Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’s Weekly December 05-11, 2016: EU Urges Vietnam to Respect Human Rights, Release Prisoners of Conscience


Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | December 11, 2016

On December 8, during the 6th round of the EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue conducted in Brussels, the 28-nation bloc urged the Southeast Asian nation to respect human rights and release many prisoners of conscience.

The EU also raised the ongoing harassment and detention of an increasing number of human rights defenders and activists. Furthermore, the bloc highlighted the importance of ensuring that all detainees are able to receive visits, including from lawyers, medical personnel and family members, in line with the Vietnamese Constitution and international human rights provisions.

Vietnam will try two democracy campaigners Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung on charge with attempting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code on December 16. Mr. Kim was arrested in mid-September last year while Mr. Tung was detained one year ago. It is likely the two former political prisoners will receive heavy sentences of between twelve and twenty years, even capital punishment, according to Vietnam’s current law.

Hundreds of Vietnamese activists nationwide complained that they were put under house arrest on Saturday when the world marked the 68th International Human Rights Day. Local authorities deployed plainclothes to station near activists’ private residences, not allowing them to go out on the day. The move was to prevent activists from gathering to celebrate the event, activists said.

Blogger Trinh Ba Phuong, the older son of prominent land right activist Can Thi Theu, said that his mother was sent to the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, about 1,200 km from their native Hanoi. As revenge for local brave activists, Vietnam’s authorities have often sent imprisoned ones to places far from their native locations, making difficult for their families to visit them.

And other important news


===== December 06 =====

Vietnam to Try Two Pro-democracy Activists after Nearly 15 Months of Detention

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam will bring two democracy campaigners Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung to court on charge with attempting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code on December 16, a local activist said.

The People’s Court in the northern province of Thai Binh where the two activists reside, will try them on an open trial which will be likely inaccessible for the defendants’ relatives, friends and social activists similarly to other previous political cases.

If found guilty, the two political dissidents may face imprisonment of between twelve and twenty years, even capital punishment, according to Vietnam’s current law.

Mr. Kim, 67, was arrested on September 21 last year with a number of documents in his laptop which aimed to promote multi-party democracy to challenge the ruling communist party.

Mr. Kim, 66, is a former lieutenant of the Vietnam People’s Army, and deputy head of the military political department of Thai Binh city before 1990s. He was arrested in July 2009 and charged for attempts to overthrow the people’s government under Article 79. Later, he was sentenced to 5-and-a-half years in jail.

During 1995-2005, he participated in a number of groups which promote multi-party democracy, including the 8406 Bloc.

He assisted farmers whose land was illegally seized by local authorities in seeking justice, and participated in anti-corruption campaigns.

Mr. Kim was honored with the Hellman/Hammett prize given by the New York-based Human Rights Watch in 2009.

Mr. Tung, who was said to work in the same group with Mr. Kim, was a political prisoner, completing his four-year imprisonment in mid 2015. He was re-arrested in mid December last year when he went to work in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.

Mr. Tung is a member of pro-democracy Bloc 8406. After being freed, Mr. Tung committed to continue to fight for multi-party democracy in Vietnam.

Vietnam has used controversial articles such as 79, 88 and 258 in the Penal Code to silence local dissent. Around twenty activists have been imprisoned so far this year, and many others are under detention, including prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and well-known blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh.

Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and they vow to keep the country under a one-party regime. They have ordered the security forces not to allow local dissidents to form opposition parties.

In addition to detention and imprisonment, the Vietnamese have also deployed other tactics to silent local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, including assaulting, blocking businesses of them and their relatives and attacking their private residences with dirty substances.


Vietnam’s Law on Belief and Religion ‘Deeply Flawed’

World Watch Monitor: Vietnam’s National Assembly finally ratified (on 18 Nov.) its Law on Belief and Religion amid extensive criticism from parliamentarians, human rights and religious groups, who deem it to be below international standards for human rights.

The Vietnamese government says that the law, the first of its kind in the socialist republic, will optimise the administration of religious affairs, reported UCA News. But rights groups and lawmakers fear this to be a move to restrict religious freedoms rather than protect them.

The law has been widely criticised throughout the lengthy drafting process, with some 50 civil society organisations, including Amnesty International and Christian Solidary Worldwide, joining their voices with ASEAN Parliamentarians to denounce the nine-chapter-long draft law earlier this year.

In an open letter to the Vietnamese government prior to the ratification of the law, the group of organisations and lawmakers rejected a clause stating that religious groups must be registered and approved by the government in order to practise. The letter condemned this as “excessive state interference in religious organisations’ internal affairs”.

The letter also criticised the law for “vague” wording which, if interpreted flexibly, could potentially be used to ensnare religious groups or individuals. A separate statement issued by Human Rights Watch highlighted particular examples of elusive phrasing, found in clauses prohibiting the use of religion to undermine “national security”, “national unity” and “public order”.

