Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly November 7-13, 2016: Association for Support of Victims of Torture Debuts, Striving to Work for Effective Implementation of CAT

dtd-6-150x150

Defend the Defenders’ Weekly, November 13, 2016

On November 7, a group of activists declared the establishment of the Association for Support of Victims of Torture in a bid to realize the rights enshrined in the Convention Against Torture (CAT) in Vietnam.

Torture is still a big issue in the communist-ruled Vietnam and numerous people, including human rights defenders, social activists and political dissidents, have been tortured by the police forces.

As a civil organization, the Association for Support of Victims of Torture will strive to monitor and support the implementation of the CAT, it said in a public statement.

Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City continue to hold three local activists Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do and Hoan Thanh Dia and released others after the mass arrest last Sunday. The released activists claimed that all of them were tortured during interrogation in the Phan Dang Luu detention facility which is known for holding political prisoners.

So far, no official charges against Vinh and the other two detainees have been publicized.

Mr. Vinh, who was brutally beaten by police officers before being arrested, founded the Coalition for Self-determined Vietnamese People in mid July. Recently, he was said to be leaving the newly-established organization.

The appeal hearing for land right activist Can Thi Theu is set to be on November 30. On September 20, she was sentenced to 20 months in prison on charges of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code. Her imprisonment appears to be aimed at intimidating hundreds of other land petitioners who are gathering in the capital city to protest government seizure of their property.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that Vietnam still has a long way to go before it fully respects religious freedom though it has made progress after the U.S. Department of State removed the country from the designation of a “country of particular concern” (CPC) ten years ago.

The USCIRF said it will urge the U.S government to continue discussions with the Vietnamese government about its religious freedom policies, including the religion law and its implementation of international human rights standards.

And other news

 

===== November 07 =====

Association for Support of Victims of Torture Debuts in Saigon, Vowing to Bring CAT to Real Life

Defend the Defenders: A group of Vietnamese activists on November 7 declared the establishment of the Association for Support of Victims of Torture in a bid to realize the rights enshrined in the Convention Against Torture (CAT) in Vietnam.

According to the Mobilization Board for the Establishment of the Association for Support of Victims of Torture, Vietnam signed the Convention Against Torture in 2013 and formally ratified this convention in 2015. However, there is big gap between the law and its enforcement.

Torture is still a big issue in the communist-ruled Vietnam and numerous people, including human rights defenders, social activists and political dissidents, have been tortured by the police forces.

As a civil organization, the Association for Support of Victims of Torture will strive to monitor and support the implementation of the CAT, it said in a public statement.

Among the group’s founding members are medical doctor Dinh Duc Long and Nguyen Trang Nhung who obtained master degree on banking and finance in Singapore after graduated the Law University in Ho Chi Minh City.

Last year, the New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report saying police torture is systemic in Vietnam but few perpetrators have been punished.

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

Dozens of people have been killed and tortured in police stations nationwide since the beginning of 2015.  Many people have been brutally beaten by police for minor infractions.

State media has reported a number of victims of miscarriage of justice as their sentences were based on coercion as result of police torture. These victims included Mr. Huynh Van Nen from the central province of Binh Thuan, Luong Ngoc Phi from the northern province of Thai Binh, and Nguyen Thanh Chan from the northern province of Bac Giang.

Mr. Nen and Mr. Chan were wrongly convicted in murder cases. They were freed after spending over ten years in prison, and received respective compensations of billions of dong.

They said they were tortured by police investigators in the two murder cases in which the real killers confessed and turned themselves in after years of hiding.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/11/11/association-for-support-of-victims-of-torture-debuts-in-saigon-vowing-to-bring-cat-to-real-life/

——————–

Hanoi-based Activist Assaulted for Second Time within Ten Days

Defend the Defenders: On November 5, plainclothes agents in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi attacked local activist Ngoc Anh, the second assault against him within ten days.

The anti-China activist said he was beaten by four thugs wearing masks when he returned from work. Due to the attack, Anh suffered a number of injuries to his head, nose, foots and other places on his body.

In the late night of October 26, a group of thugs used stones and wooden bars to beat him when he returned from a hospital where his father was under medical treatment. The attackers caused serious injuries on his head.

Anh has participated in a number of peaceful demonstrations to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). On his Facebook page, he has written materials to promote multi-party democracy and human rights.

He is one of many Vietnamese activists who have been assaulted by plainclothes agents recently.

Vietnam’s 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, the government has hired thugs or sent plainclothes agents to assault and discourage activists from political advocacy.

