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Vietnam: Arbitrary arrests and harassment of bloggers and activists continue

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PARIS, 7 May 2014 (FIDH & VCHR) – : Vietnam must end the arbitrary arrest and harassment of activists and bloggers and immediately release the more than 200 political prisoners it holds, FIDH and its member organization, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), said today. On 5 May, Vietnamese police in Hanoi arrested blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, 58, and activist Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, 34, under Article 258 of the Criminal Code for “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State.” The two were accused of “publishing online articles with bad contents and misleading information to lower the prestige and create public distrust of government offices, social organizations, and citizens.” If convicted, they face up to seven years in jail.

“Vietnam must comply with its legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and guarantees the right to leave a country, including one’s own,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “Vietnam must also repeal Article 258 of the Criminal Code and all other vaguely-written draconian laws that authorities continue to use to silence dissent,” he added.

Nguyen Huu Vinh, a former police officer and the son of Vietnam’s ambassador to the former Soviet Union, is the founder of the widely read Basam website. Basam (“Gossip”) is one of the most popular sources for news and comments about human rights, democracy, and corruption in Vietnam and it often features articles critical of the Vietnamese government’s policies. Over the past 18 months, hackers have repeatedly attacked the website.

The arbitrary arrests of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy follow the increasing restrictions on several bloggers’ freedom of movement. On 5 and 13 April respectively, authorities prevented bloggers Nguyen Lan Thang and Anna Huyen Trang from traveling to the US to testify at a congressional briefing and attend a series of events to mark World Press Freedom Day. Authorities also seized blogger Pham Chi Dung’s passport in February, which prevented him from traveling to Geneva to attend a meeting on the sidelines of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam.

“The EU and the US must send Vietnam a clear and unequivocal message that there can’t be any negotiations on free trade agreements involving Vietnam without the release of all political prisoners and an end to all acts of harassment against activists and human rights defenders,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

It is estimated that there are over 200 political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam and many more are under house arrest. Those incarcerated include lawyers, bloggers, land rights activists, Buddhist monks, journalists, writers, singers, labor activists, pro-democracy campaigners and members of ethnic and religious minorities, including Buddhist Khmer Krom and Christian Hmong and Montagnards.

Vietnam has increasingly invoked Article 258 of the Criminal Code to detain dissidents and human rights defenders. Since the article was first introduced into the Criminal Code in 1986, FIDH and VCHR have consistently denounced this and other broadly defined ‘national security’ laws that are totally inconsistent with Vietnam’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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