According to the national radio station, Voice of Vietnam, “religious dignitaries told the National Assembly that the approval of the law was a turning point in Vietnam’s religious policy, which encourages religious followers to promote the values of religions and patriotism and combat hostile forces’ intention to sabotage socialism”.

The law has been in the pipeline for over a year, and went through numerous amendments before being ratified in November. Opponents to the law acknowledge that some improvements have been made since the first draft was published on the National Assembly website last year. But a statement published by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) the day after its ratification described it as still “deeply flawed”. The final details of the law, which will come into effect in January 2018, were not released to the public at the time of its ratification by 84.58 per cent of the Assembly’s vote.

However, VCHR’s Executive Secretary Vo Tran Nhat, who analysed the later drafts of the law, told World Watch Monitor in April that, in his view, the new law is designed to “repress and control”.

Thomas Muller, an analyst for Open Doors, which works with minority Christians under pressure around the world, says the imminent legislation could leave Christian groups vulnerable. Already ranked twentieth on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of restrictive countries for Christians, Muller predicts that in Vietnam it will become increasingly difficult for Christians to register their churches and operate freely.

“Whereas there are a few sections in which the new law can be considered to be an improvement for Christians, the regulations on registration in particular will definitely cause churches great difficulties,” he said. “The broad notion of the term ‘foreign’ may well lead to arbitrary interpretations and actions by the state. It is particularly interesting to see that ASEAN lawmakers have also criticised the new law. Since it is highly unusual that ASEAN publically criticises another member country, this will certainly give the authorities in Vietnam something to think about.”

A US State Department report on religious freedom, published in August, noted “significant improvement” in the state of religious freedom in Southeast Asia. Certainly in Vietnam repressive restrictions have slackened off since 1975, when war between North and South Vietnam ended. But in a climate where legislation, policing and surveillance of religious activities have, to a greater or lesser extent, been the norm in government practice for decades, the new law looks unlikely to make the practice of religion any easier.

===== December 07 =====

EU Urged to Push Vietnam to Respect Human Rights

Defend the Defenders: The Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) has called on the EU to pressure Vietnamese authorities to strictly deal with violations of human rights and give out commitments to achieve actual progress in this sector.

In its press released one day ahead of the EU-Vietnam human right dialogue in Belgium on December 8, VCHR said the 28-nation bloc should demand Vietnam’s communist government to free all religious and political prisoners and stop arresting civil society activists and blocking the right to speech, association and religion.

VCHR emphasized that the dialogue on human rights between the EU and Vietnam takes place in the context Hanoi’s authorities are intensifying its persecution against local dissidents, social activists and human right defenders.

VCHR named 2016 a black year for the human rights in Vietnam as its security forces have been oppressing civil society activists and moderate demonstrators in protest against land revocation and natural disasters including the calamity caused by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group in Vietnam’s central coastal region.

This year is also seen a violent year for the press circle when mistreatment have undergone for detainees. The statistics showed that at least 20 political and social activists have been arrested this year.

===== December 08 =====

6th EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

EU External Action: On 8 December 2016 in Brussels the European Union and Vietnam held the sixth round of their annual enhanced Human Rights Dialogue, in the context of the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). Both sides consider human rights to be an important component of their bilateral relations, as recognized in the PCA.

The EU consulted with civil society ahead of the dialogue, holding meetings with NGOs as well as with representatives of the international community.

The Dialogue led to a constructive and extensive exchange on the human rights situation in Vietnam, and allowed for discussions on best practice and the EU’s support to reform efforts. Discussions focused on legal and judicial reforms in Vietnam, the freedoms of expression, of religion, belief, peaceful assembly and association, labor rights, the promotion of the rule of law and due process, combatting torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, capital punishment, support to Vietnamese civil society organizations and to Human Rights Defenders, and engagement within the United Nations framework.

The European Union offered to continue its support, including to the implementation of the UN Convention against Torture, as well as to share best practices in legal review processes. The EU also shared its experience on the fight against trafficking in human beings.

The upcoming visit of the European Parliament Sub-Committee of Human Rights in 2017 provides an opportunity to further inter-parliamentary cooperation on human rights.

The EU also raised the ongoing harassment and detention of an increasing number of human rights defenders and activists. Furthermore, the EU highlighted the importance of ensuring that all detainees are able to receive visits, including from lawyers, medical personnel and family members, in line with the Vietnamese Constitution and international human rights provisions.

A number of individual cases were raised, in particular: Mr. Ngo Hao, Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh (blogger Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, Mr. Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha, Mr Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (blogger Mother Mushroom), Mr. Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, Mr. Doan Huy Chuong, Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang, Mr. Dang Xuan Dieu and the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do.

The EU reiterated that all persons detained for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression should be released.

Cooperation in international fora and the implementation of recommendations from international bodies, in particular those made during the Universal Periodic Review, were also raised. The EU reiterated its encouragement to issue a standing invitation to UN Special Procedures and in particular invitations to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders.