Meanwhile, authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa continue to harass pro-democracy activist Nguyen Trung Ton and his family. 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.

===== November 08 =====

Viet Nam: Crackdown on human rights amidst Formosa related activism

Amnesty International: A nationwide crackdown against human rights defenders and activists engaged in calls for transparency and accountability in the Vietnamese government’s handling of the environmental disaster that has gripped the country is intensifying. A recent wave of arrests in different parts of Viet Nam is taking place against a background of threats, harassment, intimidation and surveillance of those engaged in activism relating to the disaster all across the country.

Since April 2016, Viet Nam has been rocked by an environmental catastrophe that has caused the deaths of huge levels of fish stocks in central coastal provinces. The resulting fallout from the disaster is said to have impacted on the lives of 270,000 people in the affected provinces. In June, following weeks of calls for information on the cause of the catastrophe, a steel plant owned by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastics Group was deemed responsible by the government.

Despite Formosa publicly accepting blame for the incident and pledging to pay USD500 million in compensation to those affected, calls for accountability and increased transparency in relation to the incident and the distribution of compensation have been ongoing for months, with unprecedented levels of demonstrations and febrile online commentary.

On 6 November 2016, Lưu Văn Vịnh, a pro-democracy activist, became the latest victim in the authorities’ apparent efforts to crackdown on criticism of their handling of the disaster. He was arrested in Hồ Chí Minh City in the south of the country and charged with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s adminstration” under Article 79 of the Penal Code, a charge which carries a penalty of between five years and life imprisonment, or the death penalty.

Lưu Văn Vịnh is from the northern province of Hải Dương, he moved to Hồ Chí Minh City last year where he has taken part in a number of demonstrations, including ones relating to Formosa. In July, he established the Coalition of Self-Determination [for] Vietnamese People, which seeks to end the rule of the Vietnamese Communist Party. He is said to have since left the coalition.

Amnesty International has received information that three others with links to Lưu Văn Vịnh were also arrested on 6 November. Đỗ Phi Trường and Tuấn Đoàn are believed to have been arrested at a meeting with Lưu Văn Vịnh while the third individual, Nguyễn Văn Đức Do, an activist from Huế city, is said to have been arrested after visiting Lưu Văn Vịnh’s home. Đỗ Phi Trường is detained at Bình Hòa Hưng police station; Tuấn Đoàn is at No 4 Phạm Văn Lưu police station; while Nguyễn Văn Đức Do is at No 4 Phan Đăng Lưu in Phú Nhuận district.

The arrests follow that of Dr Hồ Văn Hải, an online activist who has used his blog to advocate for transparency and accountability in relation to the disaster. Dr Hải was arrested on 2 November in Hồ Chí Minh City. Amnesty International understands that Dr Hải is facing charges under Article 88 of the Penal Code, “spreading propaganda against the state”, which carries a prison sentence of between three and 20 years.

Another blogger, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, known as blogger Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom), who was arrested on 10 October in Nha Trang in Khánh Hòa province and who has also been engaged in activism relating to the disaster has also been charged under Article 88.

The arrests of these individuals represent an upturn in the use of the criminal justice system in a crackdown against human rights defenders and activists engaged in advocacy relating to the disaster which has included intimidation and harassment, and widescale surveillance of activists.

On 5 November, former prisoner of conscience Trương Minh Tam was arrested in the capital Hà Nội, in the north of the country, and questioned in relation to travel he had undertaken to Ninh Thuận province last month. Trương Minh Tam has been engaged in activism relating to the disaster since its beginning.

In April, he was arrested and tortured by police when he attempted to travel to affected areas and report on the event. His latest arrest coincided with the timing of the final exam for his law degree which he was prevented from attending. Trương Minh Tam is a member of the Viet Nam Path Movement which promotes human rights and advocates for political reform in Viet Nam.

Father Đặng Hữu Nam, a Catholic priest who has assisted 506 fishermen whose livelihoods have been affected by the disaster to file criminal complaints requesting compensation, has been subjected to surveillance, death threats, arrests and beatings by security police and individuals in plain clothes. The attempts by the fishermen to file the complaints were met with intimidation and harassment, as well as obstacles which sought to prevent them from traveling to the courthouse in Kỳ Anh, Hà Tĩnh to lodge them. All 506 complaints were eventually rejected by the Hà Tĩnh court on procedural grounds.

