Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly August 15-21: Prominent Political Prisoner Disciplined for Refusing Forced, Unpaid Labor

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly, August 21, 2016

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Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, the prominent political dissident serving his 16-year imprisonment in Prison No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An, has been left without electricity as the prison’s authorities cut off electricity in his room during hot summer period in one of the hottest regions in Vietnam as a discipline for his refusal of working without being paid.

Earlier, the prison’s authorities demanded him to work for eight hours every day, particularly making paper votive. He refused to do the job after the prison did not agree to signs labor contract and pay him sufficiently.

Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, who is serving his 11-year imprisonment in An Phuc Prison in Vietnam’s southern province of Binh Duong, and three other colleagues are conducting their hunger strike from August 8 to protest inhumane treatment of the prison’s authorities.

Police continue to harass local activists and this time the victim is blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). The Security Investigation Agency in Hanoi on August 17 summoned him to ask him for “drafting and signing” a petition against police torture. Earlier this year, the same agency detained blogger Ngo Duy Quyen several times in the case, and searched him private residence and confiscated a number of personal items, including laptops, cell phones, and book and money. The agency still keeps these items as well as money despite strong protest from the activist.

Some legislators have disagreed with the proposal of the Ministry of Public Security to give more power to police forces at communal level, saying they may abuse the power given their limited educational background and professional training. Dozens of people in rural areas have been killed and severely injured in the past few years due to communal police’s torture.

Vietnam says a recent report by the U.S. Department of State on the freedom of religion and belief in Vietnam is not objective and one-sided, asking Washington to be more objective on Vietnam’s religious and belief practices, in order to make a correct assessment in conformity with the two countries’ growing relations. On August 10, the Department of State continued to accuse Vietnam of using violence on several religious groups, detaining and prosecuting them, restricting their travel, refusing to license their operations and hindering their activities in education and health care.

After the 13th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi in early August, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released its statement expressing the country’s concern regarding ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly.  Canberra reiterated its serious concerns about the harassment, arrest and detention of peaceful human rights activists.  Australia requested the release of all persons detained for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression and raised particular cases of concern. It also requested access to visit such persons and to be allowed to observe trials.

And other important news.

===== August 15 =====

Australia Urges Vietnam to Remove Controversial Provisions

in Penal Code

Defend the Defenders: Australia has urged Vietnam to amend or remove controversial articles in the country’s Penal Code to ensure freedom of expression and assembly, according to a press release of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

At the press release issued five days after the 13th Vietnam-Australia Human Rights Dialogue held in Hanoi on Aug 4, the two sides discussed ongoing legal reform in Vietnam, including the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Custody and Temporary Detention. Australia urged Vietnam to fully implement these laws, and ensure the rights to, and of, defense lawyers for all detainees.

Australia expressed concern regarding ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly.  It reiterated its serious concerns about the harassment, arrest and detention of peaceful human rights activists.  Australia requested the release of all persons detained for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression and raised particular cases of concern. It also requested access to visit such persons and to be allowed to observe trials.

The Australian side, led by First Assistant Secretary Dr. Lachlan Strahan of the Multilateral Policy Division under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, welcomed the planned removal of the death penalty for seven crimes and the introduction of stronger safeguards governing its use, while encouraging Vietnam to move towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Australia encouraged Vietnam to ensure the draft Laws on Associations, Demonstrations and Religion and Belief were consistent with the 2013 Constitution and obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Canberra welcomed Hanoi’s commitment to allow free and independent labor unions.

Australia welcomed cooperation with Vietnam in the UN Human Rights Council and in particular on the landmark resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the most recent session.

In a submission to Vietnam ahead of the Dialogue, Australia called for Vietnam to implement its 2014 UPR recommendations in consultation with civil society, to issue a standing invitation to UN Special Rapporteurs, and to establish an independent National Human Rights Institution.

Australia commended Vietnam for significant poverty reduction and continued progress on the realization of social and economic rights.

