Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly June 13-19, 2016: Front Line Defenders Concerned about Recent Arrest of Vietnamese Land Rights Activist Can Thi Theu

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly | Jun 19, 2016

 

On June 16, Front Line Defenders or The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organization founded in Dublin, Ireland, expressed its concern about the recent arrest of Can Thi Theu, a Hanoi-based land rights activist.

Saying Mrs. Theu’s detention may be directly linked to her peaceful and legitimate work calling for adequate compensation for the confiscation of lands in Vietnam, Front Line Defenders urges Vietnam’s government to immediately and unconditionally release Can Thi Theu and drop all charges against her as it is believed that they are solely motivated by her legitimate and peaceful work in defense of human rights.

It has also asks Vietnam to guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Vietnam are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without undue restrictions, fear of harassment, threats or retaliation, and publicly recognize their important role in a just civil society.

On June 13, Hanoi security forces detained two sons of Mrs. Theu, Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, and many other land petitioners when they held a peaceful demonstration in the front of the government building in Ha Dong district to demand for her release. Police confiscated cameras and cell phones of the detainees, erasing all data including pictures and videos before returning them.

On the same day, Danang city-based political dissident Nguyen Van Thanh was attacked with dirty mess made of shrimp sauce (mam tom) by thugs, just eight days after he was severely beaten by plainclothes agents.

Pro-democracy activist Pham Van Diep, who lives permanently in Russia, was held by Thailand’s authorities in Bangkok after he was not allowed by Vietnam’s security forces to enter Vietnam. This was the 5th time he was not permitted to come back to the home country in the past few years due to his online articles criticizing Vietnam’s government.

International Christian Concern (ICC) on June 16 issued a statement condemning Vietnam’s ongoing persecution against local religious activists, including Mrs. Tran Thi Hong, wife of imprisoned Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh.

Taiwanese lawmakers on June 16 urged the government in Taipei to investigate local conglomerate Formosa’s possible role in mass fish deaths in Vietnam, as activists said industrial pollution from its multi-billion dollar steel plant could have caused the environmental disaster.

The Vietnam People’s Army will closely coordinate with authorities in localities to settle complicated situations to ensure the country’s stability, said Defense Minister General Ngo Xuan Lich, implying that the army is ready to closely coordinate with the police forces to deal with any uprising which may threaten the leadership of the communist party.

And many other important news.

========== June 13============

Dozens of Vietnamese Land Petitioners Detained at Peaceful Protest to Demand Unconditional Release of Their Leader

Defend the Defenders: The security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on June 13 detained around 20 land petitioners who held peaceful demonstrations in the front of a government building to demand for unconditional and immediate release of their leader Can Thi Theu.

The detention took place near the government building in Ha Dong district when dozens of land petitioners gathered there to protest the arrest of former prisoner of conscience Theu, who was detained on June 10 and charged with causing public disorders under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code.

Among the detainees were Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, two sons of Mrs. Theu, Doan Truong Vinh Phuoc and her ten-year-old sister Doan Truong Anh Thu from southern Vietnam.

The police held the detainees from early morning of Monday until late afternoon of the same day.

The detained protestors said the police officers violently took them on a bus but did not beat them while in police custody. Police confiscated their cell phones and cameras, erasing all pictures and videos they took during the protest before returning them to the owners.

Other land petitioners and activists continued to protest outside of the police station to request the release of Mrs. Theu and the recently-detained land petitioners until late afternoon.

Three days ago, the police in Hanoi arrested Theu, who was previously arrested on April 25, 2014 while filming the seizure of the land of her family and other farmers in Duong Noi commune, Ha Dong district, Hanoi. Later, she was charged with resisting on-duty state officials and sentenced to 15 months. Her husband Trinh Ba Tu was also arrested on the same case and imprisoned for 15 months.

This time, police accused her of causing public disorder when on April 8, she led a group of around 100 land petitioners to hold a peaceful demonstration to mark the 10th anniversary of the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406 and demand unconditional and immediate release of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested on December 16, 2015 on charge of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

On that day, Theu and seven other activists were violently detained by the Hanoi police who released them later on the same day.

For the recent arrest of Mrs. Theu, you can read in: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/06/10/vietnam-land-petitioners-leader-arrested-charged-with-causing-public-disorders/

Land seizure is a thorny issue in Vietnam where all land belongs to the state and the local residents have only the right to use it. According to the current Land Law, the state can take land from residents for infrastructure development or socio-economic purposes.

Thousands of Vietnamese peoples have lost their land after local authorities seized the land for industrial and property development without paying adequate compensation, leaving farmers without production tool. Authorities in these localities have taken land and/or paid cheaply for it and later sold it to industrial and property developers at prices much higher than the compensation prices.

