Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly June 20-26, 2016: Vietnam Intensifies Crackdown on Unregistered Religious Groups, Land Grabbing on the Rise

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly | June 26, 2016

tuần tin

Authorities in many localities in Vietnam have intensified persecution against local unregistered religious groups, grabbing their properties and barring followers from attending religious ceremonies, according to local social networks.

On June 19-20, authorities in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang deployed a large number of police officers and militia to attack facilities of Cao Dai Buddhist sect in Cho Moi district, beating local followers. Due to the attack, Ms. Le Thi Hong Hanh and Ms. Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc suffered severe injuries.

On Monday, authorities in the central city of Hue sent 200 police officers and militia to attack Thien An Church, breaking a number of facilities of the church and beating followers as well as suppressing the church’s leadership. The move aims to take the land belonging to the church.

Police forces in the northernmost province of Lao Cai on June 19 stormed in a Protestant church in Muong Khuong district, destroying the church and beating many followers, including the elderly and women.

Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, head of the Lien Tri Pagoda which belongs to the unrecognized Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has informed that authorities in Ho Chi Minh City plans to seize the land on which the pagoda is located for local property development. The local government is set to evict the monks soon out of the areas and destroy the pagoda.

Vietnamese land rights activist Can Thi Theu, who was arrested on June 10, is in critical health conditions in the Hanoi-based Detention Facility No. 1 after conducting a 13-day hunger strike since her arrest to protest her illegal detention. After meeting with her lawyer, she agreed to end the fasting.

A group of several civil society organizations have issued a joint statement calling on international financial institutions and foreign government to attach human-rights conditions to their loans for Vietnam and demand the government of Vietnam show evidence of improvements on human rights before those loans are made.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has criticized Vietnam over its implementation of death penalty, calling on the Southeast Asian nation to abolish this inhuman, cruel and degrading punishment at the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty in Oslo on June 21.

And many other important news

========== June 20============

Vietnam Revokes Press Card of Journalist for “Improper Post” on Warplane Crash

Defend the Defenders: The Vietnam Journalists Association on June 20 decided to revoke a press card of its member Mai Phan Loi, saying he had used improper words in his recent social survey about last week’s crash of a military airplane.

The move was taken one day before the 91st anniversary of the “Vietnam revolutionary press” according to state media.

Few days after the crash of a CASA 212 helicopter of the Vietnam Coast Guard on June 16, Mr. Loi launched a private poll on the Facebook page of the Young Journalists Forum to collect public opinions about the causes of the falling of the chopper which fell in the waters in the Tonkin Gulf while searching for a Su-30MK2 jetfighter that crashed two days earlier.

In the first incident, one senior pilot was killed while in the second catastrophe, nine military officers, including a colonel pilot, were missing.

In his survey, he asked why the aircrafts fell apart while the Vietnam Journalists Association said the words he used were “insulting” to the military forces.

On June 21, the Ho Chi Minh Law newspaper suspended the dynamic reporter, according to the Tuoi Tre newspaper.

Vietnam’s security forces have reportedly interrogated the journalist in recent days, according to social networks.

Local observers said the revoking of Loi’s press card may be linked to his activities in the Young Journalists Forum which is independent while all media outlets in Vietnam are under state control. Loi is the sole administrator of the forum with 12,000 members.

Mr. Loi represented the forum to attend a meeting in Hanoi on May 24 between U.S. President Barack Obama and representatives of local social groups during his first and final visit to Vietnam. Loi was one of six delegates attending the event while nine invited individuals were blocked by local security forces from going to the meeting.

The acts against Mr. Loi are suppression of the Vietnam Journalists Association and other journalists who have sought to provide true and independent journalism in Vietnam, social activists said.

Mr. Loi is the second Vietnamese journalist whose press card is revoked in relation to sensitive topics. Last September, the Ministry of Information and Communication took the press card of Do Hung, general secretary of the Thanh Nien newspaper after his Facebook message which the authorities deemed insulting to late General Vo Nguyen Giap, who was the decisive figure in the wars against France and the U.S. in the 20th century.