The two sides exchanged views on the importance of gender equality and social inclusiveness, and on the shared need to urgently address domestic violence.

Australia welcomed Vietnam’s recognition of transgender people in the recently revised Civil Code and noted the valuable contributions of the vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex civil society in both countries.

As part of the dialogue, the Australian delegation held informative meetings with Vietnam’s government officials, civil society representatives, academics and human rights defenders and visited a prison.

After the dialogue, the Australian delegation met with representatives of the local civil society. It was disappointed that Dr. Nguyen Quang A, a prominent academic and respected member of Vietnam’s civil society, was prevented from meeting the delegation on Aug 5.

The Vietnamese delegation was led by Mr. Vu Anh Quang, director general of the International Organizations Department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Australian side agreed to hold the 14th round of the Human Rights Dialogue in Canberra in 2017.

Australian Statement on the 13th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

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Vietnam to Try Two Activists August 23, Charging Them with Conducting Anti-state Propaganda

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s central coastal province of Khanh Hoa will bring to court two online activists Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An on August 23 for allegation of conducting anti-state activities under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code, according to their families and lawyers.

Mr. Duy, born in 1985 and a resident of Cam Ranh city, was arrested on November 27, 2015 for posting articles on his Facebook page criticizing policies of the Vietnamese government while his cousin An was detained on August 28, 2015 for drawing letter DMCS (stands for F*ck communism) on a wall of the Vinh Phuoc ward police building and supporting a pro-democracy campaign Zoombie of Vietnamese activists.

According to the police’s information provided to the family, Duy was also accused of using Facebook messenger to provide “incorrect information about state leaders” to 30 school students.

If convicted in two separate trials, Duy and An may face imprisonment of between three and 20 years in prison, according to the Penal Code.

Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nay, the mother of Duy, said the local police provided a warrant two weeks after the arrest, and the family has not been allowed to visit him in detention.

Currently, Duy is held in Song Lo detention facility in Nha Trang city.

During the investigation period, Duy was kept in Ninh Hoa detention facility, 45 kilometers from Nha Trang city. His family had not permitted to provide food supply for him directly but left the supply in the province’s police headquarters so the supply was handed over to him 19 days later, making some food to decay.

Before being arrested, between August 30 and September 11, 2015, Duy was summoned many times to local police who demanded him to stop sharing “anti-state articles”, according to a police’s letter sent to his family.

The family has invited lawyers Vo An Don and Nguyen Kha Thanh to defend them in upcoming trials.

Vietnam’s communist government has used many controversial articles 79, 88, 245, and 258 to silence local government critics, social activists and human rights defenders.

The government detained human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha on December 16 last year, accusing them of conducting anti-state propaganda under Articles 88. The two activists are still held in the Hanoi-based B14 detention facility. It is unclear when Hanoi will bring them to court.

In the first half of 2016, Vietnam convicted at least 12 activists, including prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Ba Sam) and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia), and sentenced them to long prison terms simply for exercising their basic rights enshrined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

According to the London-based Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding at least 88 prisoners of conscience while the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the Southeast Asian nation is imprisoning Vietnam is imprisoning around 100 other activists who are behind bars for exercising their rights, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Ngo Hao, Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Nguyen Cong Chinh, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, and Doan Huy Chuong.

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4,000 Christians Beaten by Police in Vietnam for Protesting Environmental Disaster

The Christian Post: Four thousand Catholics from Ky Anh district, Vietnam’s central province of Ha Tinh, were beaten by police after they led an anti-pollution protest against the government, following the deaths of hundreds of tons of fish due to industrial waste dumped into the sea.

The Christians were protesting against a fish-related environmental disaster that has gripped the country and threatens to leave hundreds of fishing families hungry.

After the en-mass death of fish wad allegedly caused by the pollution of Formosa Plastic Group, a steel company that dumped waste into the sea, Christian fishing families affected by the pollution marched at municipal offices in Ky Anh, but were blocked and beaten by police barricades, leaving several people injured by truncheon blows.

