Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly for June 11-17, 2018: Security Forces in Cities Tighten Control to Prevent Protests, Continuing Detentions

 

Defend the Defenders| June 17, 2018

Authorities in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other cities are deploying large numbers of police and militia, and even military units in some localities to patrol streets during the week and the weekend in a bid to prevent public protests after the National Assembly, the country’s highest legislative body,passed acontentious Cyber Securitylaw on Tuesday.

Police, including riot police and under-cover units, and militia are deployed in major streets in citycenters. In Hanoi and HCM City, many walking streets and parks are closed to thepublic and othersare barricaded. Security forces are ready to detain any individuals and groups having signs of intending to hold public protests.

Many activists have complained that they are placed under house arrest while police continue to make arrests. In HCM City, police detained many activists, including Nguyen Ngoc Lua, Truong Thi Ha and Nguyen Tin.

Since June 10, police have detained hundreds of protestors. Releasing many of them after interrogating and forcing them to pledge not to participate in other demonstrations, police still hold dozens of others and plan to prosecute them on allegations of “causing public disorders” or “disruption of security,”articles 245 and 89 of the Penal Code and could carry between seven and fifteen years of imprisonment respectively.

Many released protestors said detained protestors were beaten and interrogated by police who also confiscated their cell phones and other belongings.

Among detainees is Vietnamese American William Nguyen Anh, a master student in Singapore who was visitingthe countrywas arrested,beaten,and charged with “causing public disorders” when he joined others protestors in street rally on June 10. The US has called on Vietnam to release him.

On June 15, Human Rights Watch issued a statementcalling on Vietnam to stop unwarranted arrests and the use of force against demonstrators participating in mass protests on June 10-11. The New York-based human rights organization urged the communist nation to release those detained for peacefully expressing their views and investigate excessive police response.

On June 12, the rubber-stamp parliament approved the bill on Cyber Security despite nationwide callsfor postponing the draft law. One day beforethe vote, 74 lawyers, led by Hanoi-based lawyer Tran Vu Hai, sent ajoint petition to parliament urgingthe legislators not to vote for it because “the bill contains many loopholes which may be used by interest groups to violate basic human rights enshrined in the 2013 Constitution.” Concerns are that the billwill affect the right to freedom of expression andhave negative impacts onthe country’s socio-economic development as well as violate Vietnam’s international commitments, said their joint statement.

Two days later, on June 14, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders issued a statementurging Vietnam to repeal the Law on Cyber Security. Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, branded the new law as draconian new law, which reinforces government control over access to information.

On June 11, security forces in Tan Son Nhat International Airport blocked outspoken Catholic priest Joseph Nguyen Duy Tan from going to Malaysia, with authorities citing national security as the reason for his travel ban. Father Tan is among Catholic priests criticizing government’s socio-economic policies as well as systemic coruption and human rights violations in the country.

Pro-democracy campaigner Pham Le Vuong Cac was detained by security forces in Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi on the afternoon of June 15 when he took a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to the capital city to take a university examination. Police said they suspect him of inciting protests in Hanoi during the weekend so they request him to go back to HCM City. When he denied, police took money from his wallet, bought a ticket and forced him to take a flight to the southern economic hub. Police also confiscated his cell phone and driving license without providing receipts.

Jailed human rights activist Tran Thi Nga was allowed to meet with her three children, including Le Van Phu, 8, and Le Van Tai, 5, for the first time since being arrested in February 21 last year.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has awardedimprisoned Vietnamese human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a well-known blogger under thepenname Mother Mushroom, with its 2018 International Press Freedom Awards for her coverage of sensitive issues censored by the state-controlled media, including official land-grabbing, environmental degradation, and police brutality.

===== June 10 =====

Vietnam Security Forces Continue Crackdown on Protestors

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces are continuing their crackdown on local demonstrators in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities, citizen journalists have reported.

Police are patroling streets in HCM City and time to time detain groups of protestors who are still blocked by security forces and militia in some corners in the city.

