Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly September 12-18, 2016: Amnesty International Calls on Vietnam to Release 82 Prisoners of Conscience

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | September 18, 2016

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On September 9, Amnesty International sent a letter to Vietnam’s leaders, calling on the communist nation to release immediately and unconditionally 82 prisoners of conscience, and ensure that peaceful activists, human rights defenders, journalists and other individuals are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals, harassment, intimidation, arrest, prosecution and imprisonment, in compliance with Vietnam’s obligations under the ICCPR and other international human rights law and standards, including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka AnhBaSam), Buddhist Venerable Thich Quang Do, and labor activist Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung are in the list of prisoners of conscience compiled by the Amnesty International.

The London-based human rights organization on September 15 also launched a campaign asking people and activists worldwide to write petitions to Vietnam’s government to request the Southeast Asian nation to provide proper medical treatment for Tran Thi Thuy, who is suffering from tumors while serving her eight-year imprisonment. Ms. Thuy is also included in the list of 82 prisoners of conscience.

On September 17, three days ahead of a scheduled trial against land right activist Can Thi Theu, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Vietnam’s government to request it to drop all charges against her and release her unconditionally and immediately.

“Conflicts between farmers and the government over land confiscation have become a serious problem in Vietnam in the last few years,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should reform its land law and compensation system instead of punishing people who protest the loss of their land.”

Ms. Ta Phong Tan, a Vietnamese former political prisoner who lives in exile in the U.S., has been honored with Human Rights Hero Award of the U.S.-based Program for Torture Victims. This is the third international prize for Ms. Tan, member of the Club of Free Journalists which was established by prominent political prisoner and blogger Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay). In 2011, she was awarded the Hellman Hammett Award of Human Rights Watch. Two years later, she was honored with the International Women of Courage Award of the U.S. State Department.

And other important news

===== September 12 =====

Amnesty International Calls on Vietnam to Release 82 Prisoners of Conscience

Defend the Defenders: On September 9, Amnesty International sent a letter to Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Minister of Public Security To Lam to call on the communist nation to release 82 prisoners of conscience.

The list includes bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice such as human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka AnhBaSam), Buddhist Venerable Thich Quang Do, and labor activist Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung.

Amnesty International said these people have done nothing more than peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Many are held in harsh conditions, are in poor health and have been subjected to abusive treatment in detention.

The London-based human rights organization expressed its disappointment that on the occasion of Vietnam’s National Day [Sept 2], Vietnam granted amnesty for more than 2,000 prisoners and reduced sentences of some 22,600 others but none of these individuals were identified as prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International said Vietnam, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has the duty to respect and protect the rights set out in this core human rights treaty.

Amnesty International urges Vietnam’s government to comply with international human rights law and release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience.

In the letter signed by Secretary General Salil Shetty, Amnesty International also urged the Vietnamese government to ensure that peaceful activists, human rights defenders, journalists and other individuals are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals, harassment, intimidation, arrest, prosecution and imprisonment, in compliance with Vietnam’s obligations under the ICCPR and other international human rights law and standards, including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/16/amnesty-international-calls-on-vietnam-to-release-82-prisoners-of-conscience/

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/16/an-xa-quoc-te-keu-gọi-viẹt-nam-trả-tụ-do-cho-82-tu-nhan-luong-tam/

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/16/call-for-release-of-prisoners-of-conscience/

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Vietnam Cuts Sentences for 3 Police Officers Torturing Suspect to Death

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court based in the central city of Danang on Sept 12 reduced sentences for three police officers from the central province of Phu Yen who were found guilty of torturing Ngo Thanh Kieu, a local suspect in a criminal case, to death during interrogation in a police station in 2012.

The court reduced the imprisonment of lieutenant Nguyen Than Thao Thanh from eight years in jail given at the appealing hearing of the Phu Yen province’s People Court last year to five years, and suspended the two-year and one-year sentences of, respectively, Major Nguyen Tan Quang and Lieutenant Do Nhu Huy handed down by the same provincial court in 2015.

The appeal hearing upheld the 30-month and 27-month imprisonments of Major Nguyen Minh Quyen and Senior Lieutenant Pham Ngoc Man, respectively, and a nine-month suspension for Le Duc Hoan, vice police chief in Tuy Hoa city, for his “negligence of responsibility, causing serious consequences,” according to Article 285 of the Criminal Code. He was in charge of investigating Mr. Kieu’s case.

The Danang city-based court rejected the appeal of the victim’s family who accused the cops of killing Kieu, saying their acts were ill-treatments but not murder.

The high court also argued that the perpetrators deserved lighter sentences given their good services in the past as well as their family’s contributions to the regime.

Lawyer Vo An Don of the victim’s family said the cops’ acts should be considered murders and the perpetrators must be sentenced to life imprisonment or capital punishment for illegal arrest, murder, false case files and intentional injury.

