Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly July 11-17: Vietnam Detains Dozens of Anti-China Activists Few Days after PCA’s Ruling on East Sea

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | Jul 17, 2016

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On July 17, security forces in Hanoi detained dozens of anti-China activists who intended to hold a peaceful demonstration to support the rejection of China’s illegal claim in the East Sea (South China Sea) by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague and demand the Vietnamese government to take legal action to challenge Beijing’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

Police officers and plainclothes agents detained many activists and kept them in police stations for hours before releasing them on the afternoon of Sunday. Many other activists complained that they were blocked by local authorities in their private residences on Sunday in a bid not to allow them to join the demonstration planned by No-U movement.

The detentions were made a half hour before activists started their protest. Earlier this month, Minister of Public Security To Lam ordered the police forces to take tougher acts to prevent all spontaneous demonstrations.

Vietnam’s security forces have continued their persecution against political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. After beating ten activists last week, plainclothes agents assaulted blogger and anti-China activist To Oanh and his wife this week, causing serious injuries for him. Currently, Mr. Oanh is under special medical treatment for his broken facial bone and bleeding in his head.

On July 12, the London-based Amnesty International released its report titled “Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam” to describe details of harassments of prisons’ authorities against Vietnamese prisoners of conscience. According to the report which was based on interviewing 18 former prisoners of conscience, Vietnam’s authorities have applied a number of measures to treat prisoners of conscience, including prolonged periods of incommunicado detention and solitary confinement, enforced disappearances, the denial of medical treatment, and punitive prison transfers.

And other important news.

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===== July 11======

Vietnam Parliament Continues Delaying Draft Law on Demonstration

Defend the Defenders: The Standing Committee of Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) has decided to delay the debate on a draft Law on Demonstration until the end of 2017, state media has reported.

Speaking at the 50th session of the Standing Committee earlier this week, Deputy Head of the NA’s Legal Committee Le Minh Thong said that the government needs more time to build the draft law before submitting to the parliament due to the difficulties and complication of the law.

Mr. Thong said that the draft law remains incomplete and catches mixed reviews, the newswire reported.

The draft law, which was initiated by former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in 2011, has been promised to submit to the NA since 2014 but the former cabinet and the current government broke the promise and attributed the delay for “lack of consistent ideas”.

Vietnam’s pro-democracy activists have criticized the government for long delay of the draft law which is necessary to activate human rights, especially rights to hold peaceful demonstrations and express their discontent.

Lawmaker Truong Trong Nghia pointed out that the weak capacity of the NA has led to such a situation.

===== July 12=====

Inside Viet Nam’s secretive and torturous world of ‘prisons within prisons’

Amnesty International: “Life in prison is hard. I fell into despair. I was in this situation because I was trying to be a good citizen, to help people according to the law…But I was arrested and put in prison. I felt like I was in a dark tunnel with no way out,” said Pham Thi Loc, one of several former prisoners of conscience interviewed by Amnesty International for new report.

A new report published by Amnesty International today casts a rare light on the torture and other harrowing treatment of prisoners of conscience locked up in Viet Nam’s secretive network of prisons and detention centers.

Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam details the ordeals endured by prisoners of conscience in one of the most closed countries in Asia, including prolonged periods of incommunicado detention and solitary confinement, enforced disappearances, the denial of medical treatment, and punitive prison transfers.

“Viet Nam is a prolific jailer of prisoners of conscience; this report offers a rare glimpse at the horror that those prisoners face in detention,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

“Viet Nam ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 2015. This in itself is not enough. In order to meet its human rights obligations, the authorities must introduce reforms in line with international law and ensure accountability for torture and ill treatment.”

The report is based on one year’s research – including more than 150 hours of interviews with 18 former prisoners of conscience, who spent between one month and a decade in incarceration.

Five of these men and women described to Amnesty International how they spent lengthy periods of time in solitary confinement in dark, fetid cells without access to fresh air, clean water and sanitation. Some were frequently beaten in clear contravention of global and national prohibitions on torture.

In June, Amnesty International was given a guided tour of a women’s prison facility in Bắc Giang province, a rare occurrence in a country that does not generally permit access to these facilities.

Enforced disappearances, and other acts of torture and other ill-treatment

For many of the former prisoners, their ordeal began from the moment that they were picked up by Vietnamese authorities. Four people told Amnesty International they were subjected to enforced disappearances.

‘Dar’, an ethnic Montagnard, was arrested for organizing peaceful demonstrations over religious freedom and human rights. For the first three months following his arrest, his family believed that he had been killed by the authorities, and his body dumped in the jungle. He was tried and convicted without legal representation and without his family present.

