• Political trial highlights Vietnam’s land rights problem

    by Marianne Brown

    (VOA) - In Vietnam, the state owns the land and leases it to the people for a limited time. As the country’s economy has grown, the issue of who owns the rights to farm or develop land remains a difficult problem, with occasional protests over illegal seizures of land, otherwise known as “land grabs.” In Hanoi, the latest trial of land rights protesters highlights lingering issues with the system.

    This week, a group of people gathered near a court on the outskirts of Hanoi to show their support at the appeal trial of four land rights activists who were arrested while protesting an alleged land grab earlier this year. They were sentenced to between 12 and 20 months for disturbing public order.

    Both of 31-year-old Trinh Ba Phuong’s parents were on trial. Although the court reduced his father Trinh Ba Khiem (Trịnh Bá Khiêm)’s sentence by three months, he said he was very disappointed with the result. He said he believes the trial was a “tool for oppression and land grabs.” Phuong’s mother Can Thi Theu (Cấn Thị Thêu) was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

    He said local authorities first announced plans to take the land in 2008. The compensation offered was too low, and 356 families have refused the payment. He said officials did not attempt to negotiate with the residents.

    Video footage allegedly showing attempts to take the land by force in April has been widely circulated on social media, with over 150,000 views on YouTube.

    ​In one video, streams of people wearing conical hats cross a field pursued by men wearing green police uniforms and official red arm bands.

    Phuong’s younger brother, 25-year-old Tu, said because many of the farmers now have no means to make a living from their land, they are facing great economic difficulties.

    Protests of this kind are not new, and in many ways the case typifies the chronic issue of land rights in Vietnam, where the state retains ownership of the land but allows farmers to lease it for a limited period of time. Lessees do not negotiate directly with developers and although prices are supposed to be set according to the market value, that does not happen in practice.

    According to a report to the National Assembly in October 2012, the number of complaints involving land acquisition and compensation made up 70 percent of all complaints to governmental agencies from 2004 to 2011.

    Jonathan London, a Vietnam analyst at City University Hong Kong, predicted more protests in the future.

    “The state so far has not addressed some of the root causes of these disputes and in the absence of more effective institutional solutions to this problem these kinds of street level or spontaneous uprisings are likely to persist because of course the supply of land is not increasing and when people are displaced or when they claim that they are the victims of injustice then the legal system is not frequently seen as a promising option,” said London.

    The use of video and social media has become a common tool for protesters to voice their grievances, London said.

    “People in Vietnam are increasingly becoming social movement entrepreneurs.

    They are trying to call attention to issues, they are trying to frame issues. While we shouldn’t exaggerate, this is nonetheless impressively skillful attempt by people with relatively little power to bring influence to bear on those who have power and have so far been unresponsive to these people’s claims,” said London.

    In 2012, the eviction of a well-respected farmer in Tien Lang (Tiên Lãng) district who used homemade bombs to repel police attracted international headlines. Some hope that a revision of the Land Law would address some of these problems.

    Donors said the revised law, which came into effect in July, would improve transparency and land administration and, if implemented well, would help minimize conflicts and delays in infrastructure.

    Jairo Acuna-Alfaro, Policy Adviser on public administration reform and anti-corruption for the United Nations Development Program, said under the new law land use plans will be discussed at the district and provincial level.

    “The assumption is there will be a bit more scrutiny at the higher levels than at the lower levels… There will be more power to make decisions and make a judgment,” said Acuna-Alfaro.

    However, he said, it is too early to make assessments on the impact of the law.

    Part of the problem is that the law itself is not making a difference in these cases because it is not changing the motivation of public officials, he pointed out. That would have to be seen through the lens of other laws, like the Criminal Law.

    In the meantime, Phuong and his brother have become established members of the activist community in Hanoi and say they are determined to continue fighting for their parents’ freedom.


  • Thriteen Christian Montagnards from Vietnam seek refugee status in Cambodia

    (RFA) - More than a dozen ethnic Montagnards are hiding in the jungles of northeastern Cambodia after fleeing alleged religious persecution across the border in Vietnam, a member of a hill tribe living in the area said Monday.

    The 13 Christian Montagnards, who crossed into Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province from Vietnam’s neighboring Gia Lai province, are seeking protection from the United Nations’ refugee agency to resettle in a third country, the ethnic Charai tribe member told RFA’s Khmer Service on condition of anonymity.