“On August 15 we decided to march to the offices of the town but the police had blocked all access to the highway,” Phuong, one of the protesters was quoted by Asia News as saying.

Some protesters tried to climb the barricades but they were repelled. Police used batons to beat people, and a woman was injured, she added.

Ky Anh officials are denying that police used violence, however, and argued that people were injured because of the size of the crowd that had gathered.

International Christian Concern, a group that monitors Christian persecution, noted that the dying fish have left many families in a state of panic.

“Fishing is a vital and important source of income and food for Vietnam and would have a major impact on the economy if the situation continues without proper counter measures. As a result protests have continued and local authorities, in an attempt to quell the situation, have resorted to violence,” ICC noted.

“Vietnam continues to harass, intimidate, and beat religious minorities as countless Christian pastors remain in prison merely for their beliefs.”

Other persecution watchdog groups, such as Open Doors USA, have ranked Vietnam 20th in a World Watch List of nations where Christians face the most severe persecution. Open Door notes that the Communist government in Vietnam opposes the Catholic Church, which is by far the largest Christian community in the country.

http://www.christianpost.com/news/4000-christians-beaten-police-vietnam-protesting-environmental-disaster-hurting-families-168241/

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China Expels Vietnamese Fishing Boats Seeking Shelter

in Disputed Hoang Sa

Defend the Defenders: China’s authorities have refused to allow six Vietnamese fishing boats to anchor near a reef in disputed Hoang Sa (Paracels) in the East Sea (South China Sea) while the Vietnamese fishermen were trying to find shelter from extreme weather, state media has reported.

The six fishing boats from Vietnam’s central province of Quang Nam with 259 crew on board had encountered rough seas and big waves on the morning of Aug 12 in waters 40 nautical miles from Hoang Sa which is illegally occupied by China and had asked to take refuge in Bombay Reef, newspaper reported, quoting statements from Vietnam’s National Committee for Search and Rescue.

Following a request from the committee, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the Chinese side to ask for the boats to anchor in Bombay Reef. However, the Chinese authorities had turned down the request, claiming that Bombay Reef was an unsuitable place for the boats to anchor.

The six fishing boats were anchored around five nautical miles southeast of the reef, and had been asked to be in touch with Vietnamese authorities on the mainland and prepare for any eventuality.

In 1974, China invaded Hoang Sa which was under control of the Saigon regime. Since then, China has built numerous civil and military facilities on the archipelago.

In the past few years, China has attacked Vietnamese fishermen while they were working in their traditional fishing ground near Hoang Sa. A number of Vietnamese fishermen have been killed or tortured by China’s armed forces.

Vietnam has never relinquished its ownership of Hoang Sa.

===== August 16 =====

Vietnam Prominent Political Prisoner Disciplined for Refusing Forced, Unpaid Labor

Defend the Defenders: Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, the prominent political prisoner, has been disciplined by authorities of a Vietnamese prison after he refused forced labor without being paid, his family has said.

Mr. Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment in Prison No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An, has been left without electricity as the prison’s authorities cut off electricity in his room during hot summer period in one of the hottest regions in Vietnam as a discipline for his refusal, the family reported after a recent visit.

Earlier, the prison’s authorities asked him to work for eight hours every day, particularly making paper votive. He refused to do the job unless the prison signs labor contract and pay him sufficiently.

Mr. Thuc, who is a prisoner of conscience, has to stay without working ventilator in his room where temperature may hit 41oC, he told his family. The time electricity cut coincides with working hours.

The forced labor is banned according to Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

Mr. Thuc, a 50-year-old engineer, entrepreneur and human rights activist, was arrested seven years ago and accused of carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Mr. Thuc, one of the London-based Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience, was the founder and president of EIS, an international internet and telephone line provider. He opened EIS as a computer shop in 1993 which assembled its own computers, and by 1994 the brand dominated the home PC market in Ho Chi Minh City. Later on it became an internet service provider, and in 1998 became the first Vietnamese ISP to branch out from dial-up to an integrated services digital network.

