Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report October 30-November 5, 2017: Vietnam Tightens Control Prior to APEC Summit, Many Activists under House Arrest

Defend the Defenders | November 5, 2017

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Vietnam’s security forces have been tightening control nationwide several days ahead of the APEC Summit scheduled for November 6-10, placing many activists under de facto house arrest.

Authorities in may localities are sending police officers to station near private residences of activists, not allowing them to go out, victims have complained.

The Investigation Agency under the Nghe An province Department of Public Security said it has completed its investigation against labor activist Hoang Duc Binh and advised the provincial People’s Procuracy to prosecute him on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

On November 1, Hanoi police kidnapped former prisoner of conscience Bui Thi Minh Hang when she visited her cousins in her native district of Son Tay. Police beat her, taking her to the district police headquarters where they robbed her smart phone and money, and questioned her for hours. She was released in the late evening of the same day.

On the same day, pro-government thugs attacked some activists after the latter attended a vigil to commemorate late President Ngo Dinh Diem of the Vietnam Republic, which fell to communist troops in 1975. Reporter Huyen Trang of the independent Good News for the Poor sustained severe injuries from the attack.

On the occasion of the APEC Summit, many international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Civil Rights Defenders as well as numerous global intellectuals issued statements calling on Vietnam’s government to release all prisoners of conscience and stop the ongoing crackdown on local activists.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security had summited a draft on Cyber Security Law to the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly for discussion and approval. The communist-controlled parliament is scheduled to discuss the bill on November 13 and expected to conduct vote on it on November 22-23.

Many activists consider the bill as a move against humanity as it strives to silence government critics and limit citizens’ right to freedom of information, enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of which Vietnam is a State Party.

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===== October 31 =====

Labor Activist Hoang Duc Binh to Be Prosecuted for Democracy Abuse

Defend the Defenders: The Investigation Agency under the Nghe An province Department of Public Security has advised the local People’s Procuracy to prosecute human rights activist Hoang Duc Binh on allegation of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” under Article 258 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

The agency completed its investigation against Mr. Binh more than four months after his arrest on June 15, said lawyer Ha Huy Son, who will defend the activist in the upcoming trial.

Binh, vice president of the unsanctioned organization Viet Labor, will be tried for allegation under clause of Article 258, facing imprisonment of between two and seven years if convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Binh, who was very active in assisting Formosa-affected people to seek proper compensation and demanding the Taiwanese firm withdraw its businesses in the country, was kidnapped on June 15. Later, Nghe An province’s police announced that they had arrested him and charged him with “Destroying or deliberately damaging property” under Article 143, “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 and “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 258 of the Penal Code.

His arrest and probe are part of efforts of the authorities in Nghe An province to silence him for his peaceful activities aimed at helping the Catholic community in the central region to seek justice in the environmental disaster caused by the illegal discharge of toxic industrial waste from the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant into the central coastal waters last year.

Binh and Bach Hong Quyen are two bloggers who have covered information about the natural disaster caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant as well as local protests against the pollution-causing investor. Quyen was forced to flee to a foreign country to seek political refugee status after authorities in the central province of Ha Tinh on June 12 issued an arrest warrant for him, accusing him of “causing public disorder” for his peaceful activities.

The moves against Binh are part of the ongoing intensified crackdown against Vietnamese activists, with arrests and heavy sentences of dozens of political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers since late 2015, starting with the arrest of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested, imprisoned and expelled 25 activists to foreign countries. Nine of them have been accused with serious charges of subversion under Article 79 of the Penal Code according to which they could face life imprisonment or capital punishment.

In June-September, Vietnam convicted human rights activists Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Van Oai and Phan Kim Khanh with imprisonment of between five and ten years for their peaceful activities.

Many foreign governments, international and domestic human rights organizations condemned the convictions and requested Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release them and other prisoners of conscience as well as stop its ongoing crackdown on local activists.