    Eight of the Montagnards arrived in Cambodia in early November, while another group of five joined them three days ago, he said, adding that all 13 have endured difficult conditions in the jungle because they are afraid authorities might arrest them and deport them back to Vietnam if they are found.

    “The refugees are facing the threat of disease and don’t have enough food—they were fleeing from Vietnamese authorities who were trying to arrest them,” the Charai tribe member said.

    “Vietnamese police contacted the Cambodian authorities to find them,” he said, adding that refugees are extremely susceptible to malaria while hiding in local jungles.

    The Charai tribe member said that he and other villagers were worried that the safety of the 13 Montagnards might be “compromised” if the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and local rights groups do not come to their aid.

    Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar, who rights groups say suffer extreme persecution.

    Early in the last decade, thousands in the region staged violent protests against the confiscation of their ancestral lands and religious controls, prompting a brutal crackdown by security forces that saw hundreds of Montagnards charged with national security crimes.

    Representatives of the minority group have said that they are only calling for indigenous land rights and basic human rights in Vietnam, despite attempts by Hanoi to link them to overseas separatist groups.

    Authorities to investigate

    Ratanakiri provincial deputy police chief Chea Bunthoeun confirmed that authorities had received a report about the 13 Montagnards, but said he did not know their location.

    He said that if the group members come forward to the police, authorities will evaluate them to determine whether they qualify as refugees or economic migrants.

    “We will evaluate them. If they apply for refugee status, we will report their case to the government,” he said.

    Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, told RFA that authorities would conduct an investigation into whether the Montagnards were eligible for assistance from the government.

    “When we get [further details], we will travel to the province to see if they are really refugees,” he said, adding that Cambodia has acted several times in the past to help refugees resettle in third countries.

    But Chai Thy, an official with Cambodian rights group Adhoc who is based in Ratanakiri, told RFA that the Montagnards do not trust local authorities, adding that his organization would do whatever it could to prevent them from being returned to Vietnam.

    “They don’t want to go to the authorities first—they are waiting for help from international organizations, because they are afraid of the local authorities,” he said.

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Koung refused to comment on the situation, saying he was unaware of the details.

  • Rights group slams Vietnam’s ‘obsolete’ report

    (RFA) - A periodic human rights report submitted by Vietnam to the United Nations after a more than two-decade interruption contained “obsolete” information about the country’s rights record and failed to address a complex set of challenges that had arisen in recent years, two groups said Tuesday.

    Vietnam’s first submission in 21 years to the U.N.’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) does not accurately portray the country’s rights situation, Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said in a joint report.

    “By delaying its reports over decades, Vietnam is not only failing to comply with U.N. reporting obligations, but also seriously undermining opportunities to strengthen protection of its citizens’ economic, social, and cultural rights,” the rights groups said in their report, presented Tuesday at a CESCR meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The 35-page report, which documented evidence and analysis of various violations in the three areas by Vietnam, was issued in response to one submitted on Monday by a delegation of 19 Vietnamese officials led by Vice-Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Chi Dung to the CESCR.

    It pointed to several articles of the country’s constitution, Land Law, Labor Code, and Law on Trade Unions that had been amended or replaced during the reporting period and which it said were no longer relevant.

    Furthermore, the report noted that laws adopted after 2008, many of which imposed serious restrictions on human rights, were not covered in Vietnam’s submission.

    Since the late 1980s, it said, Vietnamese society has undergone profound changes with its transition from a planned economy to a “free market economy with Socialist orientations.”

    But while the changes have improved the economic situations and lifestyles of millions of people, they also have created complex economic, social, cultural, and political challenges which were not addressed in Vietnam’s submission.

    “If the CESCR experts are not provided with timely and relevant data, they cannot fully evaluate these challenges and make fitting recommendations to improve the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights in Vietnam,” the report said.

    International obligations

    The CESCR consists of 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by countries that have ratified it.

    The ICESCR is a multilateral U.N. treaty under which countries agree to work towards the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights to individuals, including labor rights and the rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living.

    Vietnam, which ratified the treaty in September 1982, is obligated to submit reports to the committee on a regular basis, but has failed to do so since 1993.

