• Man dies by hanging in police station

    (VNRN) – A man detained by local police was found dead by hanging in his cell in coastal Binh Thuan province early morning Oct 28, the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reported. Provincial police are now investigating.

    The family of Nguyen Van Ha (Nguyễn Văn Hạ), 47, was notified of his death in jail of Tan An ward, La Gi township, at 7 am. Earlier, his wife Huynh Thi Sen (Huỳnh Thị Sen), 46, had come to the police station at 5am to see him but had been told to return later.

    When the family arrived, Ha was still hanging on the cell’s metal grill door, facing the door, dangling, according to his daughter Nguyen Thi Diem (Nguyễn Thị Diễm), 21. “The cord was a small drawstring from his shorts, and there was no chair to stand on in the cell,” Diem told the newspaper. “In that position it’s very difficult to hang yourself.”

    The police has not even told the family of Ha’s time of death, his wife said.

    Ha was arrested while his wife Sen was hiding in a neighbor’s house, avoiding debt collectors. At 1am, Ha’s sister told her Ha was caught burning a neighbor’s motorbike. By the time Sen arrived home at 5am, neighbors told her Ha had been arrested. She then went to the police station to get a key to the house from Ha, and that was when she was told to return later.

    Township police refused to comment on the case other than saying it’s under investigation.

    This case is just one in many cases of deaths in police custody. Just this past April, an 18-year-old young man was found hung in his jail cell in nearby Quang Nam province. In September, Human Rights Watch issued a 96-page report detailing cases of death and injury in the hands of Vietnamese police, and found them “pervasive” and occurring “throughout Vietnam.”

  • IN-DEPTH: Anh Ba Sam’s news blog marches on despite his arrest

    by Pham Doan Trang

    (VNRN) – One day last May in Hanoi, Vietnamese police launched a sudden raid into the house and business of a long-famous blogger, Nguyen Huu Vinh, better known as Anh Ba Sam (meaning Brother Gossiper). Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, a mother of seven-year-old twin children, were detained immediately.

    The sudden raid and arrests apparently caught Vinh by surprise. Two web sites believed to be run by him, Chep Su Viet (Writing Vietnamese History) and Dan Quyen (Civil Rights), were shut down, suggesting the police were able to gain control to the sites’ passwords.

    The other blogs, notably the very high-traffic Ba Sam News at basam.info, however, stayed out of police control and kept on running. In fact, just five days after Vinh and Thuy’s arrest, his colleagues published a defiant statement, “Nguyen Huu Vinh was arrested, yes, but Anh Ba Sam will never be.” The statement carried implications of an even more powerful blogging and writing movement for change in Vietnam.

    The arrest prompted a huge outcry among dissidents. The Vietnam Path Movement, a civil society organization that works to promote human rights inside of Vietnam, released a statement on May 7, stating, “By depriving Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, and other activists’ rights to freedom of expression, the Vietnam government adamantly refuses all contributions from the people toward building a stronger nation.”

    The government hit back. Using media owned by the police and the army, the government accused Vinh and Thuy 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” under Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code.

    In one particular colorful posting, the police-owned newspaper accused Vinh of “reporting and commenting on current social and political issues of Vietnam with a deliberately critical tone”, “trying to make Vietnam look as bad and ugly as he is.”

    The man who wanted to light the candle

    Nguyen Huu Vinh was not always the darling of the democracy movement. A former public security officer himself, Vinh was mistrusted at first. Born in 1956 to a high-ranking communist official, he had all the good reasons to himself become a high-ranking official, too, in the hierarchy of the communist state.

    Right when Vinh was arrested, bloggers looked up his family background to be reminded that his father, Nguyen Huu Khieu, was twice the Vietnamese ambassador to the Soviet Union. As the Soviets were Vietnam’s “Big Brother” in the Cold War, being ambassador there was an enormous privilege, and as Vinh himself admitted in a short memoir in 2012, he and his family led a life that all the other parts of the society then could just dream of.

    The house where he grew up is now the residence of the prime minister. “While butter, milk and the like were still unknown to people in Northern Vietnam, I just needed to take half a mile walk to number 2 Hoang Dieu street [a store dedicated to the upper echelon of the VCP] to get hot fresh milk, butter, pâté and bread.”

    Vinh even met Ho Chi Minh once as a child of five, considered a special favor for Vietnamese in the North.

    Most importantly, thanks to his family origin, he benefited from books that were totally inaccessible to ordinary people. One of such things, referred to as “special documents for reference,” were selected articles from foreign media translated by the Vietnam News Agency into Vietnamese. Vinh wrote,

    “In the 1960s, these documents were labeled as ‘Confidential. No circulation,’ and only officials from ministerial level upward could access them. They would later on be provided also for lower administrative levels, and be sold at the end of the 1990s. No matter what, these documents helped to change me substantially during my years of ‘following the Party.’”

    It was from those documents that he learned about the brutality of Mao’s China, which, ironically, was the ideal that the Vietnamese government at that time was trying to reach.

    The Vietnam War escalated, and Vinh was evacuated to the countryside, where he saw the poverty for people in the lower rungs of the social. But his belief in the communist ideology only truly turned upside-down after the war ended in 1975, and he was able to view the deep rift between the “capitalist South” and the “communist North” of Vietnam. It did not take him much time to conclude that life in a capitalist system, with all its faults, was much more prosperous than and different from the one described in communist propaganda materials.

    “My eyes were opened,” wrote Vinh, “and more than that, I ventured to spend a lot of time and money learning English and computer skills right from the days those things were strange to most people.”

    To build a fire

    “He was always determined, enthusiastic, and brave,” said Pham Xuan Can, a former classmate of Vinh’s at the Academy of Public Security who joined the public outcry online following Vinh’s arrest. Can recalled how Vinh became a student at the Academy, then became a public security officer before working at the Department of the Overseas Vietnamese. His experience of working with Vietnamese intellectuals in foreign countries, some almost in exile since 1975, added up with his past knowledge of “the capital South” to keep him obsessed by an idea, “how much social capital were wasted as a result of bad policies.”

    BasamVerticalIn 1999, almost immediately after Vietnam’s adoption of the Enterprise Law, Vinh quit his government position and set up his own business, VPI, the very first private detective agency in Vietnam. Vinh’s business went well and its profits were enough for him to pursue other interests.

    In 2005, when Yahoo!’s now extinct 360 blogging platform arrived, Vinh found blogging like any Vietnamese teenager. He created his Anh Ba Sam Yahoo blog in 2007 and initially filled it with articles he wrote for the state-owned media, until he realized the demand of Vietnamese people who want to know “what the world is thinking of us.”

    So Vinh began translating foreign news stories about Vietnam, and his readership grew. Anh Ba Sam’s blog also provided source materials about China-Vietnam relations, which even until this day remains a politically sensitive issue.

    Though Ba Sam won a relatively large readership for a political website, Vinh did not stop there. He went further in the cause of “enlightening the people” with the initiative of publishing a daily digest of the most important news items. Vinh also added his own comments, a mix of profound intellectual thoughts with cute, witty humor, and the comments became the characteristic of Ba Sam, winning the attention of hundreds of thousands Vietnamese speakers around the world. This was a quite high number, especially when the widely circulated Tuoi Tre Daily could only reach 200,000 copies or so.

    “It’s up with the news 24/7. As might be expected, the blog has given particular emphasis to the stories that Vietnam’s state-supervised media has been unable to report. Its daily digest is the hook that has caught the attention of 100,000-plus regular readers,” David Brown, a former U.S. diplomat and an author whose articles were often translated and posted by Ba Sam, wrote on Asia Sentinel about the site in March 2013 when it was under a serious attack by “pro-government” hackers.

    “Being on time, adhering to ethical codes of accuracy, neutrality and confidentiality of sources, and respecting copyrights, those are the principles that we kept to during the recent years,” said Dinh Ngoc Thu, now the main editor of Basam.info. Thu joined with Vinh in “news reviewing” in 2009, and the only reason why she was not arrested with Vinh and Thuy was because she lives in California.