===== November 01 =====

Pro-government Thugs Attack Activists after Commemoration of Late Former Vietnamese Anti-communist President

Defend the Defenders: On November 1, pro-government thugs assaulted activists after they had participated in a commemoration of Ngo Dinh Diem, the late president of the Vietnam Republic who was killed in a military coup in 1963.

Around 300 activists gathered in the Lai Thieu cemetery in the former capital city of Saigon although the local authorities sent numerous police officers and plainclothes agents to the area.

A large group of pro-government thugs also came to the area in order to disturb the commemoration.

When Catholic priests and activists held a ceremony to pray for the late anti-communist president at his resting place, pro-government forces used high-volume speakers to disturb the event.

After the ceremony, when activists left the cemetery to go back to the city, pro-government thugs attacked some of them, including female journalist Nguyen Huyen Trang of the Tin Mung Cho Nguoi Ngheo (Good News for the Poor) and Nguyen Duy Linh.

Ms. Trang told Defend the Defenders that thugs beat her on her head and that she still felt great pain on the next day.

The attacks were made in view of the police, but they did not intervene to stop the harassment, activists said.

The attack is among a series of assaults by pro-government thugs against Vietnamese activists in 2017.

Pro-government thugs beat female activist Le My Hanh twice this year. They also targeted Catholic priests and followers in Tho Hoa parish in the southern province of Dong Nai and Song Ngoc parish in the central province of Nghe An.

Meanwhile, many Vietnamese activists consider late President Diem as the most patriotic leader in modern Vietnam. President Diem, who ruled the southern Vietnam in 1956-1963, was killed together with his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu in the U.S.-backed coup carried out by senior military officers on November 1, 1963.

Meanwhile, former prisoner of conscience Bui Thi Minh Hang was detained by Hanoi police on Wednesday at noon. Police confiscated all her belongings, including cell phones, and released her in late evening.

Hang, who spent three years in prison on trumped-up charges, lives in the southern city of Vung Tau. She was very active in the anti-China movement, participating in many peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi and Saigon against China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea).

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Former Prisoner of Conscience Bui Thi Minh Hang Kidnapped, Robbed by Hanoi Police

Defend the Defenders: On November 1, Hanoi police kidnapped and robbed former prisoner of conscience Bui Thi Minh Hang when the Vung Tau city-based activist visited her relatives in Son Tay district, the victim said.

At 2PM Wednesday, while Ms. Hang was staying in her cousin’s private residence on Hoang Dieu street, Son Tay district, two police officers came and said they wanted to conduct a regular administrative check. When Hang took her smartphone to film, a group of nearly ten people detained her and took her to a car and drove away.

The kidnappers took Hang to the headquarters of the Son Tay police department, where several police officers held her while a female officer conducted a body search. They took her smartphone and a wallet with VND3 million ($130).

Later, police took her to a room where she was interrogated by an officer who introduced himself as Trung from the Hanoi city’s Police Department. Trung couldn’t say the reason for her detention when Hang questioned him about their motives against her.

As Hang refused to answer their questions, they left her in the room until 8 PM. After that, they came back and asked her to sign in a working minute but Hang refused.

Finally, police took Hang back to her cousin’s house at 9 PM.

Police asked her to go to the Hanoi Police Department on November 2 to settle issues about the confiscation of her smartphone.

Hang said police are stationed at all the roads leading to her cousin’s private residence.

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 year 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 member 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.

During the imprisonment, she was inhumanely treated by prison wardens. In 2015, she conducted a long hunger strike to protest degrading treatment inflicted on 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.

Police are keeping close surveillance on her after she completed the sentence in mid-February this year.

Kidnap, robbery, and torture are common practices applied by Vietnam’s security forces against local political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists, and online bloggers.

===== November 02 =====

Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam Must End Impunity for Attacks Against Journalists

Civil Rights Defenders: The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists should be a wake-up call to end the repression and abuse of independent media workers. With a clampdown on independent journalism throughout the region, Civil Rights Defenders calls on the Governments of Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam to abolish those laws permitting judicial harassment and creating a climate of impunity for attacks against independent media.