    “The ICESCR is one of the pillars of international human rights protection,” Vo Van Ai, the president of VCHR told the U.N. committee, according to a statement released by VCHR and FIDH.

    “Vietnam’s 21-year delay in submitting the report and the empty rhetoric of its submission show its lack of concern for the people’s’ economic, social and cultural rights,” he said.

    “Victims of abuses—especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, ethnic minorities and the rural and urban poor—have no mechanisms to protect their rights and no means to redress them. Human rights defenders who denounce rights abuses are harassed and detained.”

    ‘Deeply concerned’

    The two human rights organizations based their findings on information from civil society activists, state-controlled media, U.N. agencies, academic research, and reports by four U.N. independent experts.

    They said while they have closely monitored Vietnam’s human rights situation since the country acceded to the treaty, they were “deeply concerned” that violations of these rights had been increasing in some areas.

    The report noted the rise of wealth disparities and social inequalities in Vietnam since it opened to a free market economy in the 1980s, but said they were caused not only by the rising income gap, but also by discrimination based on political opinions, religions affiliations, or ethnicity.

    The report also denounced state censorship and pointed out that Vietnam detains bloggers, land rights and human rights activists, and defenders and members of religious minorities for their activities advocating economic, social, and cultural rights.

    Ai, who presented the report to the CESCR, denounced Vietnam’s use of the law as a tool to suppress human rights and maintain political control, the statement said.

    The report proposes 37 recommendations for the country in the areas of trade, human rights, trade union rights, the right to health and education, nondiscrimination, land rights, and freedom of expression and cultural rights.

    Among the recommendations, it calls on Vietnam to unconditionally release people who have been detained for peacefully advocating for or exercising their economic, social, and cultural rights, grant autonomy to religious organizations, and authorize the publication of independent media.

    The report also asks Vietnam to recognize the universality of human rights, authorize the establishment of independent trade unions, ensure access to education and health care without discrimination, and end forced evictions.

  • RSF condemns harassment of Vietnamese blogger and family

    (RSF) – Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) in a written statement deplores the harassment of the blogger Pham Minh Hoang and his family, which led to an assault on the French consul-general in Ho Chi Minh City on November 5.

    The diplomat, Emmanuel Ly Batallan, was assaulted by gangsters supported by plain-clothes police when he tried to assist Pham Minh Hoang (Phạm Minh Hoàng), a Franco-Vietnamese blogger, and his mother in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Five days ago, a group of thugs accompanied by plain-clothes officers moved into a house close to Hoang’s home and that of his mother, in which the cyber dissident Nguyen Bac Truyen (Nguyễn Bắc Truyển) also lives.

    The gangsters have been putting pressure on both men and Hoang’s mother.

    At the request of the blogger, the French consul went to see the gangsters to ask them to end their intimidation. As soon as he entered the building, he was grabbed from both sides and assaulted.

    “Such violence is unacceptable, especially when police are involved,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.

    “Pham Minh Hoang and Nguyen Bac Truyen have served their prison sentences, although they were invalid and entirely disproportionate. The endless harassment, intimidation and stabbing threats, to which the bloggers and their families have been subjected, must end immediately.”

    Just before the assault, Hoang’s wife, Le Thi Kieu Oanh, a French national, asked the thugs to leave the premises only to be threatened herself by a knife-wielding man. The continual harassment of Hoang’s family has taken its toll on the health of his mother, who was admitted to hospital suffering from high blood pressure.

    The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry was reported to have been informed of the assault and to have advised the consul to protest through diplomatic channels.

    Hoang was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2011, followed by a further three years’ house arrest, for “attempting to overthrow the government.” He remains under house arrest.

    Truyen received a four-year prison term in 2007 for anti-state propaganda.

    Huang, a politically committed blogger known by the pen-name Phan Kien Quoc (Phan Kiến Quốc), has published numerous articles on education, the environment and Vietnam’s sovereignty disputes with China which have been widely circulated online.

    He participated in a campaign against Chinese mining of bauxite in Vietnam’s central highlands and his name was at the bottom of a petition on this issue, which attracted a lot of support in Vietnam. He is a member of the pro-democracy party Viet Tan, which has been banned by the one-party communist government.

