Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly November 21-27: Vietnam Continues Political Crackdown, Arrests Third Activist in Relation with Pro-democracy Group
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | November 27, 2016
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Vietnam’s government has continued its crackdown on local dissent, arresting a Buddhist monk in relation to a newly-established pro-democracy group called the Coalition of Vietnamese People.
On November 16, security forces came to arrest Phan Trung in his private residence in Duc Trong district, Lam Dong province, saying his detention is in relation to the coalition which has not gone public. Ten days earlier, police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do who are said to be members of the same organization which aims to fight for multi-party democracy.
All three detainees are held in HCMC. Vinh and Do were officially accused of conducting activities aiming to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the Penal Code and face punishment of from five years in prison to life imprisonment and even death sentence according to Vietnam’s law.
On November 22, the UN Human Rights Office issued a statement calling on Vietnam’s government to release Vinh, Do and blogger Ho Van Hai, who was arrested in October and charged with anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. The Office said it “was also deeply concerned by reports that the activists, who have been held incommunicado in line with Vietnamese law for so-called National Security offences, have been subjected to torture”.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has warned that Vinh and Do are at risk of torture while being held incommunicado. The London-based human rights organization has called on the international community to send petitions to Vietnam’s leaders, urging them to release the detainees immediately and ensure the two activists are treated in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and are not subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in detention.
Vietnam has remained among the worst ranked countries for Internet freedom in Southeast Asia, according to the U.S.-based Freedom House. Based on its criteria, Freedom House graded Internet freedom in Vietnam and Thailand as not free while Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia have partly free grade.
Religious freedom in Vietnam is at serious risk following the passing of the country’s first ever Law on Belief and Religion last week, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has warned.
And other important news
===== November 21, 2016 =====
Vietnam Arrests Buddhist Monk in Relation with Newly-Established Pro-democracy Movement
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces on November 16 arrested Phan Trung, a Buddhist monk from the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, in relation to the newly-established pro-democracy movement called the Coalition of Vietnamese People, social networks have reported.
Nguyen Thien Nhan, a human rights activist and member of the unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) said on his Facebook page that authorities deployed around 40 police officers to Mr. Trung’s private residence in Duc Trong district and arrested him.
His family was not informed about his arrest. Five days later, when his relatives came to Duc Trong district police to ask about him, the police said he was detained under the order of the Ministry of Public Security and in relations to the Coalition of Vietnamese People whose establishment has not been publicized.
Currently, Trung is under detention in Ho Chi Minh City, the police said.
Mr. Trung, 40, became a Buddhist monk ten years ago. He has often participated in peaceful demonstrations against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), and also publicly supported multi-party democracy and human rights enhancement, said a local pastor named Chen.
Trung is the third activist detained in relations to the Coalition of Vietnamese People.
On November 6, security forces in HCMC arrested Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do and many other activists. Several days later, they officially charged Vinh and Do with carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code.
Police released other detainees after torturing and interrogating them for their connection with the coalition.
The families of Vinh and Do have complained that the police brutally beat them while they were being detained and tortured them in police custody.
If Mr. Trung is also accused of carrying out anti-state activities, he, like Vinh and Do, will be kept for four months at least in police detention without being allowed to meet with relatives and lawyers under domestic laws.
On July 15, Vinh founded the Coalition for Self-determined Vietnamese People and became its first president. The coalition vows to end the communist party’s political monopoly in Vietnam by peaceful means.
However, he was said to have left the coalition and set up the Coalition for Vietnamese People with similar goals.
Vinh was said to be visiting Trung’s private residence in Lam Dong when he was arrested.
The arrests of Vinh and other activists are 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, well-known blogger Ho Van Hai. The two bloggers were accused of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.
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.
According to international human rights organizations, Vietnam holds between 80 and 130 prisoners of conscience.
