Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly January 23-February 05, 2017: International Community Condemns Recent Arrests of Activists

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | February 05, 2017

International human rights organizations have slammed the recent arrests of Vietnamese activists, namely Ms. Tran Thi Nga, Mr. Nguyen Van Oai and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, urging Vietnam’s communist government to release them immediately and unconditionally.

The Southeast Asia Regional Office of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Front Line Defenders, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Reporters Without Borders were among the organizations which spoke out against the arrests.

In their statements, they urged Vietnam’s government to release the three activists, who were arrested in January, as well as others who have been detained and imprisoned simply for exercising their basic rights such as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion.

According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is detaining at least 112 bloggers and activists.

Hundreds of Vietnamese activists worldwide and 30 civil society organizations also issued a joint statement calling for release of Nga, a mother of two children of four and six.

Ms. Nga has been held incommunicado since her arrest on January 21, just one week prior to the Lunar New Year, or Tet Festival.

Authorities in the central city of Hue kept local Catholic priest Phan Van Loi under de facto house arrest. On February 2, he was blocked by two plainclothes agents from going out of his private residence to attend a church service.

===== January 23 =====

Front Line Defenders Calls for the Release of Two Recently Detained Activists

Front Line Defenders, a human rights advocacy group based in Dublin, Ireland, issued a statement condemning the arrests of former prisoner of conscience NguyenVan Oai and human rights activist Tran Thi Nga.

On January 19, authorities in the central province of Nghe An arrested Oai and charged him with “resisting on-duty state officials” under Article 257 of the country’s Penal Code after being accused of breaking the terms of his probation by leaving his locality of residence without informing the local authorities first. He is still under house arrest following his four-year imprisonment.

Two days later, authorities in the northern province of Ha Nam arrested activist Nga, accusing her of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code for using the internet to spread some videos and writings critical of the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In the days prior to her arrest, Ms. Nga had complained of increasing intimidation and harassment against her by the police, including their surrounding of her home and physically blocking her from leaving. Police also prevented a neighbour from taking the couple’s two young sons to the city to buy them food.

In its statement dated January 21, Front Line Defenders said it is gravely concerned at the arrests of Ms. Nga and Mr. Oai, which it believes are solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful work in the defense of human rights in Vietnam.

Front Line Defenders urged the authorities in Vietnam to:

1   Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Nga and Mr. Oai, as they are being held solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defense of human rights;

2   Immediately drop all charges against the two activists;

3   Ensure that the treatment of the two activists while in detention adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment’, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;

4   Allow Nga and Oai immediate and unfettered access to their lawyers;

5   Cease targeting all human rights defenders in Vietnam and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

===== January 24 =====

UN Human Rights Asia Condemns Vietnam’s Arrest of Female Activist Tran Thi Nga

On January 24, the Southeast Asia Regional Office of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a statement criticizing Vietnam’s government over the recent arrest of female activist Tran Thi Nga.

In its statement posted on its Facebook account (, the UN body expresses its concern about the detention of the human rights activist from the northern province of Ha Nam, who has been charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code for allegedly “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

The statement was released three days after the arrest of Ms. Nga, known for defending the rights of Vietnamese migrant workers and people whose lands have been grabbed or seized by authorities.

OHCHR said that according to the Vietnamese law, Article 88 is considered a “national security offence” and carries a sentence of between three and 20 years of imprisonment. It also allows the incommunicado detention of Ms. Nga during the whole period of the investigation, which is considered to be conducive to torture and may amount to torture itself, in violation of the Convention against Torture (CAT), which Vietnam ratified in February 2015.

Over the past year, the UN Human Rights Office has expressed its concern about a number of similar cases involving human rights defenders in Vietnam. Last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the Vietnamese government to repeal Article 88, as well as other provisions that are in breach of international human rights standards, such as Articles 79, 87, 245 and 258 of the Penal Code.

The UN Human Rights Office is the second international organization voicing concern about Ms. Nga’s arrest. On January 23, the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders also condemned the detentions of Ms. Nga and former political prisoner Nguyen Van Oai and urged Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally free them and stop targeting all human rights defenders in Vietnam, as well as guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

===== January 25 =====

FIDH and OMCT Urge the International Community to Demand the Release of Activist Tran Thi Nga

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), urged international community to pay attention to Vietnamese activist Tran Thi Nga who was arrested on January 21, urging people and human rights organizations worldwide to demand for her immediate and unconditional release.

Condemning the arbitrary detention of Ms. Nga as well as the charges against her, which seem to be aimed at sanctioning her legitimate and peaceful human rights activities, the Observatory called on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her and to drop all charges against her.

