Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly June 27-July 03, 2016: Vietnam Minister of Public Security Threatens Tougher Measures to Prevent Spontaneous Demonstration amid Rising Social Dissatisfactions

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly  | Jul 03, 2016

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Vietnamese Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General To Lam, who is also Politburo member of the ruling communist party, has ordered local security forces to apply tougher measures to prevent spontaneous peaceful demonstrations amid social dissatisfactions with the government’s response to the environmental disaster in the central coastal region, worsening human rights situation and the government’s weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

Speaking at a recent conference to review the ministry’s works in the first half of 2016, Gen. Lam said the security forces need to prioritize prevention of spontaneous demonstrations to ensure the country’s stability.

Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have continued their persecution against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. On June 29, the police forces in the central province of Quang Tri detained former prisoner of conscience Pham Minh Vu but released him on the next day after they failed to accuse him of conducting anti-state activities.

Police in Ho Chi Minh City also detained two local activists Mr. Tran Tu Long and his girlfriend Truong Tue Minh on June 30 and Mr. Hoang Dung on July 3. Long and his girlfriend were kept one night in police’s custody but Dung was freed on the late afternoon of the same day.

Plainclothes agents in the central city of Danang brutally beat local dissident Nguyen Van Thanh on July 3. This is the third attack against Thanh within three weeks.

Security forces in Hanoi on July 1 barred a number of local activists, including human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan and blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh from attending an event organized by the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam to mark the American National Day [July 4]. The activists were blocked by a large number of police officers and plainclothes agents when they left their private residences to the embassy.

Human trafficking is a serious problem in Vietnam but the local government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, according to the 2016 report of the U.S. Department of State.

And many other important news

============= June 27==============

Vietnam Delays Enforcement of Four Laws, Including Penal Code 2015

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly has issued a resolution to delay the implementation of four laws namely the Penal Code 2015, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Law on the Organization of Criminal Investigation Agencies, and the Law on the Implementation of Custody and Temporary Detention, the President’s Office announced during a press conference in Hanoi on June 30.

The move came after a number of errors were found, representatives of the Ministry of Justice said, adding the revised Penal Code 1999, the revised Criminal Procedure Code 2003, the revised Ordinance on the Organization of Criminal Investigation Agencies 2004 and the revised Decree on the Implementation of Custody and Temporary Detention 1998 remain valid until the Law on the amendments and supplements to a number of articles of the code becomes effective.

Meanwhile, the bill on the amendments and supplements to some articles of the Penal Code 2015 will be added to the laws and ordinances building program 2016, stated the resolution which takes effects from June 30.

The revised Penal Code, submitted by the Ministry of Public Security and adopted by the parliament in November 2015, was set to take effect on July 1 this year.

The move was taken by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly in its urgent meeting on June 27, with additional participation of representatives of parliamentarian delegations from provinces and cities.

At the meeting with presence of the chief of the Supreme People’s Court, the chief of the Supreme People’s Procuracy, ministers of justice and public security as well as heads of the president’s office and the government office, participants agreed to further amend the Penal Code.

The implementation is delayed until July 1, 2017.

The revised Penal Code, including three chapters and 426 articles, was ratified by the parliament on November 27, 2015 and was already approved by the state president.

According to the released version, the new Penal Code has some improvements with fewer capital crimes. However, the controversial articles related to national security remain the same; these articles are often used to suppress local political dissidents, social activists and human rights.

============= June 28=============

  Vietnam Threatens to Impose Tougher Measures to Prevent Public Demonstrations

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security will apply more severe measures to prevent spontaneous demonstrations to ensure the country’s political stability amid rising social dissatisfaction, said Minister Senior Lieutenant General To Lam.

The country’s security forces will work against “wrong opinions of reactionary groups” and ensure cyber security, said Gen. Lam who is a member of the ruling communist party’s Politburo, the most powerful decision-making body in the communist nation.