Other activists who have engaged in demonstrations and other activities have also faced threats and intimidation. Nguyễn Văn Tráng has been targeted through public denunciations in local media, on the radio and on neighbourhood loudspeakers. Former prisoner of conscience Paulus Lê Văn Sơn has been subjected to surveillance, denounced in local media and now fears for his safety. Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn and his family have faced repeated harassment, including surveillance, public denunciation, destruction of market produce for sale and verbal threats from persons in plain clothes.

Amnesty International calls on Viet Nam to uphold and facilitate the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Viet Nam is a state party.

The authorities should specifically ensure an immediate end to arbitrary arrests, prosecutions, and harassment of human rights defenders and activists calling for transparency and accountability for the environmental disaster that occurred in April 2016.

In addition, the Viet Nam authorities should release immediately and unconditionally Lưu Văn Vịnh, Nguyễn Văn Đức Do, Đỗ Phi Trường, Tuấn Đoàn, Nguyễn Văn Đức Do, Dr Hồ Văn Hải, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh who are prisoners of conscience held for their peaceful activism, and drop all charges against them.

——————–

Authorities in Hue Continue to Harass Catholic Priest Phan Van Loi

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Vietnam’s former capital city of Hue continue to harass local dissident Catholic priest Phan Van Loi, blocking him from attending meetings with other priests and followers.

On November 8, father Loi had a meeting with other priests at a church about 1 km from his private residence. When he went out, a group of plainclothes agents appeared and blocked his way, saying they will not allow him to go.

Police have kept constant surveillance on priest Loi, who is an outspoken government critic.

Priest Loi informed Defend the Defenders that his house was attacked with stones and dirty mess during the late evening of November 13. Several months ago, thugs also did the same acts.

Father Loi, who speaks out on issues related to human rights, the environment and multi-party democracy, has not been allowed by Hue’s authorities to work as Catholic priest since 2001.

===== November 11 =====

Religious Freedom Remains Part of Concerns in Vietnam: USCIRF

Defend the Defenders: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that Vietnam still has a long way to go before it fully respects religious freedom though it has made progress after the U.S. Department of State removed the country from the designation of a “country of particular concern” (CPC) ten years ago.

USCIRF’s Chair Thomas J. Reese said “Vietnam is at a crossroads.” He noted that “Its government needs to stop oppressing believers and enact legislation that respects religious freedom. If it does not, USCIRF will have to continue calling for its designation as a country of particular concern.”

The USCIRF said in its latest press release that many individuals and religious communities in Vietnam are able to exercise their religion or belief freely, openly, and without fear but the country has still put some control over the freedom to practice faiths and beliefs.

In addition, local authorities have harassed and discriminated against religious organizations that do not have government recognition in some areas.

The scope and scale of these violations make clear that Vietnam still is a long way from respecting the universal right to freedom of religion or belief as defined by international law and covenants, the USCIRF said on its website.

Vietnam’s draft law on religion and belief, which the National Assembly is expected to consider later this month, presents the government with a stark choice: either it can opt for positive change that reflects international religious freedom standards or it can maintain the status quo.

The USCIRF said it continues to keep an eye on this new law governing religion.

It said that the new law should respect religious freedom, including voluntary, easy, and nonintrusive registration requirements, the assignment of clergy and the scheduling of activities should not be managed by the government, and believers should be protected from officials who abuse their authority.

The USCIRF said it will urge the U.S government to continue discussions with the Vietnamese government about its religious freedom policies, including the religion law and its implementation of international human rights standards.

Vietnam: At a Crossroads, 10 Years after CPC Designation Removed

===== November 12 =====

Appeal Court for Prominent Vietnamese Land Right Activist Set on November 30

Defend the Defenders: Hanoi-based land right activist Can Thi Theu will have appeal hearing on November 30, more than two months after the first trial in which she was imprisoned in a trumped-up case.

On September 20, the People’s Court of Dong Da district in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi sentenced the land rights activist to 20 months in prison on charges of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code.

The trial, which failed to meet international standards for fair trial according to the defendant’s lawyers, was carried out in maximum security as authorities in Hanoi deployed hundreds of police officers and militia to the areas near the courtroom.

Many activists, land petitioners and relatives of Mrs. Theu, including her two sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, were barred from entering the courtroom. Police also took around 50 of them into custody and detained them at Ha Dong district about 15 kilometers from the court. Many of them, including Mr. Tu and Mr. Phung The Dung (known by his Facebook nickname Dung The Phung), were severely beaten by police officers and plainclothes agents in police station.

