Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 23-29, 2020: Vietnam Intensifies Online Crackdown amid Covid-19 Pandemic
Defend the Defenders | March 29, 2020
Vietnam’s communist regime has intensified crackdown on Facebookers in a bid to halt posting the information which is considered harmful for the regime.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, more than 300 Facebookers have been punished for their posts regarding ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which spreads across Vietnam and globally. Along with administrative fines up to VND15 million ($640), police have threatened to charge some Facebookers with criminal offenses for posting “fake or unverified news” which “cause social disorders.”
CIVICUS, a South Africa-based global alliance of civil society organizations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world, has called on authoritarian regimes, including Vietnam, to “Release all human rights defenders and political prisoners who were imprisoned for their human rights activities, or for expressing views contrary to those of the state” as well as “Lift emergency laws and relax measures imposed to curb the spread of the virus as soon as the threats diminish.” In its press released dated March 24, it said states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights during the global Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the latest statistics of Defend the Defenders, Vietnam is holding at least 242 prisoners of conscience in severe living conditions in prison camps and temporary detention facilities across the nation. Since early February, their families have not been allowed to meet with them or provide additional food and other essential goods for them as the detention facilities are taking measures to prevent Covid-19 infection.
Two months ago, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Leigh Toomey, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst jointly issued a joint statement expressing their concerns regarding the arbitrary detention of Mr. Dung, who is president of the unregistered Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN); and the arbitrary detention and confiscation of the passport of human rights defender Dinh Thi Phuong Thao upon her return to Vietnam after years of international advocacy abroad.
===== March 23 =====
UN Human Rights Experts Question Vietnam’s Government on Pham Chi Dung’s Case
The Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders have issued a joint statement to questioned Vietnam’s communist regime about the detention of independent journalist Pham Chi Dung.
In their statement dated January 22, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Leigh Toomey, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst expressed their concerns regarding the arbitrary detention of Mr. Dung, who is president of the unregistered Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN).
They said they are concerned about the alleged arbitrary detention of Mr. Dung and the fact that he may be held without access to his family or his lawyer, as well as a lengthy period of incommunicado detention puts him at a higher risk of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment.
The detention of Mr. Dung is the Vietnamese regime’s revenge for his letter sent to the European Parliament to urge it to postpone the approval of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, they said.
They urge Vietnam to ensure that human rights defenders and journalists in Viet Nam are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of threats, harassment or acts of intimidation and reprisals of any sort.
For full statement:
Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
===== March 24 =====
CIVICUS: States should put human rights at the center of all responses to COVID-19
Civicus, Media Releases, March 24, 2020
During the global COVID-19 pandemic states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights
Human rights defenders and political prisoners should be released to curb the spread
Governments should be transparent in responding to threats posed by COVID-19
CIVICUS urges states to lift emergency measures as soon as the threat of the virus diminishes
As the global community continues to take measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 and ultimately eradicate it, states should ensure that the protection of human rights are at the center of all responses.
In March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus reached the level of a global pandemic. WHO in turn requested that all governments take necessary action to stop the spread of the disease.
However, as observed with other emergencies, some governments have used crises to curtail civic freedoms and maintain restrictions – even after health threats that justified governments’ actions subsided. States responding to the spread of the COVID-19 virus must ensure that international human rights laws and standards are central to their responses.
While the focus and attention of the global community over the coming months will be directed towards the virus, states may increase attacks on civil society and impose restrictions. States should take pro-active measures to ensure that civil society organizations and vulnerable groups are adequately protected. In China, activists have been harassed and intimidated for sharing information on the virus while reporting has been censored. In other parts of Asia, repressive laws are being deployed to arrest those supposedly spreading untruths about the virus.
As an infectious disease, the risk of COVID-19 increases in closed spaces like jails, police cells and detention centres. Overcrowding, poor nutrition and lack of access to proper hygiene increase the risk of infection to prisoners. States have an obligation now to release human rights defenders and political prisoners from jail in an effort to curb the spread.
Some prisoners in Iranian jails have contracted the virus. While we commend the Iranian authorities for temporarily releasing 85,000 prisoners, human rights defenders – whose only crime was to defend the rights of women and juveniles – should also be released. Other states with a history of detaining human rights defenders and members of the political opposition, such as Egypt, Vietnam and Cameroon, should follow suit.
Declarations of states of emergency for health and security reasons must be done in conformity with the law: states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights and target particular groups, minorities, and individuals. Emergency laws should not be imposed to silence human rights defenders and they must be lifted as soon as threats posed by the virus diminish. Further, civil society groups should be consulted where possible.
It is compulsory for all those affected, especially marginalized groups and civil society groups working with them, to have access to meaningful information regarding the nature and extent of the threats posed by the virus. They should also have information on ways to curb risks in a timely manner. Internet restrictions and shutdowns in countries like Myanmar, India and Ethiopia are putting thousands at risk.
