Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for June 1-7, 2020: Unsanctioned Liberal Publishing House Awarded with IPA’s Prix Voltaire 2020
Defend the Defenders | June 7, 2020
After two years of operation from its establishment in February 2019, the unregistered Liberal Publishing House (LPH) has been awarded the honorable Prix Voltaire 2020 of the Geneva-based International Publishers’ House for its restless efforts to print and disseminate books about human rights and multi-party democracy in the past two years.
The Vietnamese independent publisher established by a group of dissidents surpassed three other heavy candidates named Turkey’s Avesta Yayinlari, Malaysia’s Mr. Chong Ton Sin, and Pakistan’s Maktaba-e-Daniyal to win the prize which includes the material value of CHF10,000.
While the IPA announced LPH as the winner of the prestigious Prix Voltaire in the evening of June 3, prominent dissident Pham Doan Trang, one of the key members of the publisher, said she and its other members were chased by Vietnam’s security forces who seek to persecute its staff. Trang reported that police officers went to her mother’s apartment in Hanoi to interrogate the 80-year-old lady about Trang.
After demolishing the Brotherhood for Democracy and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Vietnam’s security forces are targetting LPH in a bid not to allow printing and disseminating uncensored books in the regime’s campaign to keep the country under the one-party regime.
Vietnam’s security forces and the Hanoi Police Department have still been keeping detained 29 land petitioners incommunicado after arresting them during the brutal attack of thousands of riot policemen in Dong Tam commune on January 9 this year. Most of them were arbitrarily charged with murdering three police officers who were reported to had have lost their lives during the assault, and the remaining were accused of resisting on-duty state officials. Recently, the Hanoi police said one of the detainees, Mr. Le Dinh Chuc, the second son of killed Le Dinh Kinh, partly recovered his health. It is likely that police torture led to his serious injuries.
In her press release on June 3, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced alarm that curbs on freedom of expression had increased in 12 Asia-Pacific countries, including Vietnam, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with dictatorships and democracies alike stifling public debate in the name of fighting fake news.
“Arrests for expressing discontent or allegedly spreading false information through the press and social media, have been reported in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam,” the press release said.
The office noted that in Vietnam, over 600 Facebook users were summoned by police for questioning over their online posts about COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic there. In most cases, the Facebook users were handed administrative sanctions and ordered to delete their posts, but at least two received criminal sentences for posting what the government called “fake news” about COVID-19. The sentences have included up to nine months of detention and fines exceeding $1,000.
===== June 1 =====
Four Arrested and Three Injured as Thousands Strike at Taiwanese-owned Adidas Supplier in Vietnam
RFA: At least four people were detained and one other injured as thousands of workers in Vietnam’s Binh Duong province went on strike last week over their company’s plan to lay them off due to a downturn in business from the coronavirus pandemic.
The five-day strike began May 26 and ended Saturday, as workers from the Taiwanese-owned Chi Hung Company Ltd., a producer of shoes for Adidas, were told that the company could only support them through June.
The company, in Tan Uyen town, had been operating as normal even when Vietnam began social distancing, but the lack of new orders is forcing the company’s owners to reduce its workforce. The company plans to close its doors starting Monday, while still paying its workers through the end of the month.
More than 10,000 workers joined the demonstration at the company’s headquarters. Strikers told RFA that four workers were arrested by police, while a pregnant worker fainted after a stun gun was used on her.
RFA spoke to authorities and several workers during the course of the labor action.
Lt. Col. Tan Phu, head of the town’s police department, confirmed to RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the police were working on the issue, but abruptly hung up the phone when the reporter identified his association with Radio Free Asia.
A striking worker who requested anonymity to speak freely told RFA the reasons behind the strike, saying, “During COVID-19, other companies announced that if there were no orders, the workers would be allowed to stay home and each worker could receive the support of 170,000 dong ($7.28).”
“But Chi Hung is only supporting us through June, even though they think we’ll have to stay home in July and August, because processing contracts are said to have been canceled,” the worker said.
“So now, we can only stay at home and we’re not receiving any announcements about when we can return to work at the company, and it’s hard to find another job,” the worker added.