The police forces will also enhance its activities to cope with rising crimes, especially with organized criminal groups, Lam said at a meeting of the ministry in Hanoi on June 28 to review the police’s works in the first half of this year, with the presence of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

The ministry reported that it busted 21,000 criminal cases, arresting 43,000 suspects in the first half.

Gen. Lam’s speech has triggered concerns among local human rights defenders who have been anticipating another wave of suppression against local dissent.

In May-June, Vietnam’s security forces violently dispersed peaceful demonstrations of thousands of environmentalists who bravely spoke about the mass death of marine species in the central coastal region. Security forces in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang beat and detained hundreds of environmentalists, including the elderly, female and children during peaceful protests which aimed to demand the government’s transparency in the investigation of the environmental disaster in the central region and ask the government to take urgent actions to deal with the catastrophe and bring the environmental polluters to justice.

Many international human rights groups such as the London-based Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch as well as foreign governments from the U.S. and the EU have urged Vietnam to respect its international human rights obligations and to allow people to freely express their opinions.

In recent years, Vietnam has also violently suppressed patriotic demonstrations against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), arresting and beating a number of peaceful protestors.

Hanoi considers all spontaneous demonstrations illegal, although the country’s Constitution 2013 states that people have rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/06/28/vietnam-threatens-to-impose-more-severe-measures-to-prevent-public-demonstrations/

============= June 29============

Vietnam Arrests Former Prisoner of Conscience amid Rising Public Dissatisfaction, Second Detention within 20 Days

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have detained pro-democracy activist Pham Minh Vu in a bid to suppress local dissent amid rising public dissatisfaction, social networks reported, citing information from his family.

Security forces in the central province of Quang Binh reportedly came to Mr. Vu’s family house and picked him up by force on June 29 without showing any warrant. The local police kept constant surveillance near his house in recent days, the family said.

Vu, a former prisoner of conscience, is a member of Brotherhood of Democracy, a unsanctioned pro-democracy group in the Southeast Asian nation.

On May 15, 2014, Vu and two other members of Brotherhood of Democracy, Do Nam Trung and Le Phuong Anh went to the southern province of Dong Nai to cover news on the local anti-China protests by tens of thousands of local workers. Initially, police accused the three activists of inciting anti-China riots in which angry workers attacked Chinese workers and destroyed China-invested factories in Dong Nai province’s industrial zones. However, due to lack of solid evidence, Vietnam’s investigation agency changed the allegation to conducting activities “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of the Penal Code.

Later, the trio was sentenced to between 12 and 18 months in prison. Vu was released on November 15 last year, after one and half years in jail.

After being freed, Vu has actively participated in public gatherings which aim to promote multi-party democracy and human rights as well as protect the environment and the country’s sovereignty against China’s violations in the East Sea (South China Sea). He was detained several times by police while attending peaceful events.

Vu is the second activist being detained within 20 days. On June 10, Vietnam arrested Hanoi-based land rights activist Can Thi Theu on allegation of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code.

Their arrests were made after Vietnam completed the power transition with the 12th National Congress of the ruling communist party in late February and the formal general election for the rubber-stamp parliament in May. The new leadership, consisting of many police generals in senior posts, has flexed its muscles against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding around 130 political prisoners. In mid-December last year, Vietnam arrested human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, the founder of Brotherhood of Democracy and charged him with anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. He is still under pre-trial detention.

On June 28, newly-appointed Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General To Lam said the police forces will apply tougher measures to prevent spontaneous demonstrations to ensure the country’s political stability.

Meanwhile, public is angry about the massive death of marine species in the central coastal region which started in early April but the government has yet to release the results of its investigation on the environmental disaster which has killed hundreds of tons of fish. The catastrophe, which has affected the central region’s fishing, salt production and tourism, is believed to be caused by the discharge of a huge volume of improperly-treated waste from a steel plant owned by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group.