In Hanoi, police detained female activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh and seven others froma local cafeteria after a rally. Police took them to Trung Tu ward’s police station where they were interrogated. Mrs. Hanh informed other activists outside that she was beaten by police officers. Other activists are gathering there to demand their release.

Online citizens have reported that people in the central province of Ninh Thuan rallied inPhan Thiet in the morning. After the local police violently suppressed their gathering, the peaceful demonstration turned violent as people attacked police with whatever they found on streets, and occupied the building of the provincial government. In addition, protestors also blocked the National Road No. 1.

It was said that Vietnam’s government requested the army and police to send special units to Binh Thuan to suppress the uprising. Internet in the region was reportedly cut.

Observers said citizens in Binh Thuan havelongbeen under pressure due to two China-invested thermal power plants which cause great air pollution while fishermen have been assaulted by China’s authorities while fishing in Vietnam’s waters in the East Sea (South China Sea).

The mass protest started June 9with the participation of around 50 thousands of workers in Tan Tao Industrial Zone in HCM City.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of Vietnamese rallied in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Nha Trang and other locations.

In these peacefeul demonstrations, participants used banners “No land lease for China ” or “Stop Voting on Bill on Cyber Security.”

Vietnam’s security forces across the nation have tightened control over the week. Authorities in multiple localities have sent police and militia to station near private residences of local activists since June 9, effectively placing them under house arrest in a bid to prevent them from joining protests. Many activists reported that they left their house during the week to avoid being locked by security forces.

During the day, Vietnam’s authorities used heavily-armed police, under-cover policemen and militia to violently disperse protestors. Hundreds of protestors have been arrested, dozens of others have been beaten by security forces.

The demonstrations were planned days in advance in response to the plan of the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly to pass the two bills next week during its one-month meeting started on May 20.

According to legal experts, the bill on Cyber Securitywill give sweeping new powers to the Vietnamese authorities, allowing them to force technology companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor Internet users’ posts. The law aims to silence government critics. AnyInternet user may be criminally charged just for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression, activists said. The US and Canana, as well as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on Vietnam not to approve the bill.

Meanwhile, with the law on Special Economic Zones, Vietnam’s communist government wants to establish three zones Van Don, Phu Quoc and Bac Van Phong,the three strategic locations, in which foreign investors may be allowed to rent land for 99 years. Activists suspect that the bill is the first step to allow Chinese investors to acquire land and bring Chinese untrained workers to in these locations to turn them into China’s territory.

Vietnam has no need to set up more special economic zones to attract foreign investment, said many senior economists, including veteran chief economist Pham Chi Lan. The country has signed a number of free trade agreements with the EU, the US and other countries so it should focus on implementation of these pacts, they said.

In addition to national security issues with the potential investment from China, these special economic zones will create unfair treatments of companies and people in these locations and other remaining places, according to entrepreneur Le Hoai Anh.

Under public pressure, Vietnam’s rubber-stamp parliament and its government said they will postpone the discussion and approval of the bill on special economic zones to the next session of the parliament scheduled in October this year.

Vietnam’s communist governments does not welcome spontanous public demonstrations on most issues, including the country’s sovereignty in the South China Sea. In recent years, security forces have suppressed many peaceful demonstrations and persecuted and jailed a number of activists for their participation under allegation of “causing public disorders.”

===== June 11 =====

Many Vietnamese Protestors Say They Were Beaten in Custody, Numerous Others Still Held in Police Stations

Defend the Defenders: While many protestors are still held in police stations in many Vietnamese localities, the freed demonstrators have said that they were brutally beaten in custody after being detained on June 10.

In response to the nation-widedemonstrations against the two bills on Sunday, Vietnam’s security forces launched brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors, using tear gas, water cannon and batons to disperse them in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Danang, Nha Trang and Binh Thuan, and other locations.

Hundreds of protestors have been arrested and many others were brutally beaten with severe injuries on their bodies, citizen journalists have reported.

In Hanoi, where fewer numbers of activists rallied on streets compared to HCM City and Nha Trang, police quickly dispersed small groups gathering in the city’s center, and detained dozens of them. After many hours holding them, police released them.

