Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly January 16-22, 2017: Vietnam Intensifies its Political Crackdown, Arresting Many Activists Ahead of Tet

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | January 22, 2017

Vietnam’s communist government has intensified its political crackdown against local activists after General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam returned from Beijing where the two ruling communist parties pledged to deepen bilateral ties in all fields in order to ensure the political monopoly they enjoy in their respective countries.

On January 21, Vietnam arrested Tran Thi Nga, a human rights activist from the northern province of Ha Nam, charging her with conducting “anti-state propaganda” as per Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code. The arrest came after months of harassment and intimidation against her and her two children.

One day earlier, authorities in the central province of Nghe An kidnapped former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Quoc Oai and later charged him with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 of the Penal Code.

Both Nga and Oai will be held in detention for at least four months pending investigation. They will not be permitted to meet with relatives or lawyers during the investigation period, according to the Vietnamese law in political cases.

In addition to the arrest of blogger Nguyen Van Hoa from the central province of Ha Tinh on January 11 on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, Vietnam also detained land petitioner Tran Thi Mien from Ha Nam province. The latter was charged with resisting on-duty state officials.

On January 19, hundreds of activists gathered in the centers of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to mark the 43rd anniversary of the loss of Hoang Sa (Paracels) to China and pay tribute to 75 soldiers killed by China during the invasion on January 19, 1974. Authorities from the two biggest cities dispersed their peaceful demonstrations, detaining and beating many of them.

The number of ordinary people being killed and beaten by police is rising. Late December last year, three secondary school students, namely Phung Viet Quan, Vu Dinh Hieu and Nguyen Hao Quang of the southern province of Binh Phuoc, became victims of police power abuse. When the trio rode on a motorbike, which is banned in Vietnam, two police officers in Duc Hanh commune, Bu Gia Map district reportedly chased them and beat them with police batons, making their vehicle fell to a street. As a result, Quan died immediately while Hieu and Quang sustained serious injuries.

Mid-January 2017, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security released its first report draft on torture, which found that the number of victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is still very low in the country. According to the report, there were five cases with 26 suspects accused of carrying out torture and inhumane treatments against suspects in criminal cases in the past five years.

Hundreds of prisoners and detainees were reported to have died in police custody in the past few years, according to state media. Police said most of the deaths were caused by illness, while their families believe police torture to be the actual cause.

 

===== January 16 =====

Vietnam Releases First Report Draft on Torture, Claiming to Respect Human Rights

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam has released its first report draft on torture and inhuman treatment of detainees, three years after ratifying the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The report, which was released by the Ministry of Public Security, reaffirmed the right of citizens not to be subjected to torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

According to the report, there were only five cases involving 26 suspects accused of carrying out torture and inhuman treatments against suspects in criminal cases in the past five years.

Many police officers were jailed and two of them were sentenced to five years in prison, the Ministry said, adding that all perpetrators should be strictly punished.

The Ministry said that Vietnam met difficulties in fully implementing the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment due to the country’s specific conditions as well as lack of police officers’ understanding on human rights and their duties.

Vietnam ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2015; however, many people continue to be killed or to suffer severe injuries while being in police custody nationwide.

Dozens of people died in police custody last year. At least two died and two sustained severe injuries due to police attacks in the first weeks of this year.

Human rights defenders said that few perpetrators have been sentenced – to light sentences – by courts which lack independence.

===== January 17 =====

Vietnam to Enhance Internet Censorship amid Social Disagreements

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist government has sought to enhance Internet censorship amid social disagreement with its socio-economic policies by issuing a new circulator on trans-boundary information, which maintains the government’s right to block online content deemed “toxic” to the regime.

Circular 38, issued by the Ministry of Information and Communications, serves as a legal basis to purge Vietnam’s Internet of “ill-intended and toxic” information, according to Le Quang Tu Do, deputy director of the country’s Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information.

Websites, social media and mobile applications provided by foreign entities that have a Vietnamese user base, or businesses that base their servers in Vietnam, all fall into the circular’s scope of governance, Do said.

