PARIS, 7 December 2016 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) calls on the European Union to use the upcoming EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue to press Hanoi to address serious human rights abuses and commit to substantive, measurable progress in Vietnam. The dialogue will be held in Brussels on 8th December 2016.
As the dialogue takes place, Vietnam is pursuing a fierce crack-down on human rights defenders and independent civil society. In a submission to the EU prior to the dialogue, VCHR described 2016 as a “black year for human rights” with an escalation of police brutality and harassment of civil society activists; violent suppression of peaceful protests against land seizures or environmental degradation such as the Formosa pollution disaster; police violence against journalists; politically-motivated arrests and imprisonment; unfair trials and ill-treatment of detainees.
“As Vietnam’s diplomats sit at the table in Brussels, their Police and Security forces are assaulting and arresting peaceful citizens, and their government is passing laws to restrict human rights”, said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. “The EU should impress upon Vietnam that the dialogue is not just words, but entails a genuine commitment to make concrete and measurable progress on the ground.”
The crackdown in Vietnam reflects the zero tolerance policy announced by the new leadership formed after the Communist Party’s 12th Congress in January 2016. President Trần Đại Quang, a former Minister of Public Security, said his government’s priority would be to combat “wrong and distorted allegations from hostile and reactionary forces” and mobilize the military, police, and public security forces in the fight against dissent.
At least 20 civil society activists were imprisoned in 2016, with seven activists condemned to a total of over 22 years in prison in the month of March alone. Particularly disturbing in 2016 is Vietnam’s increased use of Article 79 on “subversion” (‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration’), to detain peaceful critics. Activists Lưu Văn Vịnh and Nguyễn Văn Đức Độ, arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on 6 November 2016 are charged under Article 79 for their pro-democracy activities; Trần Kim Anh and Lê Thanh Tùng, arrested in 2015, will stand trial under Article 79 at the Thái Bình People’s Court on 16 December 2016. Article 79, which makes no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism and the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, carries penalties of up to life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Prominent activists detained or convicted in 2016 include influential blogger Nguyễn Hữu Vinh (Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyễn Thi Minh Thúy, condemned respectively to five and three years in prison for ‘abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State’ (Article 258 of the Criminal Code) in March (the sentence was upheld on appeal in September); human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài and Ms. Lê Thu Hà, arrested on 16 December 2015 on charges of ‘spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’ (Article 88); prominent human rights defender Ms. Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, aka Mẹ Nấm [Mother Mushroom], arrested on 10 October 2016 and medical doctor Hồ Văn Hải, arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in November 2016, both charged under Article 88 in connection with their peaceful protests on the Formosa pollution disaster. They risk prison sentences ranging from three to 20 years. Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church (UBCV) Thích Quảng Độ remained under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City without any justification or charge.
Alongside arbitrary arrest and Police brutality, in 2016 Vietnam adopted extensive legislation to restrict human rights, in violation of its binding international obligations. A new Law on Belief and Religion, adopted in November imposes tight state control of religious communities and contains vague wording that virtually condones repression. The Government Board of Religious Affairs stated that the new law will help them suppress groups that “abuse religion to threaten the interests of the state”. An amended Press Law, a new Law on Access to Information and Circular 13 limiting the right to demonstrate are part of the arsenal of restrictive legislation adopted in 2016.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights expressed particular concern about “national security” provisions in the amended Criminal Code. Although the amended Criminal Criminal Code was adopted last year, its implementation has been delayed because of multiple errors in the text. The amended Code not only does not remove highly criticized provisions such as Article 88, 258 and 79 which are widely used to arrest human rights defenders and government critics, but imposes even harsher restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. For example, punishments for the “preparation of the offense” have been added to several crimes, such as Articles 79, 88 and 87. “Preparation” (“chuẩn bị” in Vietnamese) could mean anything from a thought process to the physical preparation to commit an act. These new provisions give the authorities greater leeway to punish perceived critics and stifle dissent. At the upcoming dialogue this week, the EU should press Vietnam to take the opportunity of this delay to bring these provisions into line with international law.
“The EU should make it clear that improved trade relations, such as the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, include greater demands for the respect of human rights”, said Võ Văn Ái. He urged the EU to demand that Vietnam release all political and religious prisoners, cease harassment of civil society activists and end restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion.
This post is also available in: French