========= June 21============

Vietnam Intensifies Crackdown on Unregistered Religious Groups, Land Grabbing on the Rise

Defend the Defenders:  Authorities in many localities in Vietnam have intensified persecution against local unregistered religious groups, grabbing their properties and barring followers from attending their religious ceremonies, according to local social networks.

On June 19-20, authorities in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang deployed a large number of police officers and militia to attack facilities of Cao Dai Buddhist sect in Cho Moi district, beating local followers. Due to the attack, Ms. Le Thi Hong Hanh and Ms. Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc suffered severe injuries.

In order to protest the local government’s suppression, Mr. Vo Thanh Liem, head of Thanh Minh Pagoda, intended to use gasoline for self-immolation, however, he was blocked from other followers.

On Monday, authorities in the central city of Hue sent 200 police officers and militia to attack Thien An Church, damaging a number of facilities of the church and beating followers as well as suppressing the church’s leadership. The attack is allegedly aimed at taking the land belonging to the church.

In mid-May last year, the Hue authorities deployed police forces to take down a Jesus statue and Cross in Thien An Church and threw them into a river nearby.

Police forces in the northernmost province of Lao Cai on June 19 stormed into a Protestant church in Muong Khuong district, destroying the church and beating many followers, including the elderly and women.

Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, head of the Lien Tri Pagoda which belongs to the unrecognized Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has alleged that authorities in Ho Chi Minh City plan to seize the land on which the pagoda is located for local property development. The local government is set to evict the monks out of the areas on June 23 and destroy the pagoda.

In addition to persecuting unregistered religious groups, the grabbing of land of churches and pagodas has taken place in many localities. The victims of state land grabbing include Thai Ha Redemptory’s Church in Hanoi, Con Dau parish in Danang city, and Dong Yen parish in the central province of Ha Tinh.

Vietnam’s authorities in many provinces and cities have also seized land from local residents without paying adequate compensation. Appropriated land is often given to private developers of industrial and property projects, leaving thousands of farmers nationwide without production tools. Hundreds of them have rallied in Hanoi and HCMC to demand the return of their land or compensation at market prices, but they are subjected to the authorities’ discrimination and persecution.

In early June, Vietnam arrested land rights activist Can Thi Theu and charged her with causing public disorders in a bid to suppress other land petitioners.

Vietnam’s new leadership, formed after the 12th National Congress of the ruling communist party, has flexed its muscles against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders in a bid to keep the country under a one-party regime, observers said.

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Vietnam: Nuns stage sit-in to protest land grab in Hanoi

Christian Today: Nuns in the Hanoi-based Sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres have staged a sit-in to defend their property amid claims police failed to intervene in an attempted land grab.

The demonstration is held on a piece of land in Quang Trung ward, Hoang Kiem district after a local business woman attempted to build on the property. The nuns spotted building materials on the site and informed local authorities, but they allegedly did nothing to stop it.

The piece of land was seized by the Communist party in the 1950s, when authorities began taking church-owned hospitals and schools. The Hanoi authorities used the property as a school but later sold to a private investor.

Claiming the property, the nuns have asked the government to return it to them so they can continue their work, though under current legislation the authorities are under no obligation to do so.

The Sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres have had a presence in Vietnam since 1860, and were originally from France. They settled in Hanoi in 1883, and had a presence there until 1954. They were forced to abandon their work in the country almost 50 years later, until 2010, when they were allowed to return.

Vietnam’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion in principle, but, like China, the Communist government tightly controls independent religious practice. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, it represses “individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority”, including independent Buddhists, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Christians.

Of the 93.4 million Vietnamese population more than half identifies with Buddhism. Roman Catholics make up 7%, Cao Dai between 2.5% and 4%; Hoa Hao, 1.5% to 3%; and Protestants, 1% to 2%.

Vietnam: Nuns stage sit-in to protest land grab in Hanoi

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Vietnam Criticized for Its Capital Punishment at 6th World Congress against Death Penalty in Oslo

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has criticized Vietnam over its implementation of death penalty, calling on the Southeast Asian nation to abolish this this inhuman, cruel and degrading punishment.

