Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly October 24-30, 2016: Vietnam Parliament May Delay Approval of Bills on Association, Penal Code


By Defend the Defenders, October 30, 2016

Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) may not approve the draft laws on association and the amended and supplemented Penal Code in the ongoing second session from October 20 to November 19. During discussions on October 25-26, many legislators said the two bills are not ready for approval and needed further improvements from Ministries of Home Affairs and Justice, respectively.

Prior to the opening session of the parliament, many international human rights organizations and independent and government-organised civil society groups in the country urged the parliament not to pass the bills because they were built to limit universal human rights and tighten government control over citizens.

Prominent blogger and human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh has not been allowed to meet with her lawyers weeks after her detention on October 10 on allegation of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. Her mother said she is very concerned about Quynh’s health because the detained activist declared that she would conduct hunger strike in police custody until meets with her lawyers.

Vietnam has continued its violent wave against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. On October 26, authorities in the central province of Ha Tinh sent thugs and plainclothes agents to attack members of a charity group from the Brotherhood of Democracy and Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. On the same day, Hanoi-based activist Ngoc Anh was beaten by a group of thugs due to his activities aiming to protect the country’s sovereignty and environment.

And other important news


===== October 24 =====
73 Lawmakers from 14 Countries Call for Release of Detained Vietnamese Activists

Defend the Defenders: As many as 73 legislators from 14 countries have sent an open letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc demanding the release of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha who were arrested in late 2015 over their political activism.

An initiative of Marie-Luise Dott, member of the German Bundestag, the joint letter was signed by lawmakers from Cambodia, Chad, Spain, the U.S., Indonesia, Lithuania, Nepal, the Netherlands, Portugal and Zimbabwe, as well as representatives of different NGOs. The signatories asked Vietnam to release the duo and ensure the conditions which they are subjected to in detention comply with international standards, and to ensure that they have access to legal counsel.

The signatories have also requested Vietnam’s government to respect the fundamental human rights of Mr. Dai and Ms. Ha during detention, including their right to freedom of religion or belief.

“Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha were providing a valuable public service by defending the rights of their fellow citizens. The charges against them should be dropped and they should be allowed to freely exercise their rights,” said Charles Santiago, chairperson of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and member of the Malaysian parliament.

The two activists are facing up to 20 years in prison under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code which is often used for imprisoning peaceful activists.

Mr. Dai founded the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam in 2006 and was one of the signatories of an online petition for freedom and democracy in the country, which was supported by thousands of people.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are currently more than 130 political prisoners in Vietnam.

Vietnam Parliament May Delay Approval of Draft Law on Association

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese Minister of Home Affairs Le Vinh Tan has asked the country’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) not to approve the bill on association in its ongoing second session, saying further changes are needed.

Minister Tan made this proposal after the parliament debated the draft on October 25 with many opinions objecting to the draft. The draft law should be amended based on the opinions of the country’s legislators before being submitted to the parliament again for approval, he said.

There are numerous regulations in the draft law limiting the right of people to association and assembly, lawmakers said while working on the concept, organizational principle and operation of associations, the government’s policies toward associations, regulations on the implementation of the right to establish association applicable to state employees, and prohibited acts.

Last week, over 50 international and domestic non-government organizations and associations, including Human Rights Watch and Civil Rights Defenders issued a joint letter sent to NA’s Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan to call for delaying the bill since the draft law contains a number of regulations which will limit the right of people to associate.
===== October 26 =====
Vietnam Parliament to Approve Amended Penal Code in Next Session

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) will not approve the amended Penal Code this session but it asked the Ministry of Justice to perfect it and submit to the parliament in its third session in 2017, said NA Vice Chairman Uong Chu Luu.
The move came after the parliament debated on the bill submitted by the Ministry of Justice on October 26. Accordingly, the submitted version contains a number of technical errors making it difficult for implementation.
Vietnam’s parliament in the 13th tenure approved the Penal Code 2015 last year. However, one month prior to July 1, 2016, on which the amended Code was scheduled to go into effect, Vietnam found a number of errors in the approved bill and the parliament decided to suspend its implementation for further adjustment.

Mr. Luu requested the Ministry of Justice to cooperate with other state agencies to amend the draft law based on opinions of legislators and submit it to the parliament in its next session scheduled in May 2017.

The bill of Penal Code is the second draft law the parliament decided not to approve in the current session from October 20 to November 19. Earlier this week, the parliament delayed the approval of the draft law on associations.

International human rights organizations and domestic independent civil societies have urged Vietnam’s parliament not to approve the two bills, saying the draft laws were designed to limit the rights of Vietnamese people.

On October 18, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s parliament to respect rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion of its people as the legislature will consider revision of the Penal Code during its second session.

According to the New York-based human rights organization, many articles related to national security in Vietnam’s laws are vaguely defined and often used arbitrarily to punish critics, activists, and bloggers. Therefore, the Vietnamese parliament should take this opportunity to outline clearer rules to be in line with international standards.

===== October 27 =====

Detained Vietnamese Prominent Blogger Yet to Have Legal Assistance

Defend the Defenders: Prominent Vietnamese blogger and well-known human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh has not been allowed to meet with her lawyers weeks after her arrest on October 10, said her mother Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan.

