February 13, 2017
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly February 06-12: Imprisoned Protestant Pastor Chinh in Critical Situation, Placed in Solitary Confinement for Months
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | February 12, 2017
Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, who is serving an 11-year imprisonment sentence in Xuan Loc Prison in the southern province of Dong Nai, is facing a critical health condition due to inhuman treatment by the prison’s authorities.
Being placed in a solitary cell since October 2016, he remains handcuffed and subjected to constant threats by police officers and other inmates. The prison’s authorities have not provided him with medical care for his serious diseases and have not allowed him to receive drugs from his family. In addition, he is supplied with only poor-quality rice, not with vegetables or meat.
His wife Tran Thi Hong, a member of the Vietnam Women for Human Rights, calls on international and domestic decision-makers to pay attention to her husband’s situation and ask Vietnam’s government to put an end to its inhuman treatment as she fears he may not survive if such treatment continues.
The international community has continued to voice concern about the arrest of activist Tran Thi Nga. Late January, the U.S. Embassy and the EU Delegation in Vietnam issued statements urging Hanoi to release her immediately and unconditionally.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its latest report that it will continue to call for the designation of Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) due to the country’s violations of religious freedom.
Vietnam, which was classified as a country of particular concern by the State Department from 2004 to 2006 for its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom, is believed to continue to restrict religious practices, said USCIRF in its report released on February 8, 2017.
Former political prisoner Huynh Anh Tu and his wife Pham Thanh Nghien, who also is a former prisoner of conscience, have not been permitted to leave the country to attend the funeral of Tu’s father, who recently died in Malaysia. While Tu has not been granted any legal personal documents including a passport and an identification card since his release in 2013, his wife is banned from travelling abroad due to “national security reasons” under Decree 136 of the Vietnamese government.
On February 11, Vietnamese activist Bui Thi Minh Hang, the most well-known protestor against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), was freed after three years in prison.
Many Vietnamese citizens continue to die or suffer severe injuries during police custody. Nguyen Thanh Ngon from the central province of Nghe An became the fourth detainee to be found dead in a local police station so far this year. The cause of his death remains unclear.
===== February 06 =====
EU, U.S. Criticize Vietnam’s Recent Arrests of Human Rights Activists
Defend the Defenders: The arrests of a number of activists in the second half of January by the Vietnamese authorities have sparked concerns among diplomats from the European Union (EU) and the United States. Their objections, however, seemed to have been drowned out by the traditional Tet holiday.
Human rights defender Tran Thi Nga was arrested on January 21 in the northern province of Ha Nam on charges of “anti-state propaganda”; two days earlier, another activist, Nguyen Van Oai, was arrested in the central province of Nghe An for “acting against public officials” and violating the terms of his probation.
In a message posted on the Facebook page of the Delegation of the EU to Vietnam on January 26, Ambassador Bruno Angelet stressed that the rights to express their opinions peacefully, freely and without threats or impediments are among “Vietnam’s international and domestic human rights obligations.”
He “called on the Vietnamese authorities to ensure that the rights of Ms. Tran Thi Nga and Mr. Nguyen Van Oai are fully respected.”
Similarly, on January 23, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said they were deeply concerned about the arrest of Ms. Nga in Ha Nam and called on Vietnam to release Ms. Nga and other prisoners of conscience.
Vietnam should allow all individuals to express their political viewpoints on the web and in real life without fear of punishments, the U.S. Embassy noted.
The U.S. diplomatic mission added that they have continuously urged Vietnam to protect freedoms of assembly, of association, of expression and of religion as outlined in the 2013 Constitution and other international commitments Vietnam has signed on.
===== February 07 =====
One More Detainee Found Dead in a Police Station in Vietnam
Defend the Defenders: Nguyen Thanh Ngon from Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An became the next detainee to be found dead in a local police station, while the cause of his death remains unclear, the Thanh Nien newspaper reported Wednesday.
Mr. Ngon, a 46-year-old resident from Tho Thanh commune in Yen Thanh district, was detained on February 6 after beating his wife. The inebriated man was held in a room of the communal police station from 12 noon on Monday.
Police said that they found him dead at 8:15pm on the same day, hanged at a window of the room, which is regularly visited by police officers.
According to the initial investigation, an injury was visible on his head and neck. Local authorities continue their investigation to find the causes of his death, the newspaper said.
Ngon has been the fourth Vietnamese citizen to be found dead in police custody since the beginning of this year. Pham Ngoc Nhung from Ho Chi Minh City, Le Thanh Son from An Giang province, and Pham Dang Toan from Binh Dinh province are believed to have been beaten to death by police while at least five others were brutally beaten by police officers.
However, police denied beating the victims, attributing their deaths to other causes.
Vietnam ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in February 2015. However, many people have continued to be killed or to sustain severe injuries while being detained in police stations nationwide.
Dozens of people died in police custody last year, according to state media.
===== February 08 =====
U.S. Commission Threatens to Call for Returning Vietnam to CPC List
Defend the Defenders: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has said in its latest report that it will continue to call for the designation of Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) due to the country’s violations of religious freedom.
