The Vietnamese: EU Officials Raised Concern Over Worrying Human Rights Situation In Vietnam

“The human rights situation in Vietnam is worrying,” according to Commissioner for Trade of the European Union, Cecilia Malmström, after her meeting with independent Vietnamese civil society organizations on March 14, 2019.

When announcing the adoption of the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements (EV-FTA) in October 2018, Commissioner Malmström had hoped that such agreements would “help spread European high standards and create possibilities for in-depth discussions on human rights and the protection of citizens.”

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On March 14, VOICE’s advocate human rights delegation met with Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Trade of the European Union. From left, Anna Nguyen – VOICE’s Director of Programs, Cecilia Malmström, Trinh Hoi – VOICE’ Executive Director and Nguyen Vi Yen.

However, during recent months, the human rights situation in Vietnam did not improve.

Instead, it became more concerning.

Commissioner Malmström is not the only EU official who has expressed concerns over the worrying trend of suppression on human rights in Vietnam in recent months.

32 MEPs from across the political spectrum of the EU Parliament signed a letter back in September 2018, calling on the EU to demand specific human rights improvements from Vietnam before the ratification of the EV-FTA.

EU Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, Maya Kocijancic, also confirmed in an interview with Radio Free Asia earlier this month, that during the 8th EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue held in Brussels on March 4, 2019, the EU had addressed specific cases of prisoners of conscience with the Vietnamese delegation.

Ms. Kocijancic also stated during the same interview that the annual dialogue “raised a wide range of issues related to freedom of expression, cybersecurity, the death penalty, environmental and labor rights, cooperation within the United Nations framework.”

As of today, The 88 Project’s database documented 21 Vietnamese activists are held in pre-trial detention. There are 218 other activists currently serving a prison sentence; among them, 30 are female activists and 51 indigenous political prisoners.

According to VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment), one of the organizations attended the meeting with Commissioner Malmström, the unconditional and in-country release of Vietnamese prisoners of conscience must be the first human rights benchmark before the ratification of the EV-FTA.

Vi Tran, from The Vietnamese.

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Photo from Malmström’s Twitter, Commissioner for Trade of the European Union.

VIETNAM: ‘We hope UN member states will listen to civil society’

Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam’s human rights record at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on 22 January 2019, CIVICUS speaks to Anna Nguyen from VOICE, a civil society organisation that promotes civil society development and advocates for human rights, including refugee protection, and the rule of law in Vietnam. Founded in 2007, VOICE’s mission is to empower individuals to build a strong, independent and vibrant civil society.

A Vietnamese-Australian lawyer, Anna Nguyen is VOICE’s Director of Programs. She oversees a training programme for Vietnamese activists in Southeast Asia, a refugee resettlement programme in Thailand and advocacy efforts, including at the UN, to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Vietnam.

Along with VOICE, Civil Society Forum, Human Rights Foundation and VOICE Vietnam, CIVICUS made a UPR submission on to the Human Rights Council in July 2018.

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What is the current situation for human rights and civil society in Vietnam?

The human rights situation in Vietnam is dire. While the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are supposedly protected by the constitution, they are not respected in practice. In 2018, 88 human rights defenders (HRDs) were arrested, and at least 194 remain in prison for peacefully exercising their civil and political rights. This is a staggering number and surely shows that the government of Vietnam is doing as much as it can to stifle political dissent.

Civil society in Vietnam has been steadily growing since mass protests over territorial disputes with China were held in Hanoi and Saigon in 2011, and thanks to the increasing use of social media such as Facebook and YouTube. There are more independent civil society groups now than there were seven years ago, and more people are willing to speak up on Facebook and attend protests to raise awareness of atrocities committed by the government, as well as attend training programmes relating to human rights. On the other hand, the Vietnamese government has used many tactics to stifle the development of an independent civil society movement, including the brutal suppression of protests, the physical harassment and imprisonment of HRDs and its refusal to pass a law on association.

How is the government persecuting online and offline dissent?

Peaceful protests are subject to brutal suppression, and their participants are victims of harassment and continuous surveillance. In June 2018, following a mass protest opposing proposed cybersecurity and Special Economic Zones legislation, the authorities cracked down heavily on peaceful protesters by using teargas and excessive force to prevent and punish participation, resulting in a range of human rights violations, including torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

Peaceful dissidents are often harassed, physically assaulted, criminalised with vague national security laws and imprisoned. In 2018, nine of the many peaceful activists imprisoned received the longest prison terms available, ranging from 12 to 20 years.

Bloggers in Vietnam who have been at the forefront of exposing abuses by the state, including human rights violations, corruption, land grabbing and environmental issues have faced intimidation, threats and imprisonment.

Prominent blogger and entrepreneur, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, was sentenced to 16 years jail for “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration in January 2010 while Hoang Duc Binh, a blogger and environmental activist, was sentenced to 14 years after being convicted on two separate charges of “resisting officers acting under their duty” and for “abusing freedoms and democratic rights”

In July 2017, Tran Thi Nga, a blogger and labour rights activist was convicted of “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment for sharing articles and videos online highlighting ongoing rights abuses tied to environmental crises and political corruption.

A draconian Cybersecurity Law, inspired by China’s, entered into force on 1 January 2019. This law tightens the government’s control of information and its ability to silence its online critics. Among other things, it allows the government to demand the removal, within 24 hours, of any posts that are deemed critical.

