Vietnam’s use of isolation and prolonged detention against government critics is conducive to torture and is in violation of international agreements, according to the UN’s top human rights official.
In a searing attack on the Vietnamese government’s latest crackdown on independent bloggers, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed deep concern at the growing trend of arbitrary arrests.
He called for the immediate release of the blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh known as Mother Mushroom, who was arrested on Monday. She faces a lengthy prison term after being charged with spreading propaganda against the state under Article 88 of the penal code.
“Article 88 effectively makes it a crime for any Vietnamese citizen to enjoy the fundamental freedom to express an opinion, to discuss or to question the government and its policies,” said Mr Zeid.
“The overly broad, ill-defined scope of this law makes it all too easy to quash any kind of dissenting views and to arbitrarily detain individuals who dare to criticise government policies,” he said.
Vietnam resumed its practice of sentencing human rights campaigners and independent bloggers to prison terms this year, after a hiatus thought to have been brought about by foreign pressure.
Held in isolation
Quynh is the latest activist to be held incommunicado by the authorities while they investigate the alleged national security charges against her.
Mr Zeid said the practice of holding suspects for long periods without access to lawyers or other visitors was conducive to torture – and could even amount to torture in itself, in violation of the Convention against Torture (CAT), which Vietnam ratified in 2015.
The human rights lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant, Le Thu Ha, have been held in isolation since last December when they were arrested under Article 88.
Mr Zeid urged the government to repeal that article, as well as other provisions that breach international human rights standards such as articles 79, 87, 245 and 258 of the penal code.
“I urge the Government of Vietnam to abide by its obligations under human rights law, to drop these charges against Ms. Quynh and to release her immediately,” the High Commissioner said.
The ambassadors of the United States and European Union have also expressed deep concern at the Communist authorities’ growing intolerance of dissent and willingness to jail their critics.