On September 6, one day prior to the appeal hearing, Amnesty International France urged President Francois Hollande who visited the communist nation on Sept 5-7 to raise concern about police torture in Vietnam at talks with local leaders. Particularly, the human rights organization called on the French president to raise the case of Mr. Kieu.

Hollande should speak up to support Kieu’s sister Ngo Thi Tuyet and her family, who have bravely sought justice for his death despite constant persecutions of the local authorities and thugs likely hired by perpetrators, Amnesty International France said.

The sentences given to the police officers perpetrator by the first trial did not reflect the gravity of the crime, the French human rights organization said.

“Human rights must not be sacrificed to trade and security deals. President Hollande must use his visit to call on the Vietnamese authorities to meet their human rights obligations under international law,” said Camille Blanc, Chair of Amnesty International France.

After the first trial in April 2014 and the first appeal hearing last year, Mrs. Tuyet and her family filed many petitions to the authorities at different levels to seek justice for Kieu. Tuyet and her family have been object of a campaign of intimidation and harassment at the hands of the authorities and other unidentified individuals. Police officers have come to her home, offering bribes for their silence. The family has also received numerous death threats over the phone.

The state media reported widespread public discontent with the verdict of the first trial, saying the punishments were too lenient while then President Truong Tan Sang directed concerned agencies to punish the officers more strictly.

According to Human Rights Watch, police torture is systemic in Vietnam. Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security reported 226 deaths in police custody between October 2011 and September 2014. Police said illness and suicides were the main reasons for their deaths while their families and human rights defenders blamed police torture and ill-treatment for causing their deaths.

According to local activists, 17 individuals were killed in police station last year and the number has been seven so far this year.

Vietnam ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014, however, many people have continued to die or suffer severe injuries while in detention in police stations nationwide.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/09/12/vietnam-reduces-sentences-for-six-police-officers-in-torturing-suspect-to-death/

===== September 14 =====

Vietnamese Former Political Prisoner Honored with Human Rights Hero Award

Defend the Defenders: Ms. Ta Phong Tan, a former Vietnamese political prisoner who lives in exile in the U.S., has been honored with the Human Rights Hero Award of the U.S.-based Program for Torture Victims.

Ms. Tan is a prominent internationally-recognized Vietnamese journalist and human rights activist. As a former police officer, she blogged about abuses by the police and the justice system, as well as corruption within the Vietnamese government, the California-headquartered Program for Torture Victims said on its website.

In 2011, Ms. Tan was arrested and later sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2015, she was allowed to relocate to the U.S. where she has continued her relentless advocacy for democracy and freedom of press in Vietnam.

On the same occasion, Program for Torture Victims also honored Mark Ridley Thomas with Community Engagement Award and Hollywood star George Takei with City of Second Chances Award.

Program for Torture Victims assists the courageous survivors of state-sponsored torture and persecution who have stood up for freedom, equality, and human dignity. For the past 36 years, the organization has helped new U.S. refugees from 70 countries to heal their physical and psychological wounds, and start a second life in California.

Frequent targets include human rights activists, union leaders, journalists, teachers, LGBT and women’s rights defenders, members of religious or ethnic minorities, environmentalists and student leaders.

This is the third international prize for Ms. Tan, member of the Club of Free Journalists which was established by prominent political prisoner and blogger Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay). In 2011, she was awarded the Hellman Hammett of Human Rights Watch. Two years later, she was honored with the International Women of Courage Award of the U.S. State Department.

===== September 15 =====

Amnesty International Launches Urgent Action for Vietnamese Jailed Activist Denied Proper Medical Treatment

Defend the Defenders: On September 15, Amnesty International issued a statement calling activists and people worldwide to write petitions to Vietnam’s government to request the communist nation to provide proper medical treatment for Tran Thi Thuy, who is suffering from tumors while serving her eight-year imprisonment.

The petitions, to be sent to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Minister of Public Security To Lam and other officials as well as Vietnamese diplomatic missions in foreign countries, should ask Vietnam to “release Tran Thi Thuy immediately and unconditionally as she is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peaceful activities in defending human rights” and “urge them that while still detained, she should be immediately provided with appropriate medical care, in accordance with her wishes, including treatment in hospital if necessary,” Amnesty International said in its call.

According to the information provided by his brother who visited her recently in An Phước Detention Center, Bình Dương province, Ms. Thuy has three tumors, one is on her uterus and the second is near her left breast while the third is near her abdomen 15 centimeters in circumference and is ulcerating and bleeding through her clothing. She is at risk of contracting an infection in the open wound.

The medication and food sent to Ms. Thuy by her family is being withheld, with prison authorities telling her that she will only receive these materials when she confesses to the crimes she is alleged to have committed.

She is being given unknown medication by prison medical staff which she believes is affecting her memory and making her confused. The medication is for three tumors, but it is not having any effect.