This was the second time the 54-year-old land rights activist and human rights defender has been sentenced to imprisonment. In April 2014, she and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem were arrested while filming the land seizure conducted by Hanoi’s authorities. Five months later, the couple was convicted of resisting on-duty state officials under Article 257 of the Penal Code. She was sentenced to 15 months in prison and her husband to 18 months which was later reduced to 14 months.

After being released last year, Mrs. Theu 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 assistant 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.

Theu 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 and killing hundreds of tons of fish in April-May.

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

Theu has been the 18th activist being sentenced so far this year, according to Defend the Defenders’ statistics.

Responding to Theu’s second imprisonment, Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division of Human Rights Watch said “People like Can Thi Theu don’t originally choose to become land rights activists, but when they are facing loss of land and livelihood, there is no choice. If there were any justice in Vietnam, Thi Theu would be working on her farm in peace, instead of heading to prison after an unjust trial.”

“Can Thi Theu is yet another victim of Vietnam’s kangaroo courts, where guilt and prison sentences are determined by the ruling communist party, and there is no respect for fair trial standards or justice. The real measure of the Vietnam government’s dictatorial practices in its systematic denial of the right of peaceful protest. This 20 month sentence is an affront to Vietnam’s international obligations to respect human rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly,” Mr. Robertson said.

“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,” said Adams. “But now it puts those who make the same point in prison.”

On the same day, the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders issued a statement strongly condemning the sentencing of Mrs. Theu as it is solely related to her peaceful and legitimate work for the promotion and protection of land rights in Vietnam.

The London-based Amnesty International on September 20 issued a public statement calling on Vietnam to “quash the ruling and to cease their continuing intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and activists. The authorities should immediately end the misuse of the legal and criminal justice system to prevent the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the country.”

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/11/11/appeal-court-for-prominent-vietnamese-land-right-activist-set-on-november-30/

===== November 12 =====

Three Vietnamese Activists Still in Detention after Mass Arrest Last Sunday, All Detainees Tortured

Defend the Defenders: Police in Ho Chi Minh City are still holding three local activists after the mass arrest last Sunday, human rights defenders have said.

On November 6, security forces in Vietnam’s biggest economic hub detained at least seven activists namely Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Do Phi Truong (Mac Van Phi), Tuan Doan and three guys with short names Tuan, Hung and Hoan (or Hoan Thanh Dia).

So far, Do Phi Truong, Tuan Doan, Tuan and Hung were released while Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do and Hoan are still held in the Phan Dang Luu detention facility which is known for holding political prisoners.

The detainees have been tortured during interrogation, HCMC-based activist Hoang Dung said his sources informed him. Do Phi Truong, who was arrested after visiting Vinh before lunch on Sunday, and other released detainees also confirmed that they were tortured during the three-day detention and were not supplied with food.

Mr. Vinh, who founded the Coalition for Self-determined Vietnamese People in mid July, and his friend were beaten and arrested when they were taking a lunch at Vinh’s private residence in HCMC, said Le Thi Thap, his wife who was also at home on that day.

Mrs. Thap said the police did not show an arrest warrant during the arrest. They just announced that he was arrested and charged with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the Penal Code.

Until now, the Department of Public Security in HCMC has not confirmed the arrests while the state media has not publicized news on these detentions as it did in other previous political arrests.

The arrests were said to be linked to the Coalition for Self-determined Vietnamese People. Mr. Vinh was the president of the newly-established organization which aims to end the communists’ political monopoly. All major issues of the country should be decided by the people via referendums, according to its founding statement.

However, Vinh was reported to have left the coalition and was planning to set up another organization to fight for multi-party democracy and enhance human rights in the nation.

Vinh, 49, participated in many peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi and HCMC to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and Formosa’s discharge of huge amount of toxic industrial waste into sea waters in the central province of Ha Tinh which caused massive death of fisheries in four central coastal provinces.

He had been detained many times, including the three-day arrest in May after taking part in a peaceful demonstration on environmental issue.

The arrests of Vinh and other group members is part of Vietnam’s intensifying crackdown against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders amid increasing public awareness about the country’s socio-economic problems, including systemic corruption and widespread environmental pollution.

On October 10, Vietnam arrested prominent blogger and human rights activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and three weeks later, it arrested well-known blogger Ho Hai. The two bloggers were accused of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88.

Vietnam has imprisoned around twenty activists and detained nearly ten others so far this year. In addition, hundreds of activists have been brutally tortured by police officers and assaulted by plainclothes agents.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and strive to hold the country under a one-party regime. The security forces have been requested to prevent the establishment of opposition parties.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/11/12/three-vietnamese-activists-still-in-detention-after-mass-arrest-last-sunday/