According to UNESCO, since 2006 around 930 journalists throughout the world have been killed for their reporting. Nine out of ten cases go unpunished. Seeking to address this, in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. This day should serve as a wake-up call to put an end to the escalation of judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, and violence targeting independent media workers in Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam.

Since 1993, at least 13 journalists have been killed in Cambodia, with no known convictions of the perpetrators. Leading up to parliamentary elections next July, Prime Minister Hun Sen has been waging a renewed assault against freedom of expression. Following the closure of independent radio station Voice of Democracy, by the end of August over 30 radio broadcasters had been closed, leading Radio Free Asia (RFA) to end its 20-year presence in the country. The independent, English-language Cambodia Daily has likewise been forced to end its 24-year operation, following the arbitrary imposition of a crippling 6.3 million dollar tax bill, levied with no other purpose than to garrotte press freedom. Two Cambodia Daily journalists, Aun Pheap and Zsomber Peter, have been charged with ‘incitement,’ Article 495 of the Penal Code, a crime that carries up to two years in prison and is often used against human rights defenders engaged in peaceful expression and assembly.

After an initial reform of censorship regulations following the 2012 election, freedom of expression is again under heavy attack in Burma. Defamation charges are increasingly wielded to harass and detain journalists and bloggers. The criminal defamation provision of Section 66(d) provides for up to three years in prison, for “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person using a telecommunications network.” Since 2013, more than 70 people have been charged under the law, such as journalist Swe Win, who faces defamation charges for comments on Facebook, in which he accused extremist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu of hate speech against the Rohingya. Before 2015, and the transition to a nominally civilian government, Section 66(d) had only been used seven times, signalling an alarming spike in prosecuting free expression.

The 2014 death in military custody of journalist Ko Par Gyi, who had been arrested while reporting in a conflict zone, has still not been prosecuted. The Government abandoned its investigation in April 2016, and in December another journalist, known for reporting on illegal logging, Soe Moe Tun, was found murdered. His death, likewise, remains unpunished.

Vietnam is the world’s second largest jailer of citizen journalists,* who in Vietnam’s tightly controlled media landscape are the only source of independent information. From June to September 2017, three citizen journalists were given outrageous prison sentences. Me Nam (aka Mother Mushroom) and Tran Thi Nga were sentenced to ten and nine years respectively for spreading propaganda against the state, under Article 88 of the Penal Code. In September, citizen journalist Nguyen Van Oai was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly violating the terms of his probation, having previously been sentenced under Article 79 of the Penal Code to four years of imprisonment plus three years of residential surveillance.

Bloggers and other human rights defenders in Vietnam are frequently attacked in public, such as in August 2015 when Tran Thi Nga and a group of bloggers were dragged from a bus and beaten on their way to visit fellow blogger Tran Minh Nhat. Perpetrators are seldom, if ever prosecuted.

When those who seek to exercise their fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of expression, can be arrested and convicted without due process, it sends a signal. Judicial harassment of independent media is often associated with the dehumanization of journalists and bloggers. This emboldens acts of violence against them. As noted in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, “Promoting the safety of journalists and fighting impunity must not be constrained to after-the fact action. Instead, it requires prevention mechanisms and actions to address some of the root causes of violence against journalists and of impunity.” This means abolishing laws that target journalists and curtail the freedom of expression. For this reason, to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, Civil Rights Defenders calls on:

– The Governments of Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam to immediately repeal those sections of their domestic laws that allow for the ongoing judicial harassment of journalists and media workers;

 

– The Governments of Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam to immediately initiate independent investigations into unresolved cases of violence and extrajudicial killing of journalists and media workers;

– All United Nations Member States to support the appointment of a Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary General for the safety of journalists.

