PARIS, 15th December 2017 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) welcomes the unanimous adoption by the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday 14th December of a “Resolution on Freedom of Expression in Vietnam, notably the case of Nguyen Van Hoa”. The Resolution was tabled jointly by the EP’s five major political parties from across the political spectrum (1). In the debate in Plenary Session, not one MEP spoke in support of Vietnam, and all condemned the serious deterioration of civil and political rights in the country.
“The European Parliament seized the occasion of the deeply shocking sentence of young blogger Nguyễn Văn Hóa and the appeal sentence of Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom) on the eve of the EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue to strongly denounce the blatant and outrageously anti-freedom policies of the Vietnamese government” said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. “The Resolution takes up all the VCHR’s grave concerns: the savage repression endured daily by dissidents, bloggers and human rights defenders, as well as the arsenal of restrictive legislation in force in Vietnam, such as the “national security” provisions in the Vietnamese Criminal Code, or the new Law on Belief and Religion that will come into force on 1st January 2018.”
On the convictions of bloggers Nguyễn Văn Hóa (condemned to 7 years in prison on 27th November 2017) and Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh (10 years in prison, upheld on appeal on 30 November 2017), the Resolution deplored that they were based on “national security” provisions in the Criminal Code that are “in breach of international human rights law”. MEPs expressed concern about the “extensive application” of these provisions, and called on the Vietnamese government to “ensure that national security concerns are not used as a pretext for the suppression of human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief”. They recalled that several national security crimes are punishable by death.
The EP Resolution stressed that many laws recently adopted by Vietnam violate international law. It cited the “Law on Access to Information and an amended Press Law, which restricts freedom of expression and reinforces censorship”, or “the Law on Belief and Religion, which [is] incompatible with international norms”. The EP called on Vietnam to urgently revise these laws, and review and amend its Criminal Code.
The Resolution stated that “freedom of religion or belief is repressed in Vietnam and the Catholic Church and non-recognised religions, such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, several Protestant churches and others, including ethnic minority Montagnards, continue to suffer severe religious persecution”.
On the margins of the debate, MEP Soraya Post, who went to Vietnam with an EP Delegation in February 2017 to monitor the human rights situation, expressed concern about the plight of UBCV leader Thích Quảng Độ: “I would like to raise my concern for the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do. I asked to meet him when I was in Vietnam, but it was not possible. The Vietnamese government should release him immediately. He has spent so many years in detention. He has done no harm; he is a simple Buddhist monk”. Thích Quảng Độ, 89, was arrested in 1982 for opposing the creation of the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, and has been detained since then under different forms (prison, internal exile and house arrest) almost without interruption because of his peaceful advocacy of religious freedom, human rights and democracy. He is currently under house arrest without charge at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City.
“For once, during the debate on the Resolution, the European Parliament and the European Commission spoke with one voice to denounce the unprecedentedly brutal crackdown going on in Vietnam” said Võ Văn Ái.
Noting that “the EU underlined the deterioration of civil and political rights in Vietnam” at the EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi on 1st December 2017, MEPs expressed “concern at the increasingly restrictive approach of the authorities with regard to freedom of expression and other freedoms” and condemned “the use by the authorities of physical and psychological harassment, extra-judicial house arrest, pressure on lawyers, employers, landlords and family members of activists, and intrusive surveillance”.
In conclusion, the EP called on the Vietnamese authorities to “release all citizens detained for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression”, “end all restrictions on and acts of harassment against human rights defenders and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment”, and extend invitations to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Human Rights Defenders to visit Vietnam.
Speaking in the debate in the plenary session, EP Vice-President Pavel Telička said he was “shocked” by a letter sent by the Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the EU to a number of MEPs which sought to dissuade the Parliament from adopting the Resolution. It denied all allegations of human rights violations against Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh and Nguyễn Văn Hóa and justified their convictions. According to Mr. Telička, the letter accused Như Quỳnh of acting in connivance with a “terrorist organization”, and claimed that Nguyễn Văn Hóa had “confessed his wrong-doings”. By way of a reply, the Resolution “insist[ed] that no statement extracted under torture or other ill-treatment are relied upon as evidence to convict individuals accused of propaganda or other politically motivated charges”.
(1) Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance.