Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly August 1-7: Thousands of Catholic Followers in Nghe An, Ha Tinh Hold Mass Demonstration to Protest Formosa

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly, August 7, 2016


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On August 7, around 6,000 Catholic followers in two Vietnamese central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh rallied on local streets to protest the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant which discharged a huge volume of very toxic industrial waste in local sea water and caused the en-mass death of fish and totally destroyed local marine environment.

The peaceful demonstrations were in response to the call of Priest Nguyen Thai Hop, head of the Vinh diocese, on the occasion of Environmental Day [August 7].

Vietnam’s government deployed numerous police officers and army soldiers to the areas to protect the Taiwanese company and prevent protests by Catholic followers.

Three days before the 13th Vietnam-Australia Human Rights Dialogue [August 4], Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling Canberra to press for significant and solid improvement of human rights situation in Vietnam and request Hanoi to “show its commitment to reforms by immediately releasing all political prisoners and detainees, ending harassment and violence against rights activists, respecting freedom of religion, curbing police brutality, and preventing any punishment of boat people returnees.”

The agenda and outcome of the dialogue should be made public, the New York-based human rights advocacy group said.

On August 5, Hanoi police detained prominent dissident Nguyen Quang A, not allowing him to meet with foreign diplomats from Germany, the Netherlands and Australia as well as attend an evening reception hosted by Australian Ambassador Craig Chittick on the occasion of the visit by Mr. Lachlan Strahan, head of Multilateral Policy under the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who represented the country at the 13th Vietnam-Human Rights Dialogue.

One day earlier, security forces in the capital city also detained Catholic priest Dang Huu Nam when he went to Hanoi for medical purpose. After a four-hour interrogation, they were forced to release him unconditionally. Father Nam was beaten by plainclothes agents in late 2015 for his criticism against the government.

And many other important news



===== August 1 =====

Vietnam Urged to Show Its Rights Commitment in Upcoming Talks with Australia

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam should show its commitment to reforms by immediately releasing all political prisoners and detainees, ending harassment and violence against rights activists, respecting freedom of religion, curbing police brutality, and preventing any punishment of boat people returnees, said the Human Rights Watch (HRW) ahead of the 13th Human Rights Dialogue between the Southeast Asian nation and Australia scheduled on August 4.

In its statement released three days prior to the event planned on Thursday in Hanoi, HRW said Australia should press the communist nation for significant and solid improvement in human rights.

“In 2016, Vietnamese authorities have sentenced yet more activists and bloggers to jail, broken up peaceful demonstration by force, and restricted religious freedom,” said Elaine Pearson of the New York-based human rights body.

Australia should use this opportunity to make it clear to Vietnam that empty promises on human rights are not acceptable, Pearson said.

In its letter sent to the Australian government ahead of the dialogue, HRW urged Canberra to focus on political prisoners and detainees; harassment, violence and restrictions on activists and dissidents; repression of freedom of religion; police brutality; and criminal punishment of Vietnamese boat returnees in contravention of government assurances.

According to HRW, in the first half of 2016, Vietnam convicted at least 12 activists, including prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Ba Sam) and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia), and sentenced them to long prison terms simply for exercising their basic rights enshrined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution. Vietnam is imprisoning around 100 other activists who are behind bars for exercising their rights, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Ngo Hao, Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Nguyen Cong Chinh, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, and Doan Huy Chuong.

Vietnam’s government has applied a number of controversial Penal Code articles such as 79, 87, 88, 89, and 258 to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, said HRW, adding at least a dozen of the rights activists and bloggers, including Nguyen Van Dai, Tran Anh Kim, Le Thanh Tung, and Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy, have been detained since 2015 pending investigation.

Other peaceful bloggers and activists face violence in Vietnam. In July, at least 11 rights campaigners, including La Viet Dung and To Oanh, were assaulted and injured by plainclothes men who appeared to be acting as agents of the authorities, HRW said. The authorities place bloggers and activists under house arrest or temporary detention to prevent them from attending various events or protests, including a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit.