Vietnam’s government should guarantee in all circumstances her physical and psychological integrity as well as that of all human rights defenders in Vietnam; put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Nga and all human rights defenders in the country; amend Article 88 of the Criminal Code to bring it in conformity with international human rights standards; comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2; and ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Vietnam.


RSF Condemns Arrest of Three Vietnamese Bloggers

The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the “preventive” arrests of three bloggers and citizen journalists namely Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Van Oai and Nguyen Van Hoa, one week prior to the Lunar New Year (or Tet Festival), and called for their immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges against them.

Ms. Nga, a blogger also known as Thuy Nga, was arrested at her home in the northern province of Ha Nam on January 21. A mother of two children, Nga uses her blog to defend migrant workers and those whose land has been seized by the authorities.

Accused of posting “anti-state” content online, she has been charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code, which provides for sentences of three to 20 years in prison for “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Mr. Oai, a citizen journalist and a former prisoner of conscience, was arrested on January 19 in the central province of Nghe An for allegedly resisting police officers and for leaving his home while on probation.

Citizen journalist Nguyen Van Hoa was held incommunicado for more than a week after his arrest on January 11. As a result, his family learned recently that he was in custody and had been charged under Article 258, which punishes the “[abuse of] democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.”

Hoa recently covered protests against Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a Taiwanese-owned steel plant responsible for a toxic spill that caused the deaths of thousands of tons of fish in April 2016.

“This wave of arrests ahead of the Vietnamese New Year celebrations betrays the state of tension within the regime whenever civil society has an opportunity to express itself freely about violations of its rights and human rights in general,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“These bloggers and citizen journalists did nothing more than cover protests and express views about violations of the rights of their fellow citizens. In other words, they defended the general interest. However, it is terrible to see that defense of the general interest and human rights is branded as anti-state propaganda in Vietnam. We ask the international community to press for their immediate release.”

As well as harassing, threatening and physically attacking outspoken bloggers and their loved ones, the Vietnamese Communist Party also regularly resorts to preventive arrests – which often amount in practice to enforced disappearances – in order to silence its critics in the run-up to national events.

Last October, RSF condemned the Vietnamese government’s policy of isolating journalists and bloggers and its systematic reprisals against those who dare to get in touch with the outside world.

Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

===== January 26 =====

Message by Ambassador Bruno Angelet, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Vietnam, on the arrests of Ms. Tran Thi Nga, Phan Van Van Phong and Mr. Nguyen Van Oai

Ms. Tran Thi Nga and Mr. Phan Van Phong, human rights defenders, were arrested on 21 January 2017, according to official sources, on charges of “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (Art. 88 of the Penal Code). Two days earlier, fellow human rights defender Mr. Nguyen Van Oai was arrested in Nghe An province on charges of “resisting officials on duty” and violating his probation.

The safety of human rights defenders and the protection of their right to express their opinions peacefully, freely, and without threats or impediments must be ensured. These are among Vietnam’s international and domestic human rights obligations, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a party since 1982, and the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The Head of the EU Delegation calls on the Vietnamese authorities to ensure that the rights of Ms. Tran Thi Nga, Mr. Phan Van Phong and Mr. Nguyen Van Oai are fully respected. Support for human rights defenders is a long-established element of the European Union’s policy on human rights.

===== January 27 =====

Human Rights Watch Urges Int’l Donors to Call on Vietnam to Release Activists

International donors should issue public statements calling on Vietnam’s government to end harassment and prosecution of critics and rights campaigners, said Human Rights Watch in a statement released on January 27.

In particular, the New York-based human rights organization called on Vietnam’s authorities to immediately release rights activist Tran Thi Nga and to drop politically motivated charges against her.

“It is ridiculous for the Vietnamese government to make accessing the internet and posting critical views a crime,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners should tell the government loud and clear that they will reassess their relationships if it keeps throwing peaceful critics in prison.”

Officials have arrested at least a dozen bloggers and activists during the past five months and charged them with vaguely-defined national security violations, Human Rights Watch said in the statement, adding that the victims include Ms. Nga, Mr. Nguyen Van Oai in Nghe An, Mr. Nguyen Van Hoa in Ha Tinh, and Mr. Nguyen Danh Tung in Thanh Hoa in addition to Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, and Ho Van Hai.

According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is detaining at least 112 bloggers and activists, some of whom are serving prison sentences simply for exercising their basic freedoms such as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion. Human Rights Watch has long called for the repeal of all laws in Vietnam that criminalize peaceful expression.

