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

 

Vietnam activists face sustained government crackdown ahead of APEC – dpa International

Months of police action against Vietnamese dissidents has led to at least 12 people being locked up across the country. The crackdown comes ahead of a regional summit in Da Nang in November set to include leaders from throughout the Pacific region.

Hanoi (dpa) – Nguyen Viet Hung is unsure how to help his son. Police reportedly arrested Nguyen Viet Dung, 31, in his northern Vietnamese hometown on September 27 at lunchtime. Since then, neither his family nor a lawyer have been able to see him.

He was accused of “propagating” against the state, a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.

“Dung has followed his way, so sooner or later he would have been arrested. When he was arrested, I was not surprised or shocked but I was very angry,” Hung said in a phone interview from his home in Nghe An province.

Dung’s story is not unique. At least 12 political dissidents have been arrested, charged or convicted of anti-state crimes since June in one of Vietnam’s most intense crackdowns on dissent in years.

Another dissident, who had been a dual French-Vietnamese national, had his citizenship revoked and was deported to Paris.

Vietnam, which is ruled by a single party communist state, bans dissent, criminalizes opposition parties and imprisons pro-democracy activists.

Pham Doan Trang, a former journalist for Vietnam’s state-controlled press who is now a rights activist, said the situation for the dissident movement appears bleak.

“The security forces will not stop and they won’t refrain from violence either. So these years will be very dark for Vietnam,” she said.

Anti-government activists, who primarily spread their messages via social media, take on causes ranging from environmentalism to Vietnamese sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea.

“It appears that the Vietnam government feels threatened by more concerted and organized campaigns … and the increasing influence of internet communications that enable people to organize in new ways,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Dung established an unrecognized Republican Party and a group called the Loyalist Association of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, both references to the old US-allied Saigon regime that the communists defeated in the Vietnam War.

He posted pictures of himself dressed in military uniforms alongside the old South Vietnamese flag, a symbol considered taboo in modern Vietnam.

Dung’s father described him as a man who was active in his community by helping those in need.

“He assisted people to build schools and roads, and helped families who were having difficulties, but the government thinks he incited people,” his father said.

Dung’s father added that villagers have kept their mouths shut since the arrest to “avoid trouble.”

Quang A, a retired economist and businessman who is now one of Vietnam’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, says depending on what you show support for, you can be targeted for dissent.

“If you raise your voice to support the old system, then maybe they see that you are more dangerous than the others,” said Quang A.

Other political prisoners, such as Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known by her pen name Mother Mushroom, were arrested for their criticism of the Communist Party in the Vietnamese blogosphere.

According to Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at The University of New South Wales and a Vietnam expert, the government could be initiating crackdowns in anticipation of November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the coastal city of Da Nang. The meeting is set to include leaders from throughout the Pacific region as well as US President Donald Trump.

With all eyes focused on Vietnam, the government wants to ensure that activists do not use the occasion to draw attention to their causes.

“The timing of the arrests and trials indicates the [government] is taking pre-emptive action far in advance of the APEC summit to intimidate other would-be activists from making public protests on the internet or in street demonstrations,” Thayer said.

He also pointed out that activists tried to use the 2006 APEC conference in Hanoi to gain attention from world leaders and media.

Quang A says that while the current government’s crackdown has been dramatic, it has not deterred committed activists from carrying on their work.

“If you are to become a member for the struggle, for democracy, or human rights, you have to face all the consequences, and I think for those activists who have been detained, they aren’t scared of anything,” he said.

“Sure, with such tough measures, they can incite some fear in people, but you see that is a temporary sentiment,” he added.

Former journalist Pham Doan Trang believes “there will be light at the end of the tunnel” for Vietnam, despite the current rights challenges affecting the country for the foreseeable future.

“It’s just a matter of time, and we must try to live to tell the tale,” she said.

Source from: dpa International – “Vietnam activists face sustained government crackdown ahead of APEC”

Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua – The Guardian

At least 11 activists have been arrested, charged or convicted over the past few months, while another was stripped of his citizenship and deported to France

Ho Thi Chau, 25, was left alone and blacklisted after her husband was returned to jail for “attempting to overthrow the [Vietnamese] government” last week.

An activist from the north central province of Nghe An, Nguyen Van Oai was arrested on 18 September on charges of violating the conditions of his 2015 release from prison.

Oai, an anti-government dissident, is a citizen journalist and co-founder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience.

Following his conviction, he will serve a five-year prison sentence plus four years of house arrest.

Chau, a former garment factory worker, does not know how to support their newborn daughter. As she is the wife of a man branded a “reactionary” by Vietnam’s single party communist state, employers are reluctant to hire her.

“When we were preparing for our wedding I was sacked because of our engagement and they didn’t hire me any more,” she said.

Vietnam’s summer has been particularly harsh for dissidents, with at least 11 having been arrested, charged or convicted, while another was stripped of his citizenship and deported to France.

Human Rights Watch has described it as an “all-out effort” to clamp down on criticism, while Amnesty International has expressed fears that imprisoned dissidents are being tortured. The US embassy and EU delegation in Hanoi have repeatedly expressed their alarm.

‘I have my way of living in a difficult situation’

Those who remain out of prison ponder if they will be the next detained.

Mai Khoi, a former pop star who was banished from the Vietnamese music industry when she began expressing pro-democracy views in 2016, was surprised on 22 July when dozens of police arrived at her private show in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district.

Ca Si Mai Khoi - Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua - Musician Mai Khoi at a Hanoi cafe on 19 August
 Musician Mai Khoi at a Hanoi cafe on 19 August Photograph: Sasha Arefieva

The authorities had a complaint: the studio hosting Khoi did not have a permit for the show and it must be stopped.

While no one was arrested, Khoi, whose band Mai Khoi and the Dissidents have lyrics peppered with criticisms of the government, was evicted the next day by her landlord, who told her he was breaking the lease due to police pressure.

Since the raid Khoi has been forced to stop playing her shows, which fuse traditional Vietnamese music with American-style blues.

She is now living in a secret location in Hanoi in a flat leased under a friend’s name as she tries to work out her next move.

“It doesn’t really scare me, because I have my way of living in a difficult situation,” said Khoi.

“Ai Weiwei was in jail and he’s still doing his thing,” she added, referring to the Chinese visual artist turned dissident who spent 81 days in jail in 2011 for alleged economic crimes.

While Khoi remains free, members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a loose association of anti-government activists that exists primarily in cyberspace, have born the brunt of the crackdown.

Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh said she was with her husband, Truong Minh Duc, when he was abruptly snatched off the street the morning of 30 July. He is accused of being a member of the Brotherhood, though his wife said she has no knowledge of his participation.

While driving to a pharmacy to buy heart medication, Duc, vice-president of the unregistered Free Viet Labour Federation – which advocates for workers’ rights in the absence of independent unions in Vietnam – was pulled over along with Thanh.