    Vinh’s connections with some people in the state apparatus, resulting from his previous positions in public offices, were also helpful news sources. However, at the same time, they raised suspicions about him being an “undercover police”. A haunting question for many was why Nguyen Huu Vinh was not arrested after such a long time? How could he “survive” many police suppressions of bloggers?

    Now the answer is clear: It was just a matter of time.

    Police came in

    The Vietnamese government, with mostly old faces, may not have noticed the power of the Internet, but its police machinery did so quickly. Anyone blogging about political issues will sooner or later found him/herself in trouble with the extensive network of police in Vietnam. So it was understandable that Ba Sam was identified very soon by the police as a rallying point of “anti-state” forces.

    And it was a well-founded belief, anyway. Every dissident site in Vietnam, or in Vietnamese to be exact, has its own loyal readers. Ba Sam’s readers, as he described, incorporated many intellectuals and members of the Communist Party. A large proportion of them may still be loyal to the obsolete ideology of communism, and what they need is “fact as it is”, neutral and accurate without any state censorship.

    Readers made up a close-knit community indeed, and readers themselves had readers – there were people who accessed Ba Sam mostly to read the comments by Vinh and other bloggers below each post. Many of such online commentators became famous to the “great family” of Ba Sam’s readers.

    With only a small team in charge of both content providing and security ensuring, the site was subject to continuous attacks. Brown, the diplomat, wrote in sympathy:

    “… on March 8, when the Ba Sam blog was thoroughly hacked. Several years’ reportage and commentary were deleted. The e-mail accounts of the blog’s editorial team were also compromised. The Ba Sam team has so far been unable to regain control of anhbasam.wordpress.com. That’s a manageable tragedy, however. All but a few days’ content was backed up on offshore servers.”

    “… A naive reader might conclude that the Anh Ba Sam team are in fact renegades and grudge-bearing reactionaries based in the United States and dedicated to the overthrow of the Hanoi regime.”

    The truth was that Vinh and his colleagues did not receive any financial assistance from anybody. In fact, as the economy went south, Vinh’s private detective agency also floundered and was almost on the brink of bankruptcy when Vinh and Thuy were detained.

    One reader who met Vinh several times related her conversation with Vinh. Suspicious, the reader asked Vinh, “Why do you keep doing all these things?”

    He replied, “Because I’m in a better position to do this than anyone else. So if I don’t do, I’ll feel guilty”.

    And he explained, “Because I meet three conditions. First, my financial conditions are good enough. With VPI, I am not indigent. Second, I have Internet knowledge; and third, most importantly, I know them – the police – well. I was among them and I understand them.”

    Yet, it seems he lost the battle in the end. The former public security officer did not expect his former colleagues to arrest him and was caught off-guard.

    The sentence against him is expected to be harsh, as the police-dominated courts are always tough on those considered to have “betrayed” of their Communist Party origins. Cu Huy Ha Vu, another son of a cabinet-level Communist leader, was sentenced up to seven years of imprisonment in 2011. Vu, however, was released early and arrived in the U.S. in April, a month before Vinh’s arrest.

    Optimistically, is it not a time for him to rest? He has worked too hard, struggled for too long in the past seven years, and exhausted himself as well as his colleagues. Despite the many readers he had, in the end, it was basically a fight in solitude.

    But he kept blogging.

     

    Pham Doan Trang is a journalist and blogger in Viet Nam. She can be reached at phamdoantrangvn@gmail.com.

     

  • Successful satire web site Haivl fined, shuttered by censors

    (VNRN) – A satire website that attracted one of Vietnam’s top traffic count was fined US$100,000 and ordered close by the Ministry of Information and Communication on Oct 24, barely more than two weeks after it was sold to a local ad agency for a record US$1.5 million.

    The site Haivl.com, which claims to mimic the style of 9gag.com, had been ranked 13th in Vietnam for traffic by Alexa.com and its Facebook page has received more than 4.4 million likes.

    Like 9gag, the site allowed users to upload funny pictures, videos, memes and satires of popular comic strips. The site also provided templates to help users create the memes. The site’s name, Haivl, contains an abbreviation of a profanity and can be roughly translated as “effing funny.”

    The censors, apparently unamused by Haivl’s humor, concluded that the site “seriously violated regulations related to online electronic information.”

    In an interview published on Dan Tri news site, Vice-Minister Truong Minh Tuan accused Haivl of “seriously violating good norms, publishing lusty, sexy, objectionable pictures, offending famous figures.”

    Not funny, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication.

    Not funny, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication.

    About two weeks earlier, on Oct. 9, the website was sold to by its founders, APPVL Company, to ad agency 24h Online Advertising JSC for a record 33 million dong, which then became APPVL’s majority shareholder.

    The Ministry of Information and Communication has jurisdiction over all newspapers, magazines, publishers, television, radio and web sites in Vietnam.

  • Prominent dissident blogger released from prison, exiled

    (VNRN) – Dieu Cay (Điếu Cày), a blogger who has spent the last 6 years in prison serving two consecutive sentences was released Oct 21 and immediately expelled out of the country to fly to the United States, his family and the U.S. General Consulate confirmed.

    A founder of the Free Journalist Club, Dieu Cay, whose real name is Nguyen Van Hai (Nguyễn Văn Hải), was arrested and sentenced in 2008 on tax evasion charges, and immediately completing that sentenced was re-sent to prison in 2012 to another 12 years under Article 88 of Vietnamese Penal Code for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic.” Dieu Cay had participate in, and reported on, anti-China protests taking place while the Beijing Olympics torch was passing through Vietnam.

    With Dieu Cay’s release, the only member of the FJC still imprisoned is Ta Phong Tan (Tạ Phong Tần), a former police lieutenant and Communist Party member who wrote a blog called Justice and Truth. The third accused, Phan Thanh Hai (Phan Thanh Hải), served out his 4-year sentence, including time served before trial, in 2013.

    Tan was tried together with Dieu Cay and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In July before Tan’s trial, her mother died after setting herself on fire in protest in front of a government office.

    The FJC members were charged at trial of posting 421 articles on the group’s blog between 2007 and 2010, articles that the government alleged “distort the truth and denigrate the party and state.”

    Phan Thanh Hai, Dieu Cay, and Ta Phong Tan were tried together. With Dieu Cay's release, only Tan is still in prison.

    Phan Thanh Hai, Dieu Cay, and Ta Phong Tan were tried together. With Dieu Cay’s release, only Tan is still in prison.

    “I just feel frustrated by injustice, corruption, dictatorship which does not represent the state but some individuals,” Dieu Cay told the court at his trial.

    “According to Vietnamese laws, citizens have the right to freedom of speech and it is in accordance with international treaties to which Vietnam is party,” he said before the audio feed was cut off, AFP news agency reported.

    Dieu Cay’s lawyer at his tax trial, attorney Le Cong Dinh, would later also be arrested in 2009 and sentenced under Article 88. Dinh was released in 2013.

    In a diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks, the U.S. General Consulate called tax charges against Dieu Cay “spurious” and explained the founding of the Free Journalist Club:

    “The FJC is a self-selected group of bloggers who met each other online two years ago when Dieu Cay (Nguyen Van Hai) posted a letter from a journalist calling on the Prime Minister to allow private media outlets in Vietnam. The ensuing on-line discussion between Cay and some like-minded bloggers led them to form the FJC, and the group started meeting regularly to discuss current events with a focus on items they felt were not fully covered in mainstream media, such as the Can Tho bridge collapse, labor strikes, Catholic land disputes in Hanoi and other issues.”

    Members of FJC faced varying levels of police harassment. Some had to quit their job when police placed pressure on their employers.

    Dieu Cay’s case was raised by U.S. President Barack Obama during World Free Press Day of 2012, saying, “As we condemn recent detentions of journalists like Mazen Darwish, a leading proponent of free speech in Syria, and call for their immediate release, we must not forget others like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam.”

