• Vietnamese government’s ‘Opinion Shapers’ target activist Facebook pages

    by Duy Hoang

    In recent weeks, well-known Vietnamese activists have found themselves suddenly unable to log in to their Facebook accounts. Their personal pages have been suspended for “abuse” even though there was no apparent violation of any Facebook policy.

    According to Angelina Trang Huynh, who temporarily lost access to her Facebook account earlier this month, the culprit is the Vietnamese government’s online army, known as “opinion shapers” (“dư luận viên”). These opinion shapers used Facebook’s “report abuse” system to orchestrate an onslaught of reports that likely led Facebook to suspend the targeted accounts.

    With 25 million Vietnamese users, Facebook is the social network in the country. Since Facebook took off in Vietnam in 2009, authorities have tried unsuccessfully to restrict its explosive growth and role as a medium for free expression.

    Early attempts by authorities to block Facebook did not succeed and only encouraged netizens to learn how to circumvent and became versed in civil disobedience.

    In 2013, 30-year old Dinh Nhat Uy was the first Vietnamese activist known to be arrested for his activities on Facebook. He was convicted for “abusing democratic freedoms” through status updates calling for the release of his younger brother who also used social media to express dissent. Uy’s arrest sparked widespread attention but did not temper enthusiasm for using the social network for political discussion and organizing.

    It appears that Vietnamese authorities have given up on totally blocking Facebook. The country’s economy and image depend on authorities maintaining some semblance of an open Internet.

    However, through “opinion shapers” authorities apparently hope to achieve their goal of stifling free speech. This online army has been blamed for creating an environment of intimidation and harassment, as evidenced by their tidal wave of toxic and profanity-laden comments.

    By flagging an account en masse, not unlike a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, these government henchmen can quickly trigger the takedown of a Facebook profile or community page with content critical of the Hanoi government.

    Facebooker Trinh Huu Long posted a list of accounts taken down recently. It reads like a list of who’s who in the Vietnamese online activist community:

    15. Nguyen Lan Thang – blogger
    16. Nguyen Tien Trung – former prisoner of conscience, recently released on April 12, 2014
    17. Nguyen Tuong Thuy – blogger
    18. Nhat Ky Yeu Nuoc – a news/media page

    Expect Vietnamese netizens to strike back, says Angelina Trang Huynh:

    Offline, the authorities wield security police to physically abuse peaceful activists. Online, they use ‘opinion shapers’ to silence bloggers. Does the Vietnamese government really think they can get away with this abuse?

    (This article originally appeared on Global Voices Online. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

  • TPP free trade agreement is non-starter for workers’ rights: Activist

    As negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement continue, several members of the U.S. Congress held a press conference on July 9 on the steps of the Capitol, setting forth numerous objections to the Obama administration’s approach to the TPP.

    In addition to opposing the President’s fast track authority, the members of the House of Representatives (Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), George Miller (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Donna Edwards (D-MD)) also demand that TPP addresses trade imbalances and upholds standards of food safety, workers’ rights and LGBT and women’s rights.

    Two activists were invited to speak at the press conference, workers’ rights activist Jerame Davis, and Vietnamese blogger and civil society activist Pham Doan Trang, representing VOICE.

    The TPP is an ambitious trade agreement that the United States is negotiating with 11 other countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region including Vietnam. Passage of the TPP is one of the primary goals of the Obama administration’s trade agenda. If completed, it will create a vast free-trade zone that will include practically every economy in the Pacific Basin.

    The full text of Trang’s address follows.

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    Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for inviting me here to speak about labor rights violations in Viet Nam, and why the TPP should be a non-starter.

    On June 26, labor right activist Do Thi Minh Hanh, 29, was released from prison, and this is good news. However, it does not change the fact that labor rights, together with land rights and the right to expression, may be the three most widespread and seriously violated rights in Viet Nam.

    Every year in Viet Nam, there are hundreds of workers strikes; and 95% of them are considered to be illegal. Why illegal? Because, no way can they be lawful under the Labor Code and Trade Union Law, which still deny the existence of independent labor unions.

    The fact is that all unions are outlawed, except the monopoly state-run, the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labor, VGCL. Its owners are the ruling party, its officials are party officials, and its charter is to serve the party. We even have an internal VGCL document showing that VGCL asked police to arrest and punish strike leaders.

    Every union must register with this Confederation to be recognized. And under law, strikes must be held by those recognized unions. The Labor Code also requires a process of conciliation and arbitration before the workers can conduct a strike. So, it is understandable that under such harsh requirements, 95% of the strikes are deemed illegal.
    Also, 95% of the hundreds of strikes each year are related to wages, or the low incomes. As Viet Nam has undergone economic recession since 2008, workers are among the worst impacted victims. They suffer from low incomes, working overtime without being paid; many are denied insurance or heath care programs, especially in private sector. Working conditions have been lowered, and collective food poisoning has been widespread.

    Just over a week ago, two hundreds of workers had been poisoned after having dinner in a company located in Ho Chi Minh City. Before that, on May 15, five hundred workers in Thanh Hoa province were poisoned as well because of drinking water provided by their employer. And these are just the known cases. Many similar cases must have happened in Viet Nam without being known and no one has been charged for that. The health and the lives of workers have been continuously threatened without any significant protection, especially from the Vietnamese government.

    Forced labor is another violation of labor rights. There are reports from former political prisoners on the exploitation of prisoners, using them to produce garments, furniture, and cashew nuts.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    We understand that when found to be violating labor rights, Vietnam’s ruling party wants to pay fines rather than enduring increased tariffs.