The worker also said that the company has a trade union, but representatives of the union did not explain anything about worker protections during the epidemic.
Several relevant agencies are cooperating to moderate the strike, according to Nguyen Dinh Khanh, the vice-chairman of the province’s labor union.
“Right now the head of the provincial labor union, the Labor Department and the Tan Uyen People’s Committee are joining together to solve this issue with Chi Hung,” said Nguyen.
“That company has a trade union so the relevant agencies will be working together to resolve this issue,” he said.
The company issued an announcement to the workers at the end of the workday on Thursday, saying, “The company is presently working under normal conditions, hoping that workers do not worry and continue to join in on production.”
“Those reporting to work must scan their employee badge and confirm their names on the attendance list to be paid salary,” the announcement said.
“Amid the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, the company will do its best to acquire orders in the hopes of maintaining employment for all workers and staff,” it added.
The announcement was signed and stamped by the company’s general director, Liu Yu Feng, and trade union chairman Nguyen Thi Ngoc Ha.
On Saturday, a Chi Hung Company representative told state media that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it planned to temporarily suspend labor contracts with some of its employees in July and August. However, as the company has not yet announced in detail its circumstances and support policies, there was confusion and misunderstandings among the workers, which caused the strike.
At present, the company’s production remains stable and management will announce support policies for workers on June 20 at the latest, the representative said.
Following this announcement, the strike ended and workers returned to work.
Chi Hung Co. Ltd was founded in August 2000 and employs over 10 thousand workers.
Another strike in same province
Meanwhile, on Monday, Vietnam’s state media reported that 100 workers at a different Taiwanese-owned company in the same province began their unrelated strike, over the company failing to pay severance after laying them off.
Workers for the G.R.A. Company said they want to get refunds for the payments they made into an unemployment insurance fund, and they demanded severance and other related payments in compensation for layoffs.
A representative of police at the My Phuoc Industrial Park police station confirmed to state media that G.R.A.’s management explained in an announcement to laborers that the company would solve all issues with benefits for the workers, but they did not agree, resulting in the strike.
Most of the demonstrators joining the strike on Monday were previously laid off by G.R.A. according to Dang Tan Dat from the Binh Duong labor union.
They returned to the company Monday demanding unemployment insurance payments and severance, Dang said.
The labor union is working with the company to find a solution, he said.
Binh Duong province, considered the “gateway to Ho Chi Minh City” is home to many industrial parks and industrial clusters that manufacture goods for global companies.
Foreign investors from 64 countries and territories set up shop in Binh Duong, with 304 projects totaling $5.7 billion, Vietnam’s ministry of planning and investment reported in October 2019.
===== June 3 =====
Unsanctioned Vietnamese Liberal Publishing House Wins IPA’s Prix Voltaire 2020 amid Intensified Crackdown and Censorship
Defend the Defenders: The unsanctioned Vietnamese publisher Liberal Publishing House (LPH) has won for the honorable prize named Prix Voltaire 2020 of the International Publishers’ Association (IPA).
IPA announced the laureate of the 2020 Prix Voltaire during an online award ceremony on June 3.
It has surpassed three other finalists named Turkey’s Avesta Yayinlari, Malaysia’s Mr. Chong Ton Sin, and Pakistan’s Maktaba-e-Daniyal to win the prize which includes the material value of CHF10,000.
Speaking at the ceremony from Vietnam, prominent dissident Pham Doan Trang, one of the key leaders of LPH, thanks to its other staff and supporters as well as readers for the publisher’s success. She said the publisher will continue to work to fight for freedom of publishing in an authoritarian country. She added that at the time of the ceremony, all staff of LPH are forced to go into hiding to avoid being arrested by Vietnam’s security forces.
Vietnam’s LPH was founded in February 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City by a group of dissidents as a direct challenge to the government’s control of the industry and to bring the non-fiction work of Vietnam’s growing crop of dissident writers to the nation’s readers. In Vietnam such publications are known as Samizdat – the illegal copying and distribution of books – and are banned by the government as “anti-state” activity. Involvement therein carries a jail term of 20 years, forcing LPH to operate clandestinely.