Why is the UPR process important for civil society?

The UPR process is open to all actors, not just states, which is why it is a great opportunity for civil society, and especially unregistered civil society groups, to get involved in the process by bringing in a perspective that is different from that of governments. It gives civil society an opportunity to highlight a state’s human rights record, as well as to provide recommendations to improve it.

Has Vietnamese civil society been able to participate in the UPR process? Has it encountered any challenges in doing so?

While the Vietnamese government held national consultations during the UPR process, it did not include independent and unregistered groups such as VOICE. This has been a challenge, because we haven’t had an open dialogue with the state.

In addition, reprisals are a big factor. Some HRDs who have been involved in the UPR process have faced difficulties upon returning home to Vietnam, including the confiscation of their passports and continuous surveillance and harassment. Reprisals are just another tactic that the government uses to stifle the growth of a civil society movement and punish civil society for peacefully raising its voice about the state’s failure to meet its human rights obligations.

What are some of civil society’s key recommendation to states participating in the upcoming review of Vietnam at the Human Rights Council?

Civil society is calling on states to urge Vietnam’s government to amend the Penal Code to ensure that ambiguous provisions relating to national security – notably articles 79 (109), 87 (116), 88 (117), 89 (118), 91 (121), 257 (330) and 258 (331) – are clearly defined or removed so they cannot be applied in an arbitrary manner to stifle legitimate and peaceful dissent and the freedom of expression.

We also want states to recommend that the government amend or repeal legislation specifically related to the freedoms of expression and information, and related to privacy and surveillance, in line with international standards such as articles 17, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We are particularly concerned about the Press Law, the Law on Publications and the Cybersecurity Law, as well as about Decree No. 72/2013/ND-CP on the management of internet services and information and Decree No.174/2013/ND-CP, which imposes penalties for the violation of post, telecommunication, information technology and radio regulations.

State representatives at the Human Rights Council should also call on Vietnam to ensure that civil society activists, HRDs, journalists and bloggers are provided with a safe and secure environment in which to carry out their work. They should also conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks on and harassment and intimidation against them and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Finally, there should be recommendations to ensure the independent and effective investigation of and implementation of remedy for arbitrary detention and physical or mental abuse by the state, with special attention to the protection of HRDs. Specifically, the government of Vietnam should be urged to release, unconditionally and immediately, all HRDs, including journalists and bloggers, detained for exercising their fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and drop all charges against them.

What would you like to see come out of the UPR review?

We hope that UN member states in the Human Rights Council will listen to civil society and our recommendations, and that a diverse range of civil society’s human rights concerns, including the rights of women, young people and LGBTQI people, and civil and political rights, will be addressed by strong recommendations – by recommendations that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. This will allow civil society groups and other stakeholders to monitor easily whether the government of Vietnam follows through with their implementation.

We would also like Vietnam to have more dialogue with unregistered and independent groups, to ensure there is a balanced representation of civil society in national dialogues for future reviews. This will strengthen the impact of the UPR process and improve the integrity of the mechanism.

What are you plans following the UPR review, and what support is needed from the international community and international civil society?

VOICE will raise awareness of the commitments made by Vietnam through translation and dissemination among the public, media, parliamentarians, embassies and civil society.

We will make sure to follow up on the recommendations made to Vietnam to ensure they are being followed through by holding regular stakeholder meetings, including with other civil society groups and embassies in Hanoi. We will continue to update the states that have made specific recommendations during advocacy meetings, to let them know whether progress has been made and urge them to put some additional pressure if it has not.

We would like the international community, including international civil society organisations, to keep up the pressure so the government of Vietnam follows through with the recommendations they have received, and to provide a platform for civil society groups and HRDs to raise awareness about the state’s progress or lack of progress in human rights.

Source from CIVICUS. VIETNAM: ‘We hope UN member states will listen to civil society’ .

#UPR
#VietnamUPR
#VietnamUPR2019

Anna Nguyen: “It is much more intelligent to try, rather than not to try.”

The following article is the sharing of Anna Nguyen, VOICE’s Director of Programs, on the occasion of the trip to advocate the human rights of the Vietnamese delegation in Europe.
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“Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.'” – Eleanor Roosevelt

On the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), I reflect back on my week in Brussels. This week was definitely a learning experience for me, after an intense week of back to back meetings with Members of the European Parliament and European Commission, talking about the importance of human rights concessions that need to be made by the Vietnamese government prior to the ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the leverage the EVFTA can be used to demand for an improved human rights situation in Vietnam.

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The EVFTA is a trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam, with hopes that once it’s signed, the EU will boost its trade and investment ties with Vietnam. ‘The EVFTA is an important stepping stone to a wider EU-Southeast Asia trade deal, something which the EU has been striving towards for almost 10 years. Vietnam, a fast-growing and competitive economy whose bilateral trade with the EU has quintupled over the past ten years, is equally keen on the deal, which according to the European Commission could potentially boost its GDP by 15%.’ (*)

Despite being 70 years since the UDHR was signed, human rights has taken a step back and our presence is still required to advocate for simple improvements in human rights. However, in each of my meetings this week, I was reminded how small of a fish we really are, in this huge ocean of diplomacy, trade deals, and agreements. We can talk for hours about the worsening human rights situation in Vietnam, and the staggering number of human rights defenders that have been sent to prison for their peaceful civil and political rights work (165 according to https://vietnamprisoners.info). We can go on and on about how much the EVFTA is needed by the Vietnamese government, not only because it could potentially boost their GDP, but also in order to be seen as balancing the interests between Conglomerate China and the West. We could continue to stress the power the EU has in pushing for the release of political prisoners and amendment to laws that infringe upon rights such as freedom of expression, and that if the EU wants to be seen seriously, they need to secure, at the very least, these demands before an agreement is signed.

