambassador to Vietnam Bruno Angelet on the same day.

When Mr. A said he had yet to take breakfast, the kidnappers turned back to Bac Ninh where they eat rice. After that, the police officers took him to his home in Que Vo district and released him at 2 PM.

During the talks, police officers said they had received information which says Mr. A is cooperating with the U.S. and the EU to work against the Vietnamese government. Mr. A, who was eliminated self-nominated candidate for the country’s parliament in recent general election, rejected the accusation and protested the illegal detention, saying the move violated his rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution 2013.

Dr. A, who is the leader of independent Dien Dan Xa Hoi Dan Su (Civil Society Forum) said he only wants to advocate for political and economic reforms and ready to negotiate with the government. One security officer seem to understand him and pledged not to take similar moves in future, Mr. A said.

Dr. A, who has participated in many demonstrations for environmental issues and against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), has been detained by Vietnamese police in the past few years.

On May 24, he was invited by U.S. President Barack Obama to attend a meeting between him and representatives of Vietnam’s civil society in Hanoi during the state visit of the American leader to the Southeast Asian nation. However, Hanoi’s police also detained him to prevent him from going to the meeting. Six other activists, including social activist Pham Doan Trang were blocked from attending the event.

Last year, he was detained for interrogation by security forces in the Hanoi-based Noi Bai International Airport upon arriving from abroad where he met with foreign politicians and international human rights groups.

In addition to blocking local activists from going abroad, Vietnam’s security forces have also applied a number of tricks to prevent them from meeting with foreign diplomats. The Ministry of Public Security have sent police officers and plainclothes to monitor local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, not allowing them to go out for taking part in social events.

Some activists have faced constant persecution from the local authorities after meeting with foreign diplomats, according to local social networks.

In the single-party Vietnam, the ruling communist party has strived not to allow formation of opposition party. Last year, then Minister of Public Security and incumbent President Tran Dai Quang labeled independent civil society organizations as “reactionary groups.”

========== June 3=========

UN experts urge Vietnam to stop the persecution and torture of religious leaders and rights defenders

The Online Citizen: United Nations human rights experts today called on the Government of Viet Nam to stop the persecution of Ms. Tran Thi Hong, who has been repeatedly arrested and tortured as retaliation for informing the international community of human rights violations against her husband, who is in prison for peaceful religious activities.

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, also urged the Vietnamese authorities to put an end to all persecution and harassment, including criminalization, against religious leaders and human rights defenders, women human rights defenders and members of their families.

Ms. Tran, spouse of imprisoned Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, was initially arrested on 14 April 2016. She was tortured and warned to stop her activities promoting freedom of religion. Since then, Ms. Tran Thi Hong has been repeatedly arrested and harassed by the authorities, who are trying to force her to ‘cooperate’ with the Government.

“We are concerned that the repeated arrests and the continuing detention of Ms. Tran resulted from her peaceful human rights work and exercise of her fundamental rights, which constitutes arbitrary detention,” the experts said calling for her unconditional release.

Her husband has been in prison since 2011 for his religious activities as director of the Vietnam-U.S. Lutheran Alliance Church, which is considered as ‘anti-Government’ and ‘anti-communist’ by the authorities. In prison, he has been subjected to torture and deprived of contact with his family.

“The Vietnamese Government has the obligation to respect the right of religious communities to organize themselves as independent communities and to appoint their own leaders,” said Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt.

“The severe beating, by authorities who did not identify themselves, amounts to torture and must be investigated and those responsible held accountable, in accordance with Viet Nam’s international human rights obligations,” Mr. Méndez, added.

The UN Special Rapporteurs concluded that “Viet Nam should immediately and unconditionally release Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and Ms. Tran Thi Hong, as well as all persons detained for their legitimate activities in the defence of human rights.”

The human rights experts’ appeal has also been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye; the Special Rappo rteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Dubravka Šimonović; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

================= June 4===================

Hanoi Authorities Arrest Old Street Musician, Holding Him in Social Rehabilitation Center

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi in late of June 3 arrested a street musician who often sings patriotic songs and held him in a social rehabilitation center which is used for holding sex workers, criminals and drug addicts despite his strong protest, the victim told his friends.

Mr. Ta Tri Hai, 76, telephoned his friends from the center that at 1 AM of June 3, when he played music at the city’s center, police came and detained him without reason. Later, they took him to the rehabilitation facility in Dong Anh district.

Authorities may hold him there for long period to prevent him from taking part in social activities, activists said.

The move came amid rising violence against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders who have launched a campaign to demand the government to be transparent in investigation of the environmental pollution in the country’s central coast which has caused the massive deaths of marine species in the four central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue, and take urgent actions to deal with the serious environmental disaster.

Mr. Hai has been active in public demonstration against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and environmental protection campaigns in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In these events, he has played patriotic songs which are not encouraged by local authorities.

The old musician, who plays music in Hanoi’s center every night for tourists and local residents, has been detained many times by police who violently suppress all spontaneous demonstrations.

Last year, a government-supported thug assaulted him, breaking his fingers and destroying his violin as well as throwing his other instruments into a lake. The local police came but allowed the attacker to go away freely.

Mr. Hai is a loyal member of the No-U Football Club, a soccer team of Vietnamese activists who oppose China’s expansionism in the resource-rich East Sea which is very important for international navigation.