Vietnamese patriotic activists have also been disappointed about the government’s weak response to China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

Systemic corruption and serious human rights violations are other issues triggering public dissatisfaction in Vietnam.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/06/29/vietnam-arrests-former-prisoner-of-concern-amid-rising-public-dissatisfaction-second-detention-within-20-days/

========== June 30==========

Vietnam Releases One Activist, Detaining Two Others amid Rising Public Dissatisfaction

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces on June 30 released pro-democracy fighter Pham Minh Vu but detained two other social activists, Mr. Tran Tu Long and his Vietnamse-American girlfriend Truong Tue Minh, local social networks reported.

Mr. Vu, a former prisoner of conscience, was arrested by security forces from the central province of Quang Tri on Wednesday. After a long interrogation, the police forces were forced to release him unconditionally as Vu refused to cooperate with investigation officers who tried to accuse him, without solid evidence, of carrying out anti-state activities.

Vu, who is a member of the unsanctioned Brotherhood of Democracy, spent 18 months in prison on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of the Penal Code for trying to cover news about the anti-China protests in the southern province of Dong Nai in May 2014.

Since his release in mid-November last year, he has actively participated in public gatherings which aim to promote multi-party democracy and human rights as well as protect the environment and the country’s sovereignty against China’s violations in the East Sea (South China Sea). Police detained him several times while he was attending peaceful events organized by Vietnamese activists.

Meanwhile, the security forces in Ho Chi Minh City detained environmentalists Long and Minh when they were traveling on a motorbike in Nha Be district. Local activists reported that police held the duo in the district police station for interrogation. It is unclear what the police’s allegation against the two activists were.

Mr. Long and his girlfriend participated in a number of peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues, particularly raising their voices to demand government transparency in the investigation of the massive death of marine species in the central coastal region which was likely caused by discharge into the sea of huge volume of improperly-treated waste from the Ha Tinh province-based steel plant owned by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group.

Many activists in HCMC, Hanoi and other localities have complained that they have been put under de facto house arrest in recent days when the government plans to release its official investigation results on the environmental disaster in the central coastal region. Local authorities have deployed large numbers of plain clothes and police officers near private residences of many activists in a bid to prevent them from public gatherings.

Social networks have also reported that the government has sent military and police armed forces to the areas near the Formosa steel plant in a bid to prevent violent demonstrations against Chinese and Taiwanese factories similar to those in May 2014 which killed a number of Chinese citizens and destroyed hundreds of companies from China and Taiwan.

Vietnam has shown zero tolerance to recent spontaneous demonstrations. In June-May, the security forces in Hanoi and HCMC violently dispersed peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues, arresting and beating hundreds of activists, including the elderly, women and children.

Earlier this week, newly-appointed Minister of Public Security To Lam requested the security forces to apply tougher measures to deal with spontaneous protests although the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.

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Vietnam Prominent Dissident Hosts U.S. Ambassador in His Private Residence

Defend the Defenders: On June 30, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, a prominent Vietnamese political dissident, hosted U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius in his private residence in Saigon, the activist said.

During the meeting which lasted about an hour in the afternoon of Thursday, Dr. Que, who spent over 20 years in prison due to his pro-democracy and human rights activities, raised his concerns on Vietnam’s human rights records.

The Vietnamese endocrinologist and pro-democracy activist urged the U.S. to support Vietnamese independent social organizations such as the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR) and the Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON).

Dr. Que, who is co-president of the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, asked the U.S. to pressure Vietnam’s communist government to request it to ensure freedom of press, freedom of Internet and freedom of information access. Vietnam has suppressed the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and its members, the former prisoner of conscience said.

Washington should ask Hanoi to respect universal human rights, including the right of freedom of expression and freedom of religions and belief, Dr. Que said. Vietnam has applied a number of controversial articles in the Penal Code to suppress government critics, and persecuted unregistered religious groups, said Dr. Que, who has been placed under de factor house arrest since 2011.

Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have seized land belonging to Catholic churches and Buddhist pagodas, noted Que, who was given the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Right in 1995.