    Numerous international human rights organizations have also called attention to Dieu Cay’s case. Right after his trial, Amnesty International organized an Urgent Action to free Dieu CayHuman Rights Watch condemned the trial and called for the immediate release of the three bloggers. In 2009, the group awarded Nguyen Van Hai its Hellman-Hammett Award “for writers who have suffered persecution as a result of their writings”.

    In 2012, Civil Rights Defenders named him Human rights defender of the month. The following year, Dieu Cay was awarded the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. He won the 2013 One Humanity award from PEN Canada, which recognized “Dieu Cay’s courageous dissent and continued advocacy for human rights in Vietnam despite a crackdown on online writing by the authorities.”

  • Freed Catholic activist vows to continue fight for democracy, social justice: NCR

    (NCR) - A Catholic dissident who recently released from prison said his jail service was sent by providence and he would continue to give his voice to democratic and human rights, according to a story on the National Catholic Reporter.

    “I believe my prison service was sent by God because I had opportunities to get acquainted with several people suffering disgrace. God changed me into a new man who dared to defend the truth and those who are trampled on and to oppose prison officers’ wrongdoings,” Anthony Dau Van Duong (Ðậu Văn Dương) said after he was freed Oct. 2.

    Duong was sentenced to 42 months in prison but was given an early release on condition that he serve an additional 18 months of probation.

    The 26-year-old and three other young Catholics were convicted of “conducting propaganda against the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 for passing out 5,000 leaflets in May 2011 that demanded a multi-party system, criticized Communist Party policies and rejected the results of the previous year’s national assembly election.

    Electoral candidates are hand-picked by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam before the vote goes to the public.

    Duong and his friends were arrested in August 2011.

    “It is most important that you trust in God and then you would do all things,” he said while talking about his jail experience with his friends.

    During his service, he said prison warders kept him with prisoners with HIV/AIDS and those jailed for drug abuse and murder. With the guards’ permission, they beat him brutally “while I tried to pray with God to overcome physical pain.”

    “The guards trampled on inmates’ dignity, hit them as hard as they could, and cut power in cells on weekends,” he said.

    Duong had petitioned jail officers to provide enough water for inmates. He also made demands that sick prisoners be allowed to rest and that others not be forced to overwork. Consequently he was disciplined.

    He said jail warders confiscated a copy of the Bible his family sent him. “I wrote to them, saying the Bible teaches people good things, so why do you deny me access to it? You are violating the religious freedom that is a basic human right. You are trampling on my faith and life. I will go on a hunger strike until you give the Bible back to me,” he said. “A warder told me that since religious books are banned in the camp, he was not afraid if I petitioned the prime minister.”

    “However, he returned it to me a few days later.”

    Duong, member of northern Vinh City-based Catholic College Students Group, whose members study catechism and the Scripture to light their actions and faith life, said he would resume his previous activities out of faith.

    “I used to bury aborted fetuses from hospitals, provide accommodation to unwed pregnant women, criticize abortion, attend courses on the Scriptures, and lend voices to freedom of speech and press, and call for a multi-party system,” he said.

    “My deeds are right so I will pursue them with determination. I fight against social injustice and defend those who are treated unfairly,” he said.

    Jail authorities reportedly said they had decided to release Duong, claiming he had been effectively “re-educated” while serving his sentence. However, he said, “I was not re-educated at all.”

  • Rights activists question US arms sales to Vietnam

    (VOA) - The announcement last week that the United States is partially lifting an arms ban on Vietnam has been welcomed as an important step in warming ties between the two nations. However, human rights activists have criticized the move.

    Despite coming just months after a Chinese oil rig stationed in waters also claimed by Vietnam sparked a tense stand-off between the two countries, the State Department was keen to stress the move to ease a ban on selling arms to Vietnam was not “anti-China.” Instead, it said the decision was partly a response to a lack of maritime capacity in the region.

    Dr. Ian Storey, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, said the decision was “definitely hastened by the oil rig crisis.” “It underscores America’s increasing concern about recent developments in the South China Sea and in particular how Chinese assertiveness is seen potentially to undermine U.S. interests in the sea,” he said.

    The move to ease the ban is largely symbolic, Storey said, because Vietnam has a long-standing relationship with Russia to buy much cheaper equipment.

    The speculation is that Vietnam is interested in purchasing the P3 Orion patrol aircraft used for marine surveillance.

    Vietnam has been lobbying the U.S. to lift the ban for several years, but one condition set by Washington was an improvement in human rights.

    “They have got around that partly by saying Vietnam has improved its human rights situation although it’s not a vast improvement on what it was,” said Storey. “Second they said they will provide non-lethal equipment to improve its maritime domain awareness so we’re not talking about submarines or war ships or that kind of equipment, but that would allow Vietnam to improve its maritime surveillance in the EEZ.”

    In an article for Foreign Policy, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch John Sifton criticized the move, saying it “undercuts the brave work of Vietnamese activists” who look to the U.S. to pressure Vietnam into improving its human rights record.

    Le Quoc Quyet is the younger brother of Le Quoc Quan, one of Vietnam’s most high profile dissidents, who was jailed last year for tax evasion – a charge critics say was politically motivated. “The U.S. is concerned about human rights in Vietnam, but it’s not a pre-condition [for the lifting of the ban]. They are concerned with many other issues as well as human rights,” said Quyet.

    The U.S. State Department has said that Vietnam still needs to improve its human rights record, and Washington continues to evaluate its security relationship with Hanoi.

    Nguyen Tri Dung is the son of dissident blogger Dieu Cay, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence for conducting propaganda against the state.

    Dung said last week for the first time his father received a visit from officials from the U.S. embassy. Up until now, he has only been allowed to meet family. It is a sign, Dung believes, that the Vietnamese government is considering his release.

    He believed this is connected to the partial lifting of the arms embargo.

    “I think that if my father is released it must be something to do with the deal because I know them for a long time. I mean the Vietnamese government. They will not do anything without profit,” Dung said.

    However, while his family welcome the possibility, Dung said he agrees that the U.S. should not sell arms to Vietnam while the latter’s track record on human rights remains poor.

    “We need to have more critical move like to remove Article 88 about propaganda against the state and Article 79 about people who take action against the state, or Article 258 that forbids people from talking on Facebook or the Internet about the state. With these articles the government can catch anyone they want without any reason at all,” Dung stated.

    He said he thinks if his father is set free, he will not be allowed to stay in Vietnam and would likely be offered exile in the U.S.

    While speculation lingers on what equipment Vietnam will purchase, the decision is likely to send ripples through Vietnam’s internal factions as some of them seek closer ties with the U.S. against China.

    So far Beijing has not commented on the move.

  • Room for debate frees up but bloggers remain imprisoned in Vietnam

    By Shawn W. Crispin

    In the last of a multi-part “Undercover in Vietnam” series on press freedom in Vietnam originally published on the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ web site, CPJ Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin reveals how prominent blogger Nguyen Van Hai remains behind bars for his critical writing despite the margin for debate opening. The series concludes with recommendations for the Vietnamese government and international bodies.

    (CPJ) - Incarcerated for the past six years in poor prison conditions, Nguyen Van Hai (Nguyễn Văn Hải) has suffered dearly for his critical views on China. First detained on trumped up tax evasion charges in 2008, and subsequently convicted in 2012 on anti-state charges for blogging, 62-year-old Hai is currently serving a 12-year jail term that his family fears could be a death sentence in view of his declining health.

    Hai, better known as Dieu Cay, was first arrested in April 2008, a political juncture when Vietnam was firmly in China’s diplomatic and economic orb. A recent deterioration in China-Vietnam relations, however, has allowed for marginally more open reporting and critical commentary on China in the state-controlled Vietnamese press.

    “My father was the first to talk about China’s intentions [towards Vietnam],” said Hai’s son, Nguyen Tri Dung, in an interview with CPJ in Ho Chi Minh City. “Now, everybody is saying what he said about China, even government leaders. They should set my father free.”