During the first 10 months of Dar’s five-year detention, he was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, in total darkness and complete silence. For the first two months, he was hauled from his cell each day to be interrogated and beaten.

The beatings were carried out with sticks, rubber tubes, punches and kicks. The authorities used electric shocks and lit a piece of paper and ran it along the length of his leg, burning his skin. They asked him to assume painful stress positions for eight hours at a time.

On one occasion, he was hung from the ceiling by his arms for 15 minutes while the police beat him. The police officers would sometimes resume their beatings in the middle of night, when they stormed into his cell, apparently drunk.

For many of the former prisoners Amnesty International spoke to, the torture and ill-treatment was especially intense during pre-trial detention, as authorities aimed to extract a “confession”.

Incommunicado detention and solitary confinement

Every former prisoner of conscience that Amnesty International spoke to was subjected to a lengthy period of incommunicado detention – ranging from a month to two years. The right to access lawyers, medical professionals and family members is an important safeguard against torture and ill treatment, and critical to the right to a fair trial.

Two of the former prisoners were not told that their mothers had passed away, and were denied the chance to attend the funeral or mourn with their families.

Tạ Phong Tần, who was imprisoned for her blogging and advocacy activities, told Amnesty International that during her four years in prison, only her sister was allowed to visit her. After being denied access twice, on 30 July 2012 Tần’s mother Đặng Thị Kim Liêng self-immolated in front of a government office in protest, dying as a result of her burns.

While their relatives were being kept away, the prisoners were sinking deeper into isolation.

Phạm Văn Trội, another former prisoner of conscience, was cast into solitary confinement for over six months after he complained about fumes from a nearby brick kiln. He told Amnesty International that he was haunted by the thought that others might have died in the cell where he slept.

Abuse and denial

When prisoners have not been kept in isolation, they have been left vulnerable to abuse by other prisoners.

“The doctor hit me in the mouth with a round piece of hard rubber. He knocked my teeth out, including a wisdom tooth. I lost so much blood I passed out again,” said Chau Heng, a Khmer Krom land rights activist.

A number of former prisoners of conscience said they were cramped into small cells, where other prisoners known as “antennae” were believed to have colluded with prison authorities and incited to attack them. This kept them under the constant threat of imminent violence.

Withholding or denying medical treatment for periods of months and even years is another punitive measure prisoners described to Amnesty International.  Interviewees also alleged that they were drugged by prison staff.

Chau Heng, a Khmer Krom land rights activist, told Amnesty International that during four months’ incommunicado detention prior to his trial, he was not only beaten unconscious several times, but also injected with unknown drugs at least twice – causing memory loss, rendering him unconscious and unable to speak or think clearly.

When he was taken to see the prison doctor, he opened his mouth to gesture that he could not speak. “The doctor hit me in the mouth with a round piece of hard rubber. He knocked my teeth out, including a wisdom tooth. I lost so much blood I passed out again.”

“Viet Nam’s authorities should seize the moment as the country’s amended penal and criminal procedures codes are being reviewed. Now is the time to make good on their international obligations, by bringing to book those responsible for torture and other ill-treatment, and ensuring this appalling practice ends,” said Rafendi Djamin.

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Farmers in Van Giang Land Seizure Case in Northern Vietnam Jailed for 3-4 Years

Defend the Defenders: A court in Vietnam’s northern province of Hung Yen on Tuesday handed down jail terms to eight defendants for impeding site clearance activities of a residential project (EcoPark) in Van Giang District in October 2014 out of their dissatisfaction of compensation rates.

The defendants are all farmers and allegedly decline their rights to a lawyer one day before the hearing opened, the BBC Vietnamese said July 12.

The four-year sentences were given to Nguyen Van Long, 54, and Hoang Van Ngu, 48, and the other jail terms were issued to those on charge of “causing social disorder” when they protested the land compensation at Ecopark Urban Area project – one of the huge housing projects in Vietnam’s northern region as it costs $8 billion.

Under the conviction, the defendants were among more than 500 residents living in Cuu Cao commune of Van Giang district who protested and prevented the project investor – Viet Hung Urban Development and Investment J.S.C (VIHAJICO) for unreasonable land compensation. More than 1,000 families were affected by the decision, some said that the officials ignored their legal complaints over the loss of their rice fields for a satellite city.

Land for the EcoPark project was confiscated in two stages in 2009 and 2012, but thousands of households refused to take compensation from the government, saying the amount offered was significantly lower than what they were owed.