Victims of religious suppression include Mrs. Tran Thi Hong, wife of imprisoned Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, clerks and followers of Protestant, Buddhist Cao Dai sect, Buddhist Hoa Hao sect, and the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, said the Hanoi-born activist but has not been allowed to return to his home city despite the country’s reunification in 1975.

Dr. Que, who was recently honored with 2016 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights by the South Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation, raised his concern about imprisoned prisoners of conscience. He urged the U.S. to ask the Vietnamese government to unconditionally release all political prisoners, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Ngo Hao, Nguyen Van Dai and Nguyen Huu Vinh.

Accompanied by political officer Charles Sellers of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, Ambassador Osius pledged to put his efforts to request Hanoi to respect its international obligations on human rights. The U.S. will enhance bilateral cooperation with the Vietnamese parliament to help it conduct legal reforms and partner with Vietnam’s government to improve the country’s education and healthcare, the diplomat said.

Sharing Dr. Que’s concerns, Ambassador Osius said if Vietnam’s parliament and the U.S. Congress approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, Vietnam must allow the establishment of independent labor unions which will truly protect the rights of Vietnamese workers.

The visit of U.S.’s diplomats took place few days ahead of America’s Independence Day [July 4]. It was not interfered by the local security forces which had often blocked meetings between Vietnamese political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders and foreign diplomats.

Dr. Que, who left Hanoi in 1954 and received a medical doctor degree from Saigon University in 1964, was a finalist for the U.S.-based Civil Courage Prize, which “honors civil courage — steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk — rather than military valor” in 2004. He ultimately won a “Certificate of Distinction in Civil Courage” and a $1,000 cash prize.

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Human Trafficking in Vietnam – U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report 2016

U.S. Department of State: Vietnam is a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination, for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Vietnamese men and women migrate abroad for work independently or through state-owned, private, or joint-stock labor recruitment companies. Some recruitment companies are unresponsive to workers’ requests for assistance in situations of exploitation, and some charge workers excessive fees, leaving workers with exorbitant debts and vulnerable to debt bondage. Some victims are subjected to forced labor in the construction, fishing, agricultural, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors, primarily in Taiwan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Laos, Angola, United Arab Emirates, and Japan.

Workers may find themselves compelled to work in substandard conditions for little or no pay, with large debts and no legal recourse to address labor law violations. Vietnamese women and children are subjected to sex trafficking abroad; many are misled by fraudulent labor opportunities and sold to brothel operators on the borders of China, Cambodia, and Laos, and in other Asian countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. Some Vietnamese women who travel abroad for internationally brokered marriages or jobs in restaurants, massage parlors, and karaoke bars—mostly to China and increasingly to Malaysia and Singapore—are subjected to domestic servitude or forced prostitution. False advertising, debt bondage, passport confiscation, and threats of deportation are tactics commonly used to compel Vietnamese victims into servitude. Traffickers increasingly use the internet, gaming sites, and social media to lure potential victims into vulnerable situations; for example, men entice young women and girls with online dating relationships and persuade them to move abroad then subject them to forced labor or sex trafficking. Victims are recruited by relatives, acquaintances, or neighbors, often with the knowledge, consent, or persuasion of close family members.

Vietnamese organized crime networks recruit, under pretenses of lucrative job opportunities, and transport Vietnamese, including children, to Europe—particularly the United Kingdom—and subject them to forced labor on cannabis farms.

Within the country, Vietnamese men, women, and children—particularly street children and children with disabilities—are subjected to forced labor, although little information is available on these cases. Children are subjected to forced street hawking and begging in major urban centers of Vietnam. Some children are subjected to forced and bonded labor in informal garment and brick factories or urban family homes and privately run rural gold mines. Many children from impoverished rural areas, and a rising number from middle class and urban dwellings, are subjected to sex trafficking. Child sex tourists, reportedly from Asia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe, Canada, and the United States, exploit children in Vietnam. Although a 2014 legal provision requires a judicial proceeding before detention of drug users in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers and restricts to three hours detainees’ maximum work day, some drug users detained administratively under the previous legal provision were subjected to forced labor in rehabilitation centers. NGOs report some complicit Vietnamese officials, primarily at commune and village levels, facilitate trafficking or exploit victims by accepting bribes from traffickers, overlooking trafficking indicators, and extorting profit in exchange for reuniting victims with their families.