Ms. Thuy was arrested in August 2010 and convicted of “activities aimed at overthrowing” the state, under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. In September 2011, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted Opinion No 46/2011 which stated that the detention of Ms. Thuy and her six co-defendants is arbitrary and should be remedied by their release and compensation.

Amnesty International said that the denial of medical treatment in these circumstances, involving the intentional infliction of severe pain and suffering for the purpose of extracting a confession, constitutes torture and is, therefore, a violation of the Convention against Torture, which came into force in Vietnam in February 2015.

Prison conditions in Vietnam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time, both during the period of investigation as a means of applying pressure on them to admit wrongdoing and as punishment in the post-conviction period for infractions of prison regulations, Amnesty International said, adding prisoners of conscience have been subjected to other forms of torture and ill-treatment, including beatings by prison staff as well as by other prisoners with no intervention by prison guards. Some prisoners of conscience are frequently moved from one detention facility to another, often without their families being informed. Several prisoners of conscience have undertaken hunger strikes in protest at abusive treatment and poor conditions of detention, it noted.

The London-based human rights organization said “although Vietnam has ratified the Convention against Torture, insufficient steps have been taken to bring the country into compliance.”

Amnesty International has documented torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam in a report entitled “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam”, see: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/4187/2016/en/.

Ms. Thuy is also included in the list of 82 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam published by Amnesty International in July 2016.

VIET NAM: FURTHER INFORMATION: JAILED ACTIVIST DENIED PROPER MEDICAL TREATMENT

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Senior Official from Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Commerce Meets with Vietnamese Religious Activists

On September 15, Tracey Macmillan, a senior official from Australia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Commerce met with Vietnamese religious activists in the Australian Embassy in Hanoi to investigate the religious freedom in the Southeast Asian nation.

Ms. Rose McConnel, second secretary on politics of the Australian Embassy in Vietnam attended the meeting which was also attended by Catholic priest Giuse Nguyen Van The, former prisoners of conscience Chu Manh Son, Thai Van Dung, and Tran Minh Nhat and Ha Thi Van from the Association for Religious Freedom Protection.

During the meeting, the Vietnamese activists reported Vietnam’s ongoing suppression against religions, especially those from ethnic minorities.

Ms. Van gave her opinions of the draft Law on religion and beliefs. The bill limits the freedom of religion and beliefs, she said.

Ms. Macmillan said she will include opinions of the invited activists in her report to the Australian government.

On August 4, Vietnam and Australia conducted the 13th Human Rights Dialogue in which the latter urged the former to respect its international commitments regarding human rights and freedom of religion and beliefs.

Toà Đại Sứ Úc gặp các nhà hoạt động tại Việt Nam để tìm hiểu về tình hình tự do tôn giáo

===== September 17 =====

Human Rights Watch Urges Vietnam to Drop Charges and Free Land Rights Activist Can Thi Theu

Defend the Defenders: On September 17, three days ahead of the scheduled trial against land rights activist Can Thi Theu, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s communist government to drop all charges and unconditionally release Mrs. Theu who was accused of “disrupting public order” under Article 245 of the Penal Code after she and others staged peaceful protests against land confiscation.

Mrs. Theu, a former prisoner of conscience, was arrested on June 10 by Hanoi authorities who blamed her of causing public disorders while leading people from Hanoi’s Duong Noi ward in carrying banners to various government offices to petition against land confiscation.

More than a decade ago, in June 2006, the local government decided to confiscate farmland in Duong Noi ward of Ha Dong district and transform the area into an urban zone. Hundreds of families protested the confiscation process and inadequate compensation for those who would lose their livelihoods. The authorities made little effort to engage the local residents or respond to their complaints. In April 2014, the authorities forcibly confiscated the land and brutally beat many protesters, arresting a number of people, including Theu and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem.

In September 2014, both were convicted of “resisting against those who are on public duties” under Article 257 of the Penal Code. She was sentenced to 15 months in prison and her husband to 18 months (later reduced to 14 months).

“Conflicts between farmers and the government over land confiscation have become a serious problem in Vietnam in the last few years,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should reform its land law and compensation system instead of punishing people who protest the loss of their land.”

“When the Communist Party of Vietnam needed farmers’ support, it advocated that ‘farmers must have land’ (‘nguoi cay co ruong’),” said Adams. “But now it puts those who make the same point in prison.”

Since her release, Can Thi Theu has continued to advocate on land and environmental issues. She participated in protests calling for the release of prominent rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his colleague Le Thu Ha, urging the government to repeal Article 88 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes peaceful criticism. She joined protests against police violence and carried out a hunger strike in support of political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc.

She also participated in peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues, particularly against the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in Vietnam’s central province of Ha Tinh which illegally discharged a huge volume of toxic industrial waste causing environmental catastrophe in the central coastal region which killed hundreds of tons of fish in April-May.

Mrs. Theu is among the 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International has called on Vietnam’s government to release unconditionally and immediately.

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