On October 5, 2014, investor of Ecopark Hung Viet hired a local company called V&T for site clearance. The company faced protest of local farmers. Two employees of the companies including Nguyen Van Hiep and Tran Van Thuy were dead after clashing with the locals. Two others were injured. All defendants were found to be linked to the event.

All six defendants at the trial did not pledge guilty in killing the two employees but admitted to participating in the strike, not fights, state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.

The BBC cited lawyer Le Van Luan as saying that the trial has some “issues.” He said that the lawyers and some people attended the hearing were not allowed to enter at first. However, they were allowed enter later but only as guests.

===== July 13=====

Violent Wave against Vietnamese Activists Continues, Retired Teacher Suffers Heavy Injuries

Defend the Defenders: The violent wave against Vietnamese activists continues with retired teacher suffering heavy injuries from attack of pro-government thugs in the latest case, local human rights defenders said.

On July 13, retired teacher To Oanh from Vietnam’s northern province of Bac Giang and his wife travelled on their motorbike in Soc Son district, Hanoi. On their way, they were followed by two thugs who attacked them at a remote road near Phu Cuong Bridge.

Due to their attack, the coup and their motorbike fell on the road and Mr. Oanh fell unconscious with many injuries in his head and face. His wife received lighter injuries.

The attackers, also on their motorbike, drove away from the scene.

Mr. Oanh was taken to a hospital and the medical check-up showed that he has broken facial bone and blood congestion in his head.

Mr. Oanh, 60, is among activists opposing China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), advocating for multi-party democracy and human rights protection. He has participated in a number of peaceful anti-China protests in the past few years.

In 2014, he was invited by the U.S. Congress to visit Washington and other localities to speak out about human rights violations in Vietnam.

He has also posted a number of online articles promoting human rights in his blog and Facebook page.

Oanh has been under constant suppression of the local authorities in recent years.

The attack against Mr. Oanh and his wife is among series of persecution in Vietnam against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, and the third attack within one week.

On July 9, plainclothes agents in the central city of Nghe An kidnapped a group of eight pro-democracy activists coming from the central province of Quang Binh to attend a wedding party of a local activist. The kidnappers robbed all money, cell phones and documents of the eight activists and beat them. They took of clothes of their victims before releasing them at a remote area in forest. Nguyen Trung Truc and Mai Van Tam were the most suffered, with many serious injuries in their heads and bodies.

The victims are member of the pro-democracy group Brotherhood of Democracy which was established by arrested human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who is facing anti-state propaganda allegation under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

On the same day, police in Ho Chi Minh City detained activist Nguyen Viet Dung and deported him to his home province of Nghe An where he was detained for several hours by the local policemen. Dung said he was interrogated and beaten in both places, HCMC and Vinh, the city of Nghe An.

One day later, six plainclothes agents in Hanoi attacked La Viet Dung, member of No-U movement which opposes China’s invasion in the East Sea. The attackers used bricks to beat Dung when he returned from a meeting with other activists. Due to the assault, Dung lost much blood with a number of severe injuries in his head and face and needs special medical treatment.

Last month, Danang-based blogger and political dissident Nguyen Van Thanh was attacked three times by police officers and thugs.

Hundreds of Vietnamese political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders have been beaten by police officers and plainclothes agents, in police stations or outside.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and they have no tolerance for criticism. Along with using controversial articles of the Penal Code to imprison government critics, the security forces have intimidated, suppressed and persecuted local activists.

Hanoi has verbally protested China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea, and violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations against Beijing’s aggressive acts in the resource-rich sea which is also very important for international navigation.

It has also arrested and beat hundreds of environmentalists who speak out against the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group which buried huge volume of toxic industrial waste of its steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh into Vietnam’s sea and forest. Due to discharging waste into water, Formosa caused the environmental disaster in Vietnam’s central coast, killing hundreds of tons of fish in April-June.

Earlier this month, Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General To Lam demanded the security forces to take tougher moves to prevent spontaneous demonstrations although the rights of assembly and freedom of expression are enshrined in the 2013 Constitution.

===== July 14========

Front Line Defenders: Vietnam’s physical attack on human rights defender Mr. To Oanh

Front Line Defenders: On 13 July 2016 human rights defender Mr. To Oanh and his wife were attacked by unidentified men as they rode their motorbike in Hanoi.