    We also understand that by releasing Do Thi Minh Hanh early, the Vietnamese government just wants to pretend to the world that they are respecting labor rights.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    I’ve been talking about bad faith and rights violations, but I’d like to end by noting that there is some hope. Facebook is hugely popular in Vietnam, connecting people; and there are dozens of NGOs who are actively protecting and promoting human rights. I know this because my group, VOICE, is in frequent contact with some such groups.

    So, on behalf of VOICE and democracy supporters in Viet Nam, I would love to say: Don’t have a trade agreement in which labor rights are not enforceable. My people aspire to economic prosperity, but it must hand in hand with liberty. Please be with us on our journey.

  • Man beaten to death after police traffic stop

    (VNRN) – A man, stopped by police for a sobriety check on June 25 in Ho Chi Minh City, insisted that a ticket be properly issued before they could seize his motorbike. Immediately after, two unknown assailants beat him up so badly he later died in the hospital, the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reported.

    Nguyen Van Chin, 44, died of internal injury to his vital organs including his small intestine. Before dying, however, he was able to tell his family what happened.

    Chin was on his way home after an office party around 11pm when he was stopped by a group of traffic police. They administered an alcohol test and decided to impound his motorbike.

    Chin, however, insisted that a ticket be issued so he could go pay the fine and retrieve his motorbike. As Chin and the police were still arguing, two men in plainsclothes came over, pull Chin out, and said they would get him his ticket.

    Instead, as they went into a dark alley, they beat him until he passed out.

    When Chin woke up, the traffic police was gone, so he crawled to the street and hailed a taxi to the hospital. The hospital staff then used his cell phone to call his family.

    He died around 1 am on the 27th.

    Instances of police killing civilians have happened so often they are becoming commonplace.

    A group of activists, led by blogger Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), has launched a “Stop Police Killing Civilians” campaign.

    Ironically, the group’s first public meeting, at a Human Rights Coffee, was broken up by the police and 3 of the participants were arrested.

  • Jailed labor rights activist released early

    (VNRN) – A Vietnamese labor rights activist was freed June 27 from a Hanoi prison after completing four of her 7-year sentence for organizing workers. Two other activists convicted at the same 2010 trial are still imprisoned.

    Do Thi Minh Hanh (Đỗ Thị Minh Hạnh), 29, was convicted of “disrupting security” for handing out leaflets in support of workers demanding better pay and conditions. Also convicted were Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung (Nguyễn Hoàng Quốc Hùng) and Doan Huy Chuong (Đoàn Huy Chương). Hung was sentenced to 9 years while Hanh and Chuong received 7 years each.

    Hanh’s release was sudden; her family was unaware until Hanh had left prison and called home. The family kept the news quiet until Hanh had arrived safely home in Di Linh province.

    Hung, Hanh, and Chuong were accused of organizing and leading a massive strike of 10,000 workers at the My Phong shoe factory in Tra Vinh, a coastal province in the Mekong Delta. The strikers were protesting excessive work hours, a cut in year-end pay, and abusive management.

    The police arrested Chuong, Hanh and Hung. Both Hanh and Hung accused the police of beating them. The appellate court in 2011 affirmed the three prison sentences.

    Hanh’s mother Tran Thi Ngoc Minh (Trần Thị Ngọc Minh) had been traveling throughout the U.S., Europe and Australia seeking international pressure to free her daughter.

  • Appeal court affirms prison sentence for blogger Truong Duy Nhat

    <- Police transport van arrives with blogger Truong Duy Nhat to the court of appeals in Da Nang. (Photo: huynhngocchenh.blogspot.de)

    (VNRN) - A lightning fast appellate hearing in Danang today affirmed the two-year sentence imposed on blogger Truong Duy Nhat (Trương Duy Nhất) for allegedly “abusing the rights of freedom” in writing his blog “Another Point of View” (Một Góc Nhìn Khác).

    Nhat’s wife and daughter were present in court, and were able to talk to him. His daughter brought home toys Nhat had made in prison for her.

    Several other friends, however, were not admitted to the hearing. They were told they had to have sought permission beforehand.

    Some of his friends had expected that he would be sentenced to time served and professed no surprise in seeing the appellate verdict.

    “I was just naive,” one of Nhat’s friend said. Friends say the appeal court made its decision after less than two hours of hearing.

    The prosecution was based on 12 specific entries on Nhat’s blog, dating from 2009 through 2013, in which he criticized the performances of top government and Party officials, including the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister.

    Nhat’s lawyer Tran Vu Hai (Trần Vũ Hải) asked the court to call the officials as witnesses, as the indictment alleges damages to the reputation of the officials. The court, however, refused.

    Nhat was convicted of violating Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, an ambiguous provision which makes it a crime to “abuse the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.”

    In late 2013, a group of Vietnamese bloggers launched a “No 258″ campaign calling attention to the law’s vagueness and danger of arbitrarily using it to suppress legitimate free speech. Copies of the group’s petition were hand delivered to many diplomatic missions in Hanoi and subsequently several bloggers who did so were questioned by the police.

  • VIDEO + FULL TEXT: Independent civil society activists speak at UN Human Rights Council

    (VNRN) – Activists representing 10 civil society organizations spoke to the UN Human Rights Council on June 24 as part of the final meeting on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam’s records.

    Human rights lawyer Trinh Huu Long spoke on behalf of the activists present at the UNHRC plenary session, Dr. Nguyen Quang A (Nguyễn Quang A), an economist and activist; Pham Le Vuong Cac (Phạm Lê Vương Các), a blogger and independent journalist; and human rights lawyer Nguyen Thi Vy Hanh (Nguyễn Thị Vy Hạnh).

    The independent civil society organizations represented by the four activists are Civil Society Forum, the United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam, the Association of Political & Religious Prisoners of Vietnam, the Brotherhood for Democracy, Bau Bi Tuong Than Association, No-UC FC of Hanoi, No-U FC of Saigon, the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church West branch, the Vietnam Path Movement, and VOICE. The statement read at the UNHRC was made in conjunction with CIVICUS, an international NGO with focus on citizen action and civil society, especially “where democracy and citizens’ freedom of association are threatened.”

