GENEVA, 8 March 2013 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Speaking at the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva jointly with the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) denounced systematic and organized violations of Internet freedom in Vietnam.
Citing the findings of the recent FIDH and VCHR report “Bloggers and Netizens behind bars in Vietnam”, Mr. Ai declared that the ongoing repression, supported by widespread Police violence and vaguely-worded, restrictive legislation, was grossly inconsistent with the provisions of Article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam acceded in 1982.
Vo Van Ai expressed particular concern about the increasing use of internment in psychiatric institutions under Ordinance 44 to stifle cyber-dissidents. He also denounced a Draft Internet Decree currently under preparation which would increase state censorship and oblige Internet companies, including foreign firms, to collaborate with the government in “tracking down government critics” (see full text of the statement below).
Ms Penelope Faulkner, speaking on behalf of Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme also expressed concern about the government’s assault on freedom of expression in Vietnam and the arbitrary detention and harrasment of bloggers, citing the cases of bloggers Dieu Cay, Ms . Nguyen Hoang Vi and Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do. She said the release of bloggers and repealing of restrictive legiclation was “indispensable in the light of Vietnam’s bid for membership of the UN Human Rights Council in 2014” (see extracts from speech below).
Vo Van Ai speaking at the UN Human Rights Council, 8 March 2013 – Photo QUE ME
“The FIDH and its affiliate organization, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, wish to draw the Council’s attention to the brutal campaign of repression on freedom of expression in Vietnam, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This campaign is totally inconsistent with the Council’s 2012 Resolution (HRC/20/L.13) on “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” and the recommendations accepted by Vietnam at its Universal Periodic Review in 2009.
“As revealed in our recent report, “Bloggers and Netizens Behind bars: Restrictions on Internet Freedom in Vietnam”, which we hold at the Council’s disposal, Internet users are harassed, intimidated, molested and imprisoned. There are currently 32 bloggers and netizens in prison in Vietnam, either sentenced or awaiting trial, with prison terms of up to 16 years.
“Such repression does not serve to protect “national security” as the Vietnamese authorities claim, but to stifle the voices of an emerging civil society speaking out on corruption, power abuse, the plight of dispossessed peasants and farmers, human rights and democratic reforms.
“Cynically, the authorities are also repressing those who contributed to a recent public consultation on reforming the Constitution. Last week, journalist Nguyen Dac Kien was fired from the newspaper Gia đình & Xã hội (Family and Society) less than 24 hours after posting a criticism of the Communist Party and its Secretary-general on his blog.
“Vietnam does not only use violence and Police coercion, but also invokes a host of vague and broadly-interpreted laws to suppress freedom of expression, in flagrant violation of Article 19 of the ICCPR. Article 88 on “anti-Socialist propaganda” or Article 258 on “abusing democratic freedoms to encroach on the interests of the state” are routinely used to detain cyber-dissidents.
“Ordinance 44 (2002), which authorizes the detention of suspected “national security” offenders without any due process of law, is increasingly used to detain bloggers, especially its provisions authorizing the internment of citizens in psychiatric hospitals, as was recently the case of bloggers Nguyen Trung Linh and Le Anh Hung.
“In the framework of legal reforms financed by the international community, this arsenal of restrictive legislation continues to grow. A new draft Internet Decree is under consideration which raises serious concerns. If adopted as such, it would legalize a whole system of content-filtering, censorship and sanctions against vaguely-defined “prohibited acts”. It would also oblige Internet companies and providers, including foreign companies, to cooperate with the government in the surveillance and tracking of cyber-dissidents.
“Such repression is inconsistent with Vietnam’s international obligations as a state party to the ICCPR and the recommendations made by 13 states at its UPR to guarantee freedom of expression.
“We call upon the Council to press Vietnam to put an end to this repression; to abrogate Ordinance 44 and all other legislation incompatible with international human rights law, and review the draft Internet decree in order to ensure that it guarantees freedom of expression. Vietnam should also invite the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression to visit Vietnam at the earliest opportunity.”
Penelope Faulkner speaking at the UN Human Rights Council, 8 March 2013 – Photo QUE ME
“Over the past year alone, scores of bloggers, online journalists and human rights defenders in Vietnam have been harassed, intimidated, subjected to Police abuse, or condemned to extremely harsh prison sentences simply for expressing their peaceful views on the Internet.
“The situation of blogger Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay) is particularly alarming. Charged with “circulating anti-socialist propaganda” (Article 88 of the Criminal Code), he was sentenced to 12 years in prison and five years house arrest at a trial in September 2012 which violated all international standards. The trial was closed to the public, and the Court cut off the microphone when Dieu Cay spoke to defend himself. Today, his safety and security is in danger. Senior Police official Lt.-Colonel Hoang Van Dung told Dieu Cay he would destroy his health and make sure that he died in prison.
“Netizens routinely suffer beatings, abuse and even sexual assaults by Police. On 28 December Miss Nguyen Hoang Vi, a 25-year-old blogger, was beaten savagely by Police, stripped naked and subjected to a humiliating body search which was videotaped by male Police officers. Police had arrested her on the pretext of an “identity check” as she stood outside the Court during Dieu Cay’s appeal trial.
“Many Internet users are detained under house arrest without any due process of law. Buddhist monk and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do has been under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery since 2003 because of his online appeals for democracy and human rights (1).
“Vietnam claims that it arrests government critics because they have violated Vietnamese law. However, in Opinion 27/2012 on Vietnam, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stressed that even if the detention is in conformity with national legislation, it must also be consistent with international law. The “Working Group also emphasized that “the holding and expressing of opinions, including those which are not in line with official Government policy, are protected under Article 19 of the ICCPR”.
“We therefore call upon Vietnam to repeal all domestic laws inconsistent with Article 19, to release all persons detained for their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, both online and offline, and to invite the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and on Human Rights Defenders to visit Vietnam. This is indispensable in the light of Vietnam’s bid for membership of the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.”
(1) Despite his detention under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, Thich Quand Do has recently launched via the Internet a declaration on pluralism and democracy in Vietnam, as a contribution to the current debate on reforming the Constitution (see Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do issues a Declaration on Pluralism and Democracy in Vietnam, IBIB, 6 March 2013)