Whether our voices actually amounts to real change is the real test. At times, I really wonder whether these meetings actually make a dent in any diplomatic negotiations. Whether the voice of civil society actors can really make an impact on how a country will be in the next 5, 10, or 100 years, and whether our input can shape how human rights and civil society organisations are able to safely and freely operate in a repressive country like Vietnam. After all, my voice is literally and metaphorically so small compared to this big arena of agreements and diplomacy, how much difference would I actually be able to make?!

But in the words of Mrs. Roosevelt, ”nothing has been achieved by the person who says, ‘it can’t be done.’” It is important to hope, to fight, even in the light of despair and deterioration. And surely, it is much more intelligent to try, rather than not to try.

(*) https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-balanced-and-progressive-trade-policy-to-harness-globalisation/file-eu-vietnam-fta?fbclid=IwAR2jIFGYxI5BbofGhHGmuaEp-0KM2tOfWLse6l4yvPhzE-35UAG0dr9om9k

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Source from Anna’s Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/ana.nguyen/posts/10157185635121111

Notice of activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s release from prison

NOTICE OF ACTIVIST NGUYEN NGOC NHU QUYNH’S RELEASE FROM PRISON

This afternoon October 17, 2018; activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka “Mother Mushroom”) was granted freedom from the Vietnamese government after almost two years of imprisonment. Today she was reunited with her family and they are on their way to the United States.

She is a strenuous human rights defender and environmental activist. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was awarded many prizes, including “Defender of the Year” by Civil Rights Defenders in 2015, and “International Women of Courage Award” by the U.S. State Department two years later.

Unfortunately, it was Quynh’s activism that triggered the Vietnamese government to detain her since October 10, 2016. She was consequently sentenced to 10 years imprisonment under the charge of “conducting propaganda against the State.”
The fight for Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s freedom has been continuously campaigned for the past two years by the Vietnamese communities inside Vietnam and abroad. They were supported by international governments and human rights organizations around the world. This pressure has forced the Vietnamese government to grant Quynh her freedom after two years of imprisonment. This result has indirectly proven that the 10 year sentence handed down to Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was not only unlawful but also immoral.

We would like to acknowledge and show gratitude to all who have supported this campaign. Moreover, we strongly believe that not only Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, but all the prisoners of conscience detained in Vietnam deserve a life of freedom and dignity.

There is more to be done ahead. At present, VOICE is working towards building a strong and robust civil society in Vietnam. Our objectives are to demand the Vietnamese government to respect and adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to campaign for the release of all prisoners of conscience.

To achieve our common goals, we ask for your continuous support in this journey.

VOICE

VOICE in conjunction with other NGOs submitted contributions to the Universal Periodic Review

On July 12, 2018, VOICE in conjunction with CIVICUS, Human Rights Foundation, VOICE Vietnam, and the Civil Society Forum submitted contributions to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This report draws attention to the human rights violations occurring in Vietnam with particular focus on civil society, freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders (HRDs) since its 2nd UPR examination in January 2014.

The report can be found here: UPR Submisson – Vietnam

The UPR is a unique process, which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. The UPR is a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council, which is based on equal treatment for all countries. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The UPR also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. Currently, no other mechanism of this kind exists.

VOICE in conjunction with other NGOs submitted contributions to the Universal Periodic Review
VOICE in conjunction with other NGOs submitted contributions to the Universal Periodic Review

During the last UPR cycle, the Government of Vietnam received 37 recommendations relating to civic space. Of these recommendations, 29 were accepted and eight were noted. An evaluation of a range of legal sources and human rights documentation addressed in subsequent sections of this submission demonstrates that the Government of Vietnam has partially implemented six recommendations relating to civil society space and not implemented the remaining 31. The government has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions on civic space since its last UPR examination and acute implementation gaps were found with regard to the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the protection of HRDs and bloggers.

The United Nations’ Human Rights Council is scheduled to review Vietnam’s human rights obligations on January 22, 2019.

More information about the UPR process can be found here:

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/BasicFacts.aspx

PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE SCREENING: WHEN MOTHER’S AWAY

VOICE Presents Documentary on Imprisoned Vietnamese Blogger Mother Mushroom

Bangkok, 27 June 2018 – Noting the one-year anniversary of her first trial, VOICE reiterates its call for the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release citizen journalist, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, popularly known as Mother Mushroom, with a screening of When Mother’s Away, a moving portrait of Mother Mushroom and her family. Screening from 7:00PM at the FCCT.

When Mother’s Away is a personal portrait that follows the life of Mother Mushroom’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, solely taking care of her two young grandchildren, while they struggle to continue on their lives and support Mother Mushroom, after she is sent to prison. In its depiction of an ordinary family facing an extraordinary circumstance, the film explores the themes of family and motherhood. Following the screening, VOICE will lead a panel discussion on the film and situation in Vietnam.