“Vietnamese bloggers and activists face daily harassment, intimidation, violence, and imprisonment, even the simple act of meeting a diplomat entails some level of risk for activists in Vietnam,” Pearson said. “Australia needs to unequivocally pressure Vietnam to stop abuse of rights,” she said.

Vietnam: Show Rights Commitment at Australia Talks


Vietnamese Protestant Pastor Barred from Going to Timor Leste to Attend Regional Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Defend the Defenders: On July 31, Vietnam’s security forces barred Protestant pastor Pham Ngoc Thach from taking an international flight to Timor Leste where he was invited to attend 2016 Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Southeast Asia.

On Sunday, security officers in the Ho Chi Minh City-based Tan Son Nhat International Airport stopped pastor Thach when he was on his way to leave the country. They said that he is on the list of activists who cannot leave the nation due to security reasons under Decree 136 of the government.

Police confiscated the pastor’s passport without giving any explanation.

Pastor Thach, who lives in the Central Highlands, was prisoner of conscience. He was imprisoned for two years for advocating freedom of religion and belief.

After being released, he has been under close surveillance by the local authorities who constantly harass him and his family.

He had been detained and tortured in police station several times in the 2011-2013 period.

The Vietnamese communist government has persecuted independent religious groups, especially Protestant groups in the Central Highlands and the northern mountainous region.

Recently, Christian Aid Mission reported that at least 108 Vietnamese Protestant pastors are currently imprisoned because they refused to register or merge their churches despite pressure from local officials. While in prison, pastors are subject to torture and harsh conditions. Failure to comply with all orders and regulations can bring lethal retribution.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has barred over a hundred of local activists from going abroad, not allowing them to travel to foreign countries to meet with international counterparts and diplomats.

Under Decree 136, the minister of public security is responsible for forming a black list of barred activists based on controversial definitions of national security.

The 2016 Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Southeast Asia, held in Dili, East Timor on August 1-2, aimed to (i) provide a platform for various Southeast Asian religious groups and advocates of religious freedom to better understand distinct and shared obstacles experienced across the region, and identify and discuss key emerging issues; (ii) develop advocacy strategies and best practices that work in overcoming the challenges of religious freedom or mitigating religious persecution, and to strengthen the cooperation among multi-stakeholders in promoting FoRB in Southeast Asia; and (iii) create an action plan towards implementing those strategies.

Few Vietnamese activists were able to attend the event due to government blockage.


Hanoi Police Kidnap Pro-democracy Activist, Deporting Him to Home Province after 12 Hours in Detention

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi on July 31 kidnapped a pro-democracy activist, holding him for 12 hours in a police station before deporting him to his home province at mid-night, the victim said.

On the morning of Sunday, Mr. Dien, 35, and seven other activists rallied in Hanoi’s center. They wore T-shirts with message saying Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys) belong to Vietnam. During their journey, the activists were followed by a group of around twenty individuals in plainclothes which are believed to be security officers in the city’s Department of Public Security.

Dien, who has participated in a number of peaceful demonstrations against China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group, was in the last position. He suddenly disappeared at 10.45 AM when the group arrived in Hang Khay Street, said other activists of the group.

The activists tried to connect Dien by cell phones but received no answers.

On August 1, Mr. Dien said on his Facebook page that he was detained by plainclothes agents who brought him to a police station in Hang Bai ward, Hoan Kiem district where police officers interrogated him on his peaceful activities such as participation in demonstrations and expressing his opinions on social networks, including Facebook.

In late evening of July 31, police in Hanoi handed him and his bicycle over to the police of Yen Bai province who took him to his home town and released him at 1 AM of the next day at his family’s house.

Dien said the police did not confiscate his personal items.

This is the second detention of Dien by Hanoi police. On May 8, Dien was arrested while participating in a protest against Formosa and was also deported to his home town.

Vietnam’s security forces have applied a number of measures, including assaulting, kidnapping, detaining and deporting local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders to silence them.