===== November 22 =====
UN Decries New Vietnam Activist Arrests
Indian Express: The United Nations human rights watchdog called on Vietnam on Monday to release three rights activists who were recently detained and investigate allegations the trio have been tortured in custody. Communist Vietnam routinely silences dissent with activists subject to arbitrary detention and lengthy jail spells. The statement from the UN Human Rights Office referred to the recent detentions of Ho Van Hai, a prominent blogger, and Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do two political activists pushing for greater freedoms in the autocratic state. All three were arrested earlier this month and have been held incommunicado since.
Calling for their release, the statement said the UN “was also deeply concerned by reports that the activists, who have been held incommunicado in line with Vietnamese law for so-called National Security offences, have been subjected to torture”. Vietnam uses a raft of broadly worded national security laws to jail dissidents and critics. All newspapers and television channels are state-run in Vietnam and private media is banned.
But blog sites and social media forums have become an increasingly popular arena for citizens to air anti-government grievances. Le Thi Thap, the wife of Luu Van Vinh, told AFP she has been unable to reach her husband since police came to their home in southern Ho Chi Minh city on 6 November. “He was accused of conspiracy to overthrow the state. But my husband is a kind person. I don’t know what my husband did as I never go deep into his work,” she said.
Amnesty International Raises Concerns about Two Vietnamese Activists Held Incommunicado
Defend the Defenders: Amnesty International has raised its concerns about two Vietnamese pro-democracy activists who are at risk of torture while being held incommunicado.
In its statement released on November 22, the London-based human rights organization said Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do, who were arrested on November 6 on allegation of conducting activities aiming to “overthrow” the state under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, are held in incommunicado detention and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
Police in Ho Chi Minh City have refused relatives and lawyers access to the detainees. Currently, the two activists are held at 4 Phan Dang Luu detention center, Phu Nhuan district for investigation into their alleged links to the “Coalition of Vietnamese People”, a newly-established pro-democracy group.
The two activists face strict punishment of between five years and life imprisonment, or the death penalty.
Amnesty International said incommunicado detention is a practice which encourages torture and other ill-treatment, in violation of the prohibition on torture under international human rights treaties including the Convention against Torture to which Vietnam is a state party.
Mr. Vinh, 49, was beaten in front of his family around the head, face and abdomen by plain clothed men, taken away and then brought back two hours later when the police arrived with an arrest warrant. After repeated attempts to see him, his family was provided with formal notification of the reasons for his arrest on November 17. The same day, an application by their lawyer to represent Luu Van Vinh was rejected. Nguyen Van Duc Do’s family did not know where he was detained until November 11, and then only received formal notification on November 17.
Both men had taken part in peaceful protests about the Formosa ecological disaster in April, and in anti-China demonstrations. Several others arrested around the same time were released after being held for up to five days. One reported that they were beaten while in detention.
Amnesty International has launched a global campaign until January 3 calling people in the world to write immediately in Vietnamese, English or their own language to:
– Calling on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do if they are not to be tried for a recognizable criminal offence;
– Calling on Vietnam to ensure that the two activists are treated in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of prisoners, and are not subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in detention;
– and calling on the Vietnamese communist government to ensure that the detainees have access to a lawyer, family and adequate medical care.
The appeals can be sent to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Minister of Public Security To Lam and Deputy Prime Minister cum Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh or Vietnam’s diplomatic agencies in the senders’ countries.
Amnesty International also informed the international community that 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 the Southeast Asian nation. Vaguely worded articles in the national security section of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code are frequently used to criminalize 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 79 (Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration) is among articles used to detain, prosecute and imprison dissidents for their pro-democracy 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.
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 for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards, said Amnesty International. Prisoners of conscience are commonly held in incommunicado pre-trial detention when risk of torture and other ill-treatment is high. Although Vietnam has ratified the Convention against Torture, which came into effect in the country in February 2015, insufficient steps have been taken to bring the country into compliance with its obligations under that treaty, Amnesty International noted.
In July, Amnesty International released its report on conditions in Vietnam’s prisons Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and Ill-treatment of Prisoners of Conscience in Viet Nam. You can read the report following the link: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/4187/2016/en/.
Defend the Defenders: Many Vietnamese lawmakers have expressed their concerns about the draft law on guard forces submitted to the country’s legislative body National Assembly, saying it would allow police officers to abuse their power, state media has reported.