    The full text of the statement follows.

    Thank you, Mr. President.

    CIVICUS presents this statement together with 10 civil society organizations in Vietnam. It is our first time speaking at the Council.

    But it has not been easy for us to be here. Some of our colleagues were stopped from attending this session. Others were warned not to attend.

    Specifically, members of our delegation who attended the last session in February have been subjected to harassment and interrogation since their return to Vietnam. Their passports have been confiscated and one member was severely beaten up. Reprisals are therefore real and continuing in Vietnam.

    Worse, the Vietnamese government continues to arrest and imprison voices of conscience. Voices like Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức), the founder of the Vietnam Path Movement who was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for daring to challenge the one-party rule. And human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan (Lê Quốc Quân) who was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of $100,000 US dollars on the false charge of ‘tax evasion’. All this despite the findings of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s that his detention is arbitrary and unlawful.

    Last month, blogger Anh Ba Sam (Anh Ba Sàm) was arrested for the crime of ‘abusing freedom and democracy’ while most significantly, Vietnam continues to detain Activist Bui Thi Minh Hang (Bùi Thị Minh Hằng) without trial, 6 days after Vietnam’s glowing report to this very Council on February 5 on its Universal Periodic Review progress.

    There are, in fact, hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam right now.

    Mr. President: Despite Vietnam’s joining the Council and the present UPR, the truth remains that Vietnam continues to violate international laws and in many instances, its own domestic laws.

    We therefore urge you and the Council to pay more attention to the ongoing abuses in Vietnam and to assist independent civil society organizations to determine our own destiny.

    Thank you very much.

  • Government bans Catholic church’s maritime map exhibit

    (National Catholic Reporter) – An exhibit of historic maps detailing Vietnam’s maritime sovereignty of waters off the coast of Vietnam, recently disputed by China, planned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City for June 19, was forcibly canceled by government authorities, even as the same maps had been previously allowed to be displayed in Hanoi.

    The archdiocese had planned to organize the four-day exhibit at the newly built headquarters building of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam. Archbishop Paul Bui Van Doc (Bùi Văn Ðọc) of the archdiocese, also head of the Bishops’ Conference, was expected to open the event.

    Rev. Ignatius Ho Van Xuan (Hồ Văn Xuân), Vicar General of the archdiocese, issued a statement June 18 on the archdiocese website: “Archbishop Paul Bui Van Doc decided to cancel the exhibit of maps claiming our national sovereignty over Spratly and Paracel Archipelagos on the East Sea [South China Sea].”

    Rev. Xuan did not disclose any reason for why the exhibit was canceled, but he expressed wishes that local priests, religious and laity would sympathize with the archbishop.

    However, informed church sources told NCR on June 18 the Committee for Religious Affairs in Ho Chi Minh City had sent Archbishop Doc a letter saying that it did “not allow the archdiocese to open the exhibit.”

    These same sources said church had refused to ask for government permission for the exhibition. The reason cited: “Organizing the exhibit is the internal work of the local church, and the exhibit aims to help local Catholics to master the national sovereignty over the two disputed archipelagos and raise public awareness of patriotism after China illegally deployed its big oil rig last month within Vietnam’s waters.”

    Many Vietnamese have reacted angrily to China’s move, and anti-China riots and attacks on foreign factories last month left several factories burnt. Different governments’ reports put casualties between two and 21 deaths.

    Vietnam and China have also taken the territory dispute to the United Nations and have submitted dossiers on their claims to United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

    Local sources said they consider it “unusual that Catholics, expressing their patriotism, are requested to ask for government permission.”

    They said the banned exhibit shows 90 copies of ancient maps drawn by foreigners and Vietnamese, dating from 1482 to 1989. The copies were from the 3,000-map collection put together by noted Catholic history researcher, Nguyen Dinh Dau (Nguyễn Đình Đầu), who has previously been honored by the Hanoi government for his historical research. The exhibit had been displayed at the city’s library June 3 to 8; the maps have also been shown at the city’s Center for Young People.

    A senior observer said on condition of anonymity that “the local church obeys the laws and the government, but never seeks government permission for its internal activities.”

    “The real reason behind the ban on the church exhibit is that the Communist Party of Vietnam fears to displease its neighboring Communist Party of China,” the observer continued. This conclusion stems from the fact that China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi met with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi, June 18.

    Photo top:  The same maps previously displayed in Hanoi were banned by the Committee for Religious Affairs in Ho Chi Minh City when the Catholic archdiocese there tried to exhibit them. Photo by Teresa Hoang Yen/NCR.

  • Vietnam rejects 45 human rights recommendations from UPR

    (VNRN) – Vietnam rejected 45 of the recommendations by other countries to improve its human rights record, accepting the remaining 185 of them, at the June 20 meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which concludes the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

    Although the majority of recommendations accepted by Vietnam are vague and hard to evaluate, some are measurable and would require major changes, such as Kyrgyzstan‘s recommendation to “ensure education free of charge in practice” (no. 193) or Luxembourg‘s recommendation to “allow for the presence without restriction of observers at court hearings” (no. 134).

    Currently, public education in Vietnam is free in theory, but in practice students are required to pay numerous categories of additional fees to make up for budget shortfall, forcing many to quit. Official figures from the General Statistics Office show that 5.9% of girls and 5.3% of boys ages 5-19 have never been in school, while 15.5% of all children 5-18 years have dropped out of school, with the ratio being even higher in the countryside.