Due to his activities, Mr. Hai has become a figure unwelcome by Hanoi’s authorities which have regularly harassed him. The old musician said Hanoi police have pressured landlords, demanding them not to allow him to rent a room for overnight stays. The attack against Mr. Hai was among numerous assaults of pro-government thugs against pro-democracy and human rights activists recently.

Mr. Hai said he was threatened many times by pro-government thugs and plainclothes agents when he sings patriotic songs condemning China’s aggressiveness in the East Sea.

In 2012, Vietnam jailed two music compositors for writing patriotic songs condemning China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty and protesting Vietnam’s crackdown against anti-China activists.  The People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Tran Vu Anh Binh to six years and Vo Minh Tri to four years in prison for anti-state propaganda.

Meanwhile, police in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities have tightened control in a bid to prevent activists from conducting peaceful demonstrations related to the en-mass deaths of marine species in the central coast. Many activists have complained that police officers and plainclothes agents have patrolled near their private residences, not allowing them to go out during weekends.

In May, security forces in Hanoi and HCMC violently dispersed peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues. Police arrested hundreds of activists, severely beating many environmentalists upon the arrest and torturing detainees, in many cases with electrical batons during interrogation in police custody.

The Office of UN High Commission for Human Rights and many international human rights organizations have condemned Vietnam’s recent suppression against local activists, calling on the communist government respect its Constitutions and its international obligations on human rights.

Two months after the start of the environmental disaster in the central coastal region, Vietnam’s government has yet to release the results of its investigation on the cause of the water’s contamination with toxic chemicals. Many believed that the pollution was caused by discharge of toxic waste of the Ha Tinh province-based steel plant of the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group which admitted to throw huge volume of improperly-treated waste into the sea.

Vietnam has prioritized high growth rate of the country’s gross domestic products (GDP) and encouraged foreign investors to set up industrial projects nationwide without paying special attention to environmental consequences, said experts.

The contamination of sea water in the central coast may affect the region’s economy for decades, especially in local fisheries, tourism and salt production. The livelihood of tens of millions of local residents is threatened, experts said.

========== June 5============

Nearly Hundreds of Vietnamese Environmentalists Detained during Sunday Peaceful Demonstrations, Many Severely Beaten

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh  City and Danang and other localities on Sunday [June 5] arrested nearly one hundred of environmental activists during peaceful demonstrations which aimed to demand the government to be transparent in a serious environmental disaster in the central coastal region which has killed hundreds of tons of marine species since April 6.

A number of activists were severely beaten by police officers during the detentions and in police’s custody. Among victims of the police abuse are Pham Nam Hai in Hanoi, Nguyen Van Thanh in the central province of Danang, and Nguyen Van Do and facebooker Huy Truong Le in Saigon. The tortured activists said they suffered from serious injuries on their bodies.

Hanoi’s authorities arrested around 70 activists and released all detainees on afternoon while the police in HCMC still hold many activists, including Mr. Luu Van Vinh, Ms. Tran Thi Nguyet, Mr. Truong Huy Le, and Mr. Khanh Le Hoang in the social rehabilitation facility No. 463 in No Trang Long street which is used for holding sex workers, criminals and drug addicts, for interrogation. In this facility in mid-May, the police in the city held hundreds of activists for several days and many detainees said they were beaten by electrical batons during questioning.

Many activists in Hanoi and HCMC said they have been de facto under house arrest during weekends as local authorities deploy many police officers to patrol near their private residences, not allowing them to go out.

Authorities in major cities have tightened control and arrested all political dissidents, social activists and human rights when they appear in public places in cities’ centers on Sunday after environmental groups called for nationwide demonstrations during the weekend to demand the government to release the results of investigation on the massive death of millions of fish in the four central province of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue. Two months after the environmental catastrophe, Vietnam’s government has yet to publicize the results although the investigation was completed.

Many believe that the fish en-mass death in the central coastal region as water was polluted with heavy chemicals which came from improperly-treated waste discharged by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group which has a $10 billion steel project in Ha Tinh province. The Taiwanese company admitted to imported 300 tons of very toxic chemicals such as CYC-VPrefilm900, CYC-Vprefilm400, CYC-Vclosetrol360, and CYC-VMA 796 for cleaning their machineries in the project and discharge waste into the sea through a meter-wide and kilometer-long tunnel about 15 meters below the sea surface.

Many Vietnamese have angered as the government has no urgent actions to cope with the disaster in the central coast as well as refused to announce the real causes of the incident. Since May 1, thousands of Vietnamese activists have rallied across the nation to protest Formosa and the slow reactions of the government.

Instead of warning people about serious contamination of sea water in the central coast, local authorities have launched campaign to encourage people to buy seafood harvested by the local fishermen, and come to the local beaches. A number of divers were reported to die in water near the place where Formosa discharges waste and many people died and suffered seriously from consuming seafood from the affected areas.

In May, police violently suppressed many peaceful environmental demonstrations, detaining and torturing many activists.

The Office of UN High Commission for Human Rights and many international human rights organizations have condemned Vietnam’s recent suppression against local activists, calling on the communist government respect its Constitutions and its international obligations on human rights.

Vietnam has prioritized high growth rate of the country’s gross domestic products (GDP) and encouraged foreign investors to set up industrial projects nationwide without paying special attention to environmental consequences, said experts.

The contamination of sea water in Vietnam’s central coast may affect the region’s economy for decades, especially in local fisheries, tourism, fish sauce and salt production. The livelihood of tens of millions of local residents is threatened, experts said.