According to Amnesty International’s Vietnam campaign team, police have questioned nearly 100 people for either owning or reading books printed by LPH. At least, two activists Vu Huy Hoang and Phung Thuy involving in LPH’s affairs have been detained, interrogated and brutally tortured by Vietnam’s security forces from October last year while the publisher’s key individuals, including prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang, have been chased for months and face arrest.
On January 3 this year, authorities detained activists for reading books from LPH in “an apparent crackdown on independent reading in the country.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the intimidation and harassment of LPH to stop.
U.N. Rights Chief Alarmed at Asia-Pacific Crackdown on Freedom of Expression Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
RFA: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced alarm Wednesday that curbs on freedom of expression had increased in 12 Asia-Pacific countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, with dictatorships and democracies alike stifling public debate in the name of fighting fake news.
“Arrests for expressing discontent or allegedly spreading false information through the press and social media, have been reported in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam,” the High Commissioner’s office said.
In many countries, laws on alleged fake news raise human rights concerns and “have been used in other contexts to deter legitimate speech, especially public debate (and) criticism of government policy,” it said.
In remarks published Wednesday Bachelet said: “While Governments may have a legitimate interest in controlling the spread of misinformation in a volatile and sensitive context, this must be proportionate and protect freedom of expression.”
“In these times of great uncertainty, medical professionals, journalists, human rights defenders and the general public must be allowed to express opinions on vitally important topics of public interest, such as the provision of health care and the handling of the health and socio-economic crisis, and the distribution of relief items,” Bachelet added.
The office noted that in Vietnam, over 600 Facebook users were summoned by police for questioning over their online posts about COVID-19 since the start of the epidemic there.
In most cases, the Facebook users were handed administrative sanctions and ordered to delete their posts, but at least two received criminal sentences for posting what the government called “fake news” about COVID-19. The sentences have included up to nine months of detention and fines exceeding $1,000.
The OHCHR said the increased restrictions during the pandemic added to “long-standing concerns” about the degree of Vietnamese media restrictions and sentencing in cases involving freedom of expression, both online and offline.
“This crisis should not be used to restrict dissent or the free flow of information and debate. A diversity of viewpoints will foster greater understanding of the challenges we face and help us better overcome them,” said the high commissioner.
“It will also help countries to have a vibrant debate on the root causes and good practices needed to overcome the longer-term socio-economic and other impacts. This debate is crucial for countries to build back better after the crisis,” Bachelet said.
===== June 4 ======
Vietnamese Security Forces Intensify Persecution against Liberal Publishing House after Publisher Awarded with IPA’s Prix Voltaire 2020
Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have intensified crackdown on the staff of the unregistered Liberal Publishing House (LPH) after the dissident publisher was awarded Prix Voltaire 2020 by the International Publishers’ Association (IPA), Defend the Defenders has learned.
Prominent dissident Pham Doan Trang, the key person of the publisher, is the most wanted by Vietnam’s security forces. Police have been chasing her for months but until now, she is still free but has to go into hiding and regularly change her location to avoid being traced.
Trang, who was honored by the Reporters Without Border (RSF) last year, reported on her Facebook account that on June 3, a few hours before the LPH’s name was announced as the recipient of the Prix Voltaire 2020 award by the Geneva-based IPA, two security officers from the Ministry of Public Security and the Hanoi City’s Police Department, along with local policemen, went to her mother’s private residence in Hanoi where the 80-year-old woman has lived by herself for the past three years, beginning in July 2017 when Trang was forced to leave Hanoi as she couldn’t live under the watchful eyes and suffocating thumb of the security forces.
When they entered her apartment, they immediately pressured Trang’s mother into an interrogation about her. They gave her a number of questions such as “Where is Trang?” or “Has she kept in touch?”
Along with this, they also filled out a form with the heading “Confirmation that Pham Thi Doan Trang has created, stored, and distributed anti-state materials” and demanded her mother sign it. They tried to persuade her by saying her responses to their questions had nothing to do with any of the “materials,” that this form merely recorded and reflected the fact that she did not know where her child was. Such convincing worked, and they successfully pressured her mother to sign the form.