    Guaranteeing a public trial will also mark a change in the government’s practice. Several political trials in Vietnam have been closed to the public and even closed to the defendants’ family members. The recent appeal hearing for blogger Pham Viet Dao (Phạm Viết Đào) was scheduled in the last minute and closed to all except Dao.

    Other trials limited the number of viewers, forcing the public and even family members to make choices on who could attend. Nguyen Thi Kim Lien (Nguyễn Thị Kim Liên) once commented that during the trial of her son Dinh Nhat Uy (Đinh Nhật Uy), sentenced under Article 258, she had to sit on the sidewalk outside of court, waiting to hear the outcome.

    Vietnam rejected 45 recommendations based on what Nguyen Trung Thanh (Nguyễn Trung Thành), the Vietnamese envoy to the U.N.’s Geneva office, considered “inappropriate for the historical, social and cultural characteristics of Vietnam” or “based on distorted information.”

    Among those rejected were a recommendation by Greece (no. 176) to “adopt measures to end prosecution of peaceful protesters.” Almost to the point, less than 24 hours before the meeting in Geneva, Vietnam suppressed another protest against the Chinese government for its actions in the South China Sea.

    Also rejected were recommendations made separately by Congo, France, Madagascar and Togo, but marked together under number 41, to “establish a national human rights institution in conformity with the Paris Principles.” Those principles call for the creation of national human rights institutions that are funded by the State but are independent of it, and serve as a “bridge” between civil society and the government.

    Calls by several countries for the abolition of the death penalty were also rejected.

  • PHOTOBLOG: Another protest, another crackdown

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    (Photo: Nguyen Lan Thang)

    (VNRN) – As the dispute over a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea, in an area claimed by Vietnam, continues into its second month, China moved another rig nearby. The AP wire story on this new development notes,

    “Vietnamese authorities broke up a small protest against the Chinese move on Thursday. About a dozen people gathered at a park in central Hanoi and chanted slogans such as “Down with Chinese aggression” for several minutes before being dispersed. At least two protesters were taken away.

    That sterile description doesn’t quite capture what actually happened. The images here truly are worth a thousand words each.

    Hanoi arrest 3

    (Photo: No-U FC of Hanoi)

     

     (Photo: No-U FC of Hanoi)

    (Photo: No-U FC of Hanoi)

     

  • Vietnamese activists to attend UN human rights reporting session on Vietnam

    (VNRN) – Four civil society activists from Vietnam have arrived in Geneva to speak at the UPR session where final input will be provided and the UN Human Rights Council will complete its report on Vietnam, scheduled to take place June 20, local time.

    The four activists represent 10 civil society organizations in Vietnam active in human rights advocacy. They are Dr. Nguyen Quang A (Nguyễn Quang A), an economist and activist; Pham Le Vuong Cac (Phạm Lê Vương Các), a blogger and independent journalist; and human rights lawyers Nguyen Thi Vy Hanh (Nguyễn Thị Vy Hạnh) and Trinh Huu Long.

    The purpose of this plenary meeting of the UN Human Rights Council is to adopt a report for Vietnam, a follow-up of the meeting in February, in which other countries made recommendations and and NGOs provided comments for improving human rights.

    A total of 227 recommendations were made by 106 countries to Vietnam. At this second meeting, Vietnam will state which recommendations it accepts and which it rejects. Other countries will have the opportunity to comment as will NGO and other stakeholders. A final “outcome report” will then be adopted.

    Dr. Quang A noted, “For the first cycle in 2009, the Vietnamese government only agreed to 96 out of 123 recommendations, and those were the vague general recommendations that were difficult to evaluate. They rejected all recommendations for the release of political prisoners, private ownership of the press, or reform of the legal system.”

    “It shows a very low level of commitment,” Dr. Quang A said.

    Cac, on the other hand, viewed this UPR session in the context of the deteriorating relationship between China and Vietnam, and thought that Vietnam’s conduct at this session “will show how the threat from China affects the process of democratization and respect for human rights in Vietnam.”

    “By following the recommendations that Vietnam approves or rejects, we can measure the effect of the crisis in the East Sea (South China Sea),” Cac stated.

    The delegation, in addition to Geneva, will travel to Belgium, Poland, and the Czech Republic to meet with UN agencies, the EU diplomatic corps, and other governments and NGOs.

    Both Hanh and Long give high importance to international lobbying efforts. Hanh, based in the U.S., considered it “something the Vietnamese community abroad can do very well to assist civil society organizations and the people in Vietnam in their struggle for human rights.”

    Long, who was a delegate at the UPR working group session in February, said, “Whatever the reaction by the Vietnamese government at this UPR session, we will continue to call on the international community and the community of Vietnamese people in and outside of Vietnam to work more and take more concrete steps to improve human rights in Vietnam.”

    “It will be a long process,” Long said, “and one-time commitment by the Vietnamese government, if any, will never be enough.”

    The independent civil society organizations represented by the four activists are Civil Society Forum, the United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam, the Association of Political & Religious Prisoners of Vietnam, the Brotherhood for Democracy, Bau Bi Tuong Than Association, No-UC FC of Hanoi, No-U FC of Saigon, the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church West branch, the Vietnam Path Movement, and VOICE.

  • FULL TEXT: Government harasses UPR civil society delegates

    (VNRN) – A coalition of 15 independent Vietnamese civil society organizations (CSOs) has made the following report to express their concern about the government’s reprisals against activists engaged in UN human rights mechanism.

    The coalition includes groups that have been advocating for human rights in Vietnam in recent years, such as the Vietnam Path Movement, No-U Football Club, Vietnamese Redemptorists’ News Service, and Dan Lam Bao (Citizen Journalism).

    The full text of the report follows.