To Oanh is a writer, blogger and journalist who has highlighted government censorship of the media and campaigned for democracy and greater protection of human rights in Vietnam. He has also peacefully campaigned against China’s activities in the South China Sea which he believes is an encroachment on Vietnamese sovereignty.

On 13 July as To Oanh and his wife were travelling by motorbike in Soc Son district, Hanoi, they were followed by two unidentified men on motorbike who attacked the couple in a remote area. During the attack both To Oanh and his wife were pushed off their motorbike and the human rights defender was knocked unconscious as he hit the road. He also sustained injuries to his head and face. His wife reportedly sustained less serious injuries. A medical check-up after the assault revealed that To Oanh had suffered a broken bone in his face as well as bleeding to his head. The two assailants fled the scene on motorbike.

To Oanh has experienced frequent harassment, intimidation and interrogation as a result of his activism. In April 2015 he was subjected to a similar assault when he was knocked off his motorbike by an unidentified assailant in Hung Yen province, suffering injuries to his legs and arms.  In April 2014 when he was returning from the United States after speaking at a congressional hearing on freedom of the press, he was stopped at the Vietnamese border and interrogated for a number of hours before having his laptop and camera confiscated.

This assault of To Oanh and his wife is the latest in a series of attacks carried out on Vietnamese human rights defenders in the past number of weeks. Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned by these attacks and believes they are motivated solely by the victims’ work in defense of human rights.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Vietnam to:

  1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the assault against To Oanh and his wife, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of To Oanh;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Vietnam are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

———-

Vietnam President Rejects De-politicization of Army, Police Forces

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang has rejected any attempt to depoliticize the army and police forces, saying the two forces must remain under strict control of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).

Speaking at a seminar on implementation of the party’s Resolution 12 on security and defense in Hanoi on July 14, President Quang, who was former minister of public security, said the party will never give up its supervision over the two forces as “hostile and reactionary forces demand.”

He requested the police and army forces to remain absolutely loyal to the party and put more efforts to deal with “reactionary forces” to prevent “peaceful revolution” and keep the country under a one-party regime.

He urged the party and state agencies to build theories to scientifically reject “wrong ideas” which may harm the party’s leadership over the army and police forces.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and they have no plan to give up for multi-party democracy. The communist government has applied a number of controversial articles in the Penal Code to silence political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

Last year, Quang, as Minister of Public Security, labeled independent civil societies as “reactionary groups.”

===== July 15=====

Amnesty International’s Report on Vietnam Prisons Incorrect: Foreign Ministry

Defend the Defenders: The information in Amnesty International’s recent report on the situation at detention camps in Vietnam is incorrect, Spokesman Le Hai Binh of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.

Speaking at a regular press conference in Hanoi on July 14, Mr. Binh said that Vietnam has consistent policy to ensure and promote human rights in conformity with the country’s Constitution and international standards.

As a member of seven UN conventions on human rights and party of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Vietnam always follows the member state’s commitments and obligations strictly and fully, he said.

The country’s efforts and achievements in ensuring and promoting human rights have received acknowledgement from the international community, he added.

Binh’s statement came two days after the London-based human rights organization released its report titled Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam which was based on interviewing 18 former prisoners of conscience, who spent between one month and a decade in incarceration.

The report details the ordeals endured by prisoners of conscience in one of the most closed countries in Asia, including prolonged periods of incommunicado detention and solitary confinement, enforced disappearances, the denial of medical treatment, and punitive prison transfers.

Five of these men and women described to Amnesty International how they spent lengthy periods of time in solitary confinement in dark, fetid cells without access to fresh air, clean water and sanitation. Some were frequently beaten in clear contravention of global and national prohibitions on torture.

The torture and ill-treatment was especially intense during pre-trial detention, as authorities aimed to extract a “confession”, former prisoners of conscience told Amnesty International.

When prisoners have not been kept in isolation, they have been left vulnerable to abuse by other prisoners, the report said.

“Vietnam’s authorities should seize the moment as the country’s amended penal and criminal procedures codes are being reviewed. Now is the time to make good on their international obligations, by bringing to book those responsible for torture and other ill-treatment, and ensuring this appalling practice ends,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its report released in February that Vietnam’s rights situation was “critical.”

“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,” HRW said.

The HRW said Vietnam is holding about 150 prisoners of conscience while Amnesty International said the figure is 84. Hanoi has rejected of holding any prisoner of conscience but only law violators.

===== July 17======

Hanoi Police Arrest Dozens of Anti-China Activists Few Days after PCA Rejects Beijing’s Claim in East Sea

Defend the Defenders: On July 17, security forces in Hanoi detained dozens of activists who oppose China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), few days after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague rejected Beijing’s claim of sea and islands in the sea.