On October 25, police in the central province of Khanh Hoa told Mrs. Lan that her daughter had not been able to receive legal assistance since the police have not completed her dossier.

Mrs. Lan said she is very concerned about Quynh’s health. Before being taken away by the police, Quynh told her mother that she would conduct hunger strike and say nothing in police custody until she meets her lawyers.

“My daughter Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh would have been deemed innocent if it were in a free nation. For her advocacy for human rights, environmental protection and helping others who were imprisoned wrongly, she was arrested, leaving behind two children aged four and 10, who miss their mother every day,” Mrs. Lan said.

Meanwhile, nearly a thousand of activists in the country and abroad have signed a joint petition calling for immediate and unconditional release of Quynh who was honored with the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award by the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders.

In their petition initiated by the Vietnam Bloggers Network, they said Quynh is innocent and her peaceful activities are absolutely lawful, adding protecting the environment, protecting human lives and defending maritime sovereignty are the right things to do that must not be deemed criminal activities.

Ms. Quynh is well-known blogger writing under the penname Me Nam (Mother Mushroom). She is also known for activities promoting human rights. She is one of the leading figures of the unsanctioned Vietnam Bloggers Network which fights for freedom of press in the country.

She has been subjected to constant persecution at the hands of Vietnam’s police for years, including being banned from international travel.

Many foreign governments, including the U.S., the UK, Germany and the EU as well as international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Border, Amnesty International and Civil Rights Defenders have condemned Quynh’s arrest and requested Vietnam to release her unconditionally and immediately.

Vietnam has intensified its crackdown on local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. In addition to sentencing many activists, the communist government has launched a wave to violent assaults against many others.

In the most recent case, police in the southern city of Vung Tau on October 8 detained over two dozens of activists who attended a workshop on civil society. Police confiscated their cell phones and cameras and interrogated them. During questioning, they brutally beat many activists, including Ms. Nguyen Thuy Quynh and Mr. Le Cong Dinh.

Vietnam has used controversial articles such as 79, 88 and 258 in the Penal Code to silence local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. So far this year, it has imprisoned 18 activists on allegation of anti-state activities.

Last month, Amnesty International has urged Vietnam to release 82 prisoners of conscience, including human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was arrested on December 16 last year and charged with anti-state propaganda under Article 88.

According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam holds around 130 political prisoners.

===== October 28 =====
Hanoi Police Block Many Activists from Attending 5th Anniversary of Anti-China Football Club

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi have deployed a large number of police officers to block local activists from attending the 5th anniversary of No-U Football Club, a football team of people who oppose China’s illegal claim of nearly the entire East Sea (South China Sea).

Blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice chairman of the unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, said a group of around five policemen from Thanh Tri district were stationed near his house’s gate and did not allow him to go out in late afternoon of October 28.

Other activists such as Vu Quoc Ngu, Pham Thanh, Phung The Dung and Nguyen Hoa said they were also barred from going out in the early evening of Friday when activists planned to hold a party to mark the 5th birthday of their beloved football team.

Despite harassment of Hanoi’s police, activists held a small party in Thai Ha Redemptory’s Church on the evening of Friday. Participants said a large number of plainclothes agents were deployed to the areas near the church to discourage activists from attending the party.

Shortly after the party began, local authorities cut off electricity, and the party-goers had to use candles to light their party.

No-U (say No to China’s U-shaped line claim in the East Sea) team has been under constant police harassment since its establishment in 2011 after the anti-China demonstrations on 11 consecutive Sundays in Hanoi.

Last year, during the 4th anniversary party organized in a local restaurant, team members were attacked by thugs under witness of local police who did nothing to prevent the assault.

The patriotic football team has to move from one field to another in Hanoi since the city’s authorities have ordered football field owners not to allow the team to hire fields to play.

Many No-U members including Nguyen Chi Tuyen and La Viet Dung have been brutally beaten by plainclothes agents.

Vietnam’s communist government has verbally protested China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea. However, it has suppressed all activities of No-U football team and its members who have been leading figures in anti-China demonstrations in the country.

==== October 29 =====
Vietnam Authorities Continue Violent Wave against Local Activists

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam has continued its wave of violence against local activists as authorities in many localities have deployed thugs and plainclothes agents to assault political dissidents, social activists and human rights.

On October 26, a charity group consisting of members of the unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and the Brotherhood of Democracy travelled in a car from the flood-affected areas in the central province of Quang Binh to Hanoi. When arriving near Ben Thuy Bridge which separates the two central provinces of Ha Tinh and Nghe An, the group was attacked with stones by thugs who travelled on three motorbikes without registration numbers.

Due to the assault, the car of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh suffered huge damages with broken glasses and mirrors.

The activists were returning from Quang Binh where they provided some foodstuff for local people in areas flooded after local hydropower plants suddenly released water.

On the same day, anti-China activist Ngoc Anh from Cau Giay district, Hanoi was attacked by plainclothes agents. Due to the assault, Mr. Anh suffered from a number of injuries on his head.

Authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa have been constantly harassing the family of Nguyen Trung Ton, a former prisoner of conscience and member of Brotherhood of Democracy. In addition to making public denunciations in local media, on the radio and on neighborhood loudspeakers, plainclothes agents have also troubled the businesses of his wife in a local wet market. Sometime they came and destroyed her booth of seafood products.

On October 28, when the Hanoi-based No-U Football Club (say No to China’s U-shaped line claim in the East Sea or South China Sea) organized a party to mark its 5th anniversary, local police blocked many activists from attending the event, and cut off electricity in Thai Ha Redemptory’s Church where the party was held.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and strive not to allow the formation of opposition parties. In addition to using controversial articles such as 79, 88, 245 and 258 of the Penal Code to silence political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, Vietnam’s government has hired thugs or sent plainclothes agents to assault others to discourage activists from political advocacy.

Hundreds of Vietnamese activists have been brutally beaten by thugs and plainclothes agents so far this year.

===== October 30 =====

Amnesty International Launches Urgent Action to Protect Three Activists Who Face Harassment and Risk Arrest

On October 28, Amnesty International called for urgent action to protect three Vietnamese human rights defenders who are facing severe harassment, including public denunciations, prosecution and death threats. They could be arrested for “conducting propaganda” against the state due to their engagement in activism relating to an ecological disaster in the country.

Since the massive deaths of fish, shrimp, squid and other animals along a 200 kilometer stretch of the Vietnamese central-eastern coastline in April 2016, demonstrations and other activities have taken place calling for information on the cause of the disaster. After two months of speculation, at a press conference in June, the government declared that Taiwanese company Formosa Plastics Group had admitted responsibility for the serious environmental disaster and that the company had pledged to pay VND11.5 trillion ($500 million) in compensation to the Vietnamese government to improve conditions in the affected provinces.

Catholic priest Dang Huu Nam, Nguyen Van Trang and Paulus Le Van Son have been involved in organizing activities calling for transparency and accountability in relation to the disaster, including compensation for those affected. Father Nam, a Catholic priest from Phu Yen parish, Vinh diocese in Nghe An province has been helping to organize mass protests. He has also assisted with legal complaints from 506 people to Viet Nam’s authorities to claim compensation from Formosa Plastic Group company. Mr. Trang, a university student from Thanh Hoa province and a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, an online pro-democracy discussion group, joined a protest against Formosa on 1 May and was arrested on 7 May and again on 19 May. Paulus Le Van Son, a former prisoner of conscience and Catholic social activist and journalist, has also participated in protests over the ecological disaster calling for justice and compensation.

Amnesty International is concerned that the three men are at imminent risk of arrest under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code for “conducting propaganda” against the state. These charges provides for between three and 20 years’ imprisonment. The three men have also faced severe harassment which has intensified after their activities linked to the ecological catastrophe: Father Nam has been subjected to surveillance, death threats, arrests and beatings by security police and individuals in plain clothes; Trang has been targeted through public denunciations in local media, on the radio and on neighborhood loudspeakers; Son has been subjected to surveillance, denounced in local media and now fears for his safety.

Amnesty International urged activists worldwide to write to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Minister of Public Security To Lam and Deputy Minister cum Minister of Pham Binh Minh to request Vietnam’s government to immediately end the harassment, attacks and threats against Father Nam, Trang and Son and other human rights defenders for their participation in peaceful protests, asking Hanoi to ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in accordance with Vietnam’s obligations under international human rights law.

As many as 260,000 people, including fishermen, in the coastal provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien-Hue have been affected by the deaths of millions of fish in April 2016.

After a two month investigation into the ecological disaster, the government confirmed allegations by the public that a steel plant owned by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastics Group had caused discharges of toxic waste. At the end of June, Formosa publicly apologized and announced that it would provide $500 million in compensation, but those affected have said that this is insufficient reparation for the impact and loss of livelihoods. The 506 complaints made for additional compensation have been rejected by the authorities.

The Vietnamese authorities cracked down heavily in response to a series of demonstrations taking place throughout the country in May 2016, organized following the decimation of Viet Nam’s fish stocks. Wide-ranging police measures to prevent and punish participation in demonstrations has resulted in a range of human rights violations including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, as well as violations of the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of movement, see Public Statement, Vietnam: Government crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations with range of rights violations, including torture and other ill-treatment, Despite these heavy-handed tactics, peaceful protests have continued, but those involved in organizing and submitting additional formal complaints to the authorities are being increasingly targeted with harassment and threats. The harassment includes pressure on families and employers of those targeted, making it difficult for activists to continue.

Vietnam is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. However, these rights are severely restricted in law and practice in Vietnam. Vaguely worded articles in the national security section of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code are frequently used to criminalize peaceful dissenting views or activities. Those at risk include people advocating for peaceful political change, criticizing government policies, or calling for respect for human rights. Article 88 (Conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam) is frequently used to detain, prosecute and imprison dissidents for their peaceful activism, including bloggers, labor rights and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers of different churches, human rights defenders and social justice activists, and even song writers.

===== end =====