    Vietnam is ranked 174th of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

  • ANALYSIS: Blogger Anh Ba Sam’s arrest baseless

    by Trinh Huu Long

    (BBC) The detention of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, better known as blogger Anh Ba Sam, and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty under national and international laws.

    A failure of due process in the first place

    The case against Anh Ba Sam was initiated on May 5, 2014 with the detention of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant, Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy.
    In accordance with Vietnamese Penal Code, an urgent arrest or detention is different from an ordinary arrest to the extent that in the former, an approval by the People’s Procuracy is not required prior to the act of arrest or detention. That approval may be granted subsequent to the act of arrest or detention, within 12 hours since the People’s Procuracy receives the request for deprivation of liberty from the investigating body.
    This provision authorizes the investigating body to act immediately at their discretion without any restriction. It also helps the investigating body to minimize the risk of information leakage.
    In the case of Anh Ba Sam, however, the detention by the Investigating Body under the Ministry of Public Security fails to fit into any category of urgent arrest or detention as stipulated in Article 81 of the Vietnamese Code of Criminal Procedure.
    Under this law, urgent arrests can only be made in the following cases:
    • (i) when there exist grounds to believe that such persons are preparing to commit very serious or exceptionally serious offenses;
    • (ii) when victims or persons present at the scenes where the offenses occurred saw with their own eyes and confirmed that such persons are the very ones who committed the offenses and it is deemed necessary to immediately prevent such persons from escaping; or
    • (iii) when traces of offenses are found on the bodies or at the residences of the persons suspected of having committed the offenses and it is deemed necessary to immediately prevent such persons from escaping or destroying evidences.
    Obviously the arrest of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy does not fall in any of these cases, because the Article 258 of the Penal Code under which they were charged does not belong to the category of “very serious” or “exceptionally serious” crimes. There was not any victim or person present at the homes and offices of Vinh and Thuy to see with their own eyes or to confirm that Vinh and Thuy had committed any offence. The investigating body also failed to find any trace of offence at the homes and offices of Vinh and Thuy: as confirmed in the Investigative Report of October 30, all of the objects confiscated at their homes and offices were found “unrelated to the case.”
    The failure of due process in the first place led to due process violations in the subsequent phases.
    Violation of privacy rights
    Notably, the Investigative Report obviously revealed unlawful means by the police to obtain the evidence based on which the urgently arrest warrant on Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy was signed.
    The unlawful means were clearly referred to on the first page of the Investigative Report, which wrote that “the case began on April 1, when the Department of Political Protection No.6 [Cục Bảo vệ Chính trị 6] under the General Department of Public Security No. 1, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security [Tổng cục An ninh I – Bộ Công an] dispatched a note to the Investigating Body of Public Security, providing surveillance data collected from two Internet subscribers who were VDC’s and FPT’s clients and whom they alleged “often posted to the Internet articles with signs of infringing upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and citizens.”
    This inevitably raises questions as to whether the police are authorized to monitor and access personal data of Internet users, whether Internet service providers are to provide personal data of their clients upon police’s request, and whether Internet service providers are allowed to do so.
    Some people automatically linked the issue to similar circumstances in Western countries, where the police can only monitor phone calls when they are authorized by the court(s).
    Under Vietnamese law, Article 38 of the Civil Code can provide a hint to answer the above questions. It stipulates that “individuals’ letters, telegrams, telephones, and other electronic correspondence shall be protected to ensure confidentiality.”
    In addition, Article 72 of the Law on Information Technology strictly prohibits the access to, adjustment to or removal of the data of organizations and citizens in the cyber area.
    Some people may invoke Article 38 of the Civil Code to argue that the monitoring of correspondence and electronic information can still be conducted “in circumstances which are stipulated by law” AND “with the order from the competent State authority.” However, which specific law this provision refers to, or which State authority is competent in the case of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, was not mentioned in the Investigative Report.
    More importantly, if the Ministry of Public Security is authorized to monitor personal Internet data, and if there was indeed an official decision granting them the authority to monitor Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy’s data on the Internet, then a big question should be raised about the constitutionality, legality and legitimacy of such decisions.
    It should be noted that the two regulatory notes that define duties, obligations, and authority of the Ministry of Public Security, ie. Decree No. 77/2009/NĐ-CP and Decree No. 21/2014/NĐ-CP, cannot be found in any national gazette or legal database on the Internet. Some sources said these two notes were classified as “confidential”, thus closed to the public.