Thousands of land petitioners have gathered in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to protest land grabbing by local authorities. They live in misery and are subjected to torture by police forces.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/06/13/hanoi-police-detain-dozens-of-activists-who-peacefully-protest-to-demand-unconditional-release-of-land-petitioners-leader/

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Danang-based Activist Attacked with Dirty Mess Eight Days after Tortured by Police

Defend the Defenders: A thug used a fish sauce mess to attack Nguyen Van Thanh, a political dissident in Vietnam’s central city of Danang, on June 13, just eight days after Thanh was allegedly tortured by the local police.

The victim suspected that the attacker is a secret government agent.

Yesterday, police stopped him while he was riding a motorbike belonging to his friend. As Thanh failed to show the motorbike owner’s card, police took the vehicle and demanded him bring the document. When Thanh returned with the motorbike’s owner, police gave back the vehicle but it was broken. Thanh found that someone put sand into the motorbike’s engine.

On June 5, Thanh was detained by the local police and he was severely beaten by police officers during the detention.

Thanh, a pro-democracy activist and author of numerous online articles calling for political pluralism and human rights, has been subjected to torture by local authorities. He has been beaten many times by police officers and plainclothes agents in the past few years.

In addition to blocking his economic activities, the local authorities have also ordered landlords not to allow him to rent a room. He has been forced to move from one place to another very often and sometimes he has no choice but to stay in hotels.

Despite constant persecution, Thanh has vowed to continue his advocacy for political pluralism and human rights enhancement in the Southeast Asian nation.

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Russia-based Vietnamese Pro-democracy Activist Held in Bangkok

Mr. Pham Van Diep, a Vietnamese pro-democracy activist based in Russia said he was held by Thai authorities in Bangkok after being refused entry into Vietnam.

Mr. Diep, who is a member of the Vietnam Democratic Party unrecognized by Vietnam, said it is illogical that he is held by Thailand’s authorities while he tried to return to his native country to visit his father.

The outspoken activist, who authorted numerous articles posted online calling for multi-party democracy, was not welcomed by Vietnam’s communist government which has labelled him a “reactionary figure”.

Diep, who once came back to Vietnam to attend anti-China protests, has been denied entry to the country since 2013. However, he continues to seek ways to come back to his country after five failed attempts.

Một thành viên Đảng Dân chủ Việt Nam bị giữ ở Thái Lan

======= June 14========

Vietnam Army Ready for “Internal Complicated Situations”: Defense Minister

Defend the Defenders: The Vietnam People’s Army will closely coordinate with authorities in localities to settle complicated situations to ensure the country’s stability, said Defense Minister General Ngo Xuan Lich, who was promoted to the post in mid-April.

Speaking at a recent interview with the Vietnam News Agency, General Lich, who is a member of the ruling communist party’s Politburo, said the army will remain absolutely loyal to the ruling party.

His speech implies that the army is ready to closely coordinate with the police forces to deal with any uprising which may threaten the leadership of the communist party.

He also said that the country will invest more in the army’s units which are assigned to protect the country’s borders and islands and sea waters.

Vietnam has been ruled in decades by the communist party which relies on the police forces and army in maintaining their power.

The police forces have intensified crackdown over local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. In some cases, the army has also been deployed in ensuring social orders.

Vietnam has violently suppressed spontaneous peaceful demonstrations, including protests against China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

========== June 16==========

Heavy Persecution Crackdowns Follow U.S. Delegation Visit

Charismanews: International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a series of government crackdowns on Christians in Vietnam has taken place, including the arrest and torture of an imprisoned pastor’s wife and the assault and arrest of a 14-year-old Christian in northern Vietnam. These incidents come only weeks after a U.S. delegation, including U.S. President Obama, visited Vietnam.

On June 13, a local church near the Vietnam-China border was stormed by 30 government authorities including high-level officials. During the onslaught, multiple churchgoers were beaten and two were arrested, including a 14-year-old. The priest was taken in for interrogation, where authorities attempted to force him to sign a statement admitting that the church’s activities disrupted the community and endangered security.

Nearly a week prior to this incident, United Nations officials publicly condemned the alleged torture and arrest of the wife of an imprisoned Christian pastor in Vietnam. This condemnation followed a widespread media outcry.

According to reports, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh’s wife, Tran Thi Hong, was detained and tortured on April 14, 2016, by local authorities of Gia Lai Province. The purpose of her torture was an attempt to extract information regarding a recent meeting she had taken part in with the visiting U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein on March 30. Prior to attending the meeting, Mrs. Hong was blocked from attending by plainclothes persons, forcing the U.S. delegation to visit Mrs. Hong in her home under observation.