EIS started providing Voice over IP services in Vietnam in 2003. They developed subsidiaries, One-Connection Singapore, One-Connection USA /Innfex, One-Connection Malaysia and One-Connection Vietnam, to provide internet access and telephone lines internationally. One-Connection Vietnam’s operation license was withdrawn following Thuc’s arrest.

He began blogging under the pen name of Tran Dong Chan after he received no response to letters he had written to senior government officials. In 2008 he started co-writing “The Path of Vietnam”, which assessed the current situation in Vietnam, with a comprehensive set of recommendations for governance reform focused on human rights.

He was arrested in 2009, initially for “theft of telephone wires”, and later for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration” against the state. He made a televised confession but later recanted, saying he was coerced.

His sentence was the longest ever passed on a Vietnamese dissident. His imprisonment was condemned by then British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis and U.S. Ambassador Michael W. Michalak. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded his detention was arbitrary and requested the Vietnamese government to release him and provide compensation. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and called for his release.

During his serving in Xuyen Moc Prison in the southern province of Vung Tau before transferred to Nghe An, he and other fellows had conducted a number of hunger strikes to protest the prison’s inhumane treatment against political prisoners. The prison’s authorities punished him by putting him in solitary confinement.

In June, he conducted long hunger strike to demand political reforms in Vietnam.

He has rejected to live in exile in the U.S. as the Vietnamese communist government proposed recently.

Meanwhile, Enforced labor is rampant in Vietnamese prisons where between 100,000 and 200,000 prisoners were forced to work without being paid, said Lao Dong Viet (Viet Labor), an independent trade union in the Southeast Asian nation.

Viet Labor made this conclusion based on its investigation conducted in September-December last year. The researchers interviewed over 40 former prisoners from the three regions of the country.

In prisons, inmates have been forced to work like slaves in very poor conditions. They have been often beaten by prisons’ guards. The most popular works for prisoner are removing shells of cashew nut without wearing gloves, making bricks, making clothes, and farming and their products are for export and domestic consumption.

Enforced labor is founded in 56 prisons out of 60 prisons across the nation. Prisoners have been forced to work for 40-50 hours a week.

Viet Labor considers the activity as organized by the communist government which brings huge profits for the communist party’s leaders, prisons’ authorities and companies involving in the activity.

Viet Labor, members of which have been persecuted, intimidated and harassed by Vietnam’s government, has urged the Vietnamese authorities to improve prisoners’ living conditions and working environment as well as pay for prisoners who can have some money when they are freed.

Despite working hard in prison, most of prisoners have no money after serving their sentences. Once being freed, they face many difficulties, including discrimination. As a result, many of them have been forced to commit crimes and come back to prison.

Few years ago, the New York-based Human Rights Watch also released a report about enforced labor in Vietnam’s rehabilitation facilities where drug addicts, HIV-infested, criminal prisoners and prisoners of conscience were forced to work in very poor conditions.

The Human Rights Watch said one of the dangerous work is cashew nut processing as cashew nut shell is poisonous and harmful for eyes and hands.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/08/16/vietnam-prominent-political-prisoner-disciplined-for-refusing-forced-unpaid-labor/

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Hanoi Mulls over Planting 45,000 Trees along Thang Long Avenue

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi plan to grow about 45,000 trees along Thang Long Avenue, the longest of its kind in the country, said a senior leader of the city.

Speaking at a meeting with voters in Hoan Kiem district on Aug 15, Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung of the municipal People’s Committee said the trees will help green up the city from Ba Vi outlying district to the National Convention Center.

In the short term, around 20,000 trees will be planted, said Chung, who was former head of the city’s Department of Police.

The capital city hopes to make a progress in managing trees in 12 inner districts, including a plan to grow one million new trees by 2020. To achieve the target, the city has consulted scientists and relevant offices about which types of trees should be planted.

Thang Long Avenue has the length of 30 km and the width of 140m for six lanes of vehicles.