===== November 03 =====

Human Rights Watch Calls on Vietnam to Release All Political Prisoners

Defend the Defenders: On November 3, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging Vietnam’s communist government to immediately release everyone it has detained or imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights.

The New York-based human rights organization said international leaders and trade partners attending the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang on November 10, 2017, should call on Vietnamese authorities to end the government’s systematic persecution of peaceful critics and ensure the basic rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion for its citizens.

“While doing photo-ops and trade deals with the leaders of Vietnam’s one-party state, foreign officials in the country for APEC should not turn a blind eye to the over 100 political prisoners those very same leaders have put behind bars,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “At the same time that Vietnam is playing the role of a friendly host to welcome international delegations, the authorities are intensifying their crackdown on anyone with the courage to speak up for human rights and democracy,” Human Rights Watch said.

Since its formation in 1976, the modern, unified Vietnamese state has imprisoned people for the exercise of basic freedoms. At present, at least 105 peaceful critics are in prison for expressing critical views of the government, taking part in peaceful protests, participating in religious groups that don’t have the authorities’ approval, or joining civil or political organizations that the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam deem as threats to its monopoly on power, it said.

Neither a glittering APEC summit nor new trade deals can cover up the ugly reality that Vietnam still runs a police state that brooks no dissent, said Asia Director Brad Adams.

Full statement: Vietnam: Release All Political Prisoners

===== November 04 =====

Vietnam Parliament to Discuss Bill on Cyber Security Considered by Activists as Crime against Humanity

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security summited a draft Cyber Security Law to the country’s highest legislative body, the National Assembly, for discussion and approval.

The communist-controlled parliament is scheduled to discuss the bill on November 13 and expected to conduct vote on it on November 22-23.

Many activists consider the bill as a move against humanity as it strives to silence government critics.

Independent journalist Huy Duc wrote that this draft legislation is ‘a law against humanity’. ‘If anyone casts their vote to pass a law that bans Vietnamese from accessing social media – including Facebook, Google… – history won’t consider them as conservatives or idiots, but criminals who committed crimes against humanity, who stopped 90 million Vietnamese from the chance to reach out to the civilized world.’

===== November 05 =====

Vietnam Tightens Security Ahead APEC, Many Activist Interrogated, Others under House Arrest

Defend the Defenders: Authorities in many Vietnamese localities have been tightening security ahead of the APEC Summit, detaining many local activists for interrogation and placing others under house arrest, the victims have complained.

In Danang, where the summit is taking place on November 6-10, local security forces have summoned activists Khuc Thua Son and Lam Bui and others to local police stations for questioning for days.

In Ho Chi Minh City, police officers detained environmentalist Tran Quynh Nhu Uyen when she was riding with her motorbike. Police beat her and later took her to a police station for questioning. Several hours later, police took her back to the place where she was kidnapped. Uyen said police threatened her that they would kill her if she traveled alone.

In the central province of Nghe An, on November 3, police detained former prisoner of conscience Tran Duc Thanh and questioned him about the Brotherhood for Democracy. Thach, a member of the online pro-democracy group, has been under constant harassment of the local police.

In the southern province of Dong Nai, police summoned eleven Catholic followers of the Tho Hoa parish to question on relation with social orders.

Along with kidnaping, beating, and interrogating former prisoner of conscience Bui Thi Minh Hang, security forces in Hanoi have also been placing many local activists under de facto house arrest. Vu Quoc Ngu, chief executive officer of Defend the Defenders said police came to his private residence to seek for him. As the family told them that he was not at home, two policemen left. The security head of the Thanh Tri police also sought him by telephone.

Meanwhile, many international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Civil Rights Defenders as well as many foreign intellectuals have urged Vietnam to release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience, and stop ongoing severe crackdown on political dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and independent journalists.

Vietnam holds over 100 of prisoners of conscience, while Hanoi always denies this, saying it keeps only law violators behind bars.

Vietnam will host the APEC Summit in Danang on November 6-10, with participation from U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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