Vietnam’s communist government has little tolerance for its critics and applied many measures to prevent spontaneous demonstrations. It has ordered the security forces to assault, kidnap and detain as well as block activists in order not to allow them to organize or participate in peaceful protests.

On July 23, after being re-elected as chairwoman of the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, member of the ruling communist party’s Politburo, criticized anti-China activists, saying their demonstrations aim to cause instability in the country.

Since the beginning of 2016, dozens of government critics, social activists and human rights defenders have been brutally assaulted by plainclothes agents while hundreds of others have been detained to police stations where many of them were interrogated and tortured by police officers, according to the statistics of Defend the Defenders.

Vietnam’s communists have vowed to maintain a one-party regime and made all effort to prevent the establishment of political opposition.


Vietnamese Police and Fishermen Clash Over Port Project

RFA: Fishermen protesting the construction of a port project benefiting a major Vietnamese cement producer clashed with police on Sunday [July 31], with one man beaten as he attempted to get medicine, witnesses told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

About 100 plainclothes policemen, along with ambulances and fire trucks blocked the only road accessing Nghi Thiet village on July 30, after as many as 700 villagers attempted to protest the construction project, the witnesses said.

The witnesses said 64-year-old Nguyen Viet Nong was beaten as he attempted to walk through the police lines to get medicine. His beating caused the eruption of a broader clash between the police and the fishermen.

Another fisherman at the scene told RFA, on condition of anonymity, that people from about 400 families had gathered at the demonstration site to protest the low compensation the government has offered them for disruption to fishing.

He confirmed to RFA that fishermen and police had clashed and that “some people who got bruises, are being treated in Nghi Loc district hospital.”

“The most seriously injured person is still at the Vissai cement office in Nghi Thiet village,” he said.

According to the Vissai Group website, the company began construction on the cement plant in the Nghi Thiet village port on May 19, 2016.

The project was approved by the Nghe An province people’s committee in 2015 and has a projected capacity of 4 million tons a year. It includes an international port that can accommodate ships of up to 70,000 tons.

Another fisherman told RFA that local government officials had briefed villagers on the construction of the plant in November 2015, but that villagers then rejected the government offers, citing economic and pollution concerns.

The villager, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the government offered them between VND48 million ($1,920) and VND3 million in compensation for loss of income, depending on the size of the vessel.

Building the port facility for the Vissai cement plant will displace the fishermen, and they say the compensation falls well short of what they will need to live when they cannot fish.

Vietnamese Police and Fishermen Clash Over Port Project

===== August 2 =====

Brotherhood of Democracy Launches Campaign to Demand for Criminal Probe of Formosa

Defend the Defenders: Brotherhood of Democracy, a pro-democracy group in Vietnam, has launched a campaign which aims to demand the Vietnamese government to probe Formosa for its discharge huge volume of toxic industrial waste in Vietnamese sea water and other localities.

Under the campaign, members of the group disseminate leaflets in many cities and provinces to call for a criminal investigation against the Taiwanese company.

Vietnam should request Formosa to leave the country after the firm cleans the environment and provide sufficient compensation for affected people in the four central coastal provinces, the group said.

Brotherhood of Democracy is a unsanctioned organization in Vietnam. Its founder and leader Nguyen Van Dai, prominent human rights lawyer, is in detention since December 16 last year and has been charged with allegation of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

Hội Anh Em Dân Chủ phát động chiến dịch dán tờ rơi yêu cầu khởi tố Formosa

===== August 4 =====

Hanoi Police Detain Catholic Priest, Suspecting Him of Organizing Uprising

Defend the Defenders: On August 4, security forces in Hanoi detained Catholic Priest Dang Huu Nam from Phu Yen parish, Vinh diocese as they suspected him of organizing a “uprising” against local authorities, according to local social networks.

Priest Nam, who often speaks out to criticize Vietnam’s authorities, said he was detained by security officers in plainclothes when he took a lunch in Cau Giay district. He went to Hanoi for medical check-up.