While members of the international community have publicly condemned accounts of torture and the recent crackdown on religious minorities by the Vietnamese government, Christians living and working in Vietnam are hesitant as to whether or not the situation will improve.

“I don’t believe that the Vietnamese Government will address this issue,” a regional expert told ICC. “I believe we are witnessing [the] Communist Government [flexing] their muscles rather than [relaxing].”

ICC Regional Manager for South Asia William Stark states, “It is appalling to see the actions by the Vietnamese government against its Christian population both before and after the president’s visit. In an effort to bring forth a new chapter in U.S.-Vietnamese relations, the president lifted the weapons embargo between the two nations in hopes of a better future. Unfortunately, the president relinquished the last major bargaining chip the United States had to use with Vietnam regarding their deplorable human rights record. These recent attacks on the church and the arrest and torture of an imprisoned pastor’s wife show the true colors of Vietnam’s leadership.”

Heavy Persecution Crackdowns Follow U.S. Delegation Visit

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Front Line Defenders Concerned about Arrest of Vietnamese Land Rights Activist

On June 16, Front Line Defenders has expressed its concern about the recent arrest of Vietnamese land rights activist Can Thi Theu who is charged with causing public disorders under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code.

Front Line Defenders said her detention may be directly linked to her peaceful and legitimate work calling for adequate compensation for the confiscation of lands in Vietnam.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Vietnam to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Can Thi Theu and Nguyen Van Dai and drop all charges against them as it is believed that they are solely motivated by her legitimate and peaceful work in defense of human rights;
  2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Can Thi Theu as well as of her family;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Vietnam are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without undue restrictions, fear of harassment, threats or retaliation, and publicly recognize their important role in a just civil society.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-can-thi-theu

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Taiwan lawmakers urge Formosa probe over Vietnam fish deaths

AFP: Taiwanese lawmakers urged the government on Thursday (Jun 16) to investigate local conglomerate Formosa’s possible role in mass fish deaths in Vietnam, as activists said industrial pollution from its multi-billion dollar steel plant could have caused the environmental disaster.

If Formosa is behind the tons of dead fish that began washing up along Vietnam’s central coast two months ago, it could jeopardise new President Tsai Ing-wen’s signature policy of promoting investment in Southeast Asia in a bid to reduce Taiwan’s economic reliance on China, lawmakers said.

“There will be no end of trouble”, for the so-called Southbound Policy if Tsai’s new government doesn’t carefully address widespread concern among the Vietnamese public over the incident, said senior lawmaker Su Chih-feng of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

The fish deaths have devastated local fishermen and caused public anger in communist Vietnam, including rare public protests which were broken up by authorities, who arrested scores of activists.

Vietnam’s state-run media initially pointed the finger of blame at Formosa’s steel plant in central Ha Tinh province, but has since back-peddled.

The government has carried out tests but not yet announced an official verdict on the causes of the fish deaths, prompting many activists to allege a cover up.

Formosa has a poor track record of environmental scandals spanning the globe, from Texas to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It has also been accused of causing pollution in Taiwan, including a petrochemical complex in southern Yunlin where Su used to be county chief.

Authorities in Taiwan need to step in and ensure the company meets “international environmental, human rights and labour standards”, said Chang Yu-yin, chief of the Environmental Jurists Association, a Taiwanese organisation.

Peter Nguyen, a Taiwan-based Vietnamese priest, said Tsai’s government must ensure Formosa – if proven responsible – clean up the environmental disaster and fully compensate victims.

“Vietnam wants foreign investment but it should be win-win,” he said. “If our environment and our people suffer, it will pose major challenges and problems” for future Taiwanese investments in Vietnam, he added.

Taiwan and Vietnam do not have formal diplomatic relations but maintain close trade ties. Around 250,000 Vietnamese live in Taiwan, either because of work or due to marriage.

David Wang of Taiwan’s department of investment services, said the island had offered to assist the Vietnamese government’s own probe into the fish deaths but the help was declined.

Hanoi will release the results of its probe – conducted with international experts – by the end of June, he added.

Formosa fanned the flames of suspicion in April when one of its employees in Vietnam told state media the country had to “choose whether to catch fish and shrimp or to build a state-of-the-art steel mill”.

The employee was subsequently removed from his post and apologised for his remarks.

“I couldn’t catch a fish since March,” 29-year-old Vietnamese fisherman Le Guang Dung told AFP, adding he’d been forced to move to Taiwan to find work. “I hope Formosa’s plant will shut down so we can get our clean ocean back again,” he said.

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Reforms Needed in Social Service Access for Migrants, Vietnam

World Bank: Vietnam can improve migrants’ access to public services and employment by reducing the time and number of requirements needed for residents to obtain ho khau, or permanent residency, according to a new report by the World Bank and the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

The report also suggests reducing differences in service and employment access between those with permanent and temporary registration status.