On 29 June 2017, Mother Mushroom, 38, was handed a ten-year prison sentence under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, often wielded against those whose only crime has been to speak out for human rights. A blogger, known for her writing about police brutality, freedom of expression, land confiscation, and the Formosa environmental disaster, Mother Mushroom was held in detention following her arrest in October 2016 until hours before her June trial. At her appeal, November 30, family and friends assembled outside the courthouse and were attacked by thugs.

Since February 2018, Mother Mushroom has been held in a remote prison over 1000 kilometers from her home. Family visits are difficult and expensive. At her last visit, Mother Mushroom’s mother revealed her poor health. In May, Mother Mushroom underwent a 6-day hunger strike to protest against prison treatment. Her family’s request to send her basic medicine and the Holy Bible was denied by the prison authorities.

VOICE reiterates its calls for the Vietnamese authorities to comply with their international human rights obligations, and to immediately and unconditionally release Mother Mushroom, and urges the international community to intervene at the highest possible levels to support her immediate release.

VOICE continues to stand by Mother Mushroom’s call for all Vietnamese to continue fighting for their rights for a better and greater nation.

We each only have one life to live but if given the choice, I would still do it exactly the same… I hope everyone will soon raise their own voice and fight for their rights so that they can overcome their own fears, and build a better and greater nation – Mother Mushroom.

VOICE is a non-profit, non-governmental organization working in the field of promoting civil society development, advocacy for human rights, including refugee protection, and rule of law in Vietnam. Founded in 2007, VOICE’s mission is to empower individuals in order to envision a strong, independent, and vibrant civil society.

2018 Recommendations for US – Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

Context and Update

Vietnam implements a number of vaguely-worded and restrictive laws to punish individuals for exercising fundamental rights including:

a. Freedom of Religion

Since the new Government of Vietnam came into power in May 2016, at least 59 human rights defenders have been arrested and imprisoned, many of whom are Christian fighting for religious freedom. The authorities have instigated state-sponsored assaults against those who dare to speak up, especially Catholic villagers in Central Vietnam whose lives have been adversely affected by the Formosa environmental disaster.

‘Hoi Co Do’ (The Red Flag Groups) have been formed and sponsored by the authorities in many parts of Vietnam to incite violence and hatred against parishes critical of the government’s policy concerning the Formosa incident. For example, on 17 December 2017, Parish Ke Gai of Diocese Vinh in Nghe An Province was attacked by hundreds of members of a Red Flag Group due to their activism in protecting the environment resulting in scores of parishioners being injured. See video clip below produced by the Redemptorist Church (with English subtitle):

This marks the first time a new tactic has been used by the authorities to set non-Catholics against Catholics. It is a deliberate state attempt to create tension and sow distrust between faith-based groups.

The independent Hoa Hao Buddhist Church has also suffered much throughout this past year. Buddhist ceremonies organized by the Church were shut down by the authorities and at least, fifteen (15) members of the Church were arrested last year. One of their leaders, Mr Vuong Van Tha, was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment while his son was sentenced to 7 years on 23 January 2018.

Further, the authorities continue to harass and persecute religious leaders of unregistered religious groups by either demolishing their temple and confiscating the property (Lien Tri Temple in Saigon) or attempting to confiscate it (Thien An Monastery in Hue) or engineering direct attacks (including physical assaults) against many Protestant church leaders in the Highlands. Many of them are, to date, banned from traveling within and outside of Vietnam despite guarantees made in the new Law on Religion and Belief concerning freedom of religion and under Vietnam’s own Constitution.

b. Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Expression continues to be severely restricted by Article 258 (343), 79 (109), and 88 (117) of the Penal Code despite the latest amendments in early 2018.

Article 258, also known as ‘Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.’ (now revised as Article 343 in Vietnam’s Penal Code, which came into effect on 1 January 2018). Those who are convicted under this article face up to seven years’ imprisonment. Article 258 has been used to prosecute a wide variety of people for allegedly ‘abusing’ their freedom of speech.

Article 88, also known as ‘conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’ (now revised as Article 117) has been widely used to imprison those who raise their voice in whatsoever forms to criticize the government and the Communist Party. The range of penalties is between three and twenty years imprisonment.

Article 79, also known as ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration’ (now revised as Article 109) is designed to prevent dissidents from organizing themselves to compete politically. This law can be used against anyone who peacefully organizes to oppose the party’s dominance or its policies. Organizers, instigators and active participants can face between twelve years to life imprisonment or capital punishment, while other accomplices can face between five to fifteen years imprisonment.

c. Freedom of Assembly

The Law on Association has not been adopted though at least 16 draft bills had been brought before the National Assembly in the past decade. The delay indicates the constant vigilance and reluctance of the authorities in enacting a law they consider to be ‘politically sensitive’. The latest bill itself, however, failed to be passed after many civil society organizations raised their concern about its repressiveness. Article 8, inter alia, bans every association from cooperating with foreign organizations or receiving foreign funds.
Association in the form of political organization or party is strictly banned. Members shall be charged with ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration’ and given lengthy prison terms, including life imprisonment or capital punishment under Article 79/109 of the Penal Code.
The Law on Demonstration was scheduled to be discussed and passed by the National Assembly in 2015, however, it was removed from the agenda in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The National Assembly itself does not plan on bringing the law back to the table for discussions, while at the same time, the Ministry of Public Security – the government agency responsible for drafting this law – keeps delaying the submission of the draft law.