During the detention, police officers interrogated him, accusing him of receiving financial support from the U.S.-based pro-democracy group Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) for organizing anti-government demonstration.

After finding no evidence for their accusation, the police were forced to release him at 5 PM of the same day. However, the security forces in the capital city continued to follow him closely in the next few days.

The Nghe An province-based outspoken priest has been under constant harassment by local authorities. In late 2015, he was attacked by dozens of plainclothes agents while a local police officer stood by and watched.

Vietnam has around seven million Christian followers who have been subjected to discrimination by the local authorities who try to closely monitor all religions.

Meanwhile, Catholic priests in Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces have called on local followers and residents to mark the Environmental Day [August 7] by cleaning the local areas and rallying on streets to demand the government to take urgent actions to recover the maritime environment after the illegal discharge of huge volumes of toxic industrial waste by the Formosa Hung Nghiep steel plant of the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group in Ha Tinh.

Local activists have reported that Vietnam’s government is deploying numerous police officers and army units to Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces to deal with peaceful demonstrations of local residents.

Ha Tinh provinces, together with Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue, is the locality suffered most by the environmental disaster caused by Formosa illegal toxic chemical dumping. Hundreds of tons of fish massively died in April-June, making hundreds of thousands of local fishermen and tourism-related businesses have no incomes while the government’s supports for them are modest.

Vietnam’s authorities have been violently suppressing activists who have peacefully spoken out to demand Formosa to clean the environment in the affected areas before leaving the country, and request the government to hold accountable those officials responsible for granting the license for the Taiwanese company as well as for failing to monitor its toxic waste dumping. Hundreds of activists have been detained and many of them were tortured in police’s custody.

===== August 05=====

Prominent Vietnamese Dissident Kidnapped by Police Against, Sixth Time Since Late March

Defend the Defenders: On August 5, the security forces in Hanoi kidnapped Nguyen Quang A, the most popular dissident in Vietnam, and kept him for around ten hours in a bid to prevent him from meeting with foreign diplomats, the victim said.

The Hungary-trained economist said he had appointments with German political counselor Lax Konrad, Dutch Second Secretary on Political, Press and Cultural Affairs Tim Krap and New Zealand’s Deputy Ambassador Robbie Taylor on Friday as well as a reception of Australian Ambassador Craig Chittick in the evening on the occasion of the visit by Mr. Lachlan Strahan, head of Multilateral Policy under the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who represented the country at the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi on August 4.

In the morning of the day, when Dr. A left his private residence in Hanoi, he was kidnapped by six security officers who took him to a car and headed to his home town of Que Vo in Bac Ninh province, about 40 km from the capital city. The kidnappers confiscated his cell phone so he couldn’t connect with the foreign guests.

The kidnappers kept him in Que Vo district police station until noon and two officers from the Ministry of Public Security took him to lunch and then to a tour in Ba Vua (Three Kings) temple in the neighbor district of Gia Binh.

Dr. A was released in his home town at 6.30 PM of the day.

This is the 6th police detention of Dr. A since late March. On May 24, he was also kidnapped by the security forces shortly before the scheduled meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and local activists which he was invited to attend.

Dr. A is a leading activist in Vietnam. He has written a number of articles criticizing policies of the ruling communist party and its government on socio-economic development.

In addition to barring local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders from going abroad, Vietnam’s security forces often kidnap them or keep them under de facto house arrest in order to prevent them from meeting with foreign diplomats and officials or attending peaceful gatherings.

Many activists were blocked from attending the meeting between President Obama and representatives of local civil society during his first and final visit to the communist nation in May.

Meanwhile, a number of activists, including former prisoner of conscience Pham Hong Son, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and Chief Executive Officer Vu Quoc Ngu of Defend the Defenders attended the reception in Hanoi on August 5 given by Australian Ambassador Chittick.


