Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 11-17, 2019: Vietnam Undergoes ICCPR Review after 15 Years

Defend the Defenders | March 17, 2019

On March 11-12, the UN Human Rights Committee held a review of Vietnam’s implementation of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its headquarters in Geneva. During the two sessions which lasted three hours each, human rights experts asked dozens of questions about Vietnam’s human rights situations while the 24-member delegation of Vietnam’s government gave insufficient answers.

Before the interpellations, the world human rights experts held two consultation sessions with international and domestic NGOs to get updated human rights situations in Vietnam. A representative of Defend the Defenders joined dozens of other right groups in these sessions and the interpellation sessions.

Vietnam’s authorities have arrested Nguyen Thi Hue and charged her with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code for her posts on Facebook which aimed to call for justice for her husband who was wrongly convicted in a traffic accident.

Democracy campaigner Nguyen Van Tuc, who is serving his 13-year imprisonment in Prison camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An is suffering from a number of serious diseases but the prison’s authorities have yet to provide him with proper medical treatment.

On March 7, Vietnam’s security forces blocked Mrs. Bui Kim Phuong, the wife of prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen, from going to Germany where she will do advocacy for her husband. The reason for the blockage is national security, said security officers from Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

On March 14, on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the loss of Gac Ma (South Johnson Reef) in the East Sea (South China Sea) to China, authorities in many localities including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City placed local dissidents under de facto house arrest in a bid to prevent them from gathering to mark the event.

On March 15, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement calling on the Thai authorities to respect refugee’s status of human rights defender Bach Hong Quyen, who fled from Vietnam and relocated in Thailand in May 2017. Quyen is under threat of being caught by the Royal Thai Police and deported to Vietnam in relations to former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat, who came to seek refugee’s status in Bangkok and disappeared in late January this year.

Ahead of the appeal of five activists of the to-be-established pro-democracy group Liên minh Dân tộc Việt (Vietnam National Coaliation) and the trial against Le Minh The, a member of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution), Human Rights Watch has issued a statement calling on the Vietnamese regime to free them immediately and unconditionally as they work peacefully to promote multi-party democracy and human rights in the country. 

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Wife of PoC Nguyen Bac Truyen Stopped on Her Way to Germany

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have barred Mrs. Kim Phuong from going to Germany, the first stop of her planned advocacy tour for her husband, prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen.

On March 7, she was stopped by security officers in Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City who symply told her that she cannot leave the country due to national security.

Ms. Phuong reportedly planned to go to Germany and other countries, including the US to urge international community to pay attention to her husband, who is serving his 11-year imprisonment in An Diem Prison camp in the central province of Quang Nam.

Mr. Truyen, 51, is a human rights defender and democracy campaigner who found the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD) together with prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai and others.

Due to his support for religious groups and involvement in BFD, he was targetted by Vietnam’s security forces who assaulted him and his wife several times. On July 30, 2016, he was arrested together with three key members of the organization on allegation of subversion.

After many months of incommunicado detention, in April 2018, he and five other members of BFD were convicted and sentenced to between seven and 15 years in jail and one to five years of probation after imprisonment.

Mrs. Phuong is among a number of relatives of prisoners of conscience being blocked from going abroad. On February 21, security forces in Tan Son Nhat International Airport detained Mrs. Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh for many hours and confiscated her passport when she came back from an advocacy trip in Europe where she attended Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and met with German senior officials. She is the wife of Mr. Truong Minh Duc, who was convicted in the same case with Mr. Truyen.

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Vietnamese Government under Review of ICCPR after 15 Years

The review of Vietnam’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was conducted by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva on March 11-12, 2019 for the first time in the past 15 years.

During two session of interpellation each lasted three hours in the Palaise de Wilson, a 24-member Vietnamese delegation led by Deputy Minister of Justice Nguyen Khanh Ngoc was asked to answer about many issues, including Cyber Security and the ongoing crackdown on online Facebookers, prisoners of conscience, the Red Flag Association, suppression of peaceful demonstrations, arbitrary detention, torture, land grabbing and statelessness of Hmong and Montagnard ethnic minorities.

The two questions-answers sessions were live broadcasted on the UN’s website webtv.un.org/livewhich attracted tens of thousands of Vietnamese citizens.