    The shift in central sentiment was evident in local reporting on the maritime confrontation from May to July, stemming from China’s placement of a massive oil exploration rig in an area of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. In May, anti-China riots that destroyed several Chinese-owned factories, and the evacuation of hundreds of Chinese citizens were also given surprisingly wide coverage in many state-controlled local newspapers.

    Until recently, reporting on anti-China sentiment was strictly banned in local mainstream media. Independent bloggers who dared criticize China were often harassed, and sometimes imprisoned. A number of the 18 journalists currently incarcerated in Vietnam were charged in part for their critical reporting on China, and Hanoi’s perceived acquiescence to Beijing’s claims to contested maritime territories, according to CPJ research.

    Local reporters who requested anonymity told CPJ that Chinese Embassy and consulate officials have frequently called their newspapers’ editors to complain about coverage or commentary that even faintly cast China and its Vietnam-based interests in an unfavorable light. The government, the Chinese Embassy, and the Chinese Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City did not respond to CPJ requests for comment about those claims.

    DieuCay cameraVietnamese officials previously cracked down hard on bloggers who criticized the environmental impact of a China-invested bauxite mining venture, a project in which many bloggers speculated that top Vietnamese leaders shared personal stakes.

    But Beijing’s rising naval assertiveness in the South China Sea has driven Vietnam’s Communist Party leadership to reconsider its diplomatic options, seen in recent overtures for countervailing strategic support made to the U.S. and its regional allies. A recent in-country poll by the BBC’s Vietnamese language service showed that 87 percent of Vietnamese respondents preferred that Hanoi ally with the U.S., and only 1 percent favored allying with China.

    The U.S. is now considering whether to lift a 30-year embargo on weapons sales to Vietnam to bolster its naval readiness vis-à-vis China. [UPDATE: The U.S. on Oct. 2 partially lifted the ban on sales on lethal weapons to Vietnam.] During a visit to Hanoi on August 8 and 9, U.S. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, reiterated past U.S. calls linking stronger bilateral ties to improved human rights. Last year, the two former adversaries entered a “comprehensive partnership” and are now negotiating Vietnam’s potential entry into the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership preferential trade pact.

    With the shifting political currents, local journalists hope that stronger ties with the West will translate into improved press freedom. For instance, an Australian Embassy-organized conference on human rights, held in Hanoi on July 30, featured critical presentations by non-government media, including independent bloggers. None of the bloggers were immediately harassed for their participation — though the state mouthpiece Nhan Dan (The People) criticized the conference as “interference” in the country’s internal affairs.

    Pham Chi Dung, an independent journalist, former Communist Party official and president of the newly formed Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, is skeptical that Vietnam’s leaders will shift from China towards the West any time soon. “Chinese intelligence knows a lot about Vietnam’s leaders’ assets and their families’ businesses,” said Dung, “They can only allow so much criticism [of China].”

    In the lead-up to McCain’s visit, there was widespread speculation among local bloggers and activists that Hai was poised for release. His son was invited to Ho Chi Minh City’s civil matters office to pay a fee as a condition for potentially granting Hai a special clemency, according to a report posted on the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam’s website. Five prominent political prisoners were released days after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Vietnam in March. Yet more than a month after McCain’s symbolic visit, Hai and 17 other journalists still languish behind bars.

    [Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City]

    CPJ’s recommendations

    To the Vietnamese government:

    • Under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all people everywhere “shall have the right to freedom of expression …either orally, in writing or in print.” As a signatory to the Covenant, Vietnam must respect this fundamental right in practice.
    • Stop jailing journalists and bloggers, and uphold Article 25 of the Vietnamese constitution that permits “freedom of opinion and speech, and freedom of the press.”
    • Amend Article 14 of the constitution, which allows human rights, including freedom of expression, to be suspended for reasons of “national defense, national security, social order and safety, social order and community wellbeing.”
    • Release all imprisoned journalists immediately and unconditionally. CPJ research shows that at least 18 bloggers and journalists were imprisoned in Vietnam as of December 1, 2013.
    • Halt the arbitrary detention, surveillance, and harassment of journalists. Roll back the recent deployment of plainclothes officials tasked with monitoring and harassing prominent bloggers.
    • Abolish or amend all anti-state laws, including Articles 79, 88, and 258 of the penal code, which penalize “propagandizing” against the state or “abusing democratic freedoms.” Stop using these laws to threaten and imprison journalists.
    • Allow reporters open access to all areas of the country. Stop detaining journalists ahead of important news events, and before the trials of journalists and activists charged with anti-state crimes. Stop revoking the passports of independent journalists, and restore their freedom of travel. Permit journalists who have fled persecution into exile to return to Vietnam without reprisal.
    • End the government’s monopoly of print and broadcast media. Allow for the establishment of independent, privately held newspapers, radio stations, television news channels and online media platforms. Permit recently formed independent journalist and blogger associations to operate without harassment or threat of reprisal. Engage and implement both advocacy groups’ calls for greater press and Internet freedoms.

    To the European Union and United States

    • Call for the release of all imprisoned journalists and stress the importance of improvements in press and internet freedoms in dealings with Vietnam, including diplomatic, economic, trade, and strategic agreements and talks.
    • In the case of the U.S., advocate for press freedom improvements in talks with Vietnam on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade agreement, and discussions on whether to end the U.S.’s 30-year ban on lethal weapons sales.
    • In the case of the European Union, enforce the Urgent Resolution on Vietnam, adopted in April 2013, which states in Article 7 that “human rights dialogue between the E.U. and Vietnam should lead to concrete progress on human rights and democratization.” The E.U. must consistently raise concerns about violations at the highest levels in Vietnam, and should pressure the government to lift Internet and blogging controls, and bans on privately owned media.

    To United Nations member states:

    • Press Vietnam to release all imprisoned journalists and make demonstrable progress on press and Internet freedoms in accordance with its obligations as a rotational seat member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

    To international Internet and technology companies:

    • Conduct human rights impact assessments for all new services and products for the Vietnamese market and ensure that such services protect the freedom of expression and privacy of users.
    • Follow the principles of the Global Network Initiative by setting up internal company procedures and staff training on how to handle requests from the authorities for user data, content filtering and take-downs in accordance with international human rights standards.
    • Publish transparency reports about official requests for user data and the companies’ responses.

     

    ——————–

    CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin is based in Bangkok, where he is a reporter and editor for Asia Times Online. He has led CPJ missions throughout the region, and is the author of the CPJ special report, “Vietnam’s press freedom shrinks despite open economy.”

  • Vietnamese independent reporters become martyrs for their paper’s cause

    By Shawn W. Crispin

    In the second of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ multi-part “Undercover in Vietnam” series on press freedom in Vietnam, CPJ Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin reveals the persecution faced by Redemptorist News journalists, who have been jailed, harassed, and had their passports revoked for reporting on human rights. In part three, to be reprinted by Vietnam Right Now this week, Crispin interviews a journalist forced into exile after highlighting censorship in Vietnam’s press.

    (CPJ) – In a church compound in the bustling heart of Ho Chi Minh City, journalists and editors upload the latest online edition of Redemptorist News in a secret backroom bureau. First established in 1935, the Catholic newspaper was shut down by the ruling Communist Party in 1975 after consolidating its control over the country’s once divided northern and southern regions.

    Redemptorist News was resurrected and re-launched as an online multi-media platform in 2009 by a group of Catholic priests and activists. Their editorial inspiration: to provide news about the church’s activities and social issues, with a special emphasis on the plight of the country’s persecuted Catholic minority, which receives scant, if any, coverage in the state-dominated mainstream media.

    Redemptorist News is the only local news organization that operates outside of the Communist Party’s strict media controls and editorial diktats. With a staff of six editors and 15 reporters, the small-scale news group uploads a local and English language news site, online radio broadcasts, and a 15-minute daily TV program on YouTube.

    English language reporting on the site frequently spotlights human rights issues that would be banned in Vietnam’s state-controlled media. In June, Redemptorist News ran a profile story of a Vietnamese Catholic priest who is trying to advance religious freedoms through the use of technology, including evangelism apps for smart phones and tablets. A harder-hitting piece in August reported on the outcry among civil society organizations over the trial of three pro-democracy activists facing alleged charges of anti-state crimes.