Independent labour unions are banned. Strikes must be registered under harsh requirements, and labour activists are subject to continuous surveillance and harassment.
GONGOs (government-organized non-governmental organizations) are given space for their activities on the condition that they work to further the government’s interests. While dozens of human rights activists are banned from traveling outside of the country, there have been many cases where GONGO staff enjoy the freedom to travel abroad and attend international conferences, in some cases, as police informers in disguise. Security officers are also said to put in a great deal of effort to cause splits between registered NGOs and independent ones. For example, human rights activists are often blocked from attending events held by registered NGOs.

d. Harassment of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)

There are hundreds of bloggers (including Facebook users) and HRDs who frequently write about political and human rights issues in Vietnam. Since the most recent Party Congress early 2016, the Vietnamese government has arrested 59 activists, almost half of the total number of the current prisoners of conscience in detention. The fact that the arrested vary from human rights lawyers to anti-corruption students, from land-lost farmers to labor rights activists, from environmentalists to unregistered religious groups’ followers proves that the government is systematically applying a zero tolerance policy towards dissent.

In addition, travel ban is one of the tactics used by the authorities to further isolate Vietnamese activists from the regional and international civil society communities. Statistically, over 100 human rights defenders, including bloggers, are banned from traveling outside and within Vietnam. Human rights defenders travelling abroad have had their passports confiscated by police upon their return to Vietnam and many of them are placed on a blacklist forbidding them to travel again. As a result, these activists lose their chance to meaningfully participate in regional and international forums to raise public awareness of Vietnam’s human rights situation as well as to learn from fellow activists in the region.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1. Follow Germany’s lead by actively engaging with and calling on the authorities, particularly the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), to lift the travel ban against all HRDs, and refrain from imposing restrictions on their right to freedom of movement in the future.

2. Raise the cases of the following imprisoned human rights defenders and offer them asylum in the US even if some of them may not take up the offer:

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, ICT entrepreneur and blogger, sentenced to sixteen years under Article 79 in January 2010.
• Faith-based Bia Son group sentenced to ten to seventeen years (for followers) and life imprisonment (for the leader) under Article 79 in February 2012.
Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy sentenced to three years for ‘anti-state propaganda’ postings on Facebook under Article 88.
Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam), blogger, sentenced to five years for blogging.
Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha, sentenced to 15 years and 9 years imprisonment respectively after being found guilty under Article 79 on 5 April 2018.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Mother Mushroom), blogger, convicted under Article 88 on 29 June 2017 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment leaving two young children behind without parental guidance and support.
Hoang Duc Binh, environmental and labour rights activist, convicted of ‘resisting officers in the performance of their official duties’ under Article 257; and ‘abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State’ under Article 258 and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

3. Call for the grant of access to visit prisoners of conscience and to do so periodically. This will send a strong message to the authorities that cases of concern are being monitored.

4. Call for the elimination and/or amendment of vaguely-worded articles in the Penal Code, such as Articles 258, 88, 79 and Article 19 – holding lawyers criminally responsible for not reporting clients to the authorities for a number of crimes.

5. The US Mission in Hanoi to organize seminars (such as one on the upcoming UPR of Vietnam in early 2019) and invite independent civil society organizations to participate. This will counter the authorities’ policy in using all means to deny unregistered CSOs the physical space needed for their meetings and to encourage and legitimize their work.

6. Consider designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended.

7. Use the Magnitsky Act as leverage for negotiation of the above.

VOICE holds Vietnam accountable to human rights agreements on mid-term campaign

VOICE delegation at the UN office in Geneva. From left to right: Anna Nguyen, Le Thi Minh Ha, and Dinh Thao. Source: VietnamUPR Facebook page

Haiy Le, October 9, 2017: When the human rights group, Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE), sent a delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014, the delegation was made up of three men and all were citizens of Vietnam. This year, the trio is all female.

“We did not purposely want to have a female delegation,” said Anna Nguyen, Director of Programs at VOICE. A more interesting point, she explained, are the different backgrounds — and continents — the three women come from. Anna is a lawyer born and raised in Australia. Joining her is Le Thi Minh Ha, the wife of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh who was sentenced in March 2016 to five years in prison by the Vietnamese government for founding and operating a successful independent news blog. The third member is Dinh Thao, a Vietnamese citizen who left her career as a medical doctor to become an activist working out of VOICE’s headquarters in the Philippines and is now stationed in Belgium as the European Union Program Coordinator.

As activists waging a long war against Vietnam’s authoritarian government, they are unbothered by the comments littered on the VOICE Facebook page calling them “dogs” and “liars” who should “die.” The group suspects the comments come from hacks paid by the Vietnamese government. In the spirit of free expression though, the malicious comments are free to stay. It’s the opposite of what Hanoi is doing.

In 2017 alone, Vietnam’s one-party Communist government has detained or sentenced 16 activists under the country’s draconian penal code, and specifically Article 88, which makes it a crime to “propagate” against the government. Human Rights Watch has reported on the country’s long history limiting freedom of expression, which has sent more than 100 activists to prisons. The country’s repression has led to thousands of refugees seeking political freedoms and economic opportunities to live and work elsewhere under more democratic and transparent governance.