    An arbitrary arrest

    Under international human rights laws, the arrest of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh and Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy is a violation of their right to liberty and constitutes an arbitrary arrest.
    Articles 9 of both the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulate that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
    Vietnam, as a full member of the United Nations, has signed these two treaties, which are generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights laws.
    The general standards of these above treaties, in the context of a rule of law with an independent judiciary system, are always interpreted and enforced in a manner that helps to achieve social justice and balances human rights with security.
    In 2000 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a body consisting of independent human rights experts working on arbitrary detentions in its member states, introduced a set of criteria to assess whether an act of deprivation of liberty is arbitrary. Among the criteria, Category II provides that the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by UN human rights treaties is regarded as arbitrary.
    The police, by alleging Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to have posted to web 24 articles mentioned in the Investigative Report and arresting them despite their denial of allegation, have evidently violated freedom of expression, and this act of arrest fits into the above-mentioned Category II.
  • Vietnam steps up harassment of dissident rights lawyer

    (RFA) - Vietnamese authorities have ramped up their harassment of dissident rights lawyer and former political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen (Nguyễn Bắc Truyển), stationing a large group of security agents in plain clothes outside his rented house on Wednesday and threatening his landlady with a knife, according to sources.

    Truyen, who provides free legal assistance to victims of land grabs and has campaigned for multiparty democracy in one-party communist Vietnam, was released on probation from prison in May 2010 after serving three and a half years for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

    He now lives in a house in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City rented from another former prisoner, Pham Minh Hoang (Phạm Minh Hoàng), a blogger and former mathematics teacher serving a period of probation after his own release from prison in January 2012.

    “To them [the police], Nguyen Bac Truyen is a very dangerous man, so they guard him all the time,” Hoang told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday.

    “They have assigned people to sit in front of the house and block him from leaving,” Hoang said.

    “They sit in front of that house 24 hours a day,” Hoang’s wife, surnamed Oanh, said. “I don’t know what they do at night, but they follow Truyen wherever he goes.”

    On Nov. 5, harassment intensified when the group was joined by another group “disguised as ordinary people,” though Oanh said she recognized one as a policeman because of his uniform socks.

    “They brought food and drinks to have a party right in front of my house,” she said.

    ‘Rude attitude’

    When Hoang and Oanh approached the men, “they displayed a very rude attitude and even threatened my wife with a knife because she told them not to sit there,” Hoang said.

    Calls for help to the local police brought no result, so Hoang—who holds French citizenship—and his wife appealed for assistance to the French consulate, they said.

    “At the beginning, we did not want to do it, and we only called the local police,” said Oanh, “But they refused to come, saying they were busy in a meeting.”

    “As there was no one who would protect us, we had to call the consulate. My husband is a French citizen, so he comes under their protection,” she said.

    Reached by phone by RFA on Wednesday, the French consulate in Ho Chi Minh City declined to comment on the case.

    24-hour surveillance

    Nguyen Bac Truyen himself has been followed and harassed ever since his release from prison, Truyen told RFA in a recent interview.

    “Whenever there is a gathering of civil society groups, plainclothes policemen are assigned to watch me, threaten me, and prevent me from going out,” he said.

    “After I was freed from prison, they followed me 24 hours a day, but for the last two months they have only watched me from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.”

    “However, they are very aggressive,” he said.

    In February 2014, Truyen and his wife were dragged from a taxi and beaten by suspected police agents while traveling to meet with an Australian diplomat in Hanoi to press for the release of fellow activists detained after a police raid on his house.

    Hundreds of armed Vietnamese police and government agents fired gunshots and stormed the residence during the Feb. 9 raid, according to rights groups and Truyen’s wife.


    Also on Wednesday, Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Dan Que (Nguyễn Ðan Quế) reported increased police surveillance at his own residence in Ho Chi Minh City after learning of the harassment of Truyen and Hoang.

    The two new officers set to guard him are “different from the two others who were here before, but their behavior is very intimidating and aggressive,” Que said.

    “They have not entered my house, but they walk back and forth in front of it,” he said. “If I go out, they follow me.”