During a discussion on the draft law submitted by the Ministry of Public Security on November 21, many legislators disagreed with Article 21 of the bill which empowers police guards to open fire in some circumstances.
Retired Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Duoc, president of the Vietnam Veterans Association, said Article 21 may be abused in reality and should be removed from the bill.
Lieutenant Duong Van Thong echoed, saying the regulation may lead to serious consequences.
Minister of Public Security To Lam said his ministry will take lawmakers’ feedbacks to amend the draft law in order to ensure human rights while create conditions for police guards to fulfill their tasks.
In the communist-controlled Vietnam, police power abuse is on the rise. More and more people and criminal suspects have been found dead or with severe injuries in police stations nationwide.
===== November 23 =====
Vietnam Remains Worst Place for Internet Users in Southeast Asia: Freedom House
Defend the Defenders: The U.S.-based Freedom House has listed Vietnam as the worst place for Internet users in the Southeast Asia in its annual Internet freedom report released recently.
Vietnam has its own share of internet censorship, which comes as no surprise under the leadership of the ruling Communist Party, an organization not known to appreciate political satire or criticism.
As of 2015, 15 bloggers were still in prison with three more sentenced this year, according to statistics from human rights organizations.
Freedom House reports that Vietnamese internet users tend to practice self-censorship because the government has an ever-changing and “unpredictable” list of banned topics, so they often stay away from controversial topics.
Facebook has been blocked on occasion, as have certain webpages. Threats can also be carried out offline, as 40 bloggers and rights activists were beaten by plains clothes police in 2015, according to Human Rights Watch.
Based on its criteria, Freedom House graded Internet freedom in Vietnam and Thailand as not free while Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia received partly free grade.
Meanwhile, Freedom House said that Internet freedom has declined around the world for the sixth year in a row thanks to censorship and government monitoring of messaging apps.
===== November 25 =====
Christian Today: Religious freedom in Vietnam is at serious risk following the passing of the country’s first ever Law on Belief and Religion last week.
The law passed on 18 November, despite concerns that it does not conform to international standards on freedom of religion or belief, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has warned.
“Although the final text has not yet been made public, it is not expected to have altered significantly from previous drafts,” the charity reported.
“The text of the law has been revised numerous times. Some improvements to the draft were made during the revision process, possibly in response to the feedback offered by religious communities. However, these improvements, and the inclusion of basic guarantees of the right to freedom of religion or belief, were undermined by onerous registration requirements and excessive State interference in the internal affairs of religious organizations.”
Vietnam’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion in principle, but, like China, the Communist government tightly controls independent religious practice. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), it represses “individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority”, including independent Buddhists, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Christians.
A number of advocates for religious freedom remain imprisoned in the country and authorities have “moved decisively” in recent years to restrict freedom of expression and religion even further, the USCIRF says. Religious groups have to formally register with the government, but are routinely denied. The Hmong Protestants have experienced particular persecution in the last few years, and Vietnam has been named a ‘country of particular concern’ every year by the USCIRF since 2001.
CSW has urged the Vietnamese government to ensure that registration is not a pre-requisite for the exercise of freedom of religion or belief.
The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief previously made a similar request.
Chief executive of CSW Mervyn Thomas said: “When the possibility of a law on religion was first mentioned, some were hopeful that it would address the obstacles to freedom of religion or belief in the existing regulations. Unfortunately, throughout the drafting process the law continued to focus on the control and management of religious activities, rather than the protection of religious freedom.
“Basic guarantees of the right to freedom of religion or belief must not be undermined by onerous registration requirements, and groups which cannot or choose not to register must not be excluded from the enjoyment of this right. We urge the Vietnamese government to guarantee in law and in practice the right to freedom of religion or belief for all people in Vietnam in line with Article 18 of the ICCPR.”
Of the 93.4 million Vietnamese, more than half identifies with Buddhism. Roman Catholics %make up seven per cent, Cao Dai between 2.5% and 4%; Hoa Hao, 1.5% to 3%; and Protestants, 1% and 2%.
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