“Vietnam has a long history of persecuting anyone the ruling Communist Party deems threatening to its monopoly of power,” Adams said. “Vietnam should join the 21st century and repeal these draconian laws from another era.”

Vietnam: New Wave of Arrests of Critics

===== February 01 =====

Vietnam Listed Among 49 Countries ‘Not Free’ in 2017 Freedom House Report

Vietnam is among a group of 49 countries graded “not free” – a status unchanged from previous years, according to the “Freedom in the World 2017” report released by independent U.S. watchdog organization Freedom House.

The report, which grades 195 countries (87 rated “free,” 57 “somewhat free” and 49 “not free”), gives Vietnam an aggregate score of 20/100 on a scale from 0 (Least Free) to 100 (Most Free).

In terms of political rights, Vietnam scored 7/7 – the least free degree. It scored 5/7 for civil liberties.

The report awarded a “not free” status to both Vietnam’s press freedom status and net freedom status, reflecting no change from last year.

The Voice of America radio station talked to two democracy activists based in Vietnam, Pham Doan Trang and Vu Quoc Ngu, who both agreed with the Freedom House report. The activists expressed concerns over (i) Vietnam’s closer ties with China, a country known for its political repression, and (ii) U.S. focusing more on its domestic politics rather than to influence the human rights situation in Vietnam.

===== February 02 =====

Catholic Priest Blocked from Attending Church Services

On February 2, authorities in Vietnam’s central city of Hue deployed plainclothes agents to the private residence of local Catholic priest Phan Van Loi to prevent him from going out to attend a church service.

When father Loi tried to leave his house, two plainclothes agents violently blocked his way and demanded him to go back inside his house. They refused to show their identification documents as the priest requested.

Father Loi, a former prisoner of conscience, said the police have tightened their watch over his house and monitored him closely for the last two months because he had spoken with people at the Thien An monastery in Hue, whose property has been subjected to land grabs during the past few years.

Authorities in Hue have kept close surveillance over Loi and two other priests, Nguyen Van Ly and Nguyen Huu Giai, considering them dangerous dissidents.

Loi is an outspoken critic of Vietnam’s communist government and its repression of civil society groups, while Giai has been a critic of the government’s harassment of certain religious groups.

Ly, a former prisoner of conscience, was arrested in 1977, 2001 and 2007 under various charges against the state. He served nearly two decades in prison. Authorities released him from jail last May ahead of a visit to the country by then US President Barack Obama.

===== February 03 =====

816 Activists, 30 Civil Society Groups Demand Unconditional Release of Tran Thi Nga

As of January 31, 816 activists and 30 civil society groups had signed a petition addressed to Vietnam’s government calling for the unconditional and immediate release of human rights activist Tran Thi Nga. Ms. Nga was arrested on January 21 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

Defend the Defenders was among the first non-governmental organizations to sign the petition, which was sent to Vietnam’s authorities as well as foreign diplomatic bodies and international organizations.

The joint statement said Ms. Nga’s activities are legal under the Vietnamese law as she merely provided legal assistance for Vietnamese workers in Taiwan and helped them  claim their rights; spread leaflets and articles about multi-party democracy and human rights which are enshrined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution, as well as international treaties on human rights that Vietnam has signed; provided assistance to victims of miscarriage of justice and the poor; and opposed China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

The statement said that her arrest would cause strong domestic and international protests and that her detention would not deter other activists and ordinary people but on the contrary strengthened the campaign for democracy and human rights.

In the statement, the signatories demanded that Vietnam’s government release Ms. Nga immediately and unconditionally as she is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peaceful activities in the defense of human rights.

Vietnam’s authorities must treat Ms. Nga in accordance with the UN “Nelson Mandela Rules” for the treatment of prisoners and ensure that she is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, the statement read.

===== February 5 =====

Activist Tran Thi Nga Held Incommunicado Since Her Arrest on January 21

Vietnam’s authorities have kept activist Tran Thi Nga in incommunicado detention since her arrest on January 21, just one week ahead of the Lunar New Year, or Tet Festival, said her partner Phan Van Phong.

Mr. Phong said that on February 2, he went to the Police Department of the northern province of Ha Nam, which carried out the arrest, to ask about her situation and demand the right to visit and supplying her with food, but that police officers told him that they would not allow her relatives to meet with her nor send her food supplements.

Phong said he would file a written statement to the police next week to request them to allow him to meet with the activist, a mother of two children of six and four years old.

According to the Vietnamese law, individuals who are under investigation in relation to national security charges are not allowed access to a lawyer or to meet with their relatives during the investigation period, which lasts four months but can be extended up to 20 months.