He was thrown into a car and transported to Hanoi, where he is being detained on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. Thanh denies her husband is guilty, adding he merely criticised government policy.

“He was just helping workers who were experiencing unjust behaviour,” she said, adding she worried that Duc, who has a history of heart attacks, won’t survive his incarceration.

Three other activists who were arrested separately across the country on the same day also received the same charge along with human rights lawyer and Brotherhood for Democracy founder Nguyen Van Dai, who has been in prison since 2015 awaiting trial, and his colleague Le Thu Ha.

ông Nguyễn Tường Thụy và bà Nguyễn Thúy Hạnh - Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua
Nguyen Tuong Thuy (right) and Nguyen Thuy Hanh, members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, in a Hanoi flat. Photograph: Bennett Murray

If found guilty they could face the death penalty.

“We prepare inside our minds for arrest, and talk to our family members, and I ask for advice from former prisoners of conscience about the life inside the prison,” said Nguyen Tuong Thuy, the 65-year-old vice-chairman of the Independent Journalist Association and a Brotherhood member.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a 54-year-old member who works as a public relations manger for an Indian company, said most of the group’s key functionaries were arrested in July.

“It’s the biggest challenge we’ve had since the birth of the Brotherhood for Democracy in 2013 until now,” she said.

While the Brotherhood for Democracy has no formal membership roll, it boasts almost 37,000 followers on Facebook. Causes represented by its members range from environmental activism to anti-China nationalism.

But while the Brotherhood has been hit the hardest by the crackdown, targets have included activists from across the spectrum of Vietnamese dissidence.

Some, such as Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the activist also known as Mother Mushroom who was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in June, were prominent bloggers, while others, including Oai, were members of the Viet Tan, a banned self-described political party based in California.

Khoi, who avoids formal associations and public concerts, said the police will have a hard time building a legal case against her.

She added, however, that it would not take much for her to be imprisoned.

“If I want to be in jail for two days or three days, I’d just go into the street and sing my songs,” she said.

 

Source from:  The Guardian: Vietnam’s harsh summer: state launches largest crackdown on dissidents in years

The New York Times: I Am in Prison Because I Want Freedom for My Country

By YON GOICOECHEA

CARACAS, Venezuela — I write this from my cell in the dungeons of the Venezuelan secret police. I’m 32 and I’ve been a democratic activist for 12 years. I have two children, 8 and 5, who are my sun and moon. I have a wife whom I love and who now has to carry the burden of being married to a political prisoner.

One year ago, while I was going to speak at a news conference on behalf of the Popular Will political party, of which I am a member, I was intercepted by 10 or 15 undercover secret police vehicles. A couple of dozen armed agents tied my hands and covered my head with a black cloth. They transported me to the prison from which I now write, where I was locked in a cell without light or natural ventilation.

When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls. The door was blocked with black garbage bags, leaving the room in total darkness. There was rotten, worm-infested food on the floor alongside scraps of clothing covered in feces. It felt as if I had been buried alive.

I was denied any communication with the outside world and could speak with my lawyers only when I was taken to court. After 10 days, I was transferred to an administrative office inside the jail, where for the next seven months I slept on a mat on the floor. I have finally been moved to a cell with a bed, though one with no windows. I can see the sun only one hour a week.

Scarcely five years ago, I was studying for a master’s degree at Columbia University. Back then, I strolled with my family through the Morningside Heights neighborhood in Manhattan and hoped that one day I would use everything I had learned to rebuild my country.

But for me, as for so many other Venezuelans, political imprisonment has been the punishment for daring to dream of a democratic society, free of Communism and open to the global community. We just want what so many other people around the world take for granted: free elections, good governance, free expression, judicial independence, personal security and a modicum of economic liberty — something not even the Chinese Communist Party denies its citizens anymore.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way; the other 1,048 political prisoners and most Venezuelans share my dream. But an armed minority has managed to impose a regime of fear, corruption and blood. My case is evidence of that.

Last October, a court granted me parole — but my jailers ignored that order. Three months ago, the prosecutor in my case closed the investigation, establishing that I was not guilty of any crimes (I had faced trumped-up charges of possession of explosives). This means that there are no active judicial proceedings against me — I’m simply being held hostage in violation of the Constitution. The United Nations, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all described my detention as arbitrary and called for my release.

But I know I’m here for a just cause. My sacrifice and that of others like me will change millions of lives. Today, 93 percent of Venezuelans cannot afford food. Because of food shortages that are the fault of our corrupt and brutal government, nearly three-quarters of Venezuelans say they have lost on average about 17 pounds in the past year. A health minister was fired for releasing his department’s annual report, revealing that infant mortality has returned to 1950 levels.

I can’t imagine the despair of thousands of patients with cancer and other diseases who are in constant pain in hospitals that lack medicines. I don’t want to think of a father’s horror when his baby dies from a fever or diarrhea that could easily have been treated if he had access to medicine.

I’m in prison so that this stops happening. That conviction gives me strength.

My generation has made freedom its goal. I want to ask the people of the United States and the world to stand by our side. I ask the news media to report on what is being censored in Venezuela. I ask the nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups to keep denouncing abuses. And I ask investors to understand that no profits from doing business with a bankrupt government will surpass the benefits to come when Venezuela is once again operating in world markets.

We in the Venezuelan opposition have three main challenges right now. The first is overcoming the humanitarian crisis caused by shortages of food and medicine. The second is restoring democracy through peaceful means and avoiding civil war. The third is opening our economy to the world.

We aren’t asking anyone to solve our problems for us. We have taken responsibility for our country’s future. But Washington’s influence could either help us speed up the process or give some breathing room. The White House, together with the rest of the international community, has the capacity to pressure for negotiation and a peaceful transition to democracy. We are grateful for the support that the people of Europe, Latin and North America have shown; I only dare to ask for one more thing: resolve.

As for me, I’ll do everything in my power to keep resisting in prison. I’ll keep dreaming of going home to sleep in a clean bed surrounded by my family. I’ll keep dreaming of the day in which we all take to the streets to celebrate our freedom.

(Yon Goicoechea is a lawyer and political activist.)

From: The New York Times

The New York Times: “It’s Very Easy to Die There”: How Prisoners Fare in Vietnam

Do Thi Mai, the mother of a 17-year-old boy who died after falling into a coma while in police custody, at home in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. “How did he turn out like this?” she asked. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

HANOI, Vietnam — Do Thi Mai said she was shocked to learn that her 17-year-old son, Do Dang Du, had fallen into a coma in prison a few weeks after he was arrested, accused by the police of stealing about $90.

The police initially said that Mr. Du’s severe head and leg wounds had been caused by falls in the bathroom, according to a family lawyer. “He was unconscious, so I couldn’t ask him,” Ms. Mai said.

Mr. Du died in the hospital a few days later, in October 2015, and members of his family told an interviewer that they believed he had been tortured in custody. The next month, two of their lawyers were assaulted outside the family home by what the lawyers said were eight masked men.

