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Human Rights Peer Review of Vietnam Spotlights Persistent Rights Violations

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From left to right, Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Tin, Nguyen Dai, three activists beaten by police in August 2018. Photo courtesy: HRW.

On 22 January 2019, Vietnam underwent for the third time a comprehensive peer review of its human rights record at the Human Rights Council (a process known as Universal Periodic Review or UPR), amidst what many rights groups and observers have called the worst wave of crackdown on dissent, activism and civil society in years.

121 governments took to the floor and made close to 300 recommendations on a wide range of human rights issues. Under the rules of the UPR, Vietnam can choose to “accept” or merely “note” the recommendations it receives and must do so in writing by the time the 41st session of the Human Rights Council begins in late June 2019.

Governments have the primary responsibility to implement those recommendations that they have accepted and report progress therein in the next cycle of review.

Many of the issues raised during the third review are the subject of recommendations that Vietnam had accepted to implement or noted in the two previous UPR cycles. Critics say that Vietnam not only failed to implement them but have taken actions to the contrary.

Prior to the latest review, numerous independent civil society organizations, both inside Vietnam and internationally, submitted parallel reports to the United Nations on the non-implementation of previously accepted recommendations and the overall deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam.

Below are some highlights of recommendations clustered by several major recurring thematic issues (the number preceding each recommendation refers to the paragraph number in the draft outcome report of Vietnam’s third UPR, followed by the name of the recommending country in parentheses):

  1. Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders
  2. Restrictive Laws and Regulations
  3. Death Penalty
  4. Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups
  5. Fundamental Freedoms
  6. Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process

Phan Kim Khanh, one of the youngest political dissidents in Vietnam. Khanh is currently serving a 6-year-prison term.

Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders

6.55 Take steps to protect human rights defenders, particularly by repealing or revising the provisions of the Penal Code that make reference to the concept of national security (France)

6.145 Immediately release prisoners who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully detained and allow them to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms in Vietnam, including Ho Duc Hoa, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and the members of the Brotherhood for Democracy (United States of America)

6.175 Release human rights defenders sentenced to prison for exercising the right to freedom of expression (Iceland)

6.177 Take the necessary measures to ensure the freedom of expression of human rights defenders and journalists, in particular by investigating and punishing perpetrators of threats and reprisals against them (Argentina)

6.180 Protect human rights defenders and prosecute all persons guilty of violence or intimidation against them (Luxembourg)

6.186 Review regulations impeding the operation of Civil Society Organisations, to enable a more open space and ensure that national security provisions are not used to prevent peaceful debate and dissent (Ireland)

6.191 Release all human rights defenders as well as political and religious activists detained for the peaceful expression of their political opinions or religious belief (Poland)

6.198 Adopt measures in line with international standards to guarantee freedom of association, opinion and expression, including online, and to ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs can freely operate (Italy)

6.202 Guarantee Fully freedom of speech, the rights of peaceful assembly and association as well as the safety of journalists, and review cases of persons convicted for having freely expressed their opinion, including human rights defenders (Switzerland)

6.203 Improve protection of the rights to peaceful assembly and expression by reviewing existing legislation, and publishing and implementing clear, transparent guidelines on security personnel conduct in managing peaceful demonstrations (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

6.205 Ensure consistent implementation of the Law on Belief and Religion particularly at the local level, including with respect to registration of Protestant groups and other groups in Northwest Highlands provinces, and remove undue restrictions on access to religious materials and clergy for those imprisoned and cease any harassment of independent groups on account of their religion (United States of America)

6.211 Publicly recognize human rights defenders and provide an environment in which they can carry out their human rights work safely (Belgium)

6.214 Nurture a culture of free expression online and offline, release all imprisoned human rights defenders, including bloggers and political dissenters, and put an end to their harassment (Czechia)

6.215 Create an enabling environment for independent civil society and ensure that the prepared Law on Association facilitates the registration, work and funding of NGOs free from undue State interference and restrictions (Czechia)

6.216 Lay ground for political plurality and democracy and guarantee its citizens the full enjoyment of the rights to vote and to be elected and to take part in the conduct of public affairs (Czechia)

A policeman, flanked by local militia members, tries to stop a foreign journalist from taking pictures outside the Ho Chi Minh City people’s court, where a human rights case was taking place in August 2011. Photograph: Ian Timberlake/AFP/Getty Images

Restrictive Laws and Regulations

6.73 Adapt the Code of Penal Procedure to international standards and amend Articles 109 and 117 on “activities against the State” in the Penal Code, in line with human rights standards (Switzerland)

6.167 Repeal or amend provisions in the Penal Code and Cyber Security Law so that provisions relating to national security are clearly defined or removed, to ensure that they cannot be applied in an arbitrary manner to endanger any forms of freedom of expression, including internet freedom (Finland)

6.171 Review all convictions based on laws restricting freedom of expression and opinion, in particular articles 79 and 88 of the Penal Code, according to the revised penalty ranges (Germany)

6.174 Consider revising national legislation, including the Law on Belief and Religion and the media Laws, in order to harmonize it with international standards regarding the right of freedom of expression and of religion (Brazil)

6.183 Amend, within one year, the 2015 Penal Code, Decree 174/2013, Decree 72/2013, Decree 27/2018, the 2018 Law on cybersecurity and articles 4, 9, 14 and 15 of the 2016 Press Law, to guarantee offline and online freedom of press and expression, and the right to privacy, in line with articles 17 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Netherlands)

6.185 Related Cybersecurity Decrees should include clear provisions for interpretation of the Law on Cybersecurity according to international standards on freedom of expression (Ireland)

6.187 Ensure that the legal framework protects freedom of expression both offline and online and accordingly amend the Penal Law and Law on Cybersecurity to ensure consistency with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New Zealand); Ensure that freedom of expression is protected online and offline by amending national security provisions in the Penal Code, and the Cybersecurity law and its implementing decree, so as to comply with article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other commitments (Sweden); Guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and amend the penal code and the Cyber Security Law to make sure that the limitations on the right of freedom of expression are in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Austria); Review the Criminal Code and the law on cybersecurity to harmonize it with international standards related to the freedom of expression, association and assembly (Canada)

6.188 Revise the provisions of Articles 117 and 331 of the 2015 Penal Code and other relevant laws that restrict the ability to exercise fundamental freedoms and allow free operation of national and international media (Norway)

6.193 Ensure full implementation of its international human rights obligations regarding freedom of religion and belief by reviewing the Law on Belief and Religion to bring it into line with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Poland)

6.194 Abolish prior censorship in all fields of cultural creation and other forms of expression, both online and offline, including by bringing the restriction to freedom of expression under the 2016 Press Law in line with international standards and fostering a pluralistic and independent media environment (Portugal)

6.197 Review and amend national legislations in order to enable the effective exercise of the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in line with the standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Seychelles)

6.212 Review the law on religion and belief to enable religious groups to practice freely (