The criticism was made at the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty in Oslo on June 21 which were attended by 1,300 delegates from 80 countries, including 20 ministers, 200 parliamentarians and numerous academics, lawyers and members of civil society. The congress, organized every three years, focused on the death penalty and terrorism, minorities and mental health this year.

During the congress, VCHR Vice-President Penelope Faulkner highlighted the case of Vietnam, one of some 25 countries that still enforce capital punishment. “The use of the death penalty in Vietnam is especially disturbing because of the lack of due process of law. In Vietnam’s one-party state, the judiciary is not independent and trials are routinely unfair. Some recent death sentences were based on confessions made under torture”, she said.

Ms. Faulkner presented the VCHR’s new report on “The Death Penalty in Vietnam” which gives an overview of Vietnam’s policies and practices regarding the death penalty, inhumane conditions on death row and cases of wrongful convictions. Until 2010, executions were by firing squad in Vietnam. The parliament then adopted legislation to use lethal injections to make the process “more humane”. Following an EU ban on exports of lethal drugs, Vietnam authorized the use of untested “local poisons” to reduce the backlog of prisoners on death row.

In November 2015, Vietnam announced that it had abolished the death penalty on seven crimes in a reform of the Criminal Code, reducing the number of offences punishable by death from 22 to 15. However, the VCHR report revealed that 18 crimes still carry the death penalty in Vietnam today; one new crime has been added, and other crimes, notably drug-related offences, have simply been-worded or displaced in the text. The report published the full list of these 18 crimes. The amended Criminal Code comes into effect on 1st July 2016.

Despite strong international pressure, Vietnam did not abolish the death penalty for any of the vaguely-defined “national security” crimes in its amended Criminal Code. On the contrary, it added a new offence of “terrorist activities aimed at opposing the people’s administration” (Article 113). Indeed, Chapter XIII of the Code on “Crimes of Infringing upon National Security” contains a total of six crimes carrying capital punishment, more than any other category of crimes in the Code.

“Under these spurious “national security” laws, which are totally incompatible with international human rights provisions, human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in Vietnam could be sentenced to death simply for criticizing the Communist Party or peacefully expressing alternative political views”, Penelope Faulkner said.

The VCHR report cited cases such as Phan Van Thu, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2013 under Article 79 of the Criminal Code  on “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” for advocating protection of the environment.

Capital Punishment in Vietnam condemned at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo

========== June 22===========

Vietnam Eases Regulations for Detainees, Enforcement Still Under Question

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam has eased regulations for detainees in criminal cases according to a new law which will be effective from July.

According to the newly-adopted Law on Detention, people in police’s custody facing criminal charges have the right to meet their relatives once a month.

Until now, Vietnamese detainees have only the right to receive material supports from their families but not meet their relatives in police detention facilities during the investigation period and the pre-trial period.

The new law will also grant detainees’ right to meet with their legal representatives to settle civil cases.

The new regulations are a big progress, said lawyer Phan Trung Hoai. Until now, detainees can only receive material supports from their families, he noted.

Lawyer Nguyen The Huu Trach from Ho Chi Minh City said that under current Vietnamese law, detainees can meet their relatives only if the investigation agencies agree. In many cases, detainees are not allowed to meet with their family members during the pre-trial period, he said.

According to Article 22 of the Law on Detention, detainees can meet their relatives once during the initial detention period, and one more time during every extended detention while prosecuted detainees can receive their relatives once a month. However, the visits need to be approved by the heads of the detention facilities.

Human rights defenders have expressed concerns about the implementation of the new regulations, especially in political cases.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested on December 16 last year on the charge of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code, has not been allowed to meet with his relatives so far. Prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka AnhBaSam) has not been permitted to receive his family after being sentenced to five years in prison in the first hearing on March 24.

Currently, the Ministry of Public Security manages all detention facilities and prisons despite proposals of many legislators to hand over the oversight to the Ministry of Justice.

