Rights activist held upon return from UN talks

(Photo left: Blogger Pham Le Vuong Cac (right) with fellow UPR delegates Nguyen Quang A (right) and Trinh Huu Long at the United Nations Human Right Council in Geneva.)

(RFA) – Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City held activist Pham Le Vuong Cac for 24 hours and subjected him to “torture” upon his return from a U.N. meeting in Geneva which he had attended to voice concerns over Vietnam’s failure to implement pledges made to improve the country’s rights record.

Blogger Cac was part of a delegation which attended the talks on Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR)—a process each U.N. member country undergoes every four years.

The delegation said in a statement that aside from Cac, who was detained by security police shortly after his flight landed in Vietnam’s largest city, other team members could also be punished for speaking up for greater human rights in the one-party communist state.

Cac was the second Vietnamese activist to have been detained and harassed this year for attending international meetings on Vietnam’s human rights record, the statement said.

“On 01 August 2014, one of our members, Pham Le Vuong Cac—a [Ho Chi Minh City]-based human rights defender—was detained and questioned at Tan Son Nhat International Airport by the security police upon his return to Vietnam,” the delegation said in the statement.

It said that Cac had landed at 12:20 a.m. and was detained shortly after, but that no notice had been given to his family and friends, who continued to wait for him at the airport’s security gate until late that night.

He was escorted home by police officers early the following day.

The delegation said that Cac’s 24-hour detention demonstrated “Vietnam’s pattern of neglecting its human rights obligations,” adding that it not only infringed on Vietnam’s laws, but also ignored international standards to which the country is bound.

“Cac’s rights as a citizen were violated because there was no issuance of either a notice or a decision by a responsible government agency to address this incident,” the statement said.

“Most significantly, the detention indicates signs of torture as the security police reportedly employed unlawful methods, including using threats during the extensive hours of questioning in order to extract information from Cac.”

Cac, an independent blogger and legal advocate, had been traveling since June with a delegation of activists representing 10 of Vietnam’s civil society organizations to raise awareness of the country’s human rights issues.

During his trip, he had met with representatives of U.N. working bodies, delegates from the EU, Polish and Czech foreign affairs officials and international human rights organizations to share his experiences as a rights advocate working in Vietnam.

Rights obligations

Vietnam became a member of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council in January and underwent its second UPR in February.

As recently as June 20, under the UPR process, Vietnam accepted 182 of the 227 recommendations given by member states, including the responsibility to “give individuals, groups and organs of society the legitimacy and recognition to promote human rights and to express their opinions or dissent publicly.”

Vietnam came under criticism in February for the harassment and jailing of bloggers and government critics during its UPR, with Western nations calling on the country to respect freedom of expression.

But despite Hanoi’s pledge to uphold its rights commitments, authorities in Vietnam detained and questioned fellow activist Bui Tuan Lam for hours in February after returning to Ho Chi Minh City from Geneva for UPR-related activities. His passport was confiscated on grounds of “national security.”

“As the UPR provides that States must respect and facilitate civil society’s participation in the UPR process, Vietnam’s treatment of Lam and Cac are [evidence] of the big gap between the Vietnamese government’s statements in the international arena and its conduct at home,” the delegation statement said.

It also expressed concern over the personal security and freedom of movement of pro-democracy scholar Nguyen Quang A, who had joined Cac in the delegation to Geneva and returned to Hanoi on Aug. 3, saying that exit bans have been increased on Vietnamese activists to bar them from participating in international advocacy.

“The Vietnam UPR Delegation [is] concerned that other human rights activists will face similar or even more severe methods of repression in the future for their activities,” the statement said.

“In regards to the Vietnamese government’s obligations under both national and international laws, we request a termination of harassment on local human rights activists and due prosecution of those who are responsible for such misconduct.”

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