It connects Hanoi’s inner part with satellite urban areas, such as Xuan Mai, Mieu Mon, and Son Tay, and tourist sites, including Ba Vi, Suoi Hai, and the Vietnam Ethnic Cultural Village. With its one end at Ho Chi Minh National Highway, it also links Hanoi with other localities.

Last year, Hanoi planned to chop down 6,700 aged valuable trees in the city’s main streets and replace with new trees which are not suitable for urban conditions. Chung, then police chief of the city, was among active figures of the project.

The city was forced to suspend the project after meeting strong protest from environmentalists. However, hundreds of trees planted by French nearly 100 years ago were chopped down.

In late July, many newly-planted trees in Hanoi fell down due to strong wind, showing the trees were not planted properly as workers did not replace covers which were used during transport from seedling garden from their roots.

Hanoi has also a plan to send workers to China to learn tree planting, state media reported earlier this year.

===== August 17 =====

Vice President of Vietnam Independent Journalists Summoned for Petition against Police Torture

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have summoned blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) to a police agency to work on a petition against police torture.

According to a letter signed by police officer Ngo Quang Du from the Security Investigation Agency under the Hanoi Police Department, Mr. Thuy, who is member of the Bau Bi Tuong Than (People’s Solidarity) must be present at the agency at 9 AM of August 18 to “be interrogated on drafting and disseminating the petition”.

One year ago, 19 independent civil society organizations jointly issued an open letter sent to the Minister of Public Security to demand for thorough investigation of police abuse which caused the deaths of hundreds of detainees in police’s custody and of barbaric assaults of numerous political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

According to the copy disseminated in social networks, Mr. Thuy, on behalf of the Bau Bi Tuong Than, signed in the petition which was sent to the minister as well as Vietnam’s public and international human rights organizations.

The letter was sent after the severe attacks of plainclothes agents against Hanoi-based blogger Nguyen Chi Tuyen and Ho Chi Minh City-based activist Dinh Quang Tuyen.

Instead of launching investigation on controversial deaths of hundreds of detainees in police detention facilities and the attacks against local activists to bring the perpetrators to justice, Vietnam’s authorities have harassed those who signed in the petition or sent it to the ministry.

Since February, Hanoi police has continuously persecuted Ngo Duy Quyen, a local activist who printed the petition and sent it to then Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang, who was promoted by the ruling communist party to the country’s president in April.

Mr. Quyen, who is also member of the Bau Bi Tuong Than, was detained several times and brought to the by the Security Investigation Agency for interrogation for hours. Police also searched his private residence and took a number of personal items, including laptops, cell phones, and book and money. The agency still keeps these items as well as money despite strong protest from the activist.

In addition to use controversial articles such as 79, 88, 245 and 258 in the country’s Penal Code to silence local dissent, the communist government of Vietnam has also deployed plainclothes agents to beat local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. In the first seven months of this year, dozens of activists have been severely assaulted by thugs in 18 cases, according to the statistics of Defend the Defenders.

Meanwhile, police torture is a thorny issue in Vietnam. According to the Ministry of Public Security, 226 detainees and suspects died in police custody in the period between October 2010 and September 2014, and police said most of their deaths were caused by illness and suicides while the families of the victims and social networks said their deaths were caused by police power abuse.

Tens of people have been killed or severely injured in police’s custody so far this year, according to the state media.

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Vietnam Communal Police Have Too Much Power: Legislators

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s police in the communal level have too much power while most of communal police officers have limited education and professional background, said members of the Standing Committee of the country’s legislative body National Assembly (NA).

According to the draft law on communal-level police which is under discussion of the Standing Committee at its ongoing second session, the police forces in the communal level have 11 duties, including the power to launch initial investigation of crimes.

Phan Thanh Binh, head of the NA Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children, said the commune police cannot realize these duties given the low educational and professional background. Few of communal police officers had graduated from high school and received training in police institutions.

Many members of the Standing Committee did not agree with the proposal of the Ministry of Public Security, saying the commune-level police should remain semi-professional.