Among the detainees are Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, Nguyen Bich Phuong, Truong Dung, Hoang Ha, Bui Quang Thang, Dao Thu Hue, and La Viet Dung. Police arrested them at around 8.30 AM of Sunday when they gathered at King Ly Thai To monument at the city’s center, took them into a bus which ran into unknown direction.

A number of other activists were arrested and kept in police stations in the city.

The police in Hanoi made detention in a bid to prevent the planned peaceful demonstration of activists scheduled at 9 AM of Sunday. Earlier this week, No-U movement which does not recognize the Chinese U-shaped line claim in the East Sea called for a peaceful protest to support the PCA’s ruling on July 12 and demand China to go out of the sea.

Hanoi-based activist Dr. Nguyen Xuan Dien said he came to the monument to join the demonstration but seeing the quick detention. All the roads leading to the monument and areas near the Ho Guom Lake were blocked with barbed wire and full of police officers, plainclothes agents and militia, Dien said.

Numerous activists in Hanoi have complained that local authorities have deployed a large number of plainclothes agents to their private residences, making them de facto under house arrest as they do not allow activists to go out.

The detainees said they were interrogated by police officers and kept for hours in police stations. All detainees were reportedly released on afternoon after being interrogated by police officers. According to a video posted on social network, detained blogger Truong Van Dung was brutally beaten by police officer Nguyen Duc Khuong when the police deported him from the city center to the police headquarters in Dong Da district.

Activists in other localities, including Ho Chi Minh City and the central province of Nghe An, also held demonstration to protest China’s aggression in the East Sea.

Thousands of Catholic followers in Phuc Yen parish in Vinh diocese on Sunday held a peaceful protest to demand the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group to cease its steel plant in Ha Tinh province before paying adequate compensation and clean water in the central coastal region polluted by the huge volume of toxic waste of the steel mill. The illegal discharge of improperly-treated industrial waste by the Ky Anh district-based Formosa steel plant caused the massive death of hundreds of tons of fish in four central provinces from Ha Tinh to Thua Thien-Hue from early April.

Vietnam has zero tolerance with spontaneous demonstrations and considered all peaceful protests as causing public disorders. Recently, Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General To Lam ordered the security forces to take tougher measures to prevent spontaneous demonstrations amid increasing public dissatisfaction.

Hanoi claims Truong Sa (Spratlys) and Hoang Sa (Paracels) in the East Sea. The country effectively control 21 islands and reefs in the first archipelago while China still illegally occupies the second archipelago and seven reefs in the first after violently invading them from Vietnam in the 1956-1988 period. Recently, China turned seven Vietnamese reefs in Truong Sa into artificial islands and deploys aircrafts and military equipment to them.

Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also control part of Truong Sa.

Vietnam is the most affected country from China’s aggressiveness in the East Sea as China has deployed giant oil rigs into Vietnam’s 200-nautical waters and inhumanely attacked Vietnamese fishermen in their traditional fishing grounds in the East Sea. Thousands Vietnamese fishermen have been beaten and dozens of them were killed by Chinese attacks in the past few years.

China has deployed modern ships, warplanes and missiles in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, and threatens to set up Air Identification Defense Zone in the East Sea to limit the overflight there. In mid-June, Vietnam lost a Su-30MK2 jetfighter and a CASA-212 helicopter in the East Sea and many observers linked their crash to China’s threat.

Vietnam has verbally protested the Chinese aggressiveness in the East Sea. Hanoi threatens to bring China’s violations of its sovereignty to international courts, however, no specific move has been recorded. According to Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh, China has asked the communist government in Hanoi not to take legal move to international courts but settle disputes bilaterally. Vietnam and China elevated their diplomatic ties to comprehensive strategic partnership in 2008 and the two communist nations regularly exchange high-ranking visits to deepen their ties.

Vietnam has violently suppressed anti-China protests since 2011, beating and arresting hundreds of demonstrators and holding them in social inhabitation facilities which are used to hold drug addicts and sex workers.

In addition, it has applied policies of suppression, intimidation and persecution against anti-China activists. Along with blocking economic activities of activists, the security forces have been assaulting them, causing serious injuries for the victims.

Last week, plainclothes agents brutally assaulted La Viet Dung from Hanoi and To Oanh from Bac Giang. Both Mr. Dung and Mr. Oanh are among most active figures in No-U movement initiated by Dr. Nguyen Quang A, the leading political dissident in the capital city.