    “We are the voice of the persecuted and poor who have no voice,” said Ly Ngoc Thanh, a Catholic priest and editor-in-chief of Redemptorist News. “That’s the reason we’re in conflict with the government…We want a better country where human rights are accepted.”

    Many of his news group’s reporters and bloggers have become martyrs for that editorial cause. On January 9, 2013, five bloggers who contributed regularly to Redemptorist News were given prison sentences ranging from three to 13 years on charges of subversion, including penalties outlined in the penal code’s Article 79 for “activities aimed at toppling the government,” and for “undermining national unity.”

    The group included prominent Redemptorist News blogger Paulus Le Van Son, who was also arrested and detained in August 2011 after trying to cover the appeal trial of a well-known human rights lawyer convicted of anti-state crimes. Ho Duc Hoa, Dang Xuan Dieu, Nong Hung Anh, and Nguyen Van Duyet were the other Redemptorist News contributors or bloggers sentenced that day.

    “They have tried to use the law to upset our news,” said Thanh. “We report that the laws violate human rights and are not for the people, but the Party.”

    Thanh said he was detained by police before the trial to prevent him from attending the reading of the verdict. He said he has been detained and interrogated on three separate occasions, with police authorities ordering him each time to stop reporting on the plight of imprisoned bloggers, their aggrieved and persecuted family members, and other jailed Catholic social activists. The government did not respond to a CPJ request for comment about Thanh’s alleged treatment.

    Despite the threats and harsh sentences, the media group’s reporters and editors continue to defy those censorship orders. In May, for example, Redemptorist News ran a story quoting the wife of one jailed blogger saying that she would rather be arrested and imprisoned than continue to live apart from her husband. “[Authorities] let us know they didn’t like that one,” Thanh said, recalling the phone call he received after the story’s publication.

    Official threats often translate into harassment in the field for the group’s reporters. Thanh said that Redemptorist News reporters are often blocked by authorities from entering areas where villagers are locked in land disputes with government agencies. Several of his reporters have had their passports revoked to prevent them from traveling abroad, he added.

    “When we are working, there are so many difficulties for us,” said Thanh, noting that a group of Redemptorist News reporters were recently barred by authorities from reporting from the site of anti-China protests in Ho Chi Minh City in May. “We can’t operate in open areas.”

    The Redemptorist News website, www.chuacuuthe.com, has also been targeted by frequent distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, an online assault where multiple compromised systems are simultaneously used to access a single computer system, causing it to overload and crash. Thanh said his news site has been bombarded by DDOS attacks as large as one million hits per second, with the anonymous attacks originating from China, Europe, and Vietnam.

    Thanh believes his hidden news bureau has not yet been raided and shuttered by authorities because they fear the power in numbers of his church’s congregation. “They come around looking but we think they don’t get us because they are afraid of the laypeople in our congregation,” said Thanh, while churchgoers sang early evening hymns nearby. “They are afraid we will take pictures and publish their repression…We are very secure inside here; outside we have no security.”

    [Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City]

    ——————–

    CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin is based in Bangkok, where he is a reporter and editor for Asia Times Online. He has led CPJ missions throughout the region, and is the author of the CPJ special report, “Vietnam’s press freedom shrinks despite open economy.”

  • Vietnamese bloggers play risky game of cat-and-mouse to report

    By Shawn W. Crispin

     

    In the first of a multi-part “Undercover in Vietnam” series on press freedom in Vietnam originally published on the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ web site, CPJ Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin explores the risks bloggers take so they can cover news events and protests. Under near-constant surveillance and with the threat of arbitrary detention hanging over them, the desire for an independent press drives Vietnam’s bloggers to continue to write. In part two, to be reprinted by VNRN next week, Crispin reveals the persecution faced by Redemptorist News journalists.

    (CPJ) - When Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh left her home in the central coastal city of Nha Trang to cover anti-China protests a 10-hour bus ride away in southern Ho Chi Minh City, the prominent blogger disguised her appearance to evade plainclothes officials stationed nearby to monitor her meetings and movements.

    On the road, Quynh disembarked 10km from her ticketed destination to avoid being detained by police she feared may be waiting for her at the bus station. A friend retrieved her from outside the commercial hub and drove her by motorcycle to a fellow blogger’s house to avoid detection. The following day, while covering the protest, “I could see they were amazed to see me,” Quynh said, referring to police officials who were monitoring the crowd.

    Such are the cat-and-mouse games Quynh, more popularly known by her Mother Mushroom penname, must play to meet contacts and cover important news events. While Quynh has maintained cordial relations with certain surveillance officials assigned to her, others have, in effect, confined her to periods of house arrest. Quynh has so far stayed out of prison for her blogging, but she often wonders how much longer that will be the case.

    CPJ recently traveled undercover to Vietnam to meet with bloggers and journalists, and gauge the prevailing press freedom situation. In a series of four blog posts, CPJ will highlight the experiences of a few independent bloggers and online journalists who have gone for broke by reporting above ground amid a rising tide of government repression aimed at unlicensed online media outlets and blogs. The series will conclude with press freedom-promoting recommendations for the Vietnamese government and international community.

    With at least 18 journalists in prison, Vietnam is one of the world’s top five worst jailers of journalists, according to CPJ research. Nearly all have been imprisoned on vague and draconian anti-state charges, including the Orwellian crime defined under Article 258 of “abusing democratic freedoms,” and the equally arbitrary Article 88 that bans “conducting propaganda against the state.” Sixteen of the 18 held behind bars have been convicted or detained specifically or in part for their online journalism, CPJ research shows.

    As that oppressive tally mounts, independent bloggers and online journalists risk their liberty each time they post news or commentary that authorities may arbitrarily construe as detrimental to the Communist Party-led government’s interests. While many conceal their online identities to avoid possible government reprisals, a large number have abandoned their past anonymity to join the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers (NVB).

    Quynh, a pioneer and senior member of Vietnam’s blogging movement, is a co-founder of the press freedom-promoting group. It represents the first time Vietnam’s independent journalists have banded together to call for greater freedoms since the 2007 establishment of the Free Journalists Club of Vietnam, a group that is not legally registered. The group’s three co-founders, including CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Nguyen Van Hai, alias Dieu Cay [Điếu Cày], are all in prison on trumped up anti-state charges related to their news reporting.

    Quynh began blogging in 2008, a time when Vietnamese authorities had not yet realized the power of the Internet to challenge the Communist Party-dominated state’s monopoly over the local media. Like many of the country’s independent bloggers, she was lured into blogging by the glaring lack of mainstream reporting on widespread injustice and abuse of state power in Vietnamese society.

    “It was ugly what was happening in our society,” Quynh said in an interview with CPJ, citing woefully poor medical services and the government’s often conflicted and corrupt commercial ties with China as examples of the rot. “My blog asked: Why must we agree with the government on everything? Why can’t we have different opinions?”

    Quynh was first arrested and interrogated on September 2, 2009, for blogging about government land confiscations related to a controversial China-backed bauxite mining project in the country’s pristine Central Highlands region. On that occasion, an estimated 15 armed public security forces raided Quynh’s house at about midnight, while she was sleeping next to her three-year-old daughter, and took the blogger away.

    She was held for more than a week and was eventually released without charge. The experience failed to deter her, and she continues to blog about the sensitive issue of land-grabbing in her coastal home province of Nha Trang. She claimed in recent reports that since 2010 more than 300 villagers have been forcibly relocated from prime seaside land now under development by state-linked property firms and multinational hotel companies.

    In this photo posted on her Facebook, Quynh took a picture of a police spy that was following her.

    In this photo posted on her Facebook, Quynh took a picture of a police spy that was following her.