Finally, the EU encouraged Vietnam to ratify and implement remaining international human rights and labour standards and ensure meaningful social dialogue. It welcomed efforts made to allow awareness-raising on the LGBTI rights, and encouraged Vietnam to accelerate its efforts in this area, so that all can participate in public life without discrimination.

The Human Rights Dialogue was followed by meetings with authorities in Belgium, who shared their experience in the fight against trafficking in human beings. The seventh round of the enhanced Human Rights Dialogue will be held in 2017 in Hanoi.

The EU delegation was led by Mr David Daly, Head of Division South East Asia in the European External Action Services (EEAS). The Vietnamese delegation was led by Mr Vu Anh Quang, Director General of the International Organisations Department of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it included representatives from various services, agencies and ministries.


Vietnam Revokes Press Cards of Reporters Involved in Fish Sauce Scandal

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications has withdrawn press cards of a deputy editor-in-chief and an executive of the state-run Thanh Nien newspaper for their involvements in a series of postings related to fish sauce which is said to harm the century-long fish sauce making industry.

Under the decision signed by Minister Truong Minh Tuan on December 5, Deputy Editor-in-chief Dang Ngoc Hoa and General Secretary Vo Van Khoi were punished for their role in posting five articles, including “independent surveys” and “warnings” of toxic arsenic substance in fish sauce, on October 10-17.

The articles reported that the fish sauce which is made by traditional ways (fresh fish soused with salt for months in big jars or wood barrels) is unsafe for human health. Meanwhile, it hailed some products of Vietnam’s Masan Consumer Corporation.

After the posting, the Ministry of Health announced the results of 247 samples of fish sauce (both made in traditional and industrial ways), saying all of them contained no inorganic arsenic which harms people’s health.

On October 23, the Thanh Nien newspaper apologized audience for its series of articles that had contents which were “different from conclusion given by the Ministry of Health” and “subjective and lacking knowledge of arsenic in fish sauce.”

The news agency then removed all relating articles.

Authorities said the reports were misleading or incorrect because they failed to differentiate between highly toxic inorganic arsenic and the less dangerous organic variety found commonly in seafood.

The punishments were issued in the context that Vietnam is making efforts to fight against frauds in food processing. Any activities relating to food safety or harming people’s health have caught public anger.

===== December 10 =====

Vietnam Activists under House Arrest on International Human Rights Day, Some Beaten by Plainclothes Agents

Defend the Defenders: Authorities across Vietnam deployed huge number of plainclothes agents to station near private residences of local activists on December 10, putting them de facto under house arrest in a bid not to allow them to go out to mark the 68th International Human Rights Day.

Hundreds of activists from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Haiphong, Nghe An, Thanh Hoa and other cities and provinces said their houses were blocked by a group of between five to ten plainclothes police officers on the day.

A large number of police officers and militia was also sent to cities’ centers to prevent gathering of activists who had to go out in the evening of Friday.

Blogger Trinh Ba Phuong from Hanoi, a son of imprisoned land right activist Can Thi Theu said he was blocked and beaten by police officers when he tried to catch a taxi to visit other activists. Later, he was detained to a police station in Ha Dong district where he was threatened and under degraded treatment by police officers.

Former political prisoner Nguyen Trung Linh said he was summoned to a local police station in Hanoi and questioned for hours about his call on his Facebook page for peaceful gathering to mark the event.

On December 11, Facebooker Han Tin visited former political prisoner Nguyen Xuan Nghia in Haiphong City. He was knocked down on the street few steps from the host’s house. Mr. Nghia believed that the attackers were police officers in plainclothes as they did many times before against his guests, mostly are activists.

Vietnam is a state party of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, however, the communist government encourages local citizens not to engage in politics. It has used controversial articles such as 79, 88, 245 and 258 of the country’s Penal Code to silence local dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, with around 130 activists being imprisoned.

In addition, authorities have applied other tactics such as persecution, harassment, kidnapping, assaults and economic blockage to deal with local activists.

===== Dec 11 =====

Prominent Land Right Activist Sent to Prison in Central Highlands, Around 1,200 Km from Family

Defend the Defenders:Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has sent prominent land right activist Can Thi Theu, who lose appeal on the trial on November 30, to the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, around 1,200 km from her native Hanoi, the family said.

Mrs. Theu, who was sentenced to 20 months in prison on charge of causing public disorders under Article 245 of the Penal Code, will serve her 14 remaining months in Gia Trung prison in Dak Ta Ley commune, Mang Yang district, she informed her son Trinh Ba Phuong upon arriving the prison.

As revenges for local brave activists, Vietnam’s authorities have often sent imprisoned ones to places far from their native locations, making it difficult for their families to visit them. For examples, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc from Ho Chi Minh City, who is serving his 16-year sentence, was sent to the central province of Nghe An and the distance between the two locations is over 1,400 km.

Conditions in Vietnam’s prisons are very hard, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, especially for political prisoners. Prisoners are subjects to torture and degrading treatments as well as forced labor, many former prisoners of conscience said.

Amnesty International 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 Viet Nam”, see: