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EU should press for substantive progress, not promises, at EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi

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PARIS, 14 December 2015 (Vietnam Committee) – The Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) called on the European Union today to press Vietnam to commit to urgent, measurable human rights progress at the fifth round of the enhanced EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue to be held in Hanoi on 15 December 2015.

The dialogue takes place against a backdrop of escalating violence against Vietnamese human rights defenders and independent civil society. On 4 December, police cracked down on a Memorial Day ceremony organised by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam at the Long Quang Pagoda in Hue. Hundreds of security police blocked UBCV pagodas in Hue and Danang and detained 11 UBCV leaders, including Thich Thanh Quang, Acting President of the UBCV’s Executive Institute and Buddhist Youth leader Lê Cong Cau during four days, to prevent them attending the ceremony. On 6 December, lawyer and former political prisoner Nguyen Van Dai and three colleagues were brutally beaten by plain-clothed security police in Nghe An after they held a meeting to discuss human rights and the 2013 Constitution. Dozens of security police, their faces covered, dragged the activists out of their taxi and beat them. They pushed Dai into a car, confiscated his cell phone and money, and kicked him out of the car some 50 kms away. Dai has suffered five such attacks, none of which have been investigated by the Police. This incident took place during a week of activities organized by independent civil society activists in Vietnam to mark the 67th Anniversary of International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2015.

“Human rights defenders, bloggers, religious followers – indeed, anyone who holds views at odds with the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam – face beatings, threats and detention simply for expressing their opinions and beliefs,” said Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights. “The EU must ensure that the dialogue achieves concrete human rights progress, not just empty promises from the authorities of Vietnam.”

In a joint Briefer submitted to the EU at a civil society consultation on the Human Rights Dialogue held in Brussels on 26 November, the VCHR and the International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH) highlighted the alarming increase of Police violence as one of their key concerns. Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, activist Dinh Quang Tuyen, Catholic human rights defenders Tran Minh Nhat and Chu Manh Son, blogger Trinh Anh Tuan, labour-rights activist Do Thi Minh Hanh and journalist Truong Minh Duc were amongst the cases raised. The latter two were beaten by police in the city of Bien Hoa while they were helping workers of the Yupoong Company to file for compensation following a fire at the plant.

Police brutality is also widespread in the prisons. VCHR and FIDH reported that 226 people died in custody as a result of police violence in Vietnam over the past three years alone.

Violations of freedom of expression remain severe. In 2015, journalists and bloggers faced prosecution and serious pressure simply for expressing alternative views. The VCHR and FIDH cited the cases of journalist Do Van Hung, fired from the prominent daily Thanh Nien (Youth) for mocking Ho Chi Minh on his Facebook; Kim Quoc Hoa, Editor-in Chief of Nguoi Cao Tuoi (the Elderly) newspaper, fired and prosecuted under Article 258 of the Criminal Code for “abusing democratic freedoms” and his newspaper closed down after publishing articles revealing official corruption; prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, both arrested in May 2014, detained for 18 months without trial at the B14 Prison in Hanoi, in violation of the Vietnamese Criminal Procedures Code which provides for a maximum of 12 months pre-trial detention. They are accused of “slandering the reputation of the Party and State”, and risk prosecution under Article 258 of the Criminal Code.

The Death Penalty, widely used in Vietnam, was also highlighted by the VCHR and FIDH. Due to lack of independence and transparency of Vietnam’s legal system, inadequate access to defence counsel and unfair trials, the number of wrongful convictions is alarming, with 18 such cases in 2015 alone. Thanks to strong international outcry, notably from the EU delegation in Vietnam, condemned prisoner Le Van Manh received a stay of execution. International NGOs report that the proceedings against Le Van Manh were characterized by procedural errors, and that his “confessions” were obtained under torture. Although Vietnam recently reduced the number of economic crimes punishable by death, crimes against “national security” invoked to suppress political opposition remain unchanged.

Freedom of Religion or Belief, which is seriously abused in Vietnam, risks being further restricted under the new “Law on Religion and Belief”, currently under debate in the National Assembly. The draft law contains provisions allowing the government to interfere into religious organizations’ internal affairs such as the appointment of religious leaders, the content of religious training or education. It empowers the authorities to suspend religious festivals on grounds of “national defence or security”, and contains vaguely-worded provisions that could be used to discriminate against ethnic minorities and independent groups whose religion is perceived by the authorities as “foreign”. VCHR and FIDH urged the EU to demand Vietnam to cease the repeated harassments, arbitrary house arrest and restrictions on freedom of movement of Buddhist Youth leader Lê Công Câu, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), who has spent the past 30 years under different forms of detention for advocating religious freedom, democracy and human rights.

In their joint submission to the EU, VCHR and FIDH expressed deep disappointment on Vietnam’s lack of progress in bringing domestic legislation into line with its international human rights treaty commitments. Despite firm commitments at its Universal Periodic Review to revise ambiguously-worded “national security” crimes in the Criminal Code, Vietnam has made no attempt to revise these laws. On the contrary, in the amended Criminal Code adopted by the national Assembly earlier this month, offenses such as “undermining national solidarity, sowing divisions between religious and non-religious people” (87), “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (Article 88); “abusing democratic freedoms to encroach on the interests of the state” (article 258); or “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (Article 79) remained unchanged, except for their numbers.

Whilst welcoming the early release of political prisoner Ta Phong Tan on 19 September 2015, the VCHR and FIDH deeply regretted that she was forced to emigrate immediately to the United States on the grounds that her sentence had been simply “interrupted” and she would be immediately incarcerated if ever she returned to Vietnam. This forced exile is a grave violation of Article 12 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “no-one should be deprived of the right to enter his own country”.

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