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Vietnam Committee denounces repression of Internet freedom, freedom of religion and inhumane detention conditions in Vietnam

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GENEVA, 17 September 2013 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Speaking on behalf of the French organisation Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme (AEDH), Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) expressed concern before the UN Human Rights Council today on the ongoing crack-down on freedom of expression, the adoption of Decree 72 restricting Internet freedom and inhumane detention conditions of political prisoners in Vietnam. He also informed the Council of persisting repression against religious communities, including Buddhists, Catholics, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and Protestants and the long-term house arrest of Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Quang Do in his pagoda without any justification or charge.

Vo Van Ai  
Vo Van Ai
 

This denunciation of serious human rights abuses in Vietnam comes just as the UN in New York prepares to vote on Vietnam’s membership of the Human Rights Council, and just one day after Vietnam sentenced a peaceful activist to 15 years in prison. This is the 49th pro-democracy activist convicted in Vietnam in 2013 alone, the highest number for many years.

Full text of Mr. Vo Van Ai’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council:

Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme and its partner organization, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) are deeply concerned by the increasing repression against bloggers, human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in Vietnam, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. In 2013 alone, at least 49 people were arrested and convicted under “national security” provisions or for “abusing democratic freedoms” (Article 258 of the Criminal Code) which are inconsistent with the ICCPR. The international community has repeatedly urged Vietnam to repeal or revise these provisions, but without success.

“Decree 72 on the Internet, which came into force on 1st September, criminalizes and prohibits vaguely defined acts which are in fact merely legitimate and peaceful acts of free expression. The Decree also prohibits Internet users from posting news items on their personal blogs or on social networks such as Facebook.

“The organizations are also concerned that detention conditions in Vietnam fall far short of UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Political prisoners are made to wear distinctive clothing and are subjected to discrimination. They are denied access to adequate medical care, even those who are seriously ill, such as long-term prisoner Nguyen Huu Cau, who is almost completely deaf and blind, and Hoa Hao Buddhists Do Thi Minh Hanh and Mai Thi Dung. Food rations are grossly inadequate. Prisoners who cannot pay for extra food are unable to survive. Recently, blogger Dieu Cay staged a 35-day hunger strike and political prisoners rioted in Z30A Prison in Xuan Loc and A20 Prison in Phu Yen to protest inhumane detention conditions.

“In violation of Article 18 of the ICCPR, freedom of religion or belief is seriously violated in Vietnam, a country where religions represent the last voices of organized civil society. Buddhists, Catholics, Cao Dao, Hoa Hao and Protestants suffer routine harassments, violence, arbitrary arrests and detention. Since 2003, Thich Quang Do, Head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has been imprisoned in his pagoda without any justification. Vietnam denies that he is detained, but the U.S. and Ambassadors and diplomats from Germany and France who visited him recently were able to observe that he is deprived of his freedom.

“We call upon the UN Human Rights Council to press Vietnam to fix a date for the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on Human Rights Defenders; and revise or abrogate “national security” provisions in the Criminal Code, notably Articles 79, 80, 87, 88 and 258”.

– On 11 September, Mr. Vo Van Ai described repression against bloggers and netizens in Vietnam in a briefing held on the margins of the UN Human Rights Council on “Criminalisation of legitimate expression on the Internet: Testimonies from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia”. Speaking at this event, organised by the FIDH and co-sponsored by IFEX, Article 19, PEN International and Human Rights Watch, were Mrs Sukanya “Joop” Prueksakasemsuk, wife of detained Thai journalist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk who is serving 11 years in prison for “lèse-majesté”, Ms Ramana Som from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, and Nguyen Bac Truyen, a Vietnamese former political prisoner and blogger who sent a audio message from Vietnam.

Nguyen Bac Truyen described his first-hand experience of harassments and beatings by secret police and hired thugs, and the growing intensity of repression against pro-democracy activists and netizens:

“Since Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang came back from a visit to President Obama in the United States at the end of July 2013, government repression has entered a new, more violent phase. Bloggers and activists are directly targeted. Secret police openly brutalize and intimidate us. They stop at nothing in order to terrorize and repress Vietnamese human rights defenders, bloggers and dissidents”.

He called on the international community to “take heed of the plight of bloggers and pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. I urge you to press Vietnam’s Communist authorities to cease human rights abuses and respect their international obligations to uphold freedom and human rights”.

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