The circular enables Vietnamese authorities to demand the taking down of “toxic information” as well as the ability to block such content should their providers fail to follow any request, Do stressed.

Among content defined as “toxic” is anti-government propaganda, information that is detrimental to national security, social order and solidarity, and the promotion of war, terrorism and racial and religious discrimination, according to a 2013 government resolution.

Websites and social media pages with monthly traffic of over one million visitors are required to provide their contact details to Vietnamese authorities and cooperate in preventing the dissemination of distorted or harmful content as requested, the circular states. These include but are not limited to sites such as Facebook, Google and YouTube, which have a large user base in Vietnam, Do said.

“If violating content is found, relevant authorities will notify the responsible foreign entity, requesting their cooperation,” Do said, explaining the procedure of handling “toxic information.”

“They are to respond within 24 hours, after which time a second notification will be sent. If they fail to take action within the next 24 hours, necessary measures will be carried out by the relevant authorities.”

In the case of a piece of information that poses a direct threat to Vietnam’s national interests, Vietnamese authorities have the right to immediately impose technical measures to block access to it from within Vietnam, before sending a notice to the responsible entities, Do said.

The block will only be lifted after said entities have followed Vietnam’s requests with regard to the content, Do added.

The Vietnamese communist government has low tolerance to its criticism. The Southeast Asian nation is among the world’s biggest enemies of Internet as it blocks many websites and imprisons a number of online bloggers.

===== January 19 =====

Vietnam Suppresses Anti-China Demonstrations on 43rd Anniversary of Paracels Loss, Detaining Dozens

Defend the Defenders: On January 19, Vietnam’s security forces in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City suppressed peaceful gathering of local activists on the 43rd anniversary of the loss of Hoang Sa (Paracels) to China, detaining dozens of them for hours.

Hundreds of patriotic Vietnamese gathered in the centers of the country’s two largest cities to mark the archipelago’s loss to the giant neighbor country and to pay tribute to 75 naval soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam who lost their lives while protecting the country’s sovereignty against the military invasion of the People’s Liberation Army of China on January 19, 1974.

Authorities of Hanoi and HCM City deployed large numbers of police officers and militia to disperse the peaceful gatherings, detaining dozens of activists. Some activists reported that police officers in Hanoi brutally beat outspoken activist Vu Quang Thuan during the detention.

Hanoi-based teacher Tran Thi Thao and blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, who were also detained at a local police station, said police officers cursed activists, calling them “reactionary forces.”

Many activists, including prominent political dissident Nguyen Dan Que in Saigon and independent blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy complained that local authorities sent plainclothes agents near their private residencies to prevent them from going out to take part in the demonstrations.

Vietnam has peacefully administered Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Spratlys) in the East Sea (South China Sea) since the 17th century. During the Vietnam War, the two archipelagos were under the management of the U.S.-backed Saigon regime.

In 1974, China violently invaded Hoang Sa and 14 years later, Beijing launched military attacks to take over seven reefs controlled by communist Vietnam in Truong Sa. China has illegally been occupying the invaded territories, conducting large-scale reclamation, and deploying heavy weaponry to the areas.

In 2012, Hanoi adopted the Law on the Vietnamese Sea to officially claim both Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. However, Vietnam has only made verbal protests to China’s aggressive moves.

The communist government in Hanoi has violently dispersed anti-China demonstrations. Thousands of patriotic Vietnamese activists have been persecuted since 2007 and many of them have been imprisoned as Hanoi prioritizes political ties with Beijing, which is the biggest economic partner of the Southeast Asian nation.

During the visit of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam to Beijing on January 12-15, the two sides agreed to set aside the territorial and maritime disputes in the East Sea to prioritize comprehensive strategic partnership. The move is considered as Vietnam’s soft resistance to China’s violations of its sovereignty in the resource-rich sea.