Nearly two years later, Ms. Mai is still searching for closure. “Two months before he died, he was healthy,” she said during an emotional interview at home on the rural fringe of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. “How did he turn out like this?”

Vietnam has been slowly updating its criminal justice system for years, under pressure from Western governments, and additional changes approved by the National Assembly in June are scheduled to take effect in January. But diplomats and rights groups have long suspected, based on interviews with former inmates and reports in Vietnam’s state-run news media, that prisons in the country have high rates of executions, forced labor and deaths in custody.

A recent government report on Vietnam’s prison system — which was posted on an official website a few months ago, possibly by accident, according to rights activists — appears to confirm many of the activists’ worst fears.

In one section, the report said 429 prisoners had been executed from August 2013 to June 2016, a rare admission from a one-party government that has long kept its execution process opaque. According to Amnesty International, that means Vietnam had the world’s third-highest execution rate over that period, after China and Iran.

Another section, referring to the period from 2011 to 2016, said 261,840 inmates had received vocational training, a term that rights activists say essentially means forced labor. In addition, the report said, the remains or ashes of 2,812 prisoners were approved for collection by family members, suggesting a high rate of deaths in custody for a prison population that the government says numbers less than 150,000.

The statistics “give us reason to doubt that governance is becoming less authoritarian and violent as Vietnam transitions to a market economy,” said Benjamin Swanton, a longtime social justice advocate and development consultant in Vietnam.

vietnam-prison-abuses - Đỗ Đăng Dư - Trong đó rất dễ chết – Tình trạng của những người bị giam ở Việt Nam 2
Official paperwork related to Do Dang Du’s death that his family said it received from the Vietnamese authorities. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to emailed questions about conditions in Vietnamese prisons.

Many officials in Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party support changes to the criminal justice system, said Pip Nicholson, a professor at Melbourne Law School in Australia who specializes in Vietnamese law. But party officials who advocate for Western-style rules, such as truly independent courts or the presumption of innocence until proved guilty, she added, are in the minority.

The result, policy experts and rights advocates say, is a court system where arrests almost always lead to convictions and a prison system where human rights are an afterthought. Corruption, impunity and violence in prisons are mostly tolerated, these advocates say, because the system serves the party’s interests by silencing dissidents and enriching prison guards.

“It’s very easy to die there,” said Doan Trang, an independent journalist in Hanoi who has written extensively about state-led repression in the country.

The recent government report presented prison statistics as part of a long-term process of changes in line with global trends. It noted, for example, that the number of crimes punishable by death in Vietnam had fallen to 22 in 2009 from 45 in 1993.

The report also said, however, that the number of people on death row in Vietnam had climbed to 681 last year from 336 in 2011, and that the government planned to build five new execution centers to accommodate demand.

The global trend is a reduction in the use of the death penalty, said Janice Beanland, a campaigner at Amnesty International. “This is why it’s a bit shocking to us to learn that, in actual fact, Vietnam has been executing people more regularly than we believed,” she said.

The government report said that Vietnam had improved vocational education in prisons and that inmates received training in tasks like sewing, construction, carpentry, mechanics, farming and the processing of agricultural products.

But former prisoners and human rights groups say that such labor is usually not voluntary, and that the cashews, garments and other products are exported from prison workshops for a profit.

Doan Huy Chuong, a labor rights activist who was released in February after a seven-year prison term, said it was common for prisoners to rise at 6 a.m. and do manual labor, without pay, until anywhere from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

vietnam-prison-abuses - Đỗ Đăng Dư - Trong đó rất dễ chết – Tình trạng của những người bị giam ở Việt Nam
Do Dang Du’s father, Do Dang Ung, adjusting a photo on a memorial altar for his son. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

Prisoners with money can bribe their way into hospitals if they fall ill, he said. “Without money, if they have a fever, they still have to work,” he added.

Rights advocates said they were especially worried about the government report’s claim that the remains and ashes of 2,812 prisoners were approved for collection by family members.

In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch said that prisoners who died in custody were often being held for minor infractions and that the official explanations for their deaths “strained credulity and gave the appearance of systematic cover-ups.” It quoted survivors as saying that police officers had sometimes beaten them to extract confessions for crimes that they denied committing.

“Do I think they start out with the idea of beating someone to death? No,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But do I think that there’s no accountability or controls in the system? Yes. And that’s the fundamental problem.”

In the case of Mr. Du, the teenager who died in custody in 2015, police investigators said for months afterward that his head injury — an inchwide gash — had been caused when his cellmate kicked him on the top of his head, not by a fall in the shower as they initially said, according to Le Luan, one of the family’s lawyers.

The cellmate, Vu Van Binh, was later sentenced to 10 years in jail for “deliberately inflicting injuries.” But Mr. Luan said in an interview that he believed the police explanation of Mr. Du’s death was littered with forensic inconsistencies.

For example, he said, citing an X-ray he provided to The New York Times, the wound was on Mr. Du’s forehead, not the top of his head. It was also hard to imagine, he said, how Mr. Du’s severe leg injuries could have been caused by falling onto a toilet in the bathroom, as the authorities claimed.

The causes that the police described “could not have created such serious wounds,” Mr. Luan said. “There must have been another incident.”

Members of Mr. Du’s extended family said in a separate interview that they were still not sure how he had died.

The only certainty, they said, is that something about the official explanation does not add up.

“He did something wrong,” Mr. Du’s grandfather Do Dinh Van said as he stood beside a makeshift altar that the family had created for the boy in their bare living room. “But he didn’t deserve to die.”

Source from “It’s Very Easy to Die There”: How Prisoners Fare in VietnamThe New York Times : 

Amnesty International: Viet Nam: activists held incommunicado may face life in prison

URGENT ACTION
ACTIVISTS HELD INCOMMUNICADO MAY FACE LIFE IN PRISON
Three Vietnamese activists, Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội, are being held incommunicado at B14 prison in Hà Nội after their arrests on 30 July 2017. They have a range of pre-existing health conditions that require treatment and face a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.

Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội are members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group formed by human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài in 2013 to peacefully advocate for democracy in Viet Nam. They were arrested separately on 30 July 2017 and are accused of “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The vaguely-worded offence,which falls under the overbroad “national security” section of the Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.All three men suffer from pre-existing health conditions that require access to medication and medical care. Trương Minh Đức has a heart disease and high blood pressure. Following a stroke in mid-May, he needs daily access to a number of medications in order to safely control his condition and help prevent another stroke or a heart attack. Nguyễn Trung Tôn suffers from kidney and prostate problems for which he takes medication. In addition, he has badly injured knees after he was abducted and beaten by unknown men in February 2017. Phạm Văn Trội has stomach ulcers for which he takes medication. Although their wives have attempted to pass on medicine via prison authorities, they are unsure whether it has been delivered, since they have not been able to visit their husbands.