    I. Introduction

    On 05 February 2014, Vietnam went through its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process that occurs every 4.5 years in Geneva, Switzerland. The UPR process serves as a platform to review the human rights situation of UN Member States and to ensure that each State complies with their human rights obligations. Although this was the second time for the Vietnamese government at this event, it was the first time independent civil society representatives were present. Yet, instead of promoting and protecting human rights, the Vietnamese government harassed delegates of independent civil society organizations prior to and following the UPR, in violation of their freedom of movement and personal integrity.

    II. Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders for engaging with the UPR

    Civil society groups play an essential role in all stages of the UPR process. However, in an apparent attempt to stifle independent reporting on Vietnam’s human rights record, the Vietnamese authorities’ have sought to undermine civil societies’ engagement in the process through a combination of harassment, intimation, judicial persecution and unwarranted restrictions on the freedom of movement.

    On 15 January 2014, blogger Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, also known as Paulo Thanh Nguyen, had his passport confiscated at the Tan Son Nhat airport and was banned from traveling to the United States and Geneva, Switzerland for “security reasons”. Mr. Nguyen is a member of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, which had joined a UPR Delegation campaigning for human rights for Vietnam. His intended purpose of travel was to bring awareness to the human rights violations in Vietnam and to raise a voice for independent CSOs in Vietnam before the UPR. To date, Mr. Nguyen’s passport has not been returned despite repeated appeals.

    On 01 February 2014, journalist Pham Chi Dung, a member of the Vietnamese Friendship Association of Former Political and Religious Prisoners, was prevented from flying to Geneva. Dr. Pham had been invited to attend a UPR side event organized by UN Watch, he was to come as a representative for one of the independent NGOs in Vietnam. Although the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs and the UN raised their voices to protest Dr. Pham’s case to Vietnamese authorities, he was still prohibited from flying to Geneva.

    On 9 February 2014, human rights lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, founding member of the Association of Political and Religious Prisoners, an organization which formed part of the UPR Delegation, along with his fiancé, were arrested and detained in Dong Thap province. Mr. Nguyen’s property was destroyed and his laptop, cell phone, and camera were confiscated. Upon his release, he traveled to the capital, Hanoi, where he was severely assaulted when he tried to inform international embassies about their harassment and detention.

    On top of prohibiting activists from traveling abroad before the UPR, Vietnamese authorities also harassed delegates upon their return from Geneva. Ms. Nguyen Thi Tram, mother of human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan, was subjected to an invasive strip-search upon her arrival on 17 February 2014 at Tan Son Nhat airport. She had attended Vietnam’s examination at the HRC and also travelled prior to the UPR to the U.S. to bring awareness to her son’s situation, along with other human rights issues.

    Another member of this UPR Delegation, Mr. Dang Van Ngoan, has faced unrelenting harassment since his return from Geneva. Mr. Dang is a member of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, an independent religious group, and had spoken out regarding the lack of religious freedom in Vietnam. Since returning to Vietnam, the authorities have repeatedly requested him to report to them for ‘immigration related matters’.

    Blogger Bui Tuan Lam, aka Peter Lam Bui, a member of the civil society UPR Delegation which attended the UPR session on 05 February 2014, was detained and questioned for 8 hours at Tan Son Nhat airport upon his return from Geneva. Mr. Bui’s passport was also confiscated. Mr. Bui represented “No-U Vietnam”, a group opposing China’s unilateral imposition of a nine-dotted line claiming for itself almost all of the South China Sea – which Vietnamese citizens call the East Sea. The group’s name comes from the fact that China’s line looks like the letter U. Moreover, on 16 April 2014, Mr. Bui was ambushed and physically attacked by 8 policemen on a deserted road near Ky Trung Bridge in Tam Ky city, Quang Nam province. He sustained internal injuries as a result of this incident.

    To address the issue of the Vietnamese authority’s restriction of the freedom of movement and the possibility that many more activists may be banned from travelling, on 20 March 2014, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers organized a public roundtable discussion. This meeting, called the “Human Rights Coffee”, was held in Hanoi and focused on discussing “Citizens being banned from exiting for national security reasons, seen from an international perspective”. Participants were activists who were banned from traveling abroad, together with four diplomats—David Skowronski, Second Secretary of the Embassy of Australia, Felix Schwarz, Political Counselor and Consul, German Embassy, Elenore Kanter, Counsellor Head of Political and Trade Section, Embassy of Sweden, and Alex Jully, Attaché at European Union Delegation.  Mr. Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, who is mentioned above, was one of two activists who led this meeting. During the meeting, he stated “national security has been used as a wide-ranging pretext by the Vietnamese government to ban people from leaving the country”.

    One of the organizers of the “Human Rights Coffee”, Trinh Anh Tuan (aka Gio Lang Thang), was beaten up by three plain-clothes policemen right after the event. According to Tuan, these policemen had participated in the seminar and followed him when he was going back home. They kicked his motorcycle down and repeatedly beat him, breaking down his mobile phone. Everything happened in a few minutes before they left.

    On 19 April 2014, Mr. Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, along with Ms. Trinh Kim Tien and Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, aka Mother Mushroom, were arbitrarily arrested at a coffee shop by Nha Trang city police while attempting to participate in another workshop, this one concentrating on the UN Convention against Torture, a treaty which Vietnam recently signed. Ironically, they were detained for 12 hours, interrogated and assaulted by the authorities before being released.

    III. CONCLUSION 

    Since becoming a member of the HRC, the Vietnamese government has failed to take the necessary steps to improve its human rights record. Instead, the environment for human rights defenders has significantly deteriorated following Vietnam’s examination under the UPR, including targeted persecution of peaceful activists for engaging with UNHRC mechanisms.