However, Hanoi police arrested a group of nearly ten activists when they were in a cafeteria after a rally. In the Trung Tu ward police station, Mrs. Nguyen Thuy Hanh and her fellows were barbarically beaten by police officers. They were released in early hour of June 11, with deformed faces and many severe injuries on their heads and bodies.

In HCM City, there were tens of thousands of local residents gathered in some places to protest the two bills. Many of protestors were female and elderly. The large-scale demonstrations continued into thelate hours of Sunday although many activists hadbeen detained by security forces. Most of the detainees were beaten, and interrogated in custody. They were forced to admit tocausing public disorders before being released.

In Binh Thuan, in response to police brutality, local protestors used stones and bricks to attack heavily-equipped police. The peaceful demonstrations turned violent in which people occupied some government buildings in Phan Thiet town. The government sent special units of army and police to deal with the uprising.

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Vietnamese Lawyers Urge Parliament not to Approve Bill on Cyber Security

Defend the Defenders: A group of 74 Vietnamese lawyers signed a joint petition urging the National Assembly not to pass the bill on Cyber Securityahead of the 12 June vote.

The petition, initiated by Hanoi-based attorney Tran Vu Hai and sent to the parliament on June 11, states that the signed lawyers found the bill contains many loopholes which may be used by interest groups to violate basic human rights enshrined in the 2013 Constitution.

The bill, they wrote, will affect the right to freedom of expression so have negative impacts to the country’s socio-economic development as well as violate Vietnam’s international commitments, said the petitioners who came from many different cities and provinces.

They called on legislators tovote against the bill, the lawyers said.

In addition to their signatures, the lawyers also presented a list of thousands of people opposedto the bill.

The bill, built by the Ministry of Public Security, has met strong protest among Vietnamese and foreign governments and international human rights organizations.

The US and Canada, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged Vietnam to delay the vote on the bill on cyber security until it aligns with international standards. In its press release, the US Embassy in Vietnam said the bill may present serious obstacles to Vietnam’s cybersecurity and digital innovation future, and may not be consistent with Vietnam’s international trade commitments. Meanwhile, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch expressed their concerns that the bill aims to silence government critics and affect the basic right to freedom of expression.

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Outspoken Priest Joseph Nguyen Duy Tan Blocked from Traveling to Malaysia

Defend the Defenders: On June 11, Vietnam’s security forces barred outspoken Catholic priest Joseph Nguyen Duy Tan from going to Malaysia, citing national security reasons.

On Monday, border security officers in Tan Son Nhat International Airport stopped priest Tan when he was on his way to Malaysia together with 25 other priests from Xuan Loc Diocese, the victim told Defend the Defenders.

Security officers said in a statement given to the victim that the ban was made according to the request of the Dong Nai province’s Department of Public Security. They also asked the priest to contact the department to deal with the case.

Priest Tan from Tho Hoa parish has filled his complaint to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security as well as to the German embassy in Hanoi and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, accusing the government of arbitrarily violating his right to freedom of movement.

“I doubted that the reason could result from my talk to European Union representatives at a meeting in Ho Chi Minh on May 16,” Father Tan said.

In mid-May, Father Tan and other members of the unsanctioned Interfaith Council of Vietnam met with diplomats from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the European Union to discuss religious freedom at  Giac Hoa Pagoda in HCM City. During the meeting, Father Tan said that all religious organizations have to apply to government authorities for permits for their activities, even building a toilet or a fence.

“The asking-and-granting scheme strengthens authorities’ abuse of power to intervene in internal affairs of religions,” he said.

The priest uses social media to speak out against the government’s social and economic policies, corruption and crackdowns on activists.

===== June 12 =====

Vietnam Parliament Approves Bill on Cyber Security Despite Widespread Objection

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s National Assembly passed the bill on Cyber Security despite widespread objection, both from the domestic public and the international community.

It passed in the morning of June 12 with 432 legislators voting in favour of the bill proposed by the Ministry of Public Security, the government agency with the biggest benefit in implementing the law, which will take effect inJanuary 2019.