The report, drawing on data from the 2015 Household Registration Survey and qualitative research, says at least 5.6 million people in the five surveyed provinces in Vietnam lack ho khau, including 36 percent of the population in Ho Chi Minh City and 18 percent in Hanoi. The majority of them work in the private sector, especially in manufacturing and for foreign firms. They have limited access to public schools, buying health insurance or even registering motorcycles.

Household Registration Survey

“This study shows that the ho khau system has created inequality of opportunity for Vietnamese citizens,” said Achim Fock, the World Bank’s Acting Country Director for Vietnam. “Further reforms could ensure that migrants have the same access to schools, health care, and employment in the public sector as everyone else. That will encourage people to move to cities and support Vietnam’s economic growth and structural transformation.”

The ho khau system began 50 years ago as an instrument of public security, economic planning, and control of migration. Citizens have mixed views of the existing ho khau system, and a large majority says the system should be relaxed, because it limits the rights of migrants and induces corruption.

“The Ho Khau registration system is no longer relevant for managing and controlling the Vietnamese society, which has been undergoing drastic changes toward Doi Moi and international integration,” said Dang Nguyen Anh, Vice President of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. “The system should be replaced by a more scientific and modern tool to make people’s lives easier and inclusive.”

======= June 17===========

Vietnam Rejects Assistance Offers from UN, U.S., Taiwan in Probing Fish Death

 Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s government has rejected assistance offers from the United Nation (UN), the U.S. and Taiwan in carrying out investigation on the massive death of marine species in the country’s central coast possibly caused by water contamination with toxic chemicals, foreign media has reported.

In its report released on June 16, the AFP said Taiwan “had offered to assist the Vietnamese government’s own probe into the fish deaths but the help was declined.”

In his speech in the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on June 8, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said Vietnamese officials rejected U.S. offers of technical assistance with an investigation into the death of hundreds of tons of marine species along the Southeast Asian country’s central coast.

“Pretty much right away, I offered technical assistance from the U.S. if the government of Vietnam wanted it for figuring out what had happened, and the reasons that so many fish had died along the central coast,” Ambassador Osius was quoted by the Voice of America (VOA) as saying. “That immediate offer of assistance was not accepted.”

In May, nearly 140,000 Vietnamese nationals submitted a petition urging the Obama administration to launch an independent probe of the event, according to VOA.

The UN had also offered to assist the communist government in Hanoi in finding out the real cause of the environmental catastrophe in the central region, which will have heavy consequences on the region’s fisheries, salt production and tourism, however, the Vietnamese government did not respond to the offer, according to a UN official who wants to remain anonymous.

Although an official investigation has found no links between the fish deaths and the $10.6 billion coastal steel plant run by a unit of Taipei-headquartered Formosa Plastics Group, public anger against the company has not abated.

The Taiwanese company admitted that it imported over 300 tons of very toxic chemicals for machinery clearance in its Ha Tinh province’s based steel plant, and discharged a huge volume of waste water in sea water in Ha Tinh.

Thousands of Vietnamese activists have rallied in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities to demand the government to strictly investigate to find the real causes of the environmental disaster, take immediate solutions to deal with the incident and bring the violators to justice. Vietnam’s security forces violently suppressed these peaceful demonstrations and arrested and beat hundreds of environmentalists, including the elderly, female and children.

============ June 19=============

U.S. Congress to Hold Hearing on Obama Visit to Hanoi, Human Rights Abuses in Vietnam

The U.S. Congress will hold a hearing themed “The President’s Visit to Vietnam: A Missed Opportunity to Advance Human Rights” on June 22 which will focus on human rights abuses by the Vietnamese government on its own people.

Congressman Chris Smith, senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chair of its Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, will chair the event at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill which will attract participation of other members of the committee, Boat People SOS, Amnesty International and religious freedom advocates.

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of Boat People SOS, Pastor Rmah Loan, former head of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam in Dak Nong province, Katie Duong, overseas representative of Popular Bloc of Cao Dai Religion, and T. Kumar, director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International will take part in the event.

“Members of Congress have repeatedly urged the President to condition expansion of trade benefits and security partnerships on significant, verifiable, and irreversible improvements in human rights in Vietnam,” Congressman Smith said. “Despite this, President Obama has given Vietnam lucrative economic and security benefits and got very little in return. This hearing will put a spotlight on the Vietnam government’s human rights record and will consider ways for Congress to restore the right priorities to U.S.-Vietnam relations,” he added.

Obama Visit to Vietnam & Human Rights Abuses by the Vietnamese Gov’t Topic of June 22 Hearing