    List of members of the coalition (signed):

    1. Civil Society Forum
    2. Network of Vietnamese Bloggers
    3. Vietnam Path Movement
    4. No-U FC, No-U Sài Gòn
    5. Vietnamese Redemptorist News
    6. Dan Lam Bao
    7. Association of Former Political and Religious Prisoners
    8. Brotherhood for Democracy
    9. Hoa Hao Buddhist Church
    10. Association of Workers & Farmers Solidarity
    11. Aggrieved Citizens Struggle Alliance Movement
    12. Association of Religious Freedom Protection
    13. Vietnam Interfaith Council
    14. United Buddhist Church of Vietnam Sangha
    15. VOICE
  • Man dies after 3 hours in police custody

    (VNRN) – The day after an appellate court let two police officers walk free after causing the death of a jailed suspect, another man died in police custody in northern Nam Dinh province, adding further evidence that the police is allowing the use of deadly force with impunity against the people.

    The victim in this latest case is 54-year old Tran Dinh Toan (Trần Đình Toàn) from Nam Dinh, a city 88km (55 miles) south of Hanoi. After lunch on June 11, Toan was called in to give a ride to a customer. At 1:15pm, the police came and asked everyone in the house their personal history, including Toan’s wife, children, and siblings, but said nothing about Toan.

    Later, at 4:30pm the police came back and said Toan had died of drug overdose. The family came to the hospital and was not allowed access to his body until 7pm. “When we changed his clothes, we found bruises on his chest,” Toan’s brother wrote in his written request for an investigation, sent to the police.

    The police told the family that around 12 noon, the police saw Toan ride with a customer, and they suspected Toan of drug possession, so they searched him but found nothing. Police then took Toan to the station, and, according to police, during questioning Toan showed signs he couldn’t breathe so they took him to the hospital where he died at 3pm.

    The family, however, said Toan had never been a drug user, and couldn’t have overdosed on drug in the police station if he had been driving a motorbike when he was arrested. The family is seeking a formal investigation into Toan’s death.

    This is just the latest in a long list of people who were suspected of wrongdoing — sometimes as minor as failure to wear a helmet while riding a motorbike — and ended up dead in police custody.

    These deaths have occurred so frequently that a group of activists have even put together a list of victims of the police.

    Blogger Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), one of the authors of the compilation, told Vietnam Right Now, “It is a problem, when more and more people are dying at police stations that it is becoming routine.”

    She noted that the situation is getting worse as the courts have “delaying the time to try cases of death by police, as well as light sentences that have no deterrent or preventive value.”

    “There’s no such thing as people coincidentally dying at the police station,” Me Nam said. “The police must take responsbility for the deaths that occur in detention.”

    In Toan’s case, there are signs that the police are setting up their own evasion from responsibility. When the family came to get Toan’s body, the police told Toan’s widow Doan Thi Ly (Đoàn Thị Lý) to write down what they dictated.

    “The police told Mrs. Ly to write down what they said, that my brother suffered from heart, liver and other chronic illnesses and they told my sister-in-law to sign it,” Toan’s brother wrote.

    Local reporters trying to get information from the station were told that the ward police couldn’t comment without authorization from the city headquarters. Telephone messages left with the city police commander Tran Phu Ha (Trần Phú Hà) were not returned.

    Photo top: Doan Thi Ly, whose husband Tran Dinh Toan died within 3 hours in police custody, wore mourning clothes as she spoke to reporters.

  • Political prisoners transferred away from family

    (VNRN) – Prisoners of conscience in Vietnam have been transferred away from their families, a pattern that has come to the fore with the most recent move of Le Quoc Quan (Lê Quốc Quân) from Hanoi to Quang Nam province 760km (470 miles) away.

    The transfer of the lawyer and democracy activist occurred “at night and without notice to the family,” Quan’s brother Le Quoc Quyet told Vietnam Right Now. The family only knew about it after Quan, upon arriving in Quang Nam, yelled out his name to passers-by, one of whom knew of Quan and then contacted Quyet.

    It made clear a pattern that has been going on for a while. Vietnam is an elongated country, and political prisoners have been moved to opposite ends of the country. Blogger Dieu Cay (Nguyen Van Hai – Nguyễn Văn Hải), whom U.S. President Barrack Obama once called for by name to be released, was first held in southern Ho Chi Minh City where he lived but has been taken to Nghe An province, 1500km (930 miles) to the north.

    Blogger Ta Phong Tan (Tạ Phong Tần), a former police officer arrested in Ho Chi Minh and whose family lives further south in Bac Lieu, is now held in Thanh Hoa province, near Nghe An. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013 named Tan an International Woman of Courage.

    A group of 14 Christian student activists in Nghe An, tried collectively in April 2013, on the other hand, have all been taken out of Nghe An province, some moved to Thai Nguyen province 370 km (230 miles) north.

    From Hanoi, the writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia (Nguyễn Xuân Nghĩa) and now Le Quoc Quan have been moved to An Diem camp in Quang Nam province. Blogger Huynh Thuc Vy (Huỳnh Thục Vy), who is from Quang Nam and whose father Huynh Ngoc Tuan (Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn) had been imprisoned in several camps in numerous provinces including An Diem, called it “an infamous forced labor camp where some prisoners have been worked to death.” She did, however, note that the camp has since been transferred to the Ministry of Interior and conditions may now be different.

    Moving prisoners to different provinces is not unusual. In the decade after the war, tens of thousands of former South Vietnamese military and officials were moved to northern reeducation camps in the north. It was thought detainees were frequently moved to prevent them from forming bonds of friendships with each other or with the guards.

    The transfer of Quan, however, was different. His brother Quyet said the family had seen Quan that afternoon and nothing had been said. It is unclear what the purpose was for the transfer. Writing on Radio Free Asia, blogger JB Nguyen Huu Vinh thought it was “petty vendetta” to take prisoners of conscience away from their families. In an interview on the BBC Vietnamese service, Quyet saw his brother’s transfer as further suppression of Quan’s free speech, as he had been kept aware of current events and was telling other prisoners his criticism of the government’s inaction in the face of conflict with China at sea.