Vietnam, which was designated a “country of particular concern” by the State Department from 2004 to 2006 for its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom, is believed to continue to restrict religious practices.
USCIRF has recommended a CPC designation for Vietnam every year since 2002.
The situation of religious freedom in many parts of Vietnam continues to deteriorate, notwithstanding that many individuals and communities freely practice their faith.
In some areas, local authorities harass and discriminate against religious organizations that the government does not recognize.
In addition, religious groups across Vietnam fear that the government may evict them from or demolish their properties or places or worship.
As a result of U.S. diplomatic negotiations, Vietnam promised to improve religious freedom, according to USCIRF.
“Ten years after the State Department’s removal of Vietnam as a CPC, religious freedom conditions in the country are at a pivotal moment. While these conditions have improved in some instances, severe religious violations continue that are inconsistent with international standards,” said USCIRF Chair Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
“Although the Vietnamese government sought to address these concerns in the recently passed law on religion and belief, this measure is imperfect and disadvantages many religious communities. If Vietnam does not implement religious freedom reforms that are consistent with international standards, USCIRF will continue to call for its designation as a country of particular concern,” said the official.
Unite State Commission on International Religious Freedom
===== February 10 =====
Couple of Vietnamese Activists Prevented from Traveling to Malaysia to Attend Father’s Funeral
Defend the Defenders: Former political prisoner Huynh Anh Tu and his wife Pham Thanh Nghien, who is also a former prisoner of conscience, have not been permitted to leave the country to attend the funeral of Tu’s father, who recently died in Malaysia.
Mr. Huynh Kim Son, who resided in Malaysia for years, passed away several days ago but Mr. Tu and Mrs. Nghien were unable to travel there since Tu has not been granted any legal personal documents such as a passport or an identification card since his release in 2013, while his wife is banned from travelling abroad due to “national security reasons” under Decree 136 of the Vietnamese government.
Last month, Mrs. Nghien was blocked from leaving the country by the border authorities when she and her father-in-law were on their way to travel to Thailand for Mr. Son’s medical treatment. Later, Mr. Son was forced to go back to Malaysia alone where he died without his relatives being present.
Nghien was among the first Vietnamese activists to speak out against Chinese suppression of Vietnamese fishermen in the East Sea (South China Sea). She was arrested in August 2009 while holding a sit-in at her private residence to protest China’s brutality.
The following year, she was sentenced to four years in jail and to an additional three years under house arrest on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
After being released in 2013, she continued to work to promote human rights in Vietnam, to protest China’s violations of Vietnamese sovereignty in the East Sea, and to speak out on environmental issues in the country.
Nghien is among the numerous Vietnamese activists who have been barred from travelling abroad under Decree 136 of the Communist government.
Mr. Tu and his younger brother Huynh Anh Tri were arrested in late 1999 and sentenced to 14 years in prison and to seven years of house arrest each on charges of “attempting to overthrow the people’s government” under Article 79 of the Penal Code. Shortly after being released, in 2013, his brother died of HIV-AIDs, which he contracted while being detained with inmates who were infected with the disease.
Since 2013, Tu has applied for an identification card; however, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have consistently denied his request. Without the card, he cannot apply for a passport. He is also facing many difficulties in daily life due to having no personal identification documents.
===== February 11 =====
Imprisoned Vietnamese Pastor Placed in Solitary Confinement since October 2016 in Critical Situation
Defend the Defenders: Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, who has been placed in a solitary cell in the Xuan Loc Prison in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai since October last year, is in a critical health condition, his wife Tran Thi Hong told Defend the Defenders on Saturday.
Mrs. Hong, a member of Vietnam Women for Human Rights, said she visited him last Friday. After more than three months of solitary confinement, she said that her husband’s skin had deteriorated.
Pastor Chinh, who has been imprisoned since 2011, is suffering from a number of diseases, including acute nasal sinusitis, arthritis, high blood pressure and inflammation of the stomach, but he received no medical treatment from the prison’s authorities.
The prison authorities have not permitted him to receive drugs from his wife for these diseases, she said.
The pastor who has fought for religious freedom for ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, told his wife that he had been supplied with only poor-quality rice, not with any vegetables or meat for months.
In addition, the prison’s authorities send police officers to inspect his isolated cell regularly, and criminal inmates to curse him. They also handcuff him in the solitary cell as well as send surveillance teams during the night to scare him off.
Mrs. Hong said his life would be threatened if the prison authorities continued their inhuman treatment of her husband.
Pastor Chinh is a Gia Lai province-based Mennonite pastor who was arrested in April 2011. One year later, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail for “undermining the national unity policy” under Article 87 of the Penal Code. He was held in An Phuoc Prison, about 600 km (a 12-hour journey) from his family home, and transferred in Xuan Loc Prison in October last year. Vietnam’s authorities did not immediately inform his family about his transfer.
Pastor Chinh has constantly been subjected to torture and degrading treatment by the Ministry of Public Security as he has refused to confess any wrongdoing.
When he was held in An Phuoc Prison, he was supplied food that was mixed with tiny glass particles and copper wire. The drinking water provided to prisoners of conscience allegedly had a strange smell so it might have been intentionally contaminated with toxic chemical substances. In addition, prison authorities encouraged and used criminal prisoners to beat prisoners of conscience who bravely speak out to protest inhuman treatment in the prison.