===== January 20 =====

Vietnam Continues to Persecute Human Rights Defenders, Targeting Their Children

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in many Vietnamese localities are continuing persecution and intimidation against local human rights defenders, targeting their children, the victims have claimed.

Tran Thi Nga, a human rights defender in the northern province of Ha Nam said local authorities have sent plainclothes police officers to station near her private residence in Phu Ly city. The police officers, with masks on their faces, have stopped her every time she attempted to go out with her two children.

Nga, who is very active in helping workers fight for their rights, as well as land petitioners, reported that on January 19-20, after she asked her neighbor to take her two children to the city’s center to buy foodstuff, plainclothes agents stopped the neighbor’s motorbike with the two children, who are four and six respectively.

Activist Truong Minh Tam in the same province said police also forced him to stay inside his house in Thursday and Friday. He suggested that local security forces do not want him and Nga to go out while they arrested local land petitioner Tran Thi Mien on charges of “causing public disorder.”

Both Tam and Nga have been under constant persecution of the authorities in Ha Nam and Vietnam’s police. They were brutally beaten and detained many times while covering news on human rights violations and environmental issues or participating in peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi and other localities.

Meanwhile, security forces in the central province of Nghe An arrested former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Oai, accusing him of resisting on-duty state officials and leaving the locality without asking permission from the local authorities during his probation period. His friends announced that Oai was kidnapped by Hoang Mai town police late during the night of January 19 while he went fishing near his village.

In 2011, Oai and 13 other young Catholic followers in Nghe An were arrested and charged with conducting activities aiming to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code. He was sentenced to four years in jail and an additional three years under house arrest. He completed his term and was released on August 3, 2015 but he remains under probation until August 2018.

Last week, Dang Xuan Dieu, an activist from the same group who was sentenced to 13 years in jail, was freed but forced into exile in France. Others, including Ho Duc Hoa and Nguyen Dang Minh Man, are still in prison on 13-year and 9-year sentences respectively.

Vietnamese communists, who have ruled the country for decades, vow to keep the country under one-party rule. The communist government has applied a series of measures to silence government critics, social activists and human rights advocates, including arrests and lengthy prison sentences, kidnappings and physical attacks, detention and house arrest as well as individual economic blockade.

Many foreign governments, including the U.S., Australia, the UK and Germany, as well as international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called on Vietnam to end its persecution of local activists; however, the situation has not improved much.

===== January 21 =====

Vietnam Arrests Second Human Rights Defender after Communist Leader Visits China; More Detentions Expected

Defend the Defenders: Well-known human rights defender Tran Thi Nga from Vietnam’s northern province of Ha Nam has become the second activist to be arrested this year, six days after General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong returned from China where he paid an official visit to the northern neighbor country.

On January 21, authorities in Ha Nam deployed a large number of police officers to arrest Ms. Nga, a labor and land rights activist and mother of two children aged six and four. Police also searched her house and took many of her personal items.

Police also arrested her boyfriend, blogger Luong Dan Ly, who is also a pro-democracy activist from Hanoi. They released him one day later.

The state-control Vietnam Television, in its news bulletin of Saturday’s evening, reported information from the Ministry of Public Security that Nga is charged with “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code. If convicted, she will face imprisonment of up to 20 years in jail.

Several days before the arrest, the local authorities sent many plainclothes agents to her private residence in Phu Ly city to prevent her from going out. They even prevented her neighbor from taking her two children to a local store to buy sandwiches for the kids.

Ms. Nga was a migrant worker in South Korea. While working there, she assisted Vietnamese workers to demand Vietnamese brokers to take responsibility to ensure the rights of migrant workers.

Upon her return to Vietnam, about ten years ago, she has assisted land petitioners who lost their land due to illegal seizure from local authorities.

She also participated in many anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi from 2011 to 2016 to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), as well as in peaceful gatherings to demand multi-party democracy.

Due to her activities, Vietnam’s communist government, particularly authorities in Ha Nam province have constantly harassed and persecuted her and her two children. She was detained many times and was placed under de facto house arrest for most of the last two years.

