“Brutal attacks becoming routine” – Amnesty International

Amnesty International has condemned what it called a wave of vicious attacks on human rights defenders following the latest assault on the pro democracy activist, Nguyen Van Dai, and three of his associates.

Amnesty said such brutal attacks had become almost routine and no attempt had been made to stop them or bring the perpetrators to justice.

Dai addressed a gathering on human rights before the assault

Dai addressed a gathering on human rights before the assault

Dai and his colleagues were attacked by some twenty masked men as they attempted to return to Hanoi after a meeting with civil society campaigners in Nghe An province in the run up to International Human Rights Day on December 10.

“The assailants wore masks, chasing our taxi from two cars and five motorbikes, whose license plates were all removed,” said Mr. Dai.

He was brutally beaten with clubs, robbed of most of his possessions and abandoned on a nearby beach. The other three managed to run away after sustaining some injuries in the initial assault.

End Impunity

He said one had threatened to break his arm but appeared to hold back when he saw the human rights lawyer and former political prisoner wearing a ring depicting the Christian cross.

“Peaceful activists in Vietnam are working under harsh conditions and suffer impermissible restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. It is outrageous that they have to risk both their health and liberty simply for speaking up for human rights,” said John Coughlan, Amnesty International’s Vietnam Researcher.

“The only way to stop this cycle of attacks and violence is to put an end to the impunity of perpetrators, and send a clear signal that beatings of human rights defenders are unacceptable,” he said.

Dai suffered bruising to the face and other injuries during a sustained assault

Dai suffered bruising to the face and other injuries during a sustained assault

The attack on Dai and his colleagues occurred about 10 kilometres out of Nghe An’s Nam Dan District, where he and his fellow activists had met over 60 villagers to discuss human rights that are supposed to be protected under Vietnam’s constitution.

Local activists alleged that the masked men who carried out the attack were thugs hired by the local authorities.

Mr Dai said it was pointless to make a complaint to the authorities as such assaults are always conducted with complete impunity.

He told foreign media that he was targeted because the government has been unable to stop him and his supporters from campaigning for human rights. He said the incident would not deter him from carrying out his work.

“We will never give up until all Vietnamese people are able to enjoy their human rights, as dictated in the various international charters our government has signed,” he told RFA.

Before the attack, local government officials and plainclothes police had entered the courtyard of a house in Nam Van Loc parish, a heavily Catholic neighbourhood, where Mr Dai was addressing an audience of about 60 people.

There was an altercation when the officials demanded a halt to the session. Participants accused the officials of doing nothing to inform citizens of their rights under the constitution.

Attacks on civil society campaigners have increased in recent weeks

Attacks on civil society campaigners have increased in recent weeks

“You keep your laws hidden in a bag so we have to educate ourselves,” said one of the participants.

One officer got angry when his photograph was taken. The villagers responded that it was their privacy that had been violated by the intrusion of the officials.

The head of the Nam Loc Commune’s population committee, Nguyen Van Chinh, had come early to the afternoon session and requested that the seminar be shortened.

Villagers said the official was from a Catholic family and even attended mass himself sometimes.

The area is the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh, who is revered as the founding leader of modern Vietnam, and who passed laws that guaranteed the right to free assembly.