Chinh, who was accused of giving interviews to foreign media and joining with other dissidents in criticizing the government, is among 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International urged Vietnam’s government to release immediately and unconditionally.
While he has been detained, his wife has been harassed by the police in Pleiku city. In April-May 2016, she was summoned to the local police station where police officers beat and interrogated her about her meeting with U.S. diplomats led by Ambassador at Large on International Religious Freedom David Saperstein in late March.
According to a report titled “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam” released in 2016, Amnesty International said the conditions in Vietnam’s prisons 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 (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”) and other international standards.
Many prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods as a punishment and have been subjected to ill-treatment, including beatings by prison guards and by other prisoners with prison guards failing to intervene, the London-based human rights organization said in the report.
Some prisoners of conscience are frequently moved from one detention facility to another, often without their families being informed of the transfers or their whereabouts, it noted.
Vietnam ratified the Convention against Torture in February 2015; however, the Communist government has taken insufficient steps to bring the country into compliance with its obligations under that treaty, Amnesty International concluded.
Few prisoners of conscience have been pardoned although Vietnam has given amnesty for thousands of prisoners every year.
Prominent Anti-China Activist Completes Three-Year Sentence, Cheered by Thousands
Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese activist Bui Thi Minh Hang, the most well-known protestor against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), was released on February 11 after three years in prison.
She was welcomed by a group of 20 activists who came to Gia Trung Prison in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai to escort her to Saigon.
Ms. Hang, one of the leading figures in eleven consecutive anti-China protests in Hanoi in 2011 and other similar events in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in the following years, was arrested in early 2014 when she and other activists visited former political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap.
Security forces arrested her and two other religious activists, namely Nguyen Van Minh and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, and charged them with “causing public disorder”. Following trials that failed to meet international fair trial standards, she was sentenced to three years in jail on bogus traffic offenses, while Quynh and Minh were given two years sentences each.
Hang, who is also a land rights activist, had been harassed by the Communist government in the past. She was detained many times after participating in peaceful anti-China protests in Hanoi and Saigon, and was sent to a re-habilitation facility by authorities in the capital city of Hanoi for months in an attempt to silence her.
Since her arrest, many legislators and officials from the U.S. and EU countries, as well as international human rights bodies, have urged Vietnam to release her immediately and unconditionally. She is among 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International has called on Vietnam’s government to release.
Ms. Hang’s health has deteriorated due to inhuman treatment by the prison’s authorities. In 2015, she conducted a long hunger strike to protest degrading treatment inflicted to her and other prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience, by the prison’s authorities.
While serving her term, Vietnam’s government offered her to live in exile in the U.S. However, she turned down the proposal, saying she would remain in the country to fight for the nation’s integrity and improved human rights.
While claiming sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys) in the East Sea and verbally protesting China’s violations of its sovereignty in the sea, Vietnam’s Communist government has suppressed, persecuted and imprisoned a number of activists who actively participated in peaceful demonstrations against China.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding at least 112 bloggers and activists who are serving prison sentences simply for exercising their rights to basic freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Hanoi has consistently rejected this accusation and insisted that it detained only persons who violated the law.
===== February 12 =====
Vietnam Activist Assaulted by Thugs Whom She Later Witnessed Talking with Police
Defend the Defenders: On the evening of February 12, Nguyen Thi Thai Lai, a female environmentalist and outspoken anti-China activist in Vietnam’s central city of Nha Trang, was brutally beaten by four plainclothes agents, the victim said on her Facebook page.
Lai, who often attended peaceful demonstrations against China’s violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the Taiwanese Formosa Steel Plant, which caused an environmental disaster in the country’s central coastal areas in 2016, said she and her friend were stopped by plainclothes agents on the street and that they knocked her down on the ground and started to beat her until she lost consciousness.
The attackers left the scene after causing severe injuries to the female activist, who is over 50 years old.
After receiving medical treatment, Ms. Lai went to the police station in Van Thanh ward to report the assault. There, she saw the attackers talking with police officers but the police rejected having any connection with them or the incident. However, they did not take any action against the attackers.
Lai said she and her friends were under close surveillance of security agents on Sunday but she did not expect being attacked as they had no plan to hold public demonstrations.
Ms. Lai is a member of a group of activists in Nha Trang who strongly oppose China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea, demand a thorough investigation of the Formosa disaster and its consequences in the central coastal region, as well as proper compensation for the victims, and request justice for all persons who have been found dead in police stations nationwide in the last few years.
One of the leaders of the group, Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, was arrested in October 10 last year and charged with conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. She is facing up to 20 years in jail, according to the Vietnamese law.
Using plainclothes agents to attack local activists is not a new trick of Vietnam’s security forces. Nearly a hundred political dissidents, social activists and human rights advocates have been brutally beaten by under-cover police officers in recent years. The victims include La Viet Dung, Truong Dung, Nguyen Bac Truyen together with his wife, Nguyen Van Dai, Truong Minh Duc, Truong Minh Tam, and Tran Thi Nga.