The Government of Vietnam does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Vietnam amended its penal code to bring its anti-trafficking law closer to international standards,  but the changes were not in effect at the close of the reporting period. The government convicted fewer traffickers in 2015 and, although it initiated investigations, it did not pursue criminal prosecutions for forced labor. The government continued to provide anti-trafficking training for officials and develop interagency cooperation; however, many officials lacked the skills to identify victims or to investigate labor trafficking cases.

The government continued to subject to forced labor some individuals administratively detained in drug rehabilitation centers. Vietnamese officials abroad assisted with the return of an unknown number of trafficking victims in 2015 and worked with NGOs to help repatriate victims from China.

Vietnam entered into memoranda of understanding with 11 primary destination countries and updated its agreement with Malaysia to ban the practice of employers retaining employees’ passports. NGOs report border officials in high-risk trafficking areas increased their engagement to investigate trafficking cases.

Trafficking in Persons Report 2016

====== July 1=======

Vietnam Blocks Local Activists from Attending U.S. Independent Day Event in Hanoi

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have barred a number of local activists from attending a ceremony to mark the Independence Day [July 4] of the U.S. which is organized by the American Embassy.

Among the blocked activists are human rights lawyer and former prisoner of conscience Le Quoc Quan and blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, the victims said.

Mr. Quan, who was freed last year, said when he left his private in My Dinh, around 5.30 PM today [July 1] to go to the event at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, dozens of police officers and plainclothes agents blocked his way, not allowing him to move out of the area.

Blogger Vinh, who has written numerous articles for the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and Radio of Free Asia (RFA) on multi-party democracy and human rights, also reported that the local authorities deployed a number of plainclothes agents near his private house and blocked him from going out.

Vinh said he was also invited by the American Embassy to the event, however, he couldn’t come due to the police blockade.

Many other activists have reported that they have been under close police surveillance in recent days for unknown reasons.

It is not the first time Hanoi security forces barred local activists from meeting with foreign diplomats. In April and May, before and during the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Vietnam, a number of activists and independent journalists had been barred from going to meet with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski as well as attending a meeting between President Obama and representatives of local civil societies.

Vietnam has also blocked around 100 local activists from going abroad to meet with foreign politicians and international human rights activists or attend workshops and training courses. Authorities have also confiscated passports of many political dissidents and human rights activists, and refused to grant passports for many others, citing a controversial decree on national security.

Meanwhile, the security forces in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday released two local activists Mr. Tran Tu Long and his girlfriend Truong Tue Minh. Police of Nha Be district detained the duo yesterday when they were traveling on their motorbike in the areas. Mr. Long and his girlfriend participated in a number of peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues, particularly raising their voices to demand government transparency in the investigation of the massive death of marine species in the central coastal region which was likely caused by discharge into the sea of huge volume of improperly-treated waste from a Ha Tinh province-based steel plant owned by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group.

Police in the central coastal province of Quang Tri on June 29 detained former prisoner of conscience Pham Minh Vu but freed him on the next day after failing to force him to making confession to trumped-up allegations. Vu, who was released November last year, has actively participated in public gatherings to promote human rights and multi-party democracy as well as raise concerns about environmental pollutions across the nation.

Vietnam’s government has tightened public security measures to maintain the one-party regime. Earlier this week, Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General To Lam, who is a member of the party’s Politburo, ordered the security forces to apply tougher measures to prevent peaceful spontaneous demonstrations.

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U.N. Passes Landmark Resolution Condemning Internet Shutdowns

The UN Human Rights Council on July 1 agreed by consensus to a resolution supporting human rights online, despite efforts by hostile states to eliminate key provisions in the text. The landmark document specifically condemns internet shutdowns and renews 2012 and 2014 resolutions that declared, unequivocally, that human rights apply online just as they do offline.