Prior to the two sessions, the UN Human Rights Committee conducted an official meeting and a unofficial meeting with non-government organizations (NGOs) which had submitted shadow/counter reports about Vietnam’s implementation of ICCPR to the committee. Dozens of international and domestic NGOs attended the two meetings and handed over tens of questions to the committee which the committee selected and gave to Vietnam’s government. The Vietnamese government also sent several NGOs (government NGOs or GONGOs) to the meetings and these organizations asked unsensitive issues.

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Human Rights Activist Nguyen Van Tuc Inhumanely Treated in Prison Camp No. 6

Imprisoned human rights advocate and democracy campaigner Nguyen Van Tuc is being treated inhumanely by authorities of Prison camp No. 6 located in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province.

The information came from his wife Bui Thi Re, who went to visit him on March 13. Mr. Tuc was convicted of subversion and sentenced to 13 years in prison last year for his peaceful activities.

During the meeting, Mr. Tuc told his wife that he is placed in a cell together with a criminal convicted for drug trafficking. Encouraged by the prison’s authorities, the criminal reportedly beat him very often in exchange of his sentence reduction.

The former president of the unregistered Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD) said when his family sends food for him, the prison’s authorities keep the food and give him only when it spoils.

Mr. Tuc, 54, was arrested in September 2017 and charged with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the government” for his membership in the unregistered group Brotherhood for Democracy which was established by prominent human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai.

In the trial on April 10, 2018, he was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison and five years under house arrest by the People’s Court of Thai Binh province. Five months later, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi upheld his sentence.

After losing his appeal, he was transferred to the current prison.

He has been suffering a number of serious diseases, including hemorroids due to severe conditions in Vietnam’s prisons and inhumane treatment against prisoners of conscience.

His wife is not sure that he can survive to complete his sentence after being treated inhumanely by the prison’s authorities.

Inhumane treatment against prisoners of conscience is not rare in Vietnam where the ruling communist party is striving to keep the country under a one-party regime. Prisons’ authorities are systematically applying tough measures, including solitary confinement, using criminals to beat prisoners of conscience, and tainted food to punish jailed activists to break their mentality.

A number of imprisonedactivistshave been conducted hunger strike to protest prisons’ inhumanetreatment, including Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Mother Mushroom) and Nguyen Van Hoa, a citizen journalist. The first two were released but forced to live in exile in the US while the third reportedly started hunger strike in An Diem Prison camp on February 22 for many days.

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Justice-seeker Nguyen Thi Hue Arrested, Charged with “Abusing democratic freedom”

Defend the Defenders:Authorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Gia Lai have arrested justice-seeker Nguyen Thi Hue and charged her with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

Around 20 police officers came to her house in Ia Hrung commune, Ia Grai district in the morning of March 12 to search the house. They took her to the district police station in the afternoon after announcing that she was arrested and will be held at least three months for investigation of the allegation.

It is likely that her detention is related to her posts on her Facebook account Den Quang about the unjustice her family is suffered in recent years.

Several years ago, her husband travelled in a car of his friend. They suffered a traffic accident in which the friend who drove the vehicle was killed. However, police said her husband was driving the car in the incident and he was imprisoned and fined.

Not agreeing with the police conclusion, she has sent petitions to many state agencies to seek for justice for her husband. His daughter has been helping her to post articles and conduct live streams on her Facbook accounts in which she criticized the police forces for imprisoning her husband and the miscarriage of justice her family is suffered.

Hue, 51, has also covered news in other cases of miscarriage of justice in her areas.

Vietnam’s authoritarian regime often uses allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” to silence local dissidents including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam).

Currently, 14 bloggers are held after being convicted or arrested for the allegation in Article 258 of the 1999 Penal Code or Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code, according to statistics of Defend the Defenders.

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Vietnamese Activists Barred from Gathering to Mark South Johnson Reef Loss

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have barred local activists from gathering to mark the 31stanniversary of the loss of Gac Ma (South Johnson Reef) to China ahead of a visit of President Nguyen Phu Trong to Beijing.

From early morning of March 14, plainclothes agents and militia were sent to private residences of activists in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities to effectively place them de facto under house arrest. Some were allowed to go out but remained under close police surveillance.

University lecturer Dao Thi Thu in Hanoi told Defend the Defenders that she couldn’t to go to her class as undercover police and militia did not permit her to go out with her motorbike. When she tried to get a bus, police officers violently stopped her, making her watch broken.

Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, said he planned to go to Hanoi’s center to commemorate the 64 naval soldiers killed by the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) in Gac Ma in 1988, he was blocked by a group of around five undercover policemen.

Authorities in the capital city sent a group of dozens of women to dance near King Ly Thai To monument in the city’s center where activists were used to gather in similar cases, making the place unavailable for other activities. 

The similar situation was in HCM City and local activists were forced to stay at home to mark the event. 

In previous years, authorities did not block activities from gathering but sent government’s supporters to disturb the activists’ commemorations.

On February 27, in order to prevent activists from gathering to Tran Hung Dao Great General to mark the 40thanniversary of the invasion of the PLA in Vietnam’s six northernmost provinces, authorities in HCM City removed his …. To another place.

This year, for the first time in decades, some state-run newspapers covered news on the loss of Gac Ma or the Chinese invasion in 1979, however, they still avoided to name Beijing as the aggressor.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Phu Trong, the communist chief, planned to go to visit China for the first time after grabbing the country’s president post left by former Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang, who died from unclear reasons last year.

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Vietnam: 6 Activists Headed to Prison

HRW:Six Vietnamese activists and bloggers are facing long prison sentences for their peaceful opposition, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s government should immediately release the six, who are being prosecuted for peaceful political activities such as forming an association, expressing views on social media, and participating in public assemblies.

Five of them were tried in October 2018, for participating in a pro-democracy group, and sentenced to prison terms between 8 and 15 years. A high court is scheduled to hear the appeal of Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Phan Trung and Tu Cong Nghia in Ho Chi Minh City on March 18, 2019. Separately, Le Minh The will go to trial on March 20, for his posts on Facebook, in the Binh Thuy district court in Can Tho.

“Vietnam’s deepening rights crackdown is targeting independent political associations and individual activists who dare to demand that the government respect rights and restore democracy,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “International donors and trade partners should tell Vietnam that continuing this crackdown will cause problems for the aid and trade deals that Hanoi wants to conclude with North America and the European Union.”

For further reading: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/14/vietnam-6-activists-headed-prison

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Thailand urged to respect Vietnamese blogger’s refugee status

Reporters Without Borders:Following a Thai police raid two weeks ago on the home of Bach Hong Quyen, a Vietnamese blogger who fled his country and currently lives in Bangkok, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears that the Thai authorities could allow Vietnamese agents to abduct Quyen and urges them to respect his UN-guaranteed status as a political refugee.

Bach Hong Quyen, who has lived in Bangkok since May 2017, has been in hiding ever since the police came and questioned him at his home on 1 March. He fears that he could be arrested at any momentand deported back to Vietnam although his refugee status is guaranteed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The day after Quyen helped fellow Vietnamese blogger and journalist Truong Duy Nhat to apply for the same refugee status at the UNHCR office in Bangkok, Nhat mysteriously disappeared while in a Bangkok shopping mall on 26 January.

Nhat was probably abducted by Vietnamese agents with the complicity of the local authorities, fuelling fears that other Vietnamese journalists who have fled their country could suffer the same fate.

Accused by the Vietnamese authorities of disturbing public order, Quyen hopes to obtain asylum for himself and his family in Canada and is currently registered with Canada’s refugee reinstallation programme.

“We urge the Thai government to respect the status of Bach Hong Quyen and his family as refugees and to stop intimidating Quyen in any way,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Aside from the obligation to respect the fundamental rights of an individual whose only crime was to have informed his compatriots, Thailand’s credibility on the international stage is stake.”

“Repatriation”

Quyen is well known for his investigative reporting on environmental issues, speaking on media outlets that broadcast in Vietnamese from abroad. In particular, he raised questions about the responsibility of certain Vietnamese officials in a marine environmental disaster resulting from a toxic spill from a steel plant owned by the Taiwanese firm Formosa.

Thailand was once a refuge for journalists persecuted by the region’s most repressive regimes but, under the current government headed by Gen. Prayut, it has on several occasions been complicit in the “repatriation” of journalists to the countries where they were wanted.

The victims have included Yang Jiefei, a Chinese cartoonist arrested in 2015, and Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swedish publisher who was abducted in 2015 while on vacation in Thailand. Both ended up in Chinese prisons. Nhat, the Vietnamese blogger who disappeared seven weeks ago, has not yet “reappeared” in a Vietnamese prison.

Thailand is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, while Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s lowest ranking – 175th.

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