Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly November 28-December 04, 2016: Land Right Activist Losses Appeal, Sent Back to Prison

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Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | December 04, 2016

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On November 30, the People’s Court in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi rejected the appeal of local land right activist Can Thi Theu, upholding the 20-month sentence given by the lower court two months ago on allegation of causing public disorders under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.

On the day of the appeal hearing, Hanoi’s authorities deployed a large number of police officers, plainclothes agents and militia to block the areas near the court building to prevent Mrs Theu’s relatives, local activists and land petitioners from attending the open hearing. Many activists were detained while trying to approach the court building, and one of Theu’s son was beaten by police officers.

Vietnam’s persecution against local activists continues with the brutal beating of two activists were by plainclothes agents. Hanoi’s police were suspected of throwing dirty mess at a private house of blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy.

On the occasion of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day [November 29], Civil Rights Defenders urged the international community to highlight the specific risks and needs of women human rights defenders and to recognize their important work and step up the pressure to campaign for the release of Vietnamese woman human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who was arrested on October 10 and charged with anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

And other news

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===== November 28 =====

Vietnam’s New Law May Restrict Religious Freedom and Practice, Activists Say

Christianity Daily: Vietnam passed a new ‘Law on Belief and Religion’ last week which may curtail freedom of religion in the country, according to media reports.

The bill was passed with 84.58 percent of votes.

The details of the law have not been disclosed to the public but activist organizations fear that the legislation will compel religious organizations to register before being able assemble at houses of worship and practice their faith.

The draft of the bill was introduced last year and was expected to uphold freedom of religion and belief, but the direction of drafting was observed to be more inclined towards controlling religious organizations in Vietnam.

“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,” said Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s Chief Executive. “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.

Vo Tran Nhat, Executive Secretary of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, also voiced the same opinion that the law inhibits freedom of religion rather than promote it as claimed by the government.

“They’re going to adopt a new law, a law on religion. This law is not a law on religion; it’s just a law on how to manage the control of religion,” he told World Watch Monitor. “The regime just says you have the freedom of religion [only] if you respect all the conditions of the party. It means, if you want to organize an event, you have to demand permission. If you want to create a church, you have to pass an exam, of several years – I think it’s about 10 years, or 5 or 10 years. And if there is no problem, then you can have the [status] of recognized religion.”

===== November 29 =====

International Women Human Rights Defenders Day

Civil Rights Defenders: Often situated at the perilous forefront of human rights work, in some of the most repressive societies in the world, women human rights defenders challenge power structures that are based on stereotypes, discrimination and misogynistic attitudes. Many women human rights defenders have become role models by breaking new ground for speaking out for those who can’t.

Writing under the pen name Me Nam, which translates into Mother Mushroom, and using her words as a tool for change, Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh is one of several women human rights defenders who is currently suffering the consequences of advocating for human rights in one of these repressive societies. On 10 October, she was arbitrarily detained by Vietnamese authorities, accused of spreading propaganda against the state simply for exercising her right to freedom of expression.

Since her detention no one has been allowed to visit Me Nam, not even her mother or her two children, said Marie Månson, Programme Director for Human Rights Defenders at Risk at Civil Rights Defenders. We are calling on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Me Nam. Until she is released the authorities must ensure that Me Nam, has access to a lawyer, her family and adequate medical care.

Arbitrary detention is one of the several risks that women human rights defenders are particularly exposed to when using their freedom of expression as a tool to promote other people’s human rights and to challenge fundamental assumptions about stereotypes and gender roles within their communities.

Harassment, intimidation and threats of sexual violence are other common violations that are frequently used by both state officials and non-state actors to silence the voices of women human rights defenders around the world. Public smear campaigns or ridicule as such, often laced with sexual innuendo, psychological pressure and sexual violence, are further examples of the specific risks of being a women human rights defender.

In recognition of this year’s International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, Civil Rights Defenders asks the international community to highlight the specific risks and needs of women human rights defenders and to recognise their important work. For women human rights defenders who, like Me Nam, are today in detention, we take this opportunity to show our support and we urge the international community to step up the pressure to campaign for her release.

International Women Human Rights Defenders Day

===== November 30 =====

Hanoi Court Upholds 20-month Sentence for Land Right Activist, Many Relatives and Friends Detained near Courtroom

Defend the Defenders: On November 30, the People’s Court in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi rejected the appeal of local land right activist Can Thi Theu, upholding the lower court’s 20-month sentence given two months ago.