All three men suffer from pre-existing health conditions that require access to medication and medical care. Trương Minh Đức has a heart disease and high blood pressure. Following a stroke in mid-May, he needs daily access to a number of medications in order to safely control his condition and help prevent another stroke or a heart attack. Nguyễn Trung Tôn suffers from kidney and prostate problems for which he takes medication. In addition, he has badly injured knees after he was abducted and beaten by unknown men in February 2017. Phạm Văn Trội has stomach ulcers for which he takes medication. Although their wives have attempted to pass on medicine via prison authorities, they are unsure whether it has been delivered, since they have not been able to visit their husbands.Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices under international human rights law and standards. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a

Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices under international human rights law and standards. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence is an essential part of the right to a fair trial.Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:

Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:- Release Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội immediately and unconditionally as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association;

– Release Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội immediately and unconditionally as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association;- Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and

– Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and- Ensure an immediate end to the arbitrary arrests and harassment of members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and other activists who peacefully express their views.

– Ensure an immediate end to the arbitrary arrests and harassment of members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and other activists who peacefully express their views.PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 20 OCTOBER 2017 TO:

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 20 OCTOBER 2017 TO:

Prime Minister
Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Prime Minister’s Office
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Email:
nguoiphatngonchinhphu@chinhphu.vn
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Public Security
To Lam
44 Yết Kiêu St. Hoàn Kiếm District Hà
Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Email: ttll.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to:

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy
Prime Minister
Phạm Bình Minh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On the morning of 30 July 2017, Trương Minh Đức and his wife were stopped on a street in Hà Nội by Vietnamese officials in plain clothes and forcibly escorted to a local police station where an arrest warrant was read. The same morning Phạm Văn Trội and Nguyễn Trung Tôn were arrested by police at their homes in Hà Nội and Thanh Hoa province, respectively, where arrest warrants were also read out. A fourth individual, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, was forcibly disappeared on the same morning (see https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/6964/2017/en/%20for%20further%20information/). According to State-run media, all four men are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Hà Nội on 16 December 2015 and, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, is charged with “committing propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code and “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79.

Trương Minh Đức is a former journalist and prisoner of conscience. Prior to his arrest he worked as an administrator for the Brotherhood for Democracy and as an advocate in the Viet Labour movement, educating workers about their human rights. He was arrested in 2007 and imprisoned for five years after being convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Penal Code for reporting on land grabs in a number of Vietnamese publications. In May 2009, his detention was found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Opinion 1/2009), however he remained in prison until the end of his sentence. Since his release from prison in 2012, authorities have frequently raided his home, making it difficult for his family to earn a living from renting spare rooms at the back of their property. His adult children have been repeatedly questioned by officials about his activities and he has been badly beaten on a number of occasions by men in plain clothes whom he recognized as security officials.

Nguyễn Trung Tôn is a Protestant pastor and former prisoner of conscience who has written about and promoted freedom of religion in Viet Nam. He was arrested in January 2011 in connection with his writings and imprisoned for two years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code. Nguyễn Trung Tôn and his family have been harassed for many years by authorities and unidentified assailants. Human waste, oil, and dirt have been thrown at both a market stall operated by his wife and their family home on a number of occasions. In February 2017, Nguyễn Trung Tôn and a friend were abducted in Quang Binh province by unidentified men and badly beaten. He was hospitalized and required surgery to repair injuries to his knees.

Phạm Văn Trội is a writer, activist, and former prisoner of conscience. He has provided advice to workers and land grab victims and written about human rights and democracy. He was arrested in September 2008 for his writings promoting multi-party democracy and imprisoned for four years, including six months in solitary confinement, after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code. In May 2009, his detention was found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Opinion 1/2009), however, he remained in prison until the end of his sentence.
Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights which has resulted in the arrest and arbitrary detention of at least fifteen peaceful activists and government critics since January 2017. Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care, falling far short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards.

Name: Trương Minh Đức , Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội
Gender: male

UA: 204/17 Index: ASA 41/7059/2017 Issue Date: 8 September 2017

Los Angeles Times: Inspired to ‘build trust and work together,’ Tibetans and Vietnamese hold human rights conference in Little Saigon

President Lobsang Sangay, head of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, center right, prays with monks at a temple as Hoi Trinh, a lawyer and expert in international refugee law, stands nearby during a human rights conference Saturday in Orange County’s Little Saigon. (Anh Do / Los Angeles Times)

The Tibetan leader, draped in a silky, traditional loose coat, joined a group of monks in prayers with a single purpose: charting a path toward peace.

Near Lobsang Sangay, the Harvard-educated ruler of the Tibetan government in exile, stood Hoi Trinh, a Vietnamese and Australian lawyer lauded as an expert in international refugee law and policies.

In an unprecedented gathering in Westminster to highlight human rights abuses, both Trinh and Sangay described themselves as men who come from nations “on the same journey,” whose people struggle under communist brutality but refuse to give up fighting for freedom.

Basic human rights and freedom continue to be denied to 6 million Tibetans inside their homeland, exploited for its rich minerals under China’s control, and to 95 million Vietnamese in Vietnam, resulting in beatings, deaths, imprisonment without trials and self-immolations, they said.

The crowd of nearly 250 people reserved its loudest cheers for Sangay, who said: “Communism is 100 years old. Buddhism is 2,500 years old. There is no competition between the two,” praising the religion’s endurance “because it has this innate strength. The foundation is solid.”

Even if Chinese leaders destroyed more than 90% of Tibet’s monasteries and nunneries after its takeover of their homeland in 1959, expatriate Tibetans working with the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, succeeded in spreading Buddhism back into Tibet and across the globe, Sangay said.

New dharma centers that have opened in past decades around the world show the vitality and beauty of the religion, he added. “Your struggles are very similar to ours. We are in solidarity,” Sangay said, in a nod to listeners at the great hall of the Dieu Ngu Temple in Little Saigon.

Although Tibetans are forbidden to own a photo of the Dalai Lama, or shout a slogan of democracy on the streets of Tibet — at risk of going to prison and being tortured — Sangay said they are not intimidated by the Chinese government. “You can buy goods with money. You can force action with guns,” he said. “But, ultimately, if you want to win the hearts and minds of people, you need respect.”

Hội Thảo Nhân Quyền Tây Tạng - Việt Nam, Xây Dựng Lòng Tin Và Cùng Nhau Hành Động, Tong Thong Tay Tang Lobsang Sangay
Crowds follow President Lobsang Sangay, right, head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, as he hugs a young fan Saturday at Dieu Ngu Temple in Little Saigon. Former Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen attended the human rights summit. (Anh Do / Los Angeles Times)

Almost every local Vietnamese American political figure — from members of the Garden Grove Unified School District board, to council members from Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and Westminster, to a county supervisor and state senator — made appearances to back the human rights campaign. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), who has fought against the repression of Tibetans, sat in the front row, waving to immigrants as they held up their cellphones to capture him speaking.

