The International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH) and its affiliate, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) are alarmed by the widespread violations of political, civil and economic rights in Vietnam, despite 227 recommendations made by other States at the UPR of Vietnam (second cycle) in February 2014. The two organizations give a brief overview of key human rights concerns below, and urge States to take heed of this situation before the adoption of the UPR of Vietnam at the 26th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.
At Vietnam’s UPR in February, 24 States, including Italy, Canada, France, Finland, the USA, the UK, Belgium, Norway, Japan, Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and New Zealand urged Vietnam to take measures to actively promote freedom of expression, both offline and online. Several States specifically called for better protection for bloggers and online journalists. However, between February and May 2014, Vietnam continued to arrest and sentence bloggers simply for peaceful acts of free expression.
In March 2014, blogger Truong Duy Nhat, a former journalist on the state-run press, was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to encroach upon the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Criminal Code. The same month, former Communist Party member and blogger Pham Viet Dao received a 15 month sentence under the same charge. On 5 May, one of Vietnam’s most prominent bloggers, Nguyen Huu Vinh (blog name AnhBaSam) was arrested along with a colleague, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy for “publishing online articles with bad contents and misleading information to lower the prestige and create public distrust of government offices, social organizations and citizens”. They face up to seven years in prison under Article 258.
In May, the Vietnamese government closed down the independent blog Civil Society Forum without explanation and the Defend the Defenders blog was the target of cyber-attacks. During the same month, the government ordered the Ministry of Information and Communications to stop issuing new media licenses and revoke the licenses of others found “publishing false or fabricated reports and evoking public criticism”.
Recommendation to “give individuals, groups and organs of society the legitimacy to promote human rights and express their opinions or dissent publicly” (Norway) and “facilitate the development of a safe and enabling environment for civil society actors to freely associate and express their views” (Ireland, Tunisia) have been widely ignored by Vietnam. Human rights defenders are routinely exposed to physical assaults, beatings, car “accidents”, and systematic intimidation by plain-clothed security agents and hired thugs in order to frighten them into silence. On 25th May, human rights defender Tran Thi Nga was brutally beaten by five men with metal bars after she took part in an international Seminar in Hanoi on “Sharing International Experiences on the UPR Process”. She suffered from a smashed kneecap and serious bruises to her arms, shoulders and head. The men told her “we will break your legs so you can’t attend these meetings anymore!”
Several human rights defenders have been forbidden to leave the country to attend international seminars, in violation to the right to freedom of movement guaranteed in the Constitution. This was the case for Pham Chi Dung, barred from attending Vietnam’s UPR in Geneva in February, and bloggers invited to participate in a seminar on media freedom in Sweden in May 2014. Peaceful demonstrations and gatherings organized by human rights defenders are regularly disbanded with violence by police.
Recommendations by Canada, Italy, Chile, Singapore, and the UAE to guarantee religious freedom are of crucial importance in view of widespread abuses against religious communities in Vietnam. Religions are subjected to a draconian registration process, and members of “non-recognized” religious groups such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Hoa Hao, Khmer Krom, and Protestant “house churches” suffer continuous harassments and persecution. On 25 May 2014, a group of indigenous Hmong tribes-people were condemned on appeal to sentences of 15 to 18 months in prison for exercising religious practices deemed “superstitious” by the authorities.
UBCV leader Thich Quang Do remains under house arrest in Ho Chi Minh City without any justification or charge, and UBCV monks in Hue and Danang are subjected to severe restrictions on their movements and communications. Leader of the UBCV-affiliated Buddhist Youth Movement Le Cong Cau, who has been under house arrest in Hue for the past five months for writing articles supporting the banned UBCV, was informed by police on 2 May 2014 that he must remain under house arrest indefinitely. He has also been condemned to pay a fine for “writing and disseminating articles with slanderous contents which harm the prestige of organizations and individuals”. The case of Le Cong Cau is particularly serious, because he is detained particularly on account of an audio message that he sent to the United Nations for the UPR of Vietnam in February 2014.
Several States called on Vietnam to repeal or modify “national security” provisions in the Criminal Code to ensure that they are “not invoked to stifle legitimate and peaceful dissent” (Ireland, France, Australia, Canada, Norway, USA, Cabo Verde), with specific mention of Articles 79, 88, and 258. In fact, Article 258 (“abusing democratic freedoms to encroach on the interests of the State”) has been invoked more frequently than ever before over the past months to arrest bloggers, religious followers and human rights defenders and stifle legitimate dissent. Although Vietnam has acceded to core human rights treaties and adopted legislation on the harmonization of laws, its domestic laws remain grossly inconsistent with its international human rights obligations.
FIDH and VCHR urge States to press Vietnam to implement the following recommendations as a matter of priority over the next four years:
– Protect freedom of expression both offline and online by bringing legislation into line with the ICCPR (New Zealand, France, Ireland, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Hungary);
– Enable the operation of free and independent (non-state) press and media, both national and international, including on the Internet (Norway, Japan, Australia, Estonia, Pakistan);
– Guarantee freedom of religion or belief, notably by reducing registration requirements and administrative obstacles to peaceful religious activities (Canada, Italy, Chile);
– Create a safe and enabling environment and legal framework for human defenders, NGOs and all other civil society actors (Spain, Tunisia, Czech Republic, Luxembourg);
– Repeal or amend ambiguous “national security” provisions in the Criminal Code, including articles 79, 88 and 258, to prevent the authorities from using them to stifle dissent, debate, and freedom of expression (Denmark, Finland, France, Canada, Australia);
– Expedite legal reforms to ensure independence of the judiciary, the right to a fair trial, presumption of innocence, equal access to lawyers, and the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention (Canada, Serbia, Japan, Cabo Verde);
– Enact laws to provide for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration in line with the ICCPR and adopt measures to end the prosecution of peaceful protesters (Australia, Greece);
– Immediately release all prisoners requested by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other human rights defenders, journalists, religious and political dissidents detained for the peaceful expression of their views (USA, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic);
– Establish a moratorium on executions in view of abolishing the death penalty (Portugal, Australia);
– Combat discrimination against women; adopt anti-trafficking legislation, and ensure women’s entitlement to land (Netherlands);
– Protect internationally-recognized worker rights (USA);
– Quickly ratify and implement the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (Belgium, Gabon, Mali, Poland, Switzerland, Denmark, USA);
– Accept the requests of the special rappporteurs on freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of assembly and association, and other mandate holders to visit Vietnam (Mexico, Hungary, Greece, Germany, United Kingdom, Austria, Czech Republic);
– Enhance equal political participation of all citizens and take steps towards multi-party democracy (Czech Republic).