PARIS, 30 March 2016 (VCHR) – The Minister of Public Security has issued new regulations which limit the right to demonstrate in Vietnam and give Police broad powers to crack down on public gatherings outside Courts when trials are in session.
Circular 13/2016/TT-BCA on “Regulations on the duties of the People’s Security forces in protecting Court hearings”, issued by Public Security Minister General Trần Đại Quang on 10 March will come into force on 24 April 2016. The Circular instructs Security Police on how to maintain security enforcement during Court hearings and ensure the protection of court officials, lawyers, witnesses, evidence and people attending the trial (Article 3). Whereas these are customary measures in countries respectful of the rule of law, Circular 13 contains a clause on “Handling situations of gatherings causing public disorder in the vicinity of trials” (Article 14) which violates internationally-recognized rights to freedom of assembly.
Under Article 14, if people gather outside a trial, Police must first issue verbal warnings to dispel them. But if the demonstrators do not comply, Police may “immediately deploy forces to prevent the disturbance of public order, isolate and arrest opposition elements, instigators and leaders of the disturbance”.
Given the broad interpretation of “disturbing public order” in the Vietnamese Criminal Code (Article 245), which makes no distinction between violent acts and the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly, Circular 13 virtually gives Security forces carte-blanche to suppress demonstrations and arrest human rights defenders protesting unfair trials or expressing solidarity with fellow activists. On 23 March 2016, during the trial of prominent blogger Nguyễn Hữu Vinh (Anh Ba Sàm) and his colleague Nguyễn Thị Minh Thúy, several people were arrested and detained for questioning on the pretext of “causing public disorder”, and many were subsequently summoned for “working sessions” with the Police.
“Circular 13 claims to “comply with the Constitution and the law” (Article 3), but in fact, it is anti-constitutional”, said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. “The Public Security Minister is overstepping his powers and trampling on rights enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution”, he said. General Trần Đại Quang will be the next President of Vietnam (pending approval by the National Assembly).
Vietnam’s 2013 amended Constitution guarantees the rights of all citizens “to enjoy the right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the press, to have access to information, assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations” (Article 25).
Vietnam has no law on demonstrations. A draft law before the National Assembly has been delayed because of disagreement on the text. Current regulations in force are Decree 38/2005 and Public Security Circular 09/2005/TT-BCA which prohibit gatherings of more than five people outside public buildings without permission from the State.
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