In this regard, CIVICUS calls on states to:
Collaborate with the media and civil society to be transparent in responding to threats posed by COVID-19. Address misinformation at all times without relying on censorship and criminal sanctions
Refrain from using responses to COVID-19 as a pretext to impose restrictions of civil society, target human rights defenders and curb online freedoms
Release all human rights defenders and political prisoners who were imprisoned for their human rights activities, or for expressing views contrary to those of the state
Lift emergency laws and relax measures imposed to curb the spread of the virus as soon as the threats diminish
Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet and end all deliberate interference with the right to access and share information
===== March 27 =====
Vietnamese Well-known Facebooker Threatened with Heavy Punishment For Disseminating News on Covid-19
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime has threatened to impose hard punishment on a well-known Facebooker coded Đ.N.Q for “disseminating fake news on Covid-19 which causes social disorders amid increasing crackdown on online government critics.
The Ministry of Public Security has said on its website that the Department of Cyber Security and High-tech Crime Prevention has summoned the Facebooker for questioning about his online posts.
Accordingly, the Facebooker, likely Đặng Như Quỳnh, is accused of obtaining information, mostly from state agencies, adding his personal views and posting on his Facebook account. In many cases, his posts contain some information as the statements released later by state agencies like the Ministry of Health.
Police have accused the Facebooker of disseminating “fake news” and “unverified information,” and allowing other Facebookers to make comments unfavorable for the regime.
He was said to have disseminated more than 200 articles regarding Covid-19 infection in different localities in Vietnam since February. Each of his articles has thousands of “Like,” “comment” and “share,” and they are considered sources of “fake news regarding Covid-19” in Vietnam’s social networks in the past months.
Police said due his posts have caused social disorders, affecting the people’s normal lives by making many people to resettle and store food and necessaries.
The Facebooker has been forced to remove his 216 posts with unverified content and those having distorted comments regarding Covid-19 infection in Vietnam.
The ministry said its Department of Cyber Security and High-tech Crime Prevention is collecting information for his violation and will decide what measures to impose on him. He may face criminal charges of “abusing democratic freedom” with imprisonment of between three and seven years in prison or even “anti-state propaganda” with imprisonment up to 12 years in jail, or at least administrative fine of up to VND15 million ($640).
However, many respected Facebookers said the information in Đặng Như Quỳnh’s posts is correct and faster than the information given by state agencies. Quynh is a businessman conducting a number of charity programs, including programs to help people deal with Covid-19. He was once honored by VTV, the state-run central television canal.
Vietnam has reported nearly 170 cases infected with Covid-19 as of March 28 and keeps tens of thousands of people in quarantine.
Along with taking measures to prevent Coronavirus from spreading, Vietnam’s authorities have been cracking down Facebookers and bloggers who try to deliver timely and valuable information about the deadly outbreak given the state-controlled media has been restricted to disseminate information to the republic. Tens of millions of Vietnamese have relied on the social network as the communist regime is implementing strict censorship.
Two weeks ago, Vietnam’s state-controlled media reported that 654 Facebookers had been summoned to the police stations for interrogation about their posts on the social network regarding the deadly Coronavirus outbreak, and 146 of them had been fined of between VND10 million and VND12.5 million.
Citing the information from the Ministry of Public Security, newspapers reported that there have been around 900,000 posts on social networks about the devasting disease coming from China’s Wuhan since its outbreak in late 2019.
The ministry said numerous articles and videoclips posted on Facebook and other social networks are untrusted or unverified which are harmful to the public. A number of famous figures have also disseminated “fake news,” the ministry said.
On February 12, the Department of Information and Communication in Ho Chi Minh City imposed an administrative fine of VND10 million on celebrities Dam Vinh Hung, Cat Phuong and Ngo Thanh Van for posting “untrue information,” local outlet Zing.vn said without giving details.
Newspapers reported that in early March, Hanoi police detained a local resident named K.P.T. after he said on Facebook that the Covid-19-infected patient number 17 had participated in a number of public events few days before having disease symptoms while the police said she had been self-quarantined after landing in Noi Bai International Airport in a flight from London.
In mid-March, several Facebookers disseminated that Nguyen Quang Thuan, former chairman of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and incumbent vice chairman of the ruling communist party’s Central Theoretical Council, had visited his girlfriend-lover immediately after arriving in Hanoi from the same flight with the patient No. 17, three days before being hospitalized for the urgent treatment of Coronavirus. Police said the information is not corrected and fined these bloggers.
According to statistics of police, authorities in Hanoi have worked with 44 Facebookers about online posting with “incorrect information” while the number in the central province of Thanh Hoa was 20 and the northern province of Lao Cai- six.
All of them have been forced to admit that their posts were with “fake content” and delete their posts as well as pledge not to repeat.
There has been no case in which a Facebooker is criminally probed for their “incorrect posts” regarding the Wuhan virus spreading, according to the local media.
Vietnam, bordered with China- the world epicenter of Coronavirus with tens of thousands of people infected and thousands of deaths, and has never closed its border gates with the northern country. In recent months, there have been a number of cases in which people suddenly died in different locations but the local authorities reported later that their deaths have not been related to the deadly virus. The regime tends to make the disease consequences lighter or even hide them in fear of affecting the country’s economic growth, the sole reason for the communists to keep their power.
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