“The U.N. has boldly spoken against the pressing problem of internet shutdowns. This unanimous statement by the world’s highest human rights body should give governments pause before they order blocking, throttling, and other barriers to information,” said Peter Micek, Global Policy and Legal Counsel at Access Now. “Development and human rights protections are strengthened in tandem when networks remain open, secure, and stable. All stakeholders, from telecommunication companies to activists to judges, must band together to demand an end to shutdowns.”

The resolution faced opposition by a small number of influential member states who attempted to water down the text. Access Now joined a group of civil society organizations to urge Human Rights Council member states in a letter to pass the resolution by consensus, citing its importance for bridging the gender digital divide; advancing the Sustainable Development Goals; and incorporating a human rights-based approach into expanding internet connectivity. As the letter notes, the Human Rights Council had twice previously affirmed by consensus that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

“This resolution marks a major milestone in the fight against internet shutdowns. The international community has listened to the voices of civil society — many of whom have suffered under shutdowns themselves — and laudably pushed back on this pernicious practice,” said Deji Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “Shutdowns harm everyone and allow human rights crackdowns to happen in the dark, with impunity. Citizens can’t participate fully in democratic discourse during elections. The Human Rights Council’s principled stance is a crucial step in telling the world that shutdowns need to stop.”

The #KeepitOn campaign features nearly 90 organizations from 41 countries around the globe who are pushing back on internet shutdowns at every level, from governments to telcos to tech companies to everyday internet users. The full list of organizations is available on the campaign website: https://www.accessnow.org/keepiton/

The U.N. resolution follows a recent shutdown in Turkey surrounding bombing attacks, one in Bahrain around protests, and another in Algeria to prevent cheating on school exams. Notably, police in Ghana have backtracked from claims that they intend to block social media during upcoming elections in November 2016, after an uproar from civil society groups, politicians, and the U.N.

Last year, Access Now recorded at least 15 internet shutdowns around the world, and has already recorded 20 shutdowns in the first half of 2016.

Recently, Vietnam was caught blocking internet access amid political protests and during Obama’s visit to the country. Other governments, including those of Russia, China and Turkey, have restricted the internet during times of political unrest or in an effort to block “scandalous” content. Turkey signed its name to today’s resolution.

U.N. passes landmark resolution condemning internet shutdowns

UN rights council condemns the disruption of internet access

 ————————————–

Formosa Admits Responsibility for Mass Fish Deaths in Vietnam’s Central Coast

Defend the Defenders: Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Ltd. Co. of the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group has admitted responsibility for a spate of mass fish deaths in four Vietnamese central coastal provinces, said Vietnamese Minister cum Head of the Government Office Mai Tien Dung.

The Taiwanese firm apologies to Vietnamese people, especially the residents in the four central coastal provinces and commits to pay a compensation of $500 million to communities affected by the disaster, in addition to financing the cleanup, Dung said at a press conference in Hanoi on June 30 which revealed a record of the apology of steel plant’s Chairman Chen Yuan Cheng to Vietnam.

In his speech, Chen, on behalf of the company’s 6,300 officials and workers, accepted responsibility causing the environmental problem sparking mass fish deaths that has seriously affected the people’s daily lives and production, as well as the local maritime environment in the four central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

After admitting its link to the fish deaths, Formosa made a five-point commitment to correct its wrongdoings and resolve the environmental impacts, said Minister Dung.

The company pledged to publicly apologize to Vietnam for the incident, offer a total compensation of $500 million which will be used to support local fishermen to switch to other jobs and recover the polluted maritime environment.

In the same vein, Formosa will absolutely deal with shortcomings and limitations in waste and wastewater treatment, improve its production technologies to ensure waste is completely treated before being discharged to the environment as required by Vietnamese state management agencies, and not to repeat such incident.