Two years ago, the Freedom House index listed Syria as the least free country in the world — with Tibet ranked No. 2.

Trinh and Sangay attacked China as “the biggest bully,” with Trinh explaining that he preferred to move Saturday’s focus beyond human rights issues, which have been carefully documented by bloggers, the media or non-governmental organizations, to talking about solutions. Trinh asked people to train activists and provide financial support to groups fighting for human rights in Southeast Asia.

“Don’t just listen, you must get involved,” Trinh urged.

Many in the audience were left inspired by the speakers.

“Finally, there is guidance,” pharmacist Elise Phan, 43, said after Trinh’s remarks. “I’m grateful there is Vietnamese young talent out there who sacrifice their professional life to raise human rights in our country. That is everything to me.”

“Definitely, we both can help each other in our struggles,” says Nawang Lhautara, 67, a retired insurance executive from Ojai who also attended. “We need to combine our heads and figure out more of what to do.”

Chog Tsering, a board member of the Tibetan Assn. of Southern California who helped organize Saturday’s event by partnering with the Vietnamese American Buddhist Congregation in the USA, agreed.

“The right thing to do is to build trust and work together,” Tsering said. “We have the same hearts.”

 

Source from Los Angeles Times

The Washington Post: Apparent crackdown in Vietnam on social media, but many users undeterred

Vietnamese activist Anh Chi searches the Internet at Tu Do (Freedom) cafe in Hanoi. REUTERS/Kham (Kham/Reuters)

By Vincent Bevins

HANOI — The police in ­communist-led Vietnam have been cracking down especially hard on free expression over social media for the past few months.

Or, at least as far as experts, regular users and dissident bloggers can tell, that seems to be the case.

“Even activists in Vietnam struggle to say how many people are actually caught and arrested” for online activity, said Janice Beanland, a campaigner at Amnesty International. “But one striking thing is that Vietnamese activists seem not to be deterred.”

Vietnam doesn’t have the resources of its big neighbor to the north to maintain a “great firewall” or its own social media platforms. So Facebook and other global social networks are popular here. They are filled daily with all kinds of political speech, including quite direct attacks on the government. Vocal users wonder whether their output is being watched, and rumors swirl about shutdowns or hacking.

It’s not clear to anyone on the Web here exactly what the rules are, leading some to question whether Vietnamese censorship is haphazard and counterproductive or part of a more considered strategy to create an efficient chilling effect.

Those who take free speech too far risk harassment or arrest. But how far is too far?

“It’s getting more difficult for us. Why? Some people say that Donald Trump doesn’t care about human rights, and so the [Vietnamese] Communist Party feels more free. I don’t think that is the full answer,” said Nguyen Chi Tuyen, known as “Anh Chi” online, one of the country’s most prominent dissidents now that two of his peers have been handed long prison sentences. “They also want to threaten a younger group which is thinking of following us.”

He was sitting in downtown Hanoi, at a self-declared ­“hipster” cafe decorated with tongue-in-cheek celebrations of the North Vietnamese communist forces that defeated the United States 40-some years ago. Downstairs, well-dressed Vietnamese youth clacked away on Apple products.

“I am safe at this cafe now,” he said, looking around. “But I have been arrested more times than I can count and could go to jail anytime.”

There are many users, nonetheless, who have not been slowed by the uncertainty.

“I used to be a little afraid [of getting in trouble], but not anymore,” said Luke Nguyen, a real estate investor, sitting in an upscale Ho Chi Minh City cafe. He showed a piece of sexually explicit satire he recently posted publicly about the case of Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former Vietnamese oil executive Germany said was abducted by his own country in Berlin. “Because I’m just a little guy, not even an activist, just a citizen exchanging ideas.”

This sentiment — you can probably say what you want, as long as you aren’t famous – can be heard often in Vietnam. But Beanland said that even if most of the arrests that get attention are of high-profile dissidents, there may be much more going on that does not make headlines.

“It appears that there have been more arrests recently. But what we hear about may just be the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

This year so far, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Mother Mushroom,” and Tran Thi Nga, often called Thuy Nga, were given long sentences. Mother Mushroom got 10 years, while Thuy Nga got nine.

Facebook is the social network most often used to express political opinions here, and for many other daily activities as well. New SIM cards in Vietnam often come bundled with free Facebook usage, and many citizens use its Messenger app in lieu of text messages. But it wasn’t always clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s company would play such an important role in the world’s 14th-largest country.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the goal of building a homegrown social network for young Vietnamese people. But in early 2015, he acknowledged that it would be impossible to ban social media platforms such as Facebook. “You here have all joined social networks, you’ve all got Facebook up on your phones to read information. We cannot ban it,” Dung told his cabinet members. “We must publish accurate information online immediately.”

Instead, the government has set up its own Facebook page, to keep the public in the loop on new policies or to live-stream monthly cabinet meetings.

“The Communist Party of Vietnam is in a bind,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor researching Southeast Asian politics at the National War College in Washington. “It is committed to maintaining its monopoly of power and, as such, feels threatened by unfettered social media. Yet its Internet is relatively open, and they have nothing like the Great Firewall of China.”

Vietnam’s intermittent censorship doesn’t exist only online; it often appears that the state acts in cyberspace the same way it operates elsewhere. In the capital, it’s quite easy to come across almost clumsy or comical surveillance. At the recent opening night of an art exhibition in Hanoi, a slightly overweight man in casual clothes walked in. “Oh, that’s the spy, he comes to every opening,” said the artists to a group of visitors. “He just eats all our snacks and drinks all the wine and then leaves.”

He proceeded to do exactly that. But censorship is not always a joke for Vietnam’s artists, who say they can have exhibitions shut down for reasons that are never explained to them.

The surveillance extends to sports, as well. The dissident soccer team No-U FC plans the location of its weekly games — on Facebook — just before kickoff to avoid having cops show up to disrupt them. The team’s name is a rejection of the U-shaped delineation of China’s claim in the South China Sea. For dissidents, nationalist opposition to Chinese aggression is their biggest issue.

“I’d like to see electoral democracy, but not everyone I know agrees. But almost everyone I know opposes China. China is less popular than communism,” said Pham Anh Cuong, a member of No-U FC. As he was talking over lunch, he got a Facebook message and burst out laughing. “A friend just saw something I posted criticizing a local official and is asking me to take it down.”

Would he? He laughed louder. “Of course not! Why would I?”

 

Source from The Washington Post

Amnesty International: Missing Human Rights Defender At Risk Of Torture: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển

URGENT ACTION

MISSING HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER AT RISK OF TORTURE

Former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was last seen on 30 July 2017 after dropping off his wife outside her place of work in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. Although State media reported that he was arrested by authorities, more than three weeks later his wife has received no official confirmation from police as to the accusations against him or his place of detention. He is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and has preexisting medical conditions that require treatment.

The whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển remain unknown since he was forcibly disappeared on 30 July 2017. According to State media reports, he was arrested for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The offence, which falls under the vaguely worded “national security” section of the Penal Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment. On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at

On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at B14 prison in Ha Noi. Despite requesting information from police, the family of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển have received no similar confirmation as to his whereabouts and they fear for his safety. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển suffers from heart and bowel conditions that could deteriorate if he does not have access to the medication he requires.

A former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a follower of Hòa Hảo Buddhism, a minority religious tradition centred primarily in the south of Viet Nam. He was arrested in 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State for providing legal advice to land grab victims. On 24 February 2014, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển and his wife were pulled from a taxi in Ha Noi by men in plain clothes and severely beaten while on the way to the Australian embassy to discuss the harassment they had faced from police in Đồng Tháp province in the lead up to their wedding. His wife has recalled four other specific incidents in 2015 and 2016 when one or both of them were beaten or attacked by men in plain clothes.
Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:

+ Immediately disclose the whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển;

+ Release Nguyễn Bắc Truyển immediately and unconditionally if he is in State custody, as it appears he has been deprived of his liberty solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association;

+ Pending his release, ensure that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and is allowed access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, and adequate medical care.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 3 OCTOBER 2017 TO:

Prime Minister
Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Prime Minister’s Office
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Email:
nguoiphatngonchinhphu@chinhphu.vn
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Public Security
To Lam
44 Yết Kiêu St. Hoàn Kiếm District Hà
Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Email: ttll.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister
Phạm Bình Minh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Before his arrest, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was working for a Christian church in Ho Chi Minh City, contributing to a charitable program that supports war veterans. He has monitored and reported on the harassment of religious minorities in Viet Nam and in 2014 he met with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief during a country visit to Viet Nam. He has also provided legal advice to victims of land grabs and police harassment, and helped to facilitate charitable support to the families of prisoners of conscience.

The three other activists that were arrested the same day as Nguyễn Bắc Truyển are Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Ha Noi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, from Thanh Hoa province. Each of them has previously been imprisoned for their peaceful activities (see https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/6855/2017/en/). A fifth individual, Nguyen Trung Truc, was arrested on 4 August 2017. According to State media, all five men are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, is also accused of committing an offence under Article 79 of the Penal Code (see ASA 41/3098/2015 ).

Although Hòa Hảo Buddhism is an officially recognized religion in Viet Nam, historically there has been tension between its adherents and the Communist Party of Viet Nam. Individuals and families who choose to practice the religion independently of State-sanctioned religious authorities often face harassment from authorities.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a former prisoner of conscience. He was arrested in November 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State. According to his wife, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, he was accused of giving incorrect information to victims of land grabs, thereby turning them against the government. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was released from prison in May 2010 but was briefly detained again on 9 February 2014 when police raided the home of Bui Thi Kim Phuong, his fiancée at the time, in Đồng Tháp province days before their planned wedding. He was accused of stealing money and property but was released after twenty-four hours. The accusations and investigation were later dropped due to lack of evidence, however uniformed and plain-clothed police continued to threaten and harass the couple and their family for the rest of the month, including by following them, throwing waste at the house and allegedly cutting the water supply.

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights which has resulted in the arbitrary detention of at least fifteen activists and government critics since January 2017. Prisoners of conscience are routinely held for long periods of pretrial, incommunicado detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence, an essential part of the right to a fair trial, is denied. Both the prohibition against torture and other illtreatment and the right to a fair trial are provided in treaties that Viet Nam, as a state party, is legally obliged to abide by, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care, falling far short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement as a punishment for prolonged periods. For more information see the Amnesty International report, issued in July 2016: “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and Ill-treatment of Prisoners of Conscience in Viet Nam”, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/4187/2016/en/.

Name: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển
Gender: male
UA: 197/17 Index: ASA 41/6964/2017 Issue Date: 22 August 2017

TIME: Facing Jail, Democracy Activist Joshua Wong Says ‘Hong Kong Is Under Threat’

Feliz Solomon and Aria Hangyu Chen / Hong Kong
Aug 17, 2017

Joshua Wong is a free man, and a very young one, when he arrives Wednesday afternoon in front of a plaza in Hong Kong that he calls Citizen’s Square. But he may not be free for much longer. On Thursday, the 20-year-old faces a prison sentence for kicking off massive pro-democracy protests here three years ago. “I am not really ready for it,” he told TIME in an exclusive interview.

On Sept. 26, 2014, Wong and a small crowd of fellow student activists stormed the forecourt of Hong Kong’s government headquarters to oppose what they viewed as political and social encroachment by China. Originally an open plaza, the forecourt was fenced off in 2014 to prevent protesters, from democracy activists to land rights campaigners, from assembling there.

That night, Wong and others were pepper-sprayed amid scuffles with police, and at least a dozen students were arrested. Two days later , partly in response to clashes at the forecourt — which protesters began calling “Civic Square” or “Citizens’ Square” — tens of thousands of mostly young people flooded the Central and Admiralty neighborhoods, Hong Kong’s seats of power. There, they vastly swelled already-planned protests against Chinese interference in Hong Kong elections, and stayed on the streets for 79 days of mostly peaceful occupation. Wong’s remarkable role in the protests is the subject of the Netflix documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.

Facing Jail, Democracy Activist Joshua Wong Says 'Hong Kong Is Under Threat'
Joshua Wong, then 17 and leader of the pro-democracy group Scholarism, sits on steps alongside metal security barriers outside the Central Government Offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Of all the events that made the movement that was later dubbed the Umbrella Revolution, it was this first act that may haunt Wong. On Aug. 19, 2015, he and two of his peers, with whom he founded the political party Demosistō, were charged with unlawful assembly and inciting unrest for their role in storming the government forecourt. They were convicted on July 20, 2016 and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. On Thursday , Wong, along with Nathan Law, 23, and Alex Chow, 26, face a judicial panel that has been asked by prosecutors to imprison them on the grounds that their sentence was too lenient and sent the wrong message to other activists.

In September last year, Law became, at 23, the youngest lawmaker ever elected to Hong Kong’s legislature, but he was ousted by pro-Beijing colleagues over claims that he disrespected China during his oath-taking ceremony. If he is imprisoned for more than three months, he will be legally disqualified from running for political office for five years — as will Wong and Chow. That the courts have even agreed to reassess the trio’s sentences after they have already been dealt and served has sounded alarm bells that China, of which Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory, may be putting pressure on what has long been cherished as an independent judiciary.

On Wednesday, an anxious but resolute Wong met with TIME outside the very same plaza he stormed three years ago. With less than 24 hours before the judges’ decision, he spoke candidly about his belief that he has become a target of political prosecution, his goal of a democratic and self-ruling Hong Kong, and his hopes that his hometown will stand its ground to remain what he calls the freest territory of China.

His interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The court is about to revisit its punishment for your role in the events of Sept. 26, 2014, when you and other student activists stormed the forecourt at government headquarters. Could you also revisit those events for us?