As the agency responsible for building the draft law, the Ministry of Public Security is offering to treat communal police as professional forces.

State media has reported a number of cases in which communal police in many localities had abused power, causing heavy consequences for local residents. Many citizens have been illegally detained and tortured by police officers in their communes.

In the communist-ruled Vietnam, police forces, together with the army, are the forces protecting the leadership of the ruling party.

Vietnam Communal Police Have Too Much Power: Legislators

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Political Dissident Son Nguyen Thanh Dien Completes 16-year Imprisonment

Defend the Defenders: On August 17, political dissident Son Nguyen Thanh Nien was released from Z230A prison in Xuan Loc  in the southern province of Dong Nai after spending the last 16 years in police’s custody and detention facility.

Mr. Dien, 44, was arrested in 2000, together with 37 others, including two brothers Huynh Anh Tri and Huynh Anh Tu, Van Ngoc Hieu, Nguyen Van Phuong, Tran Hoang Giang and Nguyen Van Diep and charged of conducting “Terrorism against the peoples administration” under Article 84 of the country’s Penal Code. Actually, they spread leaflets accusing Vietnam’s communist government of human rights violations and calling for multi-party democracy.

Later, Dien was sentenced to 16 years in jail and others were given long-term imprisonments.

In prison, Dien continued to protest inhumane treatment of prison’s authorities against prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience. The prison’s authorities revenged by placing him in solitary cell many times.

Mr. Phuong was released earlier this year while Tri was freed several years ago but died few months later due to HIV/AID disease he was infected in prison as he shared the same room with criminal prisoners infected with the deadly disease.

===== August 18 =====

Vietnam Imprisoned Pastor on 11th Day of Hunger Strike to Protest Prison Inhumane Treatment

Defend the Defenders: Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, who is serving his 11-year imprisonment in An Phuc Prison in Vietnam’s southern province of Binh Duong, and three other colleagues are conducting their hunger strike for the 11th consecutive day to protest inhumane treatment of the prison’s authorities.

Mr. Chinh, 50, and three other prisoners of conscience started their fasting on August 8 to demand the prison’s authorities to respect human rights and their rights of receiving material supports from their families as well as contacting with the families, said his wife Tran Thi Hong, who visited him in prison on August 17.

According to Vietnam’s regulations, prisoners are allowed to receive food supplements and medical drugs from their families, and contact with their families by telephone as well as being visited by family’s members.

However, pastor Chinh and other prisoners of conscience, who have refused to confess their wrongdoings, have not been allowed to have these rights.

Mr. Chinh, who is suffering from high blood pressure and sinusitis and needs to take medical drugs regularly, however, prison’s authorities keep the drugs sent from his family and rarely give them to him. He has not been allowed to buy additional food from the prison’s canteen.

Mrs. Hong said since being arrested in 2011, he has not been allowed to make a call to her family, even when his mother passed away few years ago.

Pastor Chinh, who has been placed in a solitary cell long time ago, declared that he will continue his hunger strike unless the prison stops its inhumane treatment against him and other prisons.

Mrs. Hong said her husband’s health is very poor and the ongoing fasting will threaten his life.

Mr. Chinh was detained on April 28, 2011 and later sentenced to 11 years in prison on charge of “undermining national unity policy” under Article 87 of the country’s Penal Code as he fought for freedom of religion of ethnic minorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

While Mr. Chinh is in prison, his family has been under constant harassment of authorities in Gia Lai province. In April-June, local police summoned her many times to police station where police officers beat and interrogated her.

Mrs. Hong said in recent weeks, the local authorities stopped harassing her but continue to maintain close surveillance over the family.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience, are being treated inhumanely by the prisons’ authorities. Many prisoners have been conducting long hunger strike to protest inhumane treatment and forced, unpaid labor.

Prominent political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment on charge of carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration under Article 79 of the Penal Code, is left in a tiny cell without electricity amid hot summer weather after refused forced, unpaid labor.