Lawyer Ha Huy Son, one of Mrs. Theu’s lawyers, said the appeal court rejected the defending statement of his client, saying she is guilty of causing public disorders under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.

The decision of the appeal court is injustice, the Hanoi-based lawyer said after the hearing which lasted a few hours.

Hanoi’s authorities deployed a large number of police officers, plainclothes agents and militia to block the areas near the court building to prevent Mrs. Theu’s relatives, local activists and land petitioners from attending the open hearing.

Two sons of the defendant, Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong, and dozens of activists were taken to and detained at different police stations in the city from early morning when they tried to gather in areas near the courtroom. Police released them after the hearing ended. Mr. Tu said he was beaten by plainclothes agents upon the detention, and handcuffed and tortured by police officers in the Phuc Xa police station.

Many activists, including well-known blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, former teachers Vu Manh Hung and Tran Thi Thao reported on social networks that they were barred by local authorities from going out during the day. Plainclothes agents stationed near their private residences since very early morning of Wednesday, they said.

Mrs. Theu became land petitioner ten years ago when authorities in Hanoi confiscated their cultivation land for property project development. She and other farmers in Duong Noi ward disagreed with the low compensation prices offered by the Ha Dong district’s authorities who later sold the grabbed land for much higher prices.

She and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem were arrested in 2014 while photographing the land seizure and later were imprisoned on charge of resisting on-duty state officials. After being released in July last year, she continued to lead Duong Noi farmers to hold peaceful street demonstrations to demand the return of their land.

She also attended many peaceful demonstrations to condemn police power abuse as well as participated in numerous events on environmental issues and human rights.

In order to suppress her family and intimidate other land petitioners, Hanoi’s authorities arrested her on June 10, charging her with causing public disorders. In the first trial on September 20, she was given 20 months imprisonment.

After the trial, many international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as domestic independent civil societies and local activists condemned the sentence, urging Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release her.

On the day of the appeal hearing, Deputy Director of Asia Division of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson issued a statement saying “The only real justice that the Appeal Court could have provided for Can Thi Theu was to dismiss these bogus charges and immediately release her, but this being Vietnam and its kangaroo courts, there was never any possibility of that. Sending Can Thi Theu back to prison doesn’t change the fact peacefully protesting the unjust confiscation of land should not be considered a crime. The Vietnamese government should urgently amend the land law and its grievance processes to protect farmers’ rights, not to punish them for voicing their opinions and demanding action on their claims. After all, how can a farmer like Can Thi Theu survive if the land that she farms, which is the one thing that sustains her, is stripped away?”

Earlier this month, the U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network honored Mrs. Theu with 2016 Human Rights Award, together with human rights lawyer Vo An Don, land right activist Tran Ngoc Anh and the Vietnam Blogger Network.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Theu is among 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International urged Vietnam to release unconditionally and immediately.

===== December 02 =====

Vietnamese Activist Kidnapped, Tortured and Robbed by Plainclothes Agents

Defend the Defenders: On December 02, Nguyen Cong Huan, a human rights activist and environmentalist in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An, was kidnapped, tortured and robbed by a group of local plainclothes agents when he went to a wedding party of his fellow in Vinh city.

Mr. Huan took a bus near his house in Hop Thanh commune, Yen Thanh district to go to the wedding party of former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Dinh Cuong in Vinh. He did not know that a group of local policemen in plainclothes were also on the bus preparing to ambush him.

When the bus nearly arrived in the city, the plainclothes agents violently took him out of the bus and started to beat him. Later, they took him in a car and drove to a remote area in the mountainous district of Thanh Chuong.

The attackers beat him everywhere on his body, causing numerous severe injuries, including in his right eye.

They took off his clothes and went away with his two cell phones and wallet which had VND1.4 million ($60).

Huan, a Catholic follower who has participated in many peaceful demonstrations on human rights and environmental issues, had to ask for clothes from people near the area where the attackers left him. With support from a Catholic priest and followers in Thanh Chuong, he successfully came to the wedding party.