  • Suspect dies by hanging in police custody, 20th this year

    Left: The window where Lam was found dead by hanging.

    (RNVN) – A suspect in a theft case was found hung to death in police custody on Nov. 3 in Hai Phong, Vietnam’s third largest city. The death marks at least the 20th known case of detainees dying in unclear circumstances while being held by local Vietnamese police. Most were classified as suicides by hanging by official investigators.

    The victim in this case was Nguyen Tung Lam (Nguyễn Tùng Lâm), 30, who was caught riding away in someone else’s electric bicycle in a rural part of Hai Phong. Bystanders and traffic police captured Lam and he was taken to the local commune administration’s office at 11am Oct 31. The police questioned Lam and held him overnight.

    His family was notified, his father brought Lam food for dinner and, district police head Col. Tran Quang Hop (Trần Quang Hợp) told reporters, everything was normal throughout the night.

    By morning, however, when the guard on duty came back from his restroom break, Lam was found hanging on the window bars “at a low position, his feet not hanging,” according to Col. Hop. Lam was declared dead at the hospital at 7am Nov. 1.

    Lam was hanging by his belt, the police said. He left behind a wife and a 9-year old child.

    This case closely follows a case within the same week in coastal Binh Thuan province where another man was also found hanging by a drawstring from his shorts.

    Lam’s case marks the 20th known time just this year where a person dies in police custody.

    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.”

  • Police report accuses Anh Ba Sam of undercutting ‘faith in the Party’

    (VNRN) – Vietnam’s national police on Oct. 30 issue the investigative report in the case of blogger Anh Ba Sam, real name Nguyen Huu Vinh (Nguyễn Hữu Vinh), and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy (Nguyễn Thị Minh Thúy), accusing them of “undercutting the people’s faith in the leadership of the Party.” The police concluded that the two have “abused democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interest of the State” under the infamous Article 258 of the Penal Code which carries a prison term of up to 7 years.

    Vinh, whose blog moniker means “Brother Gossiper,” is best known as the founder of the Ba Sam news site, at basam.info. It has served as the best provider of news from Vietnam that otherwise would not be reported by government-owned media. Basam.info has been covering the fates of prisoners and conscience, for example, or events held by human rights activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

    Thuy is Vinh’s employeed at his private detective agency and has been accused of assisting Vinh and managing and editing his blogs.

    In a move that surprised observers, the investigative report lists none of the contents of Basam.info. Instead, it lists 12 specific posts on the Dan Quyen (Civil Rights) blog at diendanxahoidansu.wordpress.com, and 12 specific posts on the Chep Su Viet (Writing Vietnamese History) blog at chepsuviet.wordpress.com. Both sites were shut down shortly after Vinh and Thuy’s arrest, suggesting that the police had gained control of the sites’ passwords.

    The postings in the report were selected from a total of 2014 posts on Dan Quyen and 383 posts on Chep Su Viet. All of the posts were authored by other people and first published elsewhere, then re-published on these two blogs.

    The posts listed by the police generally provide critical reviews of current or historical events, some involving leaders of the Vietnamese government and Communist Party such as the Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (Nguyễn Phú Trọng) and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (Nguyễn Tấn Dũng). One posting was about General Hoang Kong Tu (Hoàng Kông Tư), head of the Minister of Police’s investigative agency — the same entity that issued the investigative report.

    Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy and her twin children.

    Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy and her twin children.

    The report calls the prosecution “a serious case, organized, with sophisticated criminal methods, happening while enemy forces in and outside the country are increasing the use of the Internet with hundreds of websites, blogs, social networks to distort and slander wit hthe goal of destroying the thoughts, undercutting the faith of the people in the leadership role of the Party, the management by the Government.”

    The report reveals that neither Vinh nor Thuy has admitted to any wrong-doing, so the police referred them for prosecution under Article 258, a vague and ambiguous provision that has been used to prosecute a wide variety of people for allegedly “abusing” their freedom of speech or religion.

    Human-rights organization Vietnam Path Movement reacted to the investigative report that “even if all accusations were true,” Vinh and Thuy violated no laws when they “only exercised their rights to freedom of speech in republishing other people’s writings,” wrote its spokesperson Le Quoc Tuan (Lê Quốc Tuấn).

  • 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.


    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


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