Only 15 legislators objected to the bill while 28 abstained. The Vietnamese rubber-stamp parliament has 496 members currently.

With the approval of the bill, Vietnam’s government is expected to further crackdown on online bloggers and critics who have relied on social media to express their disatisfaction on socio-economic issues as well as national sovereignty and poor human rights record of the nation.

Before the vote, Vietnam’s leadership received many petitions and calls for postponing the bill, as explained above.

When the bill was introduced to the public last year, legal experts found that it copied several articles fromChina’s Law on Cyber Security which focuses on suppressing government critics along with dealing with technical issues.

According to the law, global technologycompanies such as Google and Facebook must cooperate with Vietnam’s authorities in removing articles considered harmful for the ruling communist party, and provide Internet users’ history to the authorities upon request, or they have to leave the country.

Vietnamese citizens may be forced to use Chinese platforms such as Weibo and Wechat, said observers, adding the government’s censhorship will be enhanced as every citizen will be potential prisoner for their online posts.

In the past few years, Vietnam has imprisoned around 30 bloggers, according to international human rights organizations.

===== June 13 =====

Hundreds of Vietnamese Protestors Arrested, Beaten During Nationwide Demonstrations, Crackdown Continues

Defend the Defenders: Hundreds of Vietnamese protestors have been arrested and beaten by security forces and the numbers are likely torise as local authorities continue their crackdown, according to the state media and citizen journalists.

State media has reported that security forces havearrested around 200 protestors in the central province of Binh Thuan, where the peaceful demonstrations turned into violent after the local security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.

There are many other facilities holding the protestors arrested in recent days, other activists said.

Activist Nguyen Dang Vu(Facebooker Nguyen Peng) is likely one of the latest victims of the government’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrations protesting the two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security, the first was postponed while the second was approved by the Vietnamese rubber-stamp parliament on June 12. On the afternoon of Tuesday, he went on Hoang Van Thu street in HCM City for taking pictures and later informed his fellows that he was caught by police. Being released on the late afternoon of June 13, the activists said there are many protestors held in different facilities in the city.

The fates of many protestors remainunknown for their families. Some were released, others deported to their localities, while hundreds otherswere held somewhere in the city.

The released protestors reported that in custody, police had brutally beaten detainees and confiscated their cellphones and other belongings during interrogation.

Witnesses said authorities in HCM City, Hanoi, Danang and Nha Trang  sent armed police to block demonstrations and used plainclothes to detain protestors. Many videoclips proved their claims.

Video clips showed that the police in HCM City used Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) to suppress peaceful demonstrations on Sunday. The devices were from the USfor equiping patrol ships of the Vietnam Coast Guard.

On Sunday, police in Hanoi also dispersed peaceful demonstrations in the city’s center. Police detained protestors, holding them in police stations and releasing them in late afternoon. Police brutally beat Mrs. Nguyen Thuy Hanh ata cafeteria in Dong Da district,. She was released at the mid night of Sunday, with deformed face and injuries onher head and body. She said a police officer from Dong Da district police beat her with his fists in a taxi car from the cafeteria to the Trung Tu ward police station and in the station where they held her and seven other activists.

Authorities in Hanoi sent plainclothes agents and militia to private residences of local activists at noon of June 12, after the parliament approved the bill on Cyber Security, in a bid to prevent them from gathering to protest. Some activists said they are still placed de facto under house or being closely followed by under-covered police on Wednesday.

===== June 14 =====

HCM City Police Detain 310 Protestors: Leaked Information

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City have detained 310 protestors in large-scale demonstrations from June 10 against the two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security, according to a leaked information from the city’s Department of Public Security (police).

According to a leaked document, the city’s police have imposed administrative fines for 175 protestors and deported 38 protestors from other provinces and cities to their families after forcing them to make commitments not to cause public disorders in future.

Police have sent one protestor to a mental treatment clinic, and plan to prosecute seven demonstrators with various charges from violating national security to causing public disorders.

It is unclear the fates of the remaining 89 protestors.

Citizens journalists reported that Will Nguyen, an American citizen of Vietnamesedescentis among the detainees on June 10.