VOICE was founded in 1997 as a legal aid office in the Philippines to help stateless Vietnamese refugees resettle in countries, including Australia, the U.S. and Canada. Since then, the nonprofit’s mission has branched out to include advocacy for human rights and the rule of law in Vietnam.

Anna’s career has evolved somewhat similarly. She began her career as a refugee lawyer in Australia where for three years she worked with asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. “That’s when I started to learn about the human rights situation in Vietnam. Instead of helping people leave the country, I wanted to explore why people were leaving in the first place. The war ended in 1975 but why are people still leaving?”

Since joining VOICE in 2014, Anna’s work includes communicating with foreign governments and multilateral organizations, and persuading them to use their influence to put pressure on Vietnam. She also makes sure these foreign bodies hear from independent activists and civil society groups in Vietnam. “Many of these activists are banned from traveling and don’t have a platform, so it’s great that we can give them a voice,” she said.

In 2014, a 23-member delegation from Hanoi met with the U.N. Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a review process on the human rights records of all UN Member States. The Vietnamese government agreed to the implementation of some UPR recommendations and rejected others, notably the release of prisoners and the revision of vague national security laws that are used to suppress human rights.

The goals of this year’s Mid-term UPR Advocacy Campaign are to follow up on the recommendations and to advocate for the prisoners, particularly Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, a technology entrepreneur and blogger who was sentenced to 16 years for “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” on January 2010; Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known by her pen name, Mother Mushroom, is a blogger convicted of “anti state propaganda” on June 2017 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment; and Tran Thi Nga, a blogger sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment on July 2017 for “anti state propaganda” in her sharing of articles and videos highlighting abuses tied to environmental crises and political corruption. In the past couple of months, there has been a rise in the number of female activists targeted by the government. Mother Mushroom wrote that she was motivated to create a better future for her two children.

The mid-term campaign, which runs from September 15 through October 10, has been in the planning stages since the last UPR. The delegation has organized a marathon of meetings with foreign bodies in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and the Czech Republic to give suggestions on how these groups can exert pressure on Hanoi.

In a recent case that has made headlines for its Cold War style of abductions, a Vietnamese asylum seeker was snatched off the streets of Berlin in broad daylight on August 24 — one day before his asylum hearing — and whisked back to Vietnam on corruption charges. In a meeting with Germany’s Office of Foreign Affairs on September 15, VOICE raised concerns to Annette Knobloch, Deputy Head of Unit of South East Asia/Pacific.

“We made them a number of suggestions and then a few days after our meeting, it was announced in the news that Germany had expelled another diplomat,” Anna said.

As Vietnam’s biggest trading partner in the EU, Germany has influential leverage through its purse strings. There’s also Germany’s development aid to Vietnam, which in 2015 was $257 million distributed over two years.

On top of the meetings with Germany and other foreign governments, the delegates have communicated with UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defender, Michel Forst, and CIVICUS, a group working to strengthen civil society. VOICE’s collaboration with CIVICUS, which has consultative status with the UN, gave VOICE the opportunity to present in front of the UN Human Rights Council on September 19.

“We call on the Vietnamese government to implement in good faith the UPR recommendations it accepted in 2014,” Thao read in her statement. “We call on the UN Member States to urge Vietnam to free all prisoners of conscience.”

Thao said the presentation alone has made the 25-day campaign a successful one for her, in spite of the stressful logistics, the back-to-back meetings and the harassment from the Vietnamese government that she, her colleagues and family in Vietnam have received due to her activism.

After the campaign ends, the delegates plan to follow up on the meetings and maintain the contacts they met. “It’s really easy to meet people but if there’s nothing done after that, there’s no point in meeting them,” Anna acknowledged. They will also start making plans for the 3rd UPR in January 2019, which will involve more people, workshops and a UN session dedicated to addressing Vietnam’s human rights situation.

Being a human rights defender is like running in a marathon, Anna described. “You cannot expect to see the finish line straight away. It’s hard and arduous, and you will need to eventually pass on the baton to your comrades and colleagues. But like all marathons, you will eventually see the finish line.”

Haiy Le is a freelance journalist and previously worked at the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsela. She grew up listening to her father’s stories from the the Vietnam War and became more interested in Vietnamese foreign affairs while studying International Relations and Communication at Stanford University. Follow her @HaiyLe

© 2017 The 88 Project

 

One Year After Arrest, Demand for Release of Vietnamese Human Rights Defender Me Nam – Civil Rights Defenders

Public Statement

On 10 October 2016, Vietnamese authorities arrested blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known by her pen name Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), on charges of spreading propaganda against the State. On 29 June, Me Nam was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Known since 2006 for her active social media advocacy against the Vietnamese government’s rampant corruption, human rights abuses, and foreign policy, her arrest and later sentence should be seen as politically motivated. Civil Rights Defenders calls on the government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and to end its wider persecution of bloggers and journalists under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

On the morning of 10 October 2016, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Me Nam) was arrested while on her way to visit another rights defender in prison. Her arrest and ongoing detention should be seen as nothing more than persecution against her courageous defence of human rights.