The company also promised to coordinate with Vietnamese ministries and agencies and the central provinces to build a set of sustainable solutions to protect the maritime environment in the central region, building trust among Vietnamese people and international friends.

The firm finally guaranteed to fulfill all the commitments regarding the incident it has made to the Vietnamese government and not to repeat violations of local laws on environmental and water resource protection.

Chairman Chen noted his hope that “with its heartfelt apology and maximum endeavors to handle the incident, Formosa will get sympathy from Vietnam.”

Japan’s news agency Nikkei raised a question on how the compensation was calculated. Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha said the amount aimed to reimburse the obvious material damage only and it remains modest compared to long-term losses to Vietnam’s residents and environment.

According to Vietnam’s investigation, the source of waste from the Vung Ang area in Ha Tinh province contained phenol and cyanide, which, in combination with iron hydroxide, created a mixed compound having a heavier density than seawater and flowing from Ha Tinh to Thua Thien-Hue killing sea-life en masse in April-June.

Vietnam found out that Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh was behind violations and incidents during its pilot run that produced phenol, cyanide and iron hydroxide with higher than allowed toxicity levels.

Thousands of Vietnamese activists held peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and other localities in May and June to protest Formosa and ask the government to have urgent actions to deal with the environmental disaster as well as bring the polluters to justice. The Vietnamese government ordered security forces to violently disperse the protests, beating and arresting hundreds of protestors, many of them had been tortured in police’s custody.

Responding to the government’s announcement on the investigation, many activists said the consequences caused by Formosa’s discharge of huge volume of improperly-treated waste water are severe and long-lasting in large scale, so the Taiwanese company needs to pay more and the committed sum of $500 million is very small, they said.

Formosa should be closed, many environmentalists said.

Some activists demanded the Vietnamese government for apology for its violent behavior against environmentalists. The government must investigate the roles of state agencies in granting investment licenses for Formosa as well as supervising its waste discharge.

The environmental disaster caused by Formosa will affect fishing, salt production and tourism in Vietnam’s central coastal region for decades, experts said.

Formosa is not the first Taiwanese company polluting Vietnam’s environment. In 2008, another Taiwanese company was found discharging untreated wastewater into the environment. Taiwan-invested Vedan Vietnam Co., Ltd kills Thi Vai river, one of major rivers in Vietnam’s southeastern region, harming life of millions of people.

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Vietnam PM Vows to Spend $500M Formosa Compensation Transparently

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s government will make public “transparently and thoroughly” how it uses the $500 million compensation of the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group whose toxic effluents polluted the sea and caused the en-mass death of marine species in the country’s central coast region, pledged Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on July 1.

The Vietnamese government leader made this commitment after Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp. (FHS) confessed its discharge of improperly-treated waste water into Vietnam’s central sea and agreed to pay the compensation.

“We fought with sufficient and convincing evidence … to arrive at this result. Thus the support fund allocated for offshore fishing and environmental protection will be announced transparently,” Phuc said at a government meeting in Hanoi last Friday.

An estimated 70 tons of dead fish washed ashore along more than 200 kilometers of coast in the four provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien Hue, according to the government’s report. The actual volume is much higher, said environmentalists.

Mai Tien Dung, chairman of the Government Office, said during a test run in early April the FHS steel mill in Ha Tinh released into the sea wastewater containing toxins such as cyanide and phenol.

The disaster has decimated tourism and fishing and damaged the marine environment in these provinces. Scientists found corals bleached to death in the area, a loss which they said would take 50 years to recover.

It took Vietnamese scientists and authorities more than 80 days to find FHS guilty. FHS Chairman Chen Yuan-Cheng on Thursday said in a video that his company “takes full responsibility and sincerely apologizes to the Vietnamese people… for causing the environmental disaster.”

Phuc said the plan to use the $500 million should be completed by the end of this month.

He tasked the agricultural ministry with crafting support policies for fishermen, especially in affected areas in the four central coastal provinces.

The environment ministry would also establish a fund to restore the health of the environment there, Phuc said.