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Vietnam Land Rights Activist in Critical Health Conditions in Detention after 13-day Hunger Strike

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese land rights activist Can Thi Theu is in critical health conditions in the Hanoi-based Detention Facility No. 1 as she has fasted since her arrest on June 10, her lawyer Ha Huy Son informed the family.

At the first meeting with his client in the detention facility on June 22, lawyer Son said Mrs. Theu was brought to a room on a wheelchair, with support of two people.

Theu, a former prisoner of conscience, said she started the hunger strike on the very first day of being arrested by the Hanoi police to protest the detention. She said there is blood in her urine and she vomited in recent days.

On the same day, Mr. Son attended an interrogation of Theu, who was freed on July last year after 15 months in prison in a case related to Hanoi’s seizure of land of her family and other families in Duong Noi commune in Ha Dong district.

Mr. Son advised his client to stop the hunger strike to protect herself and she agreed.

On June 10, Mrs. Theu was arrested and charged with causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code. She faces imprisonment of up to seven years in jail if is found guilty.

According to the warrant, she will be held up to three months for investigation. The police in Hanoi accused her of causing public disorders when she attended a peaceful demonstration in Dong Da district on April 8 to mark the 10th anniversary of the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406 and demand immediate and unconditional release of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested on mid-December last year on allegation of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

Mrs. Theu is a land rights defender who has been campaigning against and documenting land seizures in Hanoi and surrounding provinces since her family farm was confiscated in 2007. She has been beaten and imprisoned as a result of her activities calling for adequate compensation for the confiscation of lands in Vietnam. She has been helping others defend their land and highlighting government expropriation of land at unfair prices since 2007.

Last week, 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 deep concern about the recent arrest of Mrs. Theu.

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 the land rights activist 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.

All land in Vietnam is technically owned by the state and citizens only have the right to use it. This has led to thousands of people having land they have farmed for years being taken from them and being compensated with paltry sums.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/06/22/vietnam-land-rights-activist-in-critical-health-conditions-in-detention-after-13-day-hunger-strike/

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Vietnamese Family Harassed, Attacked Over Religious Ties

RFA: A Vietnamese family belonging to an unsanctioned Buddhist sect was harassed this week by state-linked thugs in the run-up to the anniversary of the sect’s founding in 1939, the father of the family said on Wednesday.

Vo Van Buu, who follows a registered branch of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, reported that local authorities have deployed 40-50 thugs to block all roads to his family’s home in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang. The local government also sends men on motorbikes to intimidate and attack his wife and daughter, Buu said.

On June 22, while blocking Buu’s wife Mai Thi Dung from going to take part in services observing the anniversary of the sect’s founding, thugs beat Mrs. Dung, using helmets to hit her from behind and leaving her with swollen lips.

Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion, which has some two million followers across the country, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting Hoa Hao groups that do not follow the state-sanctioned branch.

Rights groups say that authorities in An Giang routinely harass followers of the unapproved groups, prohibiting public readings of the Hoa Hao founder’s writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting Hoa Hao pagodas in An Giang and other provinces.

Vietnamese Family Harassed, Attacked Over Religious Ties

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Vietnam Loans Must be Tied to Improvements in Human Rights: Civil Society Groups

RFA: Development assistance provided to Vietnam by foreign governments and banks helps to support security forces repressing the Vietnamese people and should be tied in future to improvements in the one-party communist state’s rights record, a group of six Vietnamese civil society organizations said in an open letter this week.

Much of that money is also lost to corruption, the group said in its June 20 letter sent to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, and the governments of Japan, Australia, and the United States.

In 2016, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Vietnam’s rights situation as “critical,” the group’s letter said.

“Rights activists and dissident bloggers face constant harassment and intimidation, including physical assault and imprisonment. Farmers have lost land to development projects without adequate compensation, and there is an absence of independent unions for workers.”