Vietnam’s authorities have systemically treated inhumanely against prisoners of conscience. The latest report of the London-based Amnesty International paints a terrifying picture of Vietnam’s prison system, with widespread torture and ill-treatment, enough to deter even the boldest of activists.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch says Vietnam is holding around 130 prisoners of conscience who bravely exercise their rights of freedom of expression or fight for freedom of religion and belief which are enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.

Hanoi always denies to holding any prisoner of conscience but only law violators.

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Vietnam Traffic Police Seek Power to Open Fire on Fleeing Vehicles

Defend the Defenders: The Traffic Police Department under Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has asked the country’s legislative body National Assembly to revise its firearms ordinance so that traffic officers will be given the power to open fire in dangerous circumstances, state media has reported.

The revision to the NA’s ordinance will support police use of firearms to ensure public order and safety, Major General Tran Son Ha, head of the Traffic Police Department.

In many cases, it may be too late if police officers have to wait for an order to open fire, said Ha.

Last year, a police officer fired three warning shots during a routine traffic stop in the northern province of Hai Duong, 58 kilometers east of Hanoi. Police had asked the driver to pull over to check if his vehicle was overloaded, but the driver tried to flee. Traffic police gave chase in their squad car, and during the pursuit, a police officer fired three shots into the air. The police officer was subsequently suspended from going on routine patrols.

It is virtually unheard of in Vietnam for traffic police to open fire at moving vehicles, so the incident raised public concern about police abuse of power.

Vietnam’s ordinance on firearms says that police officers may shoot to kill under guidelines signed by the Minister of Public Security.

Traffic police is among the most corrupted groups in Vietnam, observers said.

In the past, a number of proposals which aimed to empower police and traffic police were turned down.

===== August 19 =====

U.S. Report on Vietnam’s Religious Freedom Not Accurate: State Media

Defend the Defenders: A recent report by the U.S. Department of State on the freedom of religion and belief in Vietnam is not objective and one-sided, state media in the communist-ruled nation.

Defending the draft Law on Belief and Religion, which is to replace the Ordinance on Belief and Religion, state-run newspapers said the Vietnamese government only punishes organizations and individuals that violate the law, or who take advantage of the freedom of religion and belief to ruin the ruling communist party and its government, or to undermine the nation’s construction and safeguarding, or national unity.

The U.S. Department of State needs to be more objective on Vietnam’s religious and belief practices, in order to make a correct assessment in conformity with the two countries’ growing relations, they said.

On August 10, the U.S. Department of State released its report called International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. The report recognized some positive development regarding religious freedom in Vietnam, saying “Despite ongoing challenges in Vietnam, most leaders of religious groups agree that religious freedom is gradually expanding in Vietnam. The government is gradually expanding national-level recognition of religious organizations (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one recent example), and, in provinces with cooperative local authorities, expanding local church registrations. Unregistered organizations reported fewer problems conducting their operations, particularly in major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.”

The Department of State continued to accuse Vietnam of using violence on several religious groups, detaining and prosecuting them, restricting their travel, refusing to license their operations and hindering their activities in education and health care.

According to the report, Vietnam’s regulations on religious management allow limited religious freedom and for the country’s authorities to obstruct the activities of unregistered religious groups.

(For full report you can follow the link: https://vn.usembassy.gov/international-religious-freedom-report-2015/#vietnam)

The U.S. government estimates Vietnam’s total population at 94.3 million. According to the Vietnamese government’s Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA), approximately 95% of the population professes religious beliefs. More than half of the population identifies as Buddhist. Within that community, Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant affiliation by ethnic majority Kinh (Viet), while approximately 1.2% of the population, almost all from the ethnic minority Khmer group, practices Theravada Buddhism.

Roman Catholics constitute 7% of the total population, Cao Dai- 2.5% to 4%, Hoa Hao- 1.5% to 3% and Protestants- 1% to 2%.

According to the state media, Vietnam has recognized 39 organizations of 14 religions, with 24.3 million followers, or 27% of the population.