Since 2006, Me Nam has been blogging about human rights abuses and corruption in Vietnam. In 2013, she co-founded the independent Vietnamese Bloggers Network, which is now blocked in Vietnam. She has investigated and published widely on environmental protection, public health, correctional reform and anti-torture efforts, and has been critical of Vietnam’s foreign policy toward China over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Me Nam has posted information about over 30 people who have died in police custody and has been active both online and offline in documenting and demanding redress for the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, when the Taiwanese-Vietnamese Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation leaked toxic waste into the ocean having a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Vietnamese in four coastal provinces. Because of her tireless defence of human rights, Me Nam has been frequently targeted for harassment by the state, previously detained, interrogated, and beaten.

Following her arrest on 10 October 2016, Me Nam was held in incommunicado pre-trial detention until 20 June 2017, when she was first allowed to meet with one of her lawyers. The government also targeted her family in the month preceding her trial, the worst on 20 May 2017 when over 50 security officials surrounded the family’s house.

On 29 June 2017, following a speedy trial that failed to meet international fair trial standards, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa province sentenced Me Nam to 10 years in prison under Article 88 of the Penal Code, for “conducting propaganda against the state.” The outrageousness of the sentence is compounded by serious grounds for concern over her deteriorating health.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a State Party, holds that anyone arrested or detained is entitled to a prompt trial without unreasonable delays and discourages pre-trial detention. Anyone who is arrested or detained is entitled to a lawyer of their choosing and to a court proceeding to decide without delay the lawfulness of their detention. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the ICCPR, holds that incommunicado detention denies the right to a fair trial, and raises the risks of torture. In April 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Me Nam’s detention to be arbitrary and called for her release. Instead, Vietnam proceeded with its persecution of Me Nam under the Penal Code. In contravention of Vietnam’s obligations under international law, Article 88 is often used to silence and imprison peaceful government critics and human rights defenders for exercising their right to the freedom of expression and opinion.

On the one-year anniversary of her arbitrary arrest and detention, Civil Rights Defenders urges the government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Me Nam, and to immediately end its wider persecution of bloggers and journalists under Article 88 of the Penal Code. As a prisoner of conscience, Me Nam has the right to remedy, including necessary medical attention, which Vietnam should ensure without conditions. Vietnam should amend or abolish those sections of the Penal Code that do not comply with its obligations under international law. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s donors, trade partners, and especially those seeking to expand relations with Vietnam, should likewise pressure the government to release Me Nam and all others arbitrarily detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression.

Download as pdf: Public Statement.

Một năm sau ngày bị bắt Civil Rights Defender yêu cầu thả tự do cho Mẹ Nấm Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh - VietnamVOICE
On 10 October 2016, Vietnamese authorities arrested blogger Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), on charges of spreading propaganda against the State

Source from: Civil Rights Defenders – One Year After Arrest, Demand for Release of Vietnamese Human Rights Defender Me Nam

VOICE Representative’s speech at the UN Human Rights Council

Let’s listen to our statement before the United Nations’ Human Rights Council today, delivered by Đinh Thảo, one of our delegates, a staff of VOICE.

We are proud to bring voices of conscience from #Vietnam to the international community’s attention.

19 September 2017

36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Thank you, Mr. Vice President,

We are gravely concerned by the crackdown on human rights defenders in Vietnam. Despite its international treaty obligations and recommendations accepted at the UPR to respect freedom of expression and civil society space, the Government of Vietnam is doing the exact opposite.

In the first eight months of this year, at least 16 activists have been detained, arrested or sentenced under the country’s draconian Penal Code, including 6 members of the group, Brotherhood for Democracy, who could face the maximum sentence of death for their peaceful human rights work. Two female activists, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, have been sentenced to 10 and 9 years in prison, for peacefully criticizing the government and have been subjected to dire prison conditions. I am also here with Ms. Le Thi Minh Ha, wife of Anh Ba Sam – Nguyen Huu Vinh who was sentenced to 5 years for simply blogging against the Government.

There are, in fact, hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam right now, yet Vietnam fails to acknowledge their existence.

Mr. Vice President, we call on the Vietnamese government to implement in good faith the UPR recommendations it accepted in 2014 as well as those made by Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. We call on the UN Member States to urge Vietnam to free all prisoners of conscience.

CIVICUS presents this statement together with VOICE.

Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

#VietnamUPR #HRC36

VOICE Launches Mid-term UPR Advocacy Campaign 2017

13/9/2017 – Following VOICE’s Universal Periodic Review Advocacy Campaign in 2014, a delegation advocating for human rights in Vietnam will go to Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and the Czech Republic to update United Nations bodies and relevant organizations on the progress (or lack of) the Vietnamese government has made on promoting and protecting human rights since the last review cycle in 2014, as well as to raise awareness about the human rights situation and prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

The campaign will be launched on the birthday of imprisoned blogger, Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh (pen name Anh Ba Sam), on September 15th and will last until October 10th, 2017. The delegation consists of Ms. Le Thi Minh Ha, the wife of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh, as well as VOICE representatives and Vietnamese human rights defenders, Ms. Anna Nguyen and Ms. Thao Dinh.

In particular, Ms. Thao Dinh will speak before the United Nations Human Rights Council (inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe) in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 19th in order to raise further attention to Vietnam’s severe human rights violations. This event will be televised live.

With assistance from the relevant international organizations, this delegation aims to provide full and accurate information on the current human rights situation in Vietnam. It is hoped that our advocacy will inspire further changes to encourage the Vietnamese government to better respect and protect human rights as a state party to multiple UN human rights treaties.

For more information regarding the delegation and its activities, please contact: contact@vietnamvoice.org

Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother met an Australian politician

On 18 July 2017, VOICE representatives and supporters, along with Mrs. Lien Thi Kim Nguyen, met with Mr. Milton Dick, an Australian Labor Party politician and member for Oxley in the Australian House of Representatives, at his office in Brisbane.

Discussions were held regarding Mrs Lien Nguyen’s son and prisoner of conscience, Dinh Nguyen Kha, as well as the treatment of bloggers, human rights activists and political prisoners in Vietnam. In particular, what the Australian government can do to put pressure on the Vietnamese government regarding political prisoners and the human rights situation. Mr. Dick is an avid supporter of the Vietnamese community and a promoter of human rights in Vietnam.

VOICE Australia and Prisoner of conscience Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother advocate for human rights in Vietnam

On 12 July 2017, VOICE, along with a number of interested civil society organizations (CSOS) met with Dr. Lachlan Strahan, First Assistant Secretary of the Multilateral Policy Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, Australia, ahead of the fourteenth Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, which is expected to be held in Canberra in August.

Ms. Giang Nguyen represented VOICE Australia and Ms. Anna Nguyen represented VOICE, along with Mrs. Nguyen Thi Kim Lien, mother of Prisoner of conscience, Dinh Nguyen Kha, who is currently serving a 6-year sentence for distributing pamphlets critical of the Vietnamese government.

VOICE Australia cùng mẹ tù nhân chính trị Đinh Nguyên Kha đi vận động cho nhân quyền Việt Nam
VOICE Australia and political prisoner Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother advocate for human rights in Vietnam

The Dialogue is an important component of the bilateral relationship between Australia and Vietnam, which allows discussion of the full range of human rights issues of interest and concern in a constructive, franks and open atmosphere.

Ms. Anna Nguyen, on behalf of VOICE, made a number of submissions to Dr. Strahan and his staff at DFAT in order to help expand civil society in Vietnam and send a strong international message to the Vietnamese government.

This was VOICE’s third participation in the meeting prior to the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. VOICE will continue to play an integral role in future dialogues.

VOICE representative, Ms Anna Nguyen and Mrs Nguyen Thi Kim Lien met with Ms. Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at Human Rights Watch today in Sydney to discuss matters of concern relating to prisoners of conscience and human rights issues in Vietnam. Specially, Dinh Nguyen Kha’s current medical condition and Human Rights Watch’s Vietnam report, No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers, and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam, published on 18 June 2017, was brought up, as well as Mrs. Lien Nguyen’s idea to start a network for parents of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

VOICE Australia cùng mẹ tù nhân chính trị Đinh Nguyên Kha đi vận động cho nhân quyền Việt Nam
VOICE Australia and political prisoner Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother advocate for human rights in Vietnam

Human Rights Watch is an American-founded international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights and has routinely called out on the Vietnamese government and authorities on its treatment of bloggers and human rights activists.

VOICE Statement on Blogger Me Nam’s Trial

VOICE STATEMENT ON BLOGGER ME NAM’S TRIAL
30 JUNE 2017

Blogger Me Nam was convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment after a one-day trial in Vietnam yesterday. She had dared to criticize the government in her blogs, calling for transparency and accountability, as well as social and political reforms. Despite their peaceful nature, she was found guilty of ‘conducting propaganda against the state’, a criminal offence under Vietnam’s draconian Penal Code.

VOICE is shocked and outraged over the sentencing of Blogger Me Nam by Vietnam’s kangaroo court system, which did not even allow her mother and two young children to attend the trial. Her mother was only allowed to follow the trial through a TV screen in an adjacent room.

VOICE is appalled by the inhumane treatment Blogger Me Nam has received since her arrest. She was denied her right to see her appointed legal counsel, which was only granted recently, denied her right to wear her chosen attire at the trial, and even denied her basic right to the use of sanitary products. It is the intention of the Vietnamese authorities to strip Me Nam of her integrity and self-respect. She was forbidden to see her family until one day before the trial, the first and only time since her arrest in October 2016. The meeting lasted five minutes.

Yet, despite the grave deprivation and gross violations of her rights, this is what Blogger Me Nam said before the court: ‘we each only have one life to live but if given the choice, I would still do it exactly the same… people are only free and happy if they have the right to express themselves, to discuss issues they care about. I hope everyone will soon raise their own voice and fight for their rights so that they can overcome their own fears, and build a better and greater nation.’

VOICE will continue to advocate for the unconditional release of Blogger Me Nam and all other political prisoners of Vietnam. But more importantly, VOICE calls on all Vietnamese to heed Blogger Me Nam’s call to continue fighting for their rights, to overcome their own fears, so that one day Vietnam will be a free and democratic country, where no one will be tried and sentenced to imprisonment for merely speaking their minds.

SIGNED:

1. VOICE
2. VOICE Vietnam
3. VOICE Australia
4. VOICE Canada
5. VOICE Europe
6. VOICE Norway

Full version: VOICE Statement on Blogger Me Nam’s Trial