Three years ago, we organized an action to reclaim Citizens’ Square and to ask for free elections and democracy in Hong Kong. We were against the interference of the Communist Party of China. Today we’re facing a verdict that comes from the Chinese government. They will probably send me to prison for more than half a year. What I want the international community to realize is that Hong Kong is already under authoritarian rule. This is a long-term battle, and we ask for long-term support. Hong Kong is now under threat.

Looking back on that action, is there anything you would have done differently if you could do it over?

I have no regrets at all. We were against patriotic education [an attempt by local authorities to impose a pro-Beijing curriculum on local schools], which is why we took the square. Three years ago, the government set up a barrier to block our freedom of assembly. So we organized an action to reclaim the square to remind people that it’s time to take back their rights. This was the first place I was arrested, and it’s the reason I will be sent to prison, but I do not regret it at all and I will still keep fighting for democracy.

Given that you’ve already served a sentence for this case, and given that revising the sentence would legally derail your stated aim of running for political office, do you view the appeal on your sentencing as a political act?

Last summer I was sentenced to 80 hours of community service — tomorrow [Thursday] I will face nearly a year-long sentence with immediate imprisonment. It just proves that the Hong Kong courts just obey China. This is meant to be a threat.

If imprisoned, many will view you and your colleagues as Hong Kong’s first political prisoners. What does this say about the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, which you have referred to as one of the “core values” of the territory?

Judicial independence is under threat because of the Department of Justice’s loyalty to China. I hope people will realize that. One decade ago, people described Hong Kong as a place without democracy but with rule of law. Now Hong Kong has already transformed into an authoritarian regime.

We won’t be the first political prisoners in Hong Kong [on Tuesday, the courts sentenced 13 activists to jail terms of 8 and 13 months for storming the legislature on a protest over rural development projects]. We’re just the first from the Umbrella Movement. The government reviewed this case against us because they hope to send us to prison and block our chances of running in elections. I believe the Department of Justice is reviewing my sentence because they hope I don’t run in an election.

Do you view Hong Kong as a barometer of freedom elsewhere in Asia, and do you view the way you’re being treated as an omen for democratic norms and rule of law in the broader region?

Hong Kong is the city with the highest degree of freedom of all the Chinese territories. In the Asia Pacific, I think Hong Kong should be in the spotlight to make people realize that [China] is still violating human rights. I hope the experience of Hong Kong will urge global solidarity and make people care about Hong Kong. Now it’s a place where youngsters — like her or him or me [gestures at passersby] — are sent to prison.

What impact do you think your experience with the courts will have on the many young people in Hong Kong and elsewhere that have become more politically active in recent years?

In the past few years there has been an uprising, a new political awareness among my generation. However, political prosecutions and sentences are increasing. We are in a time of darkness for my hometown. But in a dark era like this, with the repression of the Beijing regime, youngsters must fight on the front line to ask for democracy. I just want to say that if Nathan, Alex and I are in prison, and we cannot stand on the front line, there’s no reason for anyone else to take a step backwards.

It’s safe to say that most observers predict that you are going to prison. You’re only 20 years old. Are you afraid?

I am not really ready for it. And when, after I have been sent to prison, I can only meet my parents twice per month for half an hour. I will miss them, and I will miss my home. No one wants to be sent to prison, including me. I’m tired, and I’m scared, but I will still keep on fighting.

VOICE Bangkok Introduction

VOICE Bangkok officially set up its permanent presence in December 2015 and is led by VOICE’s ASEAN Program Coordinator, Anna Nguyen. VOICE Bangkok is responsible for the following:

  1. Refugee: Humanitarian and legal assistance to the stateless Vietnamese asylum seekers in South East Asia
  2. Advocacy:
    a. Implementing advocacy strategies involving the promotion of human rights in Vietnam as well as raising awareness on behalf of Vietnamese human rights defenders at risk and political prisoners.
    b.  Seeking humanitarian assistance for human rights defenders at risk and families of political prisoners.
    c.  Filing communications on behalf of Vietnamese human rights defenders and political prisoners through the use of various UN Special Procedures, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
  3. Training: Finding internship and training opportunities for the long-term interns in Manila.

Our achievements so far:

  • Resettling at least 90 Vietnamese stateless asylum seekers that had been left stranded in Thailand for 27 years to Canada (since 2014)
  • Receiving at least 50,000 USD from a number of international NGOs and bodies for human rights defenders at risk and families of political prisoners
  • Developing a close working relationship with the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Vietnam Human Rights Desk Officer of the US and Swedish Embassy, and international NGOS including Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, and Amnesty International for advocacy purposes

Giới thiệu về văn phòng của VOICE tại Bangkok - Thái Lan

Giới thiệu về văn phòng của VOICE tại Bangkok - Thái Lan

EU’s lawyers’ letter to VN’s PM on Nguyen Van Dai’s case

Full version

Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Office of the Prime Minister
1, Hoang Hoa Tham
Hanoi Socialist
Republic of Viet Nam

Brussels, 9 June 2016

Re: Concerns regarding Vietnamese lawyer Nguyen Van Dai

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), which, through the national Bars and Law Societies of the Member States of the European Union and the European Economic Area, represents more than 1 million European lawyers. In addition to membership from EU bars, it also has observer representatives from a further thirteen European countries’ bars. The CCBE places great emphasis on respect for human rights and the rule of law, and is particularly concerned with the situation of human rights defenders around the world.

The CCBE wishes to express its serious concern over the situation of Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer who founded the Vietnam Human Rights Centre and the Brotherhood for Democracy. Mr. Van Dai has been in detention for nearly six months.

We understand that, on 6 December 2015, as he was on his way back from leading a human rights workshop, Mr. Van Dai was beaten with metal bars by men identified as plainclothes police officers. Ten days later, he was arrested just before he was going to meet representatives of the European Union in Hanoi. His house was searched and officers confiscated his computers, USB sticks, cameras, and savings account’s bank book. He was subsequently charged with “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, which has been ruled in violation of international law by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Mr. Van Dai has been in detention ever since, awaiting trial. If convicted, he faces three to 20 years in prison.

In this context, the CCBE wishes to draw to your attention the Principle of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (attached), in particular Principles 16 and 22 on Guarantees for the functioning of lawyers, and Principle 23 on Freedom of expression and association.

In view of the above, the CCBE respectfully urges your Excellency to take effective steps to ensure that the charges against Mr. Van Dai are dropped and that he is released, and to guarantee his safety and security. In addition, the CCBE asks you to guarantee in all circumstances that all lawyers in Viet Nam are able to express their opinions and perform their professional duties without fear of reprisal, hindrance, intimidation, or harassment.

Yours sincerely,

Michel Benichou
President

Thông Cáo Về Tin Đồn VOICE Là Tổ Chức Của Việt Tân

Tải bản PDF tại đây.