In May 2014, she was attacked by plainclothes agents in Hanoi who broke her right leg and caused a number of severe injuries to her body.

Police in Ha Nam have also targeted her kids, throwing dirty sauce containing decaying shrimp at them. Her private residence in Phu Ly city was attacked with paint and dirty substances many times.

For more information on Ms. Nga’s activities and the government’s persecution against her and her kids, go to older articles on our website: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/?s=%22Tran+Thi+Nga%22

Ms. Nga is the second Vietnamese activist arrested after the visit of Mr. Trong to China where the two ruling communist parties have pledged to deepen bilateral ties allegedly to ensure political stability in the two countries.

In the late evening of January 19, authorities in the central province of Nghe An arrested former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Oai when he went fishing in Hoang Mai town, accusing him of resisting on-duty state officials and breaking the rules governing his probation period. Mr. Oai, who was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to four years imprisonment on charges of conducting activities “aiming to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of the Penal Code, is still under three years of house arrest after his term ended in July 2015.

On January 11, authorities in the central province of Ha Tinh detained blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, who often covered news on local protests against Formosa Ha Tinh steel plant which caused catastrophic pollution in the central coastal region by discharging huge amount of toxic chemicals into waters. Later, Hoa was charged with abusing democratic freedom under Article 258 of the Penal Code.

As U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Vietnam’s communists have sought closer ties with China in order to keep the country under one-party rule, said observers, adding that more arrests of political dissidents, social activists and human rights advocates were expected in 2017.

Last year, the new Vietnamese leadership elected in the 12th National Congress of the ruling party showed their merciless power. The communist authorities imprisoned at least 16 activists for lengthy periods on charges of anti-state activities under controversial legal provisions such as Articles 79, 88, 245 and 258 of the Penal Code. Two of them, Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung, were sentenced to 13 and 12 years in jail and an additional four and three years under house arrest, respectively. Other activists, including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, received jail terms of between two and five years for their exercising their rights to freedom of speech and of peaceful assembly, which are enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.

In 2016, Vietnam also arrested at least eight activists, including prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Me Nam or “Mother Mushroom”), well-known blogger Ho Van Hai and activist Luu Van Vinh, and charged them with anti-state activities on the basis of Articles 79 and 88 of the Penal Code.

The communist government still holds human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha on anti-state propaganda charges under Article 88 of the Penal Code. The duo was arrested on December 16, 2015.

You can read the report of Defend the Defenders on Vietnam’s persecution of local activists in 2016 here: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2017/01/19/vietnams-suppression-of-political-dissidents-social-activists-and-human-rights-defenders-in-2016/

===== January 22 =====

Family of Secondary School Student Blames Cops for Killing Him in Late 2016

The family of secondary school student Phung Viet Quan in Vietnam’s southern province of Binh Phuoc has blamed local police for beating him and causing a traffic accident which claimed his life in late 2016.

His mother Do Thi Luan from Duc Hanh commune, Bu Gia Map district, said on December 25, 2016, 15-year-old Quan and two of his classmates, Vu Dinh Hieu, 15 and Nguyen Hao Quang, 14, rode on a motorbike.

Seeing two local policemen, they tried to escape as three persons riding the same motorbike is forbidden in Vietnam. However, two police officers chased them with their motorbikes and used police’s batons to attack the trio.

Due to the police’s assault, the motorbike of the students fell to the ground. Quan died immediately while Hieu and Quang sustained many injuries caused by the police attacks and the traffic accident.

Ms. Luạn said one of the two police officers confessed that he beat the students with his baton in order to stop them.

On January 19, the victim’s family filed a petition demanding the police in Bu Gia Map district investigate the case.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security is drafting a law which aims to grant more powers to communal police officers, few of whom hold a high school degree.

Dozens of Vietnamese were beaten to death or suffered severe injuries inflicted by communal level police officers in the last years for minor offenses such failing to wear a helmet while riding a motorbike or riding the same motorbike with three persons.