===== June 15 =====

Vietnamese American Participating in Sunday Peaceful Demonstration Charged with “Causing Public DIsorders”

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have charged Nguyen William Anh, a Vietnamese American with “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, state media has reported.

Accordingly, the Police Investigation Agency under the city’s Department of Public Security has launched a probe in the case and issued a decision to hold the 33-year-old American citizen for investigation.

Nguyen, whose parents have Vietnamese origin, was detained by the security forces when he participated in a peaceful protests in the city on June 10. He was violently detained by plainclothes agents on streets, according to video clips circulated on social networks.

Mr. Nguyen completed his master program in Singapore and went to Vietnam, the country where his parents came, to visit his friends and relatives in HCM City. He has a plan to stay in the country for two weeks.

On June 10, Nguyen wasin HCM City where thousands of local residents rallied to protest two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security. He was among protesters and caught by security forces.

According to video clips made by citizen journalists, Nguyen was knocked down by under-covered policemen who later took his legs and arms to put into a police car.

According to Vietnam’s law, an individual may face administrative fine of between VND5 million ($220) and VND50 million or imprisonment of between two and seven years in prison if is convicted of “causing public disorders.”

The right to freedom of assembly is enshrined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution, however, the communist government is not welcoming spontanous demonstrations, consireding them as “gatherings which cause public disorders” and being subjects of suppressions of security forces.

On June 10-13, security forces in HCM City arrested more than 300 protestors, who were said to be ill-treated upon the detentions and in custody.

The city’s police plan to prosecute many of detainees on diferent allegations ranging from violating national security to causing public disorders, according to a leaked information from the force.

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Saigon-based Activist Detained, Robbed by Hanoi Police When He Comes for Examination 

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Hanoi have detained Saigon-based pro-democracy campaigner Pham Le Vuong Cac, robbing him and forcing him to go back to Ho Chi Minh City, the victim told Defend the Defenders.

Mr. Cac, a law student in Hanoi-based University of Economics and Technologies, said he took a flight from HCM City on Friday to the capital city to attend an examination.

After landing in Noi Bai International Airport at 1:40 PM, the 32-year-old student was caught by security officers who took him in a room where they confiscated his cell phone and requested him to provide its password.

Cac denied so police held his phone without making any document for confiscating the phone.

Police officers told him that they had received an information which said Cac had had incited anti-government protests in HCM City and Binh Thuan and now go to Hanoi to incite local protests in the upcoming weekend. However, Cac rejected, saying the information is groundless.

Holding him until 6PM, police took VND1.2 million($53) from his wallet to purchase return ticket and forced him into a flight back to HCM City.

Cac said he missed the examination and has to come back to Hanoi for the examination next month.

===== June 17 =====

Authorities across Vietnam Tighten Control on Alert of Mass Protests

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities across Vietnam are tightening control on alert of mass protests during the weekend after the passage ofthe Law on Cyber Security.

Police, including riot police and under-cover ones, and militia weredeployed in major city centers. In Hanoi and HCM City, many walking streets wereclosed for public and others barricaded.

Plainclothes agents and militia werealso sent to station near private residences of local activists, effectively placing them de facto under house arrest over the weekend.

Pro-democracy campaigner and human rights defender Ngo Duy Quyen, husband of former political prisoner Le Thi Cong Nhan, said police locked their corridor in the evening of Saturday, imprisoning people from his family and several neighbors during the night.

Activists in HCM City said the local police detained dissident singer Nguyen Tin on the evening of June 15 and still keep him incommunicado. In the morning of June 17, police detained a number of activists, including Nguyen Ngoc Lua and Truong Thi Ha.

Activists said security forces are patroling in Phan Thiet and Phan Ri in Binh Thuan and move from street to street to arrest all suspicious residents. Hundreds of people have been arrested after protest turnedviolent on June 10.

Although the right to assembly is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution, Vietnam’s communist government does not welcome spontanous public protests, treating them as “illegal gatherings” and use all means to disperse.

Police said they will prosecute many people on allegation of “causing public disorders” and “disruption of security.”

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