21/4/2016 

Thời gian qua, một số cá nhân và cơ quan an ninh Việt Nam đưa tin đồn rằng VOICE là một tổ chức của đảng Việt Tân và ông Trịnh Hội, Giám đốc điều hành của VOICE, là một thành viên của Việt Tân.

Để phản hồi trước những tin đồn vô căn cứ này cũng như xác định vai trò của VOICE trong tiến trình xây dựng xã hội dân sự Việt Nam nhằm thúc đẩy và bảo vệ nhân quyền, Hội Đồng Quản Trị của VOICE xin làm rõ như sau:

1. VOICE không có mối quan hệ nào về mặt tổ chức với Việt Tân hay bất kỳ đảng phái chính trị nào khác trong quá khứ cũng như hiện tại. VOICE là một tổ chức phi chính phủ, phi lợi nhuận và hoàn toàn độc lập, được đăng ký tại tiểu bang California theo quy chế 501(c)(3) của pháp luật Hoa Kỳ vốn không cho phép việc tham gia các hoạt động chính trị đảng phái.

2. Không có thành viên Hội Đồng Quản Trị nào của VOICE hiện nay, bao gồm cả Giám đốc điều hành Trịnh Hội, là thành viên của Việt Tân hay của bất kỳ đảng phái chính trị Việt Nam nào khác, trong quá khứ cũng như hiện tại.

3. Việc ông Hoàng Tứ Duy, đảng viên kiêm phát ngôn viên của Việt Tân hiện nay, từng là thành viên Hội Đồng Quản Trị của VOICE từ năm 2007 đến năm 2010 không tạo ra mối quan hệ nào về mặt tổ chức giữa VOICE và Việt Tân. Ông Hoàng Tứ Duy tham gia Hội Đồng Quản Trị của VOICE khi đó với tư cách cá nhân, không phải với tư cách đại diện của Việt Tân.

Tuyên bố này không đồng nghĩa với việc VOICE chống lại bất kỳ đảng phái chính trị nào. VOICE tái khẳng định lập trường ủng hộ một nền dân chủ cho Việt Nam với sự tham gia mạnh mẽ và hiệu quả của người dân, trong đó có các đảng phái chính trị, vốn là điều kiện để phát triển một xã hội dân sự lành mạnh.

Các thành viên Hội đồng quản trị của VOICE (đã ký):

Chủ tịch: Đoàn Việt Trung
Thành viên: Jaclyn Fabre/Maxwell Vo/Jessica Soto/Trịnh Hội

— Hết thông cáo —

Joint Statement Calling for the Release of Vietnamese Activists: Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha

On 16 December 2015, prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, 46, and his colleague, Ms. Le Thu Ha, 33, were arrested at their home and office in Hanoi, Vietnam, respectively. Both have been charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, a law that has been routinely and arbitrarily invoked by the government to suppress critical voices.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai

Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le are being held in B14 prison in Hanoi. Requests by activists to visit them have been rejected and there are concerns that they are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. If convicted, Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le could face up to 20 years in prison.

We appeal to the Vietnamese government to honor its international and domestic obligations and to release Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le immediately and unconditionally.

We also call on the international community to act and put pressure on the Vietnamese government regarding these cases which have a severe chilling effect on freedom of expression in Vietnam.

During Mr. Nguyen’s arrest, his home was searched thoroughly by approximately 20 police officers. His laptops, bank documents and many other personal items were confiscated, while his apartment remains under tight surveillance.

Mr. Nguyen is a well-known peaceful campaigner for a multi-party democracy and the protection of human rights in Vietnam. He has devoted his life to providing legal assistance to the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society.

Mr. Nguyen has repeatedly been subjected to unwarranted persecution for undertaking his legitimate work. In 2007, he was convicted under Article 88 of the Penal Code (employing propaganda against the state) and sentenced to 4 years in prison and placed under 4 years of house arrest. At the time, he had been holding seminars to teach students about the fundamentals of a free society and the rule of law.

Activist Le Thu Ha

Since Mr. Nguyen’s release from prison in 2011, he had been subjected to countless incidents of harassment and surveillance by police officers. He was still recovering from injuries sustained from a vicious assault by masked assailants on 6 December 2015, after he had attended a meeting to mark International Human Rights Day. He was badly beaten, robbed and thrown on the street.

Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR), which protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), and the right to liberty and security of a person, which includes the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9).

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers specifically affirm that lawyers are “entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly” and that, “they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights”. The Basic Principles also set out a number of guarantees to ensure that lawyers are able to fulfill their professional roles without undue interference.

Furthermore, Vietnam’s Constitution protects the right to freedom of opinion and speech (Article 25) and guarantees that no citizen may be arrested without a warrant and that the arrest and detention must be in accordance with the law (Article 20).

We therefore strongly urge the Vietnamese authorities to comply with Vietnam’s human rights obligations, and drop all charges against Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le, who have been peacefully carrying out activities to promote and protect human rights.

We further urge the international community to strongly intervene at the highest possible levels to support the expeditious release of both human rights defenders.

SIGNED:

  1. Amnesty International – ENGLAND
  2. Christian Solidarity Worldwide – ENGLAND
  3. Front Line Defenders – IRELAND
  4. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation – SOUTH AFRICA
  5. Civil Rights Defenders – SWEDEN
  6. International Service for Human Rights – SWITZERLAND
  7. International Commission of Jurists – SWITZERLAND
  8. Freedom House – USA
  9. Human Rights Foundation – USA
  10. Humanitarian China – USA
  11. National Congress of Vietnamese Americans – USA
  12. People In Need – CZECH REPUBLIC
  13. Van Lang – CZECH REPUBLIC
  14. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) – THAILAND
  15. Foundation for Community Educational Media – THAILAND
  16. SHANAH – BURMA
  17. Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) – INDONESIA
  18. The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) – INDONESIA
  19. Legal Aid Center for the Press (LBH Pers) – INDONESIA
  20. ASEAN SOGIE Caucus – PHILIPPINES
  21. Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE) – USA, AUSTRALIA, CANADA & EUROPE
  22. Brotherhood for Democracy – VIETNAM
  23. Civil Society Forum – VIETNAM
  24. No-U Mien Trung – VIETNAM
  25. Vietnam Path Movement – VIETNAM
  26. Vietnamese Political & Religious Prisoners Friendship Association – VIETNAM

Civil Society and the TPP Negotiations

VOICE, together with civil society leaders from Vietnam, visited the Washington Post in D.C. to give their thoughts on the current situation in Vietnam and how “Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal presents both peril and opportunity.” As noted, “journalist Nguyen Van Hai, one of the political prisoners released last year after six years behind bars, told us, Vietnam’s communists also relaxed their grip a decade ago while pursuing membership in the World Trade Organization — only to crack down again when the United States and other nations moved their attention elsewhere.”

The rest of the article can be read here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-more-open-vietnam/2015/08/23/f6bff4ac-4846-11e5-8e7d-9c033e6745d8_story.html