“About 150 political prisoners are currently imprisoned by the regime,” the letter said, citing HRW figures and signed by the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, Brotherhood for Democracy, Delegation of Vietnamese United Buddhists Church, Hoa Hao Buddhists Church Purity, and the Vietnam-US Lutheran Church Alliance.

We asking international financial institutions and foreign governments to attach human-rights conditions to their loans, demanding that the government of Vietnam show evidence of improvements on human rights before those loans are made, said Pham Chi  Dung, president of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam.

Though donor countries require transparency and accountability in Vietnam’s handling of Official Development Assistance (ODA), “Hanoi has failed in its commitments,” the group letter said. “The Vietnamese people are never informed about projects and there have been no debates about injustice and corruption in ODA.”

Over the last 20 years, Vietnam has received about $80 billion in ODA assistance, and now that some ODA loans are set to end, Vietnam may look to secure other, low-interest support such as International Development Association loans made by the World Bank.

Vietnam Loans Must be Tied to Improvements in Human Rights: Civil Society Groups

========== June 24============

Hanoi Security Forces Detain 20 Land Petitioners, Dispersing Peaceful Demonstration for Land Rights Activist Release

Defend the Defenders: On Friday, the security forces in Hanoi violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration of land petitioners in the city’s center, detaining around 20 of them for interrogation.

Among the detainees was Trinh Ba Phuong, the older son of land rights activist and former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu, who was re-arrested on June 10 and charged with causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code.

In the morning of June 24, nearly 100 land petitioners gathered in the city’s center to hold a peaceful demonstration to ask the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally free Mrs. Theu and drop all charges against her.

The city’s government sent police officers to disperse the demonstration and took 20 participants to custody where the police accused the demonstrators of causing public disorders. However, no official charges were made and the police released all the detainees afternoon.

This was the second suppression of Hanoi’s police against land petitioners within two weeks. 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.

========== June 26============

White House Responds to Vietnamese Petition on Fish Massive Death in Central Vietnam

We the People Team of the U.S. White House has expressed its deep sympathy to the people of Vietnam’s central coastal provinces as they work to overcome the recent loss of fish stocks and the effects on their livelihoods, said the team at a press release in response to the petition signed by 142,751 of Vietnamese activists calling for the U.S.’s assistance to help Vietnam deal with the catastrophe.

The U.S. Government stands ready to help, the team affirmed, adding Ambassador Osius has reached out directly to senior Vietnamese government officials to offer our assistance in this manner, and the two governments are discussing potential areas of cooperation.

Public participation is a key part of addressing environmental challenges, the team said. The U.S. encourages the Vietnamese government to increase cooperation with civil society and environmental NGOs, which can help communities affected by such crises, ensure accountability and transparency in the clean-up effort, and help to design policies to prevent future problems, it noted.

During his visit to Vietnam on May 22-25, President Obama engaged directly with Vietnamese government, business, and civil society leaders, as well as students and entrepreneurs, the team said.

“When citizens are free to organize in civil society, then countries can better address challenges that government sometimes cannot solve by itself,” said Obama.

Environmental cooperation is an important element of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. During Obama’s trip to Vietnam, the U.S. and Vietnam launched the U.S.-Vietnam Climate Partnership, which will help the two countries implement the historic Paris Agreement. The U.S. is supporting environmental conservation efforts that bring together government, business, and civil society, such as the Ha Long-Cat Ba Alliance, to protect Vietnam’s national treasures.

The U.S. will also reinforce its shared commitments to the world’s marine life through the high environmental standards set by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which has the most robust enforceable environment commitments of any trade agreement in history, the statement said.

Ha Tinh province is home to an economic zone which covers numerous industrial plants, including a multi-billion dollar steel plant run by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group.

Tons of fish, including rare species which live far offshore and in the deep, have been discovered on beaches along the country’s central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Thua Thien-Hue.

People suspects that the sewage with harmful chemicals released from the steel plants contaminates the coastline causing massive fish deaths along the country’s central coast in April-June.

Help the Vietnamese people to prevent environmental disaster in Ha Tinh province, Central Vietnam