Vietnam evades censure with new tactics of repression

Nguyen Van Dai with US Congressmen Matt Salmon and Alan Lowenthal last year. He was beaten and arrested despite his good relations with foreign embassies and politicians.

Nguyen Van Dai with US Congressmen Matt Salmon and Alan Lowenthal last year. He was beaten and arrested despite his good relations with foreign embassies and politicians.

Vietnam has been accused of adopting sinister new techniques to suppress dissent.

While foreign governments remain largely silent on widespread human rights violations in the country, a new report says the police are increasingly resorting to violence and intimidation to cow government critics.

Amnesty International said that some 70 activists suffered physical assaults last year, with some 30 badly hurt in violent attacks – often by groups of masked men.

Restrictions on the movement of civil society activists have also increased, with some confined to their homes and others forbidden to travel overseas.

“Members of independent activist groups attempting to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly faced regular harassment, including surveillance, restrictions on movement, arbitrary short-term detention and physical attacks,” said the report.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups say that human rights abuses in Vietnam have a low profile in the international arena.

They have appealed to Vietnam’s economic and diplomatic partners to do more to defend peaceful activists who are persecuted for demanding democratic freedoms and respect for human rights.

The United States and European Union did protest late last year when the prominent human rights lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai, was arrested and charged with using “propaganda against the state” under article 88 of the penal code.

He was badly beaten up a week earlier by a gang of masked men who intercepted him on motorcycles.

The case, however, has done little impede warming relations between Washington and Hanoi as they seek to cooperate over the growing Chinese threat in the South China Sea.

“Severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued,” said the Amnesty International report.

“The media and the judiciary, as well as political and religious institutions, remained under state control.”

It said 45 prisoners of conscience remained in prison and it drew attention to the harsh treatment suffered by those jailed on political charges.

“This included lack of physical exercise; verbal and physical attacks; prolonged detention in hot cells with little natural light; denial of sanitary equipment; frequent prison transfers; and detention far from homes and families, making family visits difficult,” said the report.

Vietnam has repeatedly assured the UN and foreign governments that it is improving its human rights record.

Human rights monitors say the government has become adept at using intimidation and legal sanctions against its critics, without drawing too much attention from the foreign media and foreign governments.