The police officers also reminded the old lady to let the police know immediately when Trang returns home and “if Trang reaches out, then tell her to report to the police straight away to conduct work.”
Trang predicted that Vietnam’s security forces won’t stop and they may carry out other tricks in a bid to catch her and other staff of the publisher which has printed out dozens of uncensored books from government critics about human rights and democracy.
Vietnam’s communist regime does not tolerate criticism and wants to keep the country under a one-party regime. It has requested its government and the security forces not to allow the formation of political parties and independent civil organizations. After imprisoning a dozen of key members of the unsanctioned Brotherhood for Democracy, the communist regime is arresting two important figures of the unregistered Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN)- President Dr. Pham Chi Dung in November 2019 and Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy on May 23. Their next target will be the LPH and its staff.
From the LHP’s establishment in February 2019, the security forces have been restlessly harassing its activities, detaining its shippers, and harassing hundreds of its readers. In October last year, police arrested Vu Huy Hoang, and in May this year, they detained Phung Thuy. In both cases, they took them in police stations where security forces tortured them in a bid to extract the information about the publisher and its key staffs, including Ms. Trang, who has a number of books printed by the publisher and her books are welcomed by readers in the country and abroad.
Trang said many publisher’s staffs have been forced to leave their families to go into hiding. However, they vow to continue their works to bring books from political dissidents to readers.
===== June 5 =====
Vietnamese Villagers Detained in Dong Tam Land Clash Are Still Denied Family Visits
RFA: Villagers detained by authorities during a deadly police raid five months ago on the Dong Tam commune outside the Vietnamese capital Hanoi are being denied visits by family members, who are also restricted in what they can send their loved ones to support them in custody, sources say.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the Jan. 9 assault that involved about 3,000 security officers and was the latest flare-up of a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Hanoi.
So far, 29 residents have been arrested in relation to the Dong Tam incident, which also claimed the lives of three police officers, and are being prosecuted on charges ranging from murder to the illegal storage and use of weapons and opposing officers on duty.
Relatives of those held in custody have not yet been able to visit their loved ones in detention, though, and can provide them only limited support behind bars, one family member told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“If I send gifts to my husband, I cannot send food,” said Nguyen Thi Duyen, wife of detained Dong Tam villager Le Dinh Uy. “I am allowed to send him only two suits of clothes, and can send him just one and a half million dong [U.S. $60] each month.”
Family members of the others held in jail are bound by the same restrictions, said Hoang Thi Hoa, wife of Le Dinh Chuc, son of slain Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh.
Le Dinh Chuc, 40, had at first been reported killed along with his father when police attacked their home in the early morning hours of Jan. 9, though state media later confirmed that only the older man had died.
Le had been left partly paralyzed in the assault, but his condition has now improved, Hoang told RFA on June 2.
“I met with the Hanoi police, and they said my husband’s health is better now, and he can walk again,” she said.
“I was going to send him some medicine and ask the police to let him go to the hospital for further treatment, but now they tell me that there are no signs of paralysis on the one side of his body,” she said.
Reached for comment, Hanoi police officer Do Dinh Thanh—the officer who had invited Hoang to come to the station to talk—declined to speak, saying he was busy and would call back later.
He failed to call again, though, and later attempts to reach him by phone rang unanswered.
Health improving ‘step by step’
Defense lawyer Le Van Hoa meanwhile said that Le Dinh Chuc’s health has slowly improved, with progress coming “step by step.”
“Following the [Jan. 9] clash, I met with Le Dinh Chuc while he was being questioned by police, and I saw that he had an injury on the top of his head. At that time, he found it very difficult to walk, and he moved very slowly,” he said.
“I [recently] asked him about his condition, and he said that he had been paralyzed on one side of his body, but since then his health has slowly been improving step by step.”
Official reports of the Jan. 9 police raid on Dong Tam said that villagers had assaulted police with grenades and petrol bombs, but a report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days later by journalists and activists said that police had attacked first during the deadly clash.
Police blocked off pathways and alleys during the attack and beat villagers “indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report said, calling the assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation.
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