    It’s the type of people-versus-government reporting that Vietnam’s state-controlled mainstream media habitually avoids. After posting a blog in February questioning the environmental impact of a new state-linked cigarette factory planned outside of Nha Trang, Quynh was called in for questioning. “They said I didn’t have enough information,” she said, recounting the police interrogation one day after her post. “I said, I wrote under my own name and if I’m wrong take me to court.”

    Journalists charged with anti-state crimes seldom, if ever, prevail in Vietnam’s politically pliable courts. As international criticism of Vietnam’s consistently rigged legal process in freedom of expression cases mounts, Quynh says authorities have recently shifted their police state tactics toward more street-level intimidation and harassment.

    Quynh asserts police have recently deployed more plainclothes rather than uniformed officials to track targeted journalists. That switch, she said, makes attacks against the press appear more like random acts perpetuated by anonymous thugs rather than state officials carrying out repressive policy. The same plainclothes officials have manufactured traffic accidents and made false accusations of theft against certain outspoken bloggers, she said.

    “It’s now more difficult to know who’s who. Some bloggers are taken to police stations and initially have no idea why. It’s happened to me and others,” said Quynh. “It looks like there is improvement [on human rights issues] to the international community but really they are just using different tactics.”

    The Vietnamese government did not respond to a CPJ request for comment about the alleged change in police tactics or, more generally, on press freedom conditions.

    While Vietnam has made recent progress on women’s and children’s rights–accomplishments officials touted during a United Nations Universal Periodic Review in June–the press freedom situation is as dire as ever, according to Quynh. Case in point: on August 4, Quynh was apprehended, initially without explanation, by plainclothes officials while walking down a Nha Trang street with her infant son. Quynh was later taken to a police station and questioned by officials about articles she had posted on her Facebook page. She was released that evening, but ordered to return the following day for further questioning.

    NVB is pushing back against such intimidation with calls for legal reform and more accountability for individual police officials who harass journalists. Last year, more than 130 bloggers signed an online petition calling for the repeal of Article 258, an anti-state law used increasingly to jail independent bloggers. Scores of anonymous bloggers, many of whom revealed their identities for the first time, signed the petition. As of May this year, NVB had more than 300 signatory members, though more recent members have opted to remain anonymous, according to Quynh.

    Officials have started to target the network’s known members. In December, for example, authorities confiscated the passports of several NVB members, including Quynh. On December 10 last year, police destroyed a stuffed toy belonging to Quynh’s infant son, apparently on suspicion that it may have housed a hidden camera. Officials seized the toy from her son during a raid of a NVB meeting in a Ho Chi Minh City coffee shop, which was being held to discuss human rights.

    While many bloggers reported on the heavy-handed incident, Quynh says she never blogs about the personal harassment and surveillance she faces to avoid unnecessary confrontation with officialdom. “For me, it’s normal. … I announce this is my opinion, that I have a right to write. I don’t attack any individual person. I just say I disagree with the Party,” said Quynh. “But if they want to arrest me, they can.”

    [Reporting from Nha Trang]

    ——————–

    CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin is based in Bangkok, where he is a reporter and editor for Asia Times Online. He has led CPJ missions throughout the region, and is the author of the CPJ special report, “Vietnam’s press freedom shrinks despite open economy.”

  • Prison sentences imposed on farmers for protesting land grab

    VNRN – Three land activists from Duong Noi [Dương Nội], a village in suburban Hanoi mostly known for its long-standing land disputes, on Friday appeared before the Ha Dong People’s Court. While they were on trial, dozens of their supporters were barred from approaching the courtroom; many were temporarily arrested, including their family members.

    Mrs. Can Thi Theu [Cấn Thị Thêu], 52, and her husband, Trinh Ba Khiem [Trịnh Bá Khiêm], 56, were given 15 and 18 months of imprisionment respectively for “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 257 of the Penal Code. The third accused, Mr. Le Van Thanh [Lê Văn Thanh], was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

    The three were arrested after a land grab on April 25. Mrs. Can Thi Theu was reportedly shooting a video footage of the eviction where her husband and other farmers got beaten by police forces. The police then tried to stop her by allegedly giving her anaesthetic before taking her away. The video clip, spread subsequently on Facebook, showed a violent conflict between the farmers of Duong Noi and foreces of police and social order defenders.

    Three days before, two other farmers, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Ngan [Nguyễn Thị Ngân] and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Toan [Nguyễn Thị Toàn], also got arrested and charged with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.” Each was sentenced to six months in prison on September 15.

    Dozens of Duong Noi farmers in red T-shirt, carrying slogans urging the release of the accused, tried to attend the courtroom and were brutally suppressed. Even Trinh Ba Phuong [Trịnh Bá Phương] and Trinh Ba Tu [Trịnh Bá Tư], the two sons of Mrs. Can Thi Theu and Mr. Trinh Ba Khiem, were not allowed to be present at the court. Around twenty people, including Phuong and Tu, were taken to a local police station and confined there until late at night.

    Duong Noi is a village located in Ha Dong district, some 14 kilometres southwest of Hanoi. Land disputes erupted in the village years ago when local farmers refused to transfer their lands to a developer, Nam Cuong Group. Thousands of police and social order defenders, however, were deployed on the land grab of April 25. The land-lost victims alleged that authorities even hired thugs to join the effort, and by arresting the most resistant farmer, Mrs. Can Thi Theu, they showed their determination in evicting people of their lands.

  • Pervasive deaths, injuries in Vietnamese police custody: HRW

    (HRW) - Police throughout Vietnam abuse people in their custody, in some cases leading to death, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Vietnamese government should take immediate action to end suspicious deaths in custody and torture of detainees by police, Human Rights Watch said.

    The 96 page report, “Public Insecurity: Deaths in Custody and Police Brutality in Vietnam,” highlights cases of police brutality that resulted in deaths and serious injuries of people in custody between August 2010 and July 2014. Human Rights Watch documented abuses in 44 of Vietnam’s 58 provinces, throughout the country and in all five of the country’s major cities.

    “Police severely abused people in custody in every region of Vietnam,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The Vietnam government has a human rights crisis on its hands and should investigate and start holding abusive police accountable.”

    The report draws on Human Rights Watch’s review of police abuse cases reported in government controlled Vietnamese-language newspapers, as well as reports from independent bloggers, citizen-journalists, and foreign news agencies. Many of the accounts included in this report have never before been published in English. Human Rights Watch also conducted research in Vietnam for this report but decided to not interview victims and witnesses there because doing so would have exposed them to almost certain retaliation.

    In many cases, those killed in police custody were being held for minor infractions. In an August 2012 case, police beat Nguyen Mau Thuan to death in Hanoi after arresting him less than three hours earlier in relation to a minor dispute in his neighborhood. In August 2010, police beat and tear-gassed Le Phuc Hung to death in Gia Lai province while holding him for allegedly stealing water pipes.

    Police frequently provided causes for these deaths that strained credulity and gave the appearance of systematic cover-ups. The police alleged that dozens of otherwise mentally and physically healthy people committed suicide by hanging or other methods. In other cases, only a vague and unconvincing explanation was given, as in the case of Nguyen Van Duc in Vinh Long province, who according to an autopsy died from hematoma in the brain and other injuries. Police attributed his injuries to doctors who were “too hard with their hands” during emergency treatment. A surprisingly large number of people—many of them young and healthy in their 20s and 30s—allegedly died from medical problems in custody. Injuries in police custody are also reported frequently throughout the country.

    A number of survivors said they were beaten to extract confessions, sometimes for crimes they maintained they did not commit. In July 2013, Soc Trang province police beat and forced six men to confess to a murder. Others said they were beaten for criticizing police officers or trying to reason with them. Victims of beatings also included children and people with mental disabilities.

    Local media coverage of these incidents has been uneven, raising serious concerns about the negative impact of government control of the media. In some instances, media reports were extensive and detailed, exposing conflicting police statements and misconduct, such as in the case of Nguyen Cong Nhut, an alleged “suicide” who died in custody in April 2011 in Binh Duong province. On the other hand, there was no media coverage of other key cases, such as the death of Hoang Van Ngai, an ethnic Hmong, in March 2013 in Dak Nong province. Journalists reported that in some cases local authorities had prevented them from approaching the families of victims for interviews.