Mr. Huan said the assault may be a revenge for his activities which aim to protest against fees of Yen Thanh primary and secondary schools set by local authorities. Huan has also spoken out to protect pro-democracy activists and victims of the environmental catastrophe caused by the discharge of toxic waste of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in the neighbor province of Ha Tinh.

The attack against Huan was similar to the assault by plainclothes agents in Nghe An against a group of nine pro-democracy activists on July 9, in which police kidnapped the members of the Brotherhood of Democracy when they travelled by motorbikes from the central province of Quang Binh to attend a wedding party of a fellow activist in Vinh. The kidnappers also took them to a remote area, beating them and robbing them before leaving the scene.

In addition to detaining and imprisoning local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, Vietnam’s security forces have also suppressed, intimidated and used plainclothes agents to attack them, inflicting severe injuries on the victims.

Among the victims of attacks by plainclothes agents were La Viet Dung, Nguyen Chi Tuyen, Nguyen Tuan Anh, Nguyen Trung Truc, Mai Van Tam, Nguyen Cong Thu, Nguyen Van Thanh, Truong Van Dung and Phung The Dung.

Many international human rights, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged Vietnam’s communist government to stop persecution against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

===== December 03 =====

Hanoi Police Suspected of Beating Activist, Attacking Private Residence of Blogger with Dirty Mess

Defend the Defenders: One activist in Hanoi was beaten brutally while the private residence of another was attacked with dirty mess on December 02, and the perpetrators were likely plainclothes agents, the two said on social networks.

Blogger Dinh Hong Quyen, who has actively participated in charity and pro-democracy campaigns, was assaulted by a group of plainclothes agents when he was traveling on Dinh Cong street.

The attackers broke his nose and caused other injuries on his body, the victim said, suggesting the assault may be a retaliation of Hanoi’s police for giving assistance to land petitioners and covering news on the suppression against Hanoi’s activists on the day of appeal of land rights activist Can Thi Theu on November 30.

Meanwhile, blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of the unsanctioned Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), said his house was attacked with dirty mess of waste oil, decaying shrimp and two dog heads during the night of Friday.

In the morning of Saturday, Mr. Thuy blamed the police in Thanh Tri district where he resides for the attack. He tried to contact a senior police officer who is head of the police team responsible for conducting surveillance on his house by cell phone but the cop did not answer.

Two days ago, Mr. Thuy organized a small party with the participation of many activists in Hanoi to celebrate the 68th International Human Rights Day [December 10].

Recently, Hanoi police has maintained close surveillance on Mr. Thuy and many other activists, not allowing them to go out to prevent them from participating in peaceful gatherings.

Persecution against local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders has been in all corners in Vietnam recently.

On the same day, pro-democracy activist and human rights defender Nguyen Cong Huan from Yen Thanh district, Nghe An, was kidnapped, tortured and robbed by a group of plainclothes agents when he travelled by bus to attend a wedding party of his fellow in Vinh city.

===== December 04 =====

Vietnam’s New Law May Restrict Religious Freedom and Practice, Activists Say

Pulse News Agency: Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) on Friday said it discovered 1.75 million laborers who were children or adolescents, mostly in big cities.

Dang Nam, the Head of the Department of Children Protection and Care under the MOLISA, said 67 per cent of the laborers work in agriculture sector, 16 per cent in construction and 17 per cent in other services.

He said that the rate of unschooled children also remained high.

He added that “as many as 52 per cent of the surveyed children left school, while 45.2 per cent are still attending school and 2.8 per cent never accessed any school.”

On average, he noted, the children work between 11 and 16 hours each day at low wages.

“Those who work in restaurants receive 1.8 to 2 million Vietnamese dong (about 80.7 to 89.7 dollars) per month, while many are unpaid,’’ Nam said.

Meanwhile, the MOLISA Deputy Minister, Dao Lan, said the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuca, had approved a four-year program in June this year to tackle child labor, spanning from 2016 to 2020.

He explained that under the program, measures would be implemented to protect children and models would be set up to equip children with skills to protect themselves and support their families.

“At the same time, inspections and strict punishments on child labor abuse will be strengthened, along with education on child abuse prevention,’’ Lan said.

Vietnam is facing many challenges on how to deal with child labor as the awareness of children, their families and employers remain poor.

Lan stressed the need to improve the capacity of law enforcement agencies, as well as engage the society, including children’s families, businesses, trade unions and social organizations to end child labor.