  • Court affirms suspended sentence for police who caused death of suspect

    (VNRN) – Two police commanders who walked free despite causing an unexplained death of a suspect had their suspended sentences affirmed on June 13 by an appellate court in the southern province of Binh Phuoc.

    The two, commune police commander Pham Van Tu (Phạm Văn Tự) and the deputy commander Pham Hung Cuong (Phạm Hùng Cường) were given suspended sentences of 18 and 15 months respectively in the 2009 death of Nguyen Van Long (Nguyễn Văn Long), who they suspect of rape.

    Cuong led the force that arrested Long, then 40, just as he sat down for dinner with his family. At night, his wife Tran Thi Sang (Trần Thị Sang) was allowed to talk to him, and Long told her that he was innocent, that he had been wrongfully accused of rape. Long added, “They beat me really bad, I may die,” Sang told the Ho Chi Minh City Phap Luat (“Law”) newspaper.

    The next morning, when Sang brought breakfast for Long, Tu the commander told her Long had committed suicide. “I didn’t believe that because his body had a lot of bruises,” Sang said.

    The province’s CSI report concluded that Long “had external force hit on his temple” and that he died “by intracranial bleeding.”

    Nobody at the police could say how Long died. Tu told investigator that he had found Long dead in his cell without giving any further explanation.

    Tu and Cuong were prosecuted, but only for the “illegal arrest, custody or detention” of Long, “causing serious consequences.” The 2013 trial court convicted the two, and gave them suspended sentences, allowing them to go free.

    Dissatisfied with the sentences, Long’s family appealed. On appeal, the family’s lawyer asked to have the trial verdict nullified and the case reopened to ascertain the cause of Long’s death. The attorney also wanted an investigation into the commune leader’s responsibility.

    All demands were denied and the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s verdict.

  • Vietnam hears blogger’s appeal in secret, affirms prison term

    (VNRN) – Without prior notice, Vietnam on June 9 held a surprise appellate hearing on the case of a convicted blogger that is so secret even his family didn’t know about it until they visited him afterwards in prison in Hanoi, according to activists.

    The closed appeal affirmed the 15-month sentence against blogger Pham Viet Dao, 62, a former Vietnamese Communist Party member and government official. He had been convicted under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code for allegedly “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the State.”

    A week before, his wife and children had contacted the court asking for the date of the appeal, and were told there had been no date set and that they should just wait, according to blogger Nguyen Xuan Dien, a well-informed activist. There was no lawyer present at the appeal “because Dao defended himself,” Dien wrote.

    When Dao was tried in March, his sentence was immediately condemned by rights groups who saw the move as part of a relentless government drive to suppress online dissent in the one-party authoritarian state.

    “Pham Viet Dao’s only crime has been to use the Internet to voice opinions shared by many Vietnamese, outside and inside government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

    In a joint statement at the time, the Paris-based rights groups International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights said Dao’s conviction “once again calls into question the Vietnamese government’s stated commitment to respecting human rights.”

    Dao, a former inspector in charge of corruption issues at Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, may have especially angered authorities with his writings focusing on Vietnam’s ongoing territorial disputes with China.

    “Analysts deemed his [June 13, 2013] arrest, which took place six days before Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang made an official visit to China, as a gesture of friendship to Beijing,” FIDH said.

    Dien noted that Dao had been writing about the 1979 border war between Vietnam and China, with extensive interviews of soldiers and officers involved in the war.

    Photo top: Pham Viet Dao at his original trial in March.

  • Vietnam Path Movement marks 2nd anniversary

    The Vietnam Path Movement, one of Vietnam Right Now’s member organizations, celebrated two years of activities since a group of political prisoners, including some still incarcerated, called for its formation.

    On June 8, the group announced its new leadership team. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức), a businessman still in prison for his blogging, is named Founder – Chairman Emeritus, while Le Cong Dinh (Lê Công Định), a lawyer who was tried at the same time as Thuc and has since been released, is named Chief of Administration Emeritus.

    Three other announced leadership positions are Nguyen Xuan Ngai, Deputy Chief of Administration; Nguyen Cong Huan, Chief Executive; and Le Quoc Tuan, spokesman. All three are based outside of Vietnam.

    Thuc and Dinh were tried together with Nguyen Tien Trung (Nguyễn Tiến Trung) and Le Thang Long (Lê Thăng Long) in 2010 for their blogging and writings. Thuc is the only person from his trial still in prison.

    Among the alleged violations of Article 88 which bans “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” was the book “Con Duong nuoc Viet” (The Path for Vietnam) which Thuc and Dinh co-authored with Nguyen Si Binh (Nguyễn Sĩ Bình), a U.S.-based leader of the now-banned Democratic Party of Vietnam.

    The Vietnam Path Movement’s announcement follows.

    June 2014 officially marks the second anniversary of the Vietnam Path Movement’s operation. The Vietnam Path Movement operates with the ultimate goal of ensuring Human Rights shall be respected and protected above all in Vietnam, so that the people can confidently utilize all of their legal and constitutional rights to take charge of their lives and gain control of their country.

    Launched amid a time when the issue of Human Rights has become an utmost need in the lives of Vietnamese people, the Vietnam Path Movement quickly integrated itself among other organizations and individuals in Vietnam and worked with those who are actively defending Human Rights in difficult circumstances under the government’s repetitive violations of the basic rights of its people. In the last two years, members of the Vietnam Path Movement have proudly maintained their principles and action plan, implemented programs that meet social and political needs of the people in Vietnam in accord to Phan Chu Trinh’s 20th century spirit of empowering, enlightening, and securing the people.