    “Vietnam should permit the media to do its job of investigating and reporting the news about official abuses,” Robertson said. “Independent journalism could help expose abuses that otherwise would be swept under the carpet.”

    Officers who commit serious, even lethal, transgressions rarely face serious consequences. In many cases in which abuses are officially acknowledged police officers face only light internal disciplinary procedures, such as criticisms or warnings. Demotions, transfers, or dismissals of offending officers are rare, and prosecutions and convictions even rarer. Even when they are prosecuted and convicted, police officers tend to receive light or suspended sentences.

    In one case, a police officer was even promoted after committing abuses. In July 2010, deputy chief Nguyen Huu Khoa of La Phu commune (Hoai Duc district, Hanoi) was accused of beating a truck driver named Nguyen Phu Son. It was unclear how the case was investigated and handled, but by December 2010, Nguyen Huu Khoa had been promoted to chief.

    “Vietnam should promptly open an impartial investigation for every accusation of police brutality, and take strong action when the evidence reveals abuse,” Robertson said. “Until police get a loud and clear message from the top levels of government that abuse won’t be tolerated, there will be no security for ordinary people who fall into police hands,”

    In several of the cases, Human Rights Watch found that police arrested people based on vague suspicions without supporting evidence, and then beat them to elicit confessions. Police also routinely ignored basic procedures to safeguard citizens against ill-treatment or arbitrary detention and prevented lawyers and legal consultants from gaining immediate access to their clients.

    “All persons detained should be granted immediate and unhindered access to their lawyer in order to minimize possible police abuse during interrogation,” said Robertson.

    The Vietnam government should immediately adopt a zero-tolerance policy for abuse by police, provide better training for police at all levels, particularly commune police, and install cameras in interrogation and detention facilities. The government also should facilitate the role of legal counsel for suspects and detainees and ensure freedom of expression for journalists and in the internet.

    The government should also form an independent police complaints commission to review and investigate all reported police abuse and misconduct and provide high-level support for prompt and impartial investigations and prosecutions of police abuse and misconduct.

    “UN agencies and international donors assisting Vietnam establish the rule of law shouldn’t allow these punishing police practices to continue,” Robertson said. “There should be a concerted outcry to press for government action to end police abuses.”

  • Freedom House joins Vietnamese CSOs, calls for activists’ release

    (VNRN) – Freedom House, a leading global human rights research and advocacy NGO, has joined with nine Vietnamese civil society organizations to call for the release of three activists imprisoned to lengthy terms on technical traffic violations, charges that have been called “bogus.” Other activists, however, conclude that Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Van Minh, and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh were arrested for their outspoken support for land-grab victims and political rights.

    Freedom House, based in the U.S., has been active since 1941 when it was co-founded by Eleanor Roosevelt. Joining Freedom House are several Vietnam-based organizations: Civil Society ForumUnited Workers-Farmers Organization of VietnamAssociation of Political & Religious Prisoners of VietnamBrotherhood for DemocracyNo-U FC of SaigonHoa Hao Buddhist Church West BranchVietnam Path MovementAggrieved Citizens Struggle Alliance Movement and VOICE.

    Their joint statement follows.

    Call for Release of Vietnamese Human Rights Defenders
    10 September 2014

    On 26 August 2014, three activists in Vietnam were sentenced to long prison terms for “disturbing the public order.” Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang (DOB: 1964), an outspoken and long-time advocate for land-lost peasants and religious groups in Vietnam, along with Mr. Nguyen Van Minh (DOB: 1980) and Ms. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh (DOB: 1986) who are both religious workers of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, were arrested on 11 February 2014.

    The 3 activists were among the 21 individuals who were beaten and detained while attempting to visit a fellow activist, human rights lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen who defends victims of forced evictions. As known human rights defenders, these activists were targets of regular government harassment and surveillance. Ms. Bui has been arrested and detained several times without trial, most recently resulting in a five-month detention in November 2011.

    Following the 10-hour trial on 26 August, Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, while Mr. Nguyen Van Minh and Ms. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh were sentenced to 2.5 and 2 years imprisonment, respectively. During the trial, 51 human rights defenders were arrested outside the court, some were beaten, and many were physically blocked from supporting the defendants in the area outside of the court. None of these individuals were allowed into the courtroom itself and the witnesses on behalf of the Defendants were prevented from taking part in the trial.

    The procedures and results of the trial are emblematic of the on-going crackdown on human rights defenders that is taking place in Vietnam. We urge that the international community together with independent civil society members in Vietnam come together to call for the release of these peaceful activists and to demand that the Vietnamese government, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, uphold its international human rights obligations, including to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    SIGNED:

    Freedom House
    Civil Society Forum
    United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam
    Association of Political & Religious Prisoners of Vietnam
    Brotherhood for Democracy
    No-U FC of Saigon
    Hoa Hao Buddhist Church West Branch
    Vietnam Path Movement
    Aggrieved Citizens Struggle Alliance Movement
    VOICE

     

  • Bloggers launch right to know campaign on Facebook

    (VNRN) – In a massive show of force, Vietnamese bloggers and activists took to Facebook simultaneously on Vietnam’s National Day and launched a campaign for the people’s right to know, holding signs saying “I want to know” and asking for information that the government has been holding secret.

    “Freedom of expression is closely linked to the right to access information,” the bloggers wrote in a statement published at the same time by bloggers on Facebook on Sep. 2. They assert that “every person has the right to receive information from the government such as national policies, activities by government offices and/or the ruling party in all areas: education, environment, health, social security, … or national sovereignty.”

    The statement raised specific questions on relations between the governments of Vietnam and China, espcially the contents of the 1990 agreement made between Vietnam and China in Chengdu when the two communist countries re-established normal relations, soured since the 1979 border war. The agreement has been kept secret, leading to leaks and rumors including one claiming Vietnam would join China as an autonomous region.

    The question was repeated on numerous Facebook pages including of prominent bloggers such as Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, popularly known as blogger Mẹ Nấm or Mother Mushroom), Nguyen Tien Trung (Nguyễn Tiến Trung), Rev. Phan Van Loi (Phan Văn Lợi).

    Other questions were raised as well. “I want to know whose pockets the enormous profits from land grabs go to,” asked Trinh Ba Phuong (Trịnh Bá Phương), whose parents Trinh Ba Khiem and Can Thi Theu are being prosecuted in the Duong Noi land protest. He continued, “I want to know how many farmers will die of hunger after losing their means of production.”

    “I want to know when prisoners of consience will be released,” asked Ton Van Anh, who joined with a similar picture from Poland. “I want to know why so many people die in police custody,” wrote one comment on Facebook.

    So far, there has been no reaction from the government — something the bloggers have predicted. On their statement, they wrote, “Avoiding that basic right is something that only happens in a anti-democratic dictatorship.”

  • Harsh sentence slapped on prominent activist

    (VNRN) – A prominent activist and two companions on Aug. 26 received prison sentences in southern Dong Thap province of more than two years each for “disrupting public order” by “obstructing traffic.”

    Bui Thi Minh Hang (Bùi Thị Minh Hằng), 50, a well-known human rights activist, was sentenced to three years while the other defendants Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh (Nguyễn Thị Thúy Quỳnh) and Hoa Hao Buddhist Nguyen Van Minh (Nguyễn Văn Minh) were each sentenced to 2 and 2 1/2 years in prison, respectively.

    Hang, Quynh and Minh had been arrested and held since February while in a convoy of motorbikes visiting another Hoa Hao activist, Nguyen Bac Truyen (Nguyễn Bắc Truyển), a lawyer and former political prisoner.

    “The use of public disorder laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is alarming,” the U.S. embassy in Hanoi said in a statement issued the same day the sentence was given.

    Several supporters who travelled to attend the trial at Dong Thap Provincial People’s Court in the Mekong Delta were detained and then forced back to Ho Chi Minh City by bus after the one-day trial ended.

