Pressure increases for release of activists

Nguyen Van Dai has suffered periodic harassment from the authorities since his release from jail in 2011. Picture courtesy Reuters.

Nguyen Van Dai faces a potentially long prison term on charges of conducting propaganda against the state

Human rights groups from around the world have called on the Vietnamese government to release the lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai, and his colleague, Le Thu Ha, who were arrested last month.

In a joint statement, the 26 organisations from Europe, the United States and South-East Asia also called on the international community to increase pressure on the Vietnamese government over the two cases.

They expressed concern that the human rights activists, who were detained on December 16, could be subjected to torture or other ill treatment.

The groups include Amnesty International, Freedom House and Christian Solidarity Worldwide as well as organisations from Thailand, Indonesia and the Vietnamese overseas community.

The United States and European Union have already expressed grave concern about the arrest of Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha, which they said was at odds with the Vietnamese government’s commitment to improve its human rights record.

Both have been charged with conducting propaganda against the state under Article 88 of the Vietnamese penal code, which can carry a jail term of up to 20 years.

Nguyen Van Dai was arrested outside his home in Hanoi as he attempted to join a meeting with EU diplomats, who had just held their annual human rights dialogue with the Vietnamese government.

“Mr. Nguyen is a well-known peaceful campaigner for a multi-party democracy and the protection of human rights in Vietnam. He has devoted his life to providing legal assistance to the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society,” said the statement.

It said that he had suffered repeated persecution for his work, including a four year jail term followed by four years of house arrest imposed in 2007 – also under Article 88 of the penal code.

The statement said he was still recovering from injuries sustained in a vicious assault by masked assailants on

Dai served four years in prison and four under house arrest after his last conviction in 2007

Dai served four years in prison and four under house arrest after his last conviction in 2007

December 6.

Fellow activists believe the attack and his subsequent arrest was triggered by his work to teach students about the fundamentals of a free society and the rule of law.

Acutely sensitive

Analysts say the Vietnamese government has been obliged to tolerate a degree of free expression, given its difficulty controlling the widespread use of social media in the country.

However, the Communist Party hierarchy remains acutely sensitive to any attempt by activists to organise themselves into pressure groups.

The statement by the rights groups stresses that Vietnam is breaking its own international and domestic commitments in its attempt to crush dissent.

Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to liberty and security of a person, which includes the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

The UN basic principles on the role of lawyers also affirm that they should be entitled to freedom of expression, freedom and assembly.

Article 25 of Vietnam’s own constitution also protects the right to freedom of opinion and speech and that no citizen may be arrested without a warrant.