    With just a two years of age and a limited number of members, the Vietnam Path Movement realizes that it has yet achieved all the goals it set forth to do, nor has it met all of the expectations that other organizations and individuals may have for it.

    However, in this third year, with the participation of young activists from both inside and outside of the country, Vietnam Path Movement believes that this moment, in time, will mark a new step in future developments of its operations and activities, which will help it carry out its goal.

    To celebrate our two-year anniversary, Vietnam Path Movement would like to use this press release to send a sincere appreciation to all friends of Vietnam Path Movement, the people who have been supporting and cooperating with Vietnam Path Movement openly or silently toward its goals.

    Vietnam Path Movement hereby announces its new Board of Directors and Executives in the next 2 years as follow:

    - Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc – Founder – Chairman Emeritus
    - Mr. Le Cong Dinh – Founder – Chief of Administration Emeritus
    - Mr. Nguyen Xuan Ngai – Deputy Chief of Administration
    - Mr. Nguyen Cong Huan – Chief Executive
    - Mr. Le Quoc Tuan – Spokesman

  • Another young man dies in police custody

    (VNRN) – A suspect held in police custody had to be brought to the emergency room and died shortly after, while the police has been providing changing explanations for the death, local media reported today.

    Ly Vi Hung (Lý Vị Hùng), 29, died in March but his case has only come to light now.

    Hung had been arrested on Feb 9 in Ho Chi Minh City on suspicion of theft and was held at District 11 police station. On Mar 20, the investigator on the case called his wife and told her Hung had been taken to the emergency room at a local hospital. The next night, Hung died.

    When the family asked why Hung died, the investigator said Hung fell while bathing.

    His family then filed a complaint seeking an investigation into Hung’s death. A couple weeks later, the district police responded, again confirming that Hung died by falling.

    The family, however, told the press that Hung’s body was heavily bruised and there was a wound on the back of his head where the skull was even visible.

    A reporter called a commanding officer of the district police, and was told a totally different story, when police Colonel Nguyen Xuan Thuy now said Hung had been beaten by other detainees.

    Col. Thuy claimed two people were fighting over food and a fight broke out. He declined to provide further details as the case is being investigated by police higher-ups.

     

    Police written response on April 4 still maintained that Hung died from falling.

    Police written response on April 4 still maintained that Hung died from falling.

  • Civil society meets on freedom of assembly and of association

    (VNRN) – Showing a firm determination to have an independent civil society in Vietnam, representatives from more than a dozen community and religious groups met June 5 at a Ho Chi Minh City temple belonging to a banned Buddhist church to discuss the right to freedom of assembly and of association.

    The meeting, by itself, asserts that the right to assemble is a human right not dependent on any governmental permission. It took place despite a 2005 Decision 38 signed by the Prime Minister banning all unauthorized gathering “of a large number of people.” The Ministry of Police has sent out an official interpretation that says 5 people is a large number.

    Pham Chi Dung, a former journalist who was once imprisoned for 6 months for his writing, noted that this very gathering, though still under the watchful eye of security police, was a sign that independent civil society can unify and begin to form.

    Buddhist monk Ven. Thich Thien Minh called for the creation of an independent labor union that can protect workers and prevent violent rioting against foreign-owned companies.

    The discussion drew the attendance of several well-known bloggers, dissidents, religious activists and human rights advocates including the Vietnam Path Movement, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers. and others. Representatives from the Catholic Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Caodaiism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, and an unspecified Protestant church were at the Buddhist temple.

    The location, Lien Tri temple, belongs to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), a church that has refused to be merged into the Buddhist church organized and recognized by the Vietnamese government and has been subject to harassment by the authorities. (Click here.) The temple’s abbot, Ven. Thich Khong Tanh was imprisoned for nearly 10 years after the war and was only released in 1987. Since then, the 71-year-old monk has been arrested several more times for his activities within the church, including one time receiving a 5-year sentence together with the more famous Ven. Thich Quang Do. (See report by Human Rights Watch here.)

    Also attending was Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, another prominent dissident who has also been in and out of prison for his activities. One of Vietnam’s best known democracy activists, Dr. Que was also one of the earliest dissidents to be imprisoned under Article 258 when he was sentenced to 30 months in 2004 for his writings.

What’s Happening with Us

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VIDEO + FULL TEXT: Independent civil society activists speak at UN Human Rights Council

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(VNRN) – Activists representing 10 civil society organizations spoke to the UN Human Rights Council on June 24 as part of the final meeting on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam’s records. […]

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Vietnamese activists to attend UN human rights reporting session on Vietnam

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FULL TEXT: Government harasses UPR civil society delegates

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(VNRN) – A coalition of 15 independent Vietnamese civil society organizations (CSOs) has made the following report to express their concern about the government’s reprisals against activists engaged in UN human rights mechanism. […]

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Vietnam Path Movement marks 2nd anniversary

June 11th, 2014

The Vietnam Path Movement, one of Vietnam Right Now’s member organizations, celebrated two years of activities since a group of political prisoners, including some still incarcerated, called for its formation. On June […]

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FULL TEXT: In wake of riots, Vietnam Path Movement urges restraint

May 15th, 2014

Following destructive riots that targeted Chinese-owned factories, the Vietnam Path Movement on May 13 urged restraint, reiterated the movement’s commitment to nonviolence and peaceful means, and called for the government and all […]

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Statement by The Vietnam Path Movement on the arrest of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy

May 07th, 2014

The Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security on May 5, 2014 has once again applied Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code to suppress opposite opinions through the arrest of Anh Ba Sam […]

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Statement by the Vietnam Path Movement on the release of Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi

April 13th, 2014

The Vietnam Path Movement has received news of activists Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi being released from prison today following an order signed by Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang. We […]