He said support should be given to offshore fishing for long-term and sustainable effectiveness, instructing concerned ministries to give direct support to fishermen suffering from losses due to the fish deaths.

He also counseled government officials not to trade the environment for economic growth or foreign investment.

Some state-run newspapers reported that the government plans to provide soft loans for fishermen in the affected areas to help them fish offshore or get vocational training for new jobs. Salt farmers and tourism-related businesses in the central coastal region who have also been affected by the environmental disaster caused by Formosa have not been mentioned.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese activists are not satisfied with the government’s decisions on the Formosa’s pollution, saying the Formosa steel plant should be stopped and the compensation sum must be higher based on thorough investigation of the consequences given the large-scale and long-term negative impacts on the central coastal region’s environment and its socio-economic situation.

The pledged sum of $500 million is not enough for cleaning the local environment and supporting affected people, activists said.

Many experts and economists, including prominent economist Pham Chi Lan, urged the government to launch probes on Formosa’s discharge of toxic chemicals into Vietnam’s sea, saying the act is criminal, and on responsibilities of Vietnam’s state agencies in granting investment license for Formosa’s steel plant and supervising its waste discharge process.

In social networks, many Vietnamese activists have called on Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Tran Hong Ha and other senior officials as well as high-ranking officials of the Ha Tinh provinces to step down for inadequate responses to the catastrophe as well as covering the information on the case.

Vietnam’s authorities have continued to suppress local activists who bravely speaking out on the issues.

=========== July 03=============

One Vietnamese Activist Detained, Another Beaten after Formosa Takes Responsibility for Mass Fish Death in Central Vietnam

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces on July 3 detained one environmentalist and severely beat another dissident two days after the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group took responsibility for causing an environmental disaster in the Vietnamese central coastal region where hundreds of tons of fish died.

On the morning of Sunday [July 3], security forces in Ho Chi Minh City arrested blogger Hoang Dung when he conducted a sit-in protest near the Ben Thanh wet market to demand an end to Formosa’s steel plant operations in the central province of Ha Tinh and request the government to investigate the roles of state agencies in granting the Taiwanese company investment license and supervising its discharging of waste into the country’s coastal sea water.

The police forces in Vietnam’s biggest economic hub detained Mr. Dung, who is a member of pro-democracy group Vietnam Path Movement but released him in late afternoon.

Meanwhile, plainclothes agents in the central city of Danang attacked political dissident Nguyen Van Thanh who received severe injuries and needed to go to a local hospital for urgent treatment. This is the third assault by local thugs against him in as many weeks. On June 13, Thanh, who has posted a number of online articles calling for multi-party democracy and better human rights protection, was attacked with dirty mess made of shrimp sauce (mam tom) by thugs, just eight days after he was severely beaten by plainclothes agents.

Many Vietnamese activists have complained that they had been under house arrest since June 30 when the government officially announced the cause of the pollution in the sea water in the central coast region which killed a large amount of marine species here since early April.

On Friday, the government released its investigation results of the environmental catastrophe, saying Formosa discharged improperly-treated waste into the sea water in the region. The Taiwanese firm agreed to pay a compensation of $500 million.

Vietnamese activists said the sum is not enough to cover the huge losses for the local environment and the economic losses of local fishermen, salt farmers and those employed in the tourism industry.

They have asked the government to investigate the roles of state agencies in granting the investment license for the Taiwanese firm and supervising waste disposal. A number of local residents, including divers, have suffered from the sea water contamination with toxic chemicals discharged by the Formosa’s steel plant.

In response to the public dissatisfaction with the government’s actions to deal with the environmental disaster in the central coastal region, Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General To Lam, who is also Politburo member of the ruling communist party threatens to use tougher measures to prevent spontaneous demonstrations.

In May-June, Vietnam violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues, beating and arresting hundreds of local activists, including the elderly, women and children. Police also tortured and persecuted many detainees in detention facilities.

The Vietnamese government has been condemned by many foreign governments and international human rights groups for its violent persecution against local environmentalists.