===== August 21 =====

Hanoi Police Detain Anti-China Activists amid East Sea Tensions

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on August 21 detained seven anti-China activists while they were cycling in city’s streets and released them after holding them in police station for seven hours.

The detainees included pro-democracy activist Nguyen Van Dien, Nam Phuong, Bui The Anh, Chu Thanh Nga, Le My Hanh, and Dang Quoc Thinh.

Police deported Mr. Dien to his home province of Yen Bai, as they did on July 31.

Blogger Nam Phuong said her group started cycling on Hanoi’s streets in the morning of Sunday. They worn T-shirts with slogan saying Truong Sa (Spratlys) and Hoang Sa (Paracels) belong to Vietnam.

During the journey, the group was closely followed by around 20 plainclothes agents on their motorbikes deployed by the Hanoi city’s Department of Police.

Sometimes, plainclothes agents intentionally clashed their motorbikes with some of the group in order to cause incident so uniformed policemen to intervene. However, the group successfully avoided being troubled.

When the group took a rest in Ngoc Khanh lake in Ba Dinh district, local policemen came and detained the activists, saying they stopped in restricted areas.

Blogger Nam Phuong said the policemen forcibly detained them and brutally took them into a police truck like animals and held them in the police station of Ngoc Khanh ward.

During the seven-hour detention in the police station of Ngoc Khanh ward, police officers interrogated them, trying to charge them of causing public disorders.

Facing strong protest from the detainees, police released them afternoon but took Mr. Dien and deported him to his home province of Yen Bai. When other activists tried to prevent police from taking Dien into a car, police beat them. Nam Phuong said she suffered a pain in her arms due to the police’s assault.

The group of Dien has cycled in Hanoi every Sunday in recent week.

This is the second detention of Mr. Dien within three weeks. On July 31, when cycling with the same group in Hanoi’s streets, he was kidnapped by the local police who held him for ten hours before deporting him to his family house in the northernmost province of Yen Bai (you can read in details about Mr. Dien’s kidnap on July 31 in:  http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/08/02/hanoi-police-kidnap-pro-democracy-activist-deporting-him-to-home-province-after-14-hours-in-detention/)

Vietnam has claimed sovereignty over Truong Sa and Hoang Sa in the East Sea (South China Sea), the two archipelago the country has peacefully administered since the 17th century.

China illegally occupies Hoang Sa and seven features in Truong Sa after military invasion in the 1956-1988 period. Recently, China has turned the seven features in Truong Sa into artificial islands, and built a number of civil and military facilities there.

Beijing has deployed missiles and military air-crafts in Hoang Sa in a bid to solidify its illegal claim of over 90% of the resource-rich East Sea, which is also very important for international navigation. In addition, China has killed, detained, harassed and robbed thousands of Vietnamese fishermen when they were working in Vietnam’s traditional fishing grounds in the water near Hoang Sa.

On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected the Chinese U-shaped line claim in the East Sea, saying the Beijing’s historical claim is groundless.

Vietnam has reiterated its sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, and wants to peacefully settle the territorial and maritime disputes with China and other claimants in the East Sea based on international law, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, the communist government in Hanoi has severely suppressed all peaceful demonstrations of local activists who protest the Chinese violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

During the past few years, many anti-China activists have been arrested and imprisoned while others have suffered harassment and intimidation.

Vietnam’s communist government has little tolerance for its critics and applied many measures to prevent spontaneous demonstrations. It has ordered the security forces to assault, kidnap and detain as well as block activists in order not to allow them to organize or participate in peaceful protests.

On July 23, after being re-elected as chairwoman of the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, member of the ruling communist party’s Politburo, criticized anti-China activists, saying their demonstrations aim to cause instability in the country.

Since the beginning of 2016, dozens of government critics, social activists and human rights defenders have been assaulted by plainclothes agents while hundreds of others have been detained to police stations where many of them were interrogated and tortured by police officers, according to the statistics of Defend the Defenders.

Vietnam’s communists have vowed to maintain a one-party regime and made all effort to prevent the establishment of political opposition.

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