Taiwanese Lawmaker Held in Vietnam Airport on Way to Scandalous Formosa

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces held Taiwanese legislator Su Chih-fen for nine hours in the Hanoi-based Noi Bai International Airport, not allowing her to visit the areas affected by the industrial waste discharge by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh.

Ms. Su from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced on her Facebook page on Monday afternoon that Vietnam’s authorities had confiscated her passport and refused to issue her a boarding pass.

Su and her team were held at the airport as they were heading to Vinh City, where they planned to transfer to Ha Tinh by bus to visit the region suffered the environmental disaster caused by the illegal discharge of a huge volume of toxic chemicals by the multibillion-dollar steel plant, constructed by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group.

According to Su’s Facebook post, customs officers issued all boarding passes but hers and then confiscated her passport before preventing the entire group from boarding the plane.

“They said we must remain within the capital city,” Su wrote, adding one purpose of the group’s visit is to investigate Formosa’s dump of toxic waste in Vietnam’s localities and seawater.

Around two hours later, at 7 PM, Su wrote another Facebook post saying that the group had been released but would have to travel to their intended destination by bus.

Commenting on a recent pollution case involving the FPG’s steel plant in Ha Tinh, in which the company was fined around $500 million for polluting coastal waters and causing the death of massive numbers of fish, Su urged FPG to fulfill its corporate responsibility and provide more assistance to the people of Vietnam, such as promoting vocational education in the Southeast Asian country.

The Vietnamese authorities said the Taiwanese legislator cannot visit places not included in her unofficial tour.

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel was the subject of intense ire in Vietnam earlier this year when it was blamed for the most severe environmental crisis in the Southeast Asian country’s history.

The outrage came after tons of fish, including rare species that live far offshore and in deep waters, washed up on beaches along Ha Tinh and three other provinces along Vietnam’s central coast.

After months of denial, Formosa publicly apologized on June 30 for the fish deaths, admitting to discharging toxic industrial waste and accepting a fine of $500 million.

Vietnam’s authorities have violently suppressed local activists who demand the Taiwanese firm to leave the country after paying adequate compensation for the affected people and clean the environment in the affected areas.

Vietnam has rejected several offers of technical assistance from foreign countries in investigating the causes and consequences of the discharge of huge volume of toxic industrial waste of Formosa into Vietnam’s sea and many other localities in the country.

Vietnamese border officials gave ‘no explanations’ for stop: DPP lawmaker Su

DPP legislator returns from Vietnam

===== August 7 =====

Thousands of Catholic Followers in Central Vietnam Rally against Formosa

Defend the Defenders: On August 7, thousands of Catholic followers in two Vietnamese central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh rallied on local streets to demand the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group to take actions to clean the local environment, provide sufficient compensation for affected people and stop its steel plant in Ky Anh district.

The peaceful demonstrations were made in many localities in response to the call by Priest Nguyen Thai Hop, who heads the Vinh diocese, for Environmental Day [August 7], three months after the beginning of the en-mass death of fish in the central coastal region due to toxic industrial waste discharged by Taiwanese Formosa steel plant.

According to Good News for the Poor newswire, over 5,000 followers from Song Ngoc parish, Phu Yen parish, Manh Son parish, and Yen Hoa parish in Nghe An and over 1,000 peoples from Dong Yen parish attended the gathering.

Demonstrators hang banners protesting Formosa’s waste dumping and chanted “Formosa out of Vietnam”.

Some of followers from Ky Anh went to areas near the Formosa steel plant to peacefully protest the company.

Vietnam’s government has deployed a huge number of police officers, including special armed units and military units to protect the Taiwanese plant and key roads in the two provinces. However, no coercion between demonstrators and armed forces was recorded.

Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fishermen in Vietnam’s central region have been forced to stay on shore due to the sea water contamination with heavy metals, according to the government’s statistics. Other businesses such as salt production and tourism-related works have also been seriously affected.

The impact of the pollution caused by Formosa is expected to linger over 70 years, according to scientists and environmentalists.