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

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 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: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PUBLIC STATEMENT

1 August 2017

Index: ASA 41/6855/2017

Viet Nam: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer

On 30 July 2017, Vietnamese authorities arrested four activists in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Thanh Hoa province. They are Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, a Protestant pastor from Thanh Hoa province; Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Hanoi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, 49, from Ho Chi Minh City. Each of the four, all men, has previously been imprisoned for his peaceful activities. The four are prisoners of conscience, having been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and association. Amnesty International calls on the Vietnamese authorities to release all four immediately and unconditionally, release all other prisoners of conscience and end its policy of intimidating, arresting and punishing peaceful activists.

The four activists have been accused of “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 Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.

The arrests are part of an intensifying crackdown on the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Viet Nam that has seen lengthy prison sentences handed down to two prominent human rights defenders in the last five weeks. Prior to the most recent arrests, at least seven other activists had been arrested in the last six months.

The four men arrested on Sunday are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and has, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, been detained without trial for more than 18 months. Both Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha were initially accused of “conducting propaganda” against the state under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. However, according to Vietnamese police and state-controlled media, Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha are now accused of committing an offence under Article 79 along with those recently arrested.

Nguyễn Văn Đài is a well-known human rights lawyer. In 2006 he founded the Committee for Human Rights in Viet Nam – now called the Vietnam Human Rights Centre – and was one of the original signatories to an online petition calling for freedom and democracy in Viet Nam, which garnered the support of thousands. Between 2007 and 2011, Nguyễn Văn Đài served four years in prison after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state. In April 2013, he founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, envisioned as a coordinated and collective movement for achieving democracy in Viet Nam.

Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn has written about freedom of religion and corruption in Viet Nam. He was arrested in January 2011 and convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state, serving a sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

Phạm Văn Trội was arrested in September 2008 for unfurling banners, distributing leaflets, posting information on the internet criticizing government policies, and calling for democracy in Viet Nam. In October 2010 he was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and served a sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Journalist and labour rights activist Trương Minh Đức has written about corruption and abuse of authority in Viet Nam. He was arrested in May 2007 and in March 2008 was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, serving a sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a human rights lawyer who in 2007 was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment. Since his release in May 2010, he has been a vocal member of an association of former prisoners of conscience.

A sustained crackdown on human rights

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights. In the last five weeks, two prominent human rights defenders were convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

On 29 June 2017, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, also known by her blogging pseudonym, Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom), was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for her activities on Facebook and other social media, including writing, uploading and sharing articles and video content critical of the ruling Communist Party of Viet Nam and the state. On 25 July 2017, Trần Thị Nga was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for “posting video clips and documents containing anti-state propaganda on the internet”. The videos related to issues such as pollution of the environment and corruption. Both decisions have received widespread international coverage and been condemned by local and international human rights groups, United Nations human rights experts, and diplomatic representatives of the United States and the European Union in Vietnam.

Both Trần Thị Nga and Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh had raised concerns about the authorities’ response to the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, which severely affected fish stocks in several Vietnamese provinces. The incident has impacted the livelihoods of up to 270,000 people and led to sustained activism and protests across the country on a scale rarely seen.

Others who have recently been arrested include Trần Hoàng Phúc, a 23-year-old activist arrested on 3 July under Article 88 of the Penal Code for allegedly posting material critical of the government on social media and Lê Đình Lượng, a political dissident who was arrested on 24 July under Article 79 of the Penal Code. At least five other activists arrested since November 2016 are currently held in incommunicado pre-trial detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. 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. Both the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment 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.

The ICCPR also protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), peaceful assembly (Article 21), and association (Article 22). It also protects the right to liberty and security of a person, which includes the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9).

Amnesty International urges the Vietnamese authorities to comply with Viet Nam’s human rights obligations, and drop all charges against those who have been peacefully carrying out activities to promote and protect human rights and/or peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, opinion or belief, assembly, and/or association. The international community must condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the current crackdown on human rights in Viet Nam, and advocate for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

BACKGROUND Amnesty International has documented information on at least 90 persons currently deprived of liberty whom the organization considers prisoners of conscience, including bloggers, labour and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice who have been convicted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. In many of these cases there have been concerns about unfair trials, incommunicado detention, and torture and ill-treatment of those detained. Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls 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. Treatment of prisoners of conscience has been documented by Amnesty International in a report, Prisons within prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam , July 2016, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/4187/2016/en/.

ENDS//

Public Document****************