    Amnesty International also expressed concern over the verdict and urged the government to “rein in its police and stop attacks on peaceful activists.”

    Human Rights Watch called the charges against the three “bogus.” Its deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the three had been “railroaded into prison for simply exercising their right to associate and assemble … and for daring to use their voices to show solidarity with others facing persecution.”

  • Police arrest people attending activist’s trial

    (VNRN) – At least five forty people were arrested and others confined to their hotel rooms Aug. 25 in southern Dong Thap province when they tried to attend the trial of a human rights activist to take place the next day.

    Days before the trial which is said to be open to the public, local police were deployed in large number in an effort to prevent activists and supporters of the defendants from coming to Dong Thap. Many activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were confined to their homes, while those that made it to the province now face police raid and detention.

    They were attempting to attend the trial of Bui Thi Minh Hang (Bùi Thị Minh Hằng), 50, Nguyen Van Minh (Nguyễn Văn Minh), 34, and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh (Nguyễn Thị Thúy Quỳnh), 29, charged with “inciting public disorder.”

    Near midnight Aug. 25, police and security forces launched a sudden raid, known as an “administrative check,” at the hotel where Hang’s daughter and son-in-law were staying.  Both their ID cards were confiscated by local police. Hang’s daughter Quynh Anh (Quỳnh Anh) said she believed the confiscation was meant to prevent them from entering the courtroom.

    At the same time, three groups of activists were locked in their hotels in Dong Thap, many of them are members of the Vietnam Path Movement, No-U Hanoi, No-U Saigon. Five members of the Vietnamese Association of Women for Human Rights were confined to their without food and water. One of them, Nguyen Thi Anh Ngan (Nguyễn Thị Ánh Ngân) had her seven-month old child with her.

    Sources said police were now deploying to their fullest to arrest and stop Bui Hang’s supporters from going to the court. It is expected that jamming devices will be installed in the court area to block phone signals and Internet connection.

    On February 11, 2014, Bui Hang and two Hoa Hao Buddhists named Nguyen Van Minh and Nguyen Thi Quynh were arrested by the Dong Thap police in a fabricated case of “disturbing public order” on their way to visit former political prisoner and lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen.  They were arbitrarily and unlawfully detained for five months before they were prosecuted in July 2014.

    Bui Hang’s son, Tran Bui Trung (Trần Bùi Trung), embarked on an advocacy campaign in the United States on August 4 for the release of his mother and her two companions.

  • Vietnam prosecutes activist under ‘bogus’ charges: HRW

    (HRW) – Vietnamese authorities should drop politically motivated charges against three activists and immediately release them, Human Rights Watch said today.

    On August 26, 2014, the People’s Court of Dong Thap province is scheduled to hear the case of Bui Thi Minh Hang (Bùi Thị Minh Hằng), Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh (Nguyễn Thị Thúy Quỳnh), and Nguyen Van Minh (Nguyễn Văn Minh), who were arrested in February 2014 and charged with “causing public disorder” by creating “serious obstruction to traffic.” Under article 245 of Vietnam’s penal code, they face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

    “The Vietnamese government is now resorting to bogus traffic offenses to criminally prosecute activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The authorities should recognize this case is not worth the international ridicule it will cause and drop the charges immediately.”

    On February 11, a group of 21 bloggers and Hoa Hao Buddhist activists rode motorbikes from Ho Chi Minh City to Lap Vo district in Dong Thap province to visit former political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen (Nguyễn Bắc Truyển) and his fiancé, Bui Thi Kim Phuong (Bùi Thị Kim Phương), an independent Hoa Hao Buddhist practitioner, whom police had harassed, detained and interrogated the previous day. As the group neared their destination, police stopped them for an alleged traffic violation, and then stood by while unidentified thugs in civilian clothes beat up several group members. The police then arrested all the activists, but only charged prominent blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang, 50, rights activist Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, 28, and independent Hoa Hao Buddhist practitioner Nguyen Van Minh, 34.

    The activists have suffered loss of freedom and various due process violations while in detention. Immediately after being detained, Bui Thi Minh Hang and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh went on a two-week hunger strike to protest the circumstances of their arrest. The authorities initially obstructed efforts by their defense lawyer, Ha Huy Son, to see their case files. On July 22, Ha Huy Son filed a motion against the Dong Thap province police for failing to provide him the findings of their criminal investigation as required by law. On March 22, authorities harassed and intimidated family members of Bui Thi Minh Hang, including her son Tran Bui Trung and her daughter Dang Thi Quynh Anh, when they tried to rally support for their mother in Hanoi.

    Bui Thi Minh Hang is a prominent activist who played a leading role in the protests against Chinese territorial claims on the Spratly and Paracel islands in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City between June and August 2011. On November 27, 2011, police arrested Bui Thi Minh Hang outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City for allegedly “causing public disorder” because of her silent protest against the arrests of other peaceful protesters. The next day the police ordered her detained without trial and sent her to Thanh Ha Education Center in Vinh Phuc province for 24 months of administrative detention.

    After a domestic and international outcry, the authorities released Bui Thi Minh Hang in April 2012. After her release, she immediately resumed her human rights campaigning. She wrote and published online a memoir describing her experience in the Thanh Ha Education center. She has protested at her home in the city of Vung Tau by affixing statements denouncing police and government abuses on the gate of her house and providing free copies to passersby. She also distributed a “Manual for the Implementation of Human Rights” (Cam nang thuc thi quyen lam nguoi) for people demanding their rights through peaceful activism. She also has repeatedly attempted to attend the trials of fellow human rights activists.

    Bui Thi Minh Hang and her family members have long faced intimidation, harassment, and intrusive surveillance by the police. State newspapers and television channels have repeatedly attacked her in their reports. Police have failed to act when anonymous attackers assaulted her and her son, and unidentified persons have thrown rotten food into her front yard at night.

    “The more the government tries to silence Bui Thi Minh Hang, the more vocal she becomes in her advocacy for basic rights and freedoms,” Robertson said. “The government should start listening to what she and other activists are saying instead of locking them up behind bars.”

    Nguyen Van Minh is an independent Hoa Hao Buddhist activist who has campaigned for freedom of religion and conscience. His wife, Bui Thi Diem Thuy, is also a religious activist whose father, Bui Van Trung, and brother, Bui Van Tham, are currently serving prison terms on politically motivated charges under article 257 of the criminal code for “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.” Human Rights Watch believes they are being persecuted because they follow and support an independent Hoa Hao Buddhist group instead of joining the state-sanctioned one.

    Little is known about the third detainee, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh.

    Vietnam’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2013 has not resulted in any significant improvements in the country’s human rights record.

    “Vietnam got a seat on the UN Human Rights Council but this hasn’t ended the repression of human rights activists in the country,” Robertson said. “Bilateral donors and UN agencies should press Vietnam to abide by its international obligations and stop imprisoning people whose only crime is calling for human rights and democratic reform.”

    Picture top: Bui Thi Minh Hang (left) with Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, before their arrest. Photo by Danlambao.com.

  • Young man dies after encounter with motorcycle police

    (VNRN) – A young man died Aug. 19 from injuries suffered after police on motorcycle ran his motorbike into a median in Gia Lai province in the Central Highlands.

    Le Hoai Thuong (Lê Hoài Thương), 20, was one of three young men riding on a motorbike in the evening of Aug. 18 when two policemen on a motorcycle noticed that at least one of the three was not wearing a helmet.

    The police gave chase, and the young men sped away. The police motorcycle overtook the motorbike, squeezed the young men over, ran them off the road, hit them with a baton and kicked the motorbike causing the group to crash into the median.

    Thuong, who was in front, fell and hit his head. Witnesses say the two police then left the scene. Bystander carried Thuong to the hospital, where he died the next day of multiple concussions to the skull.

    Hundreds of the locals gathered at the hospital in sympathy with Thuong’s family. Police commanders told the Tuoi Tre newspaper that Thuong fell into the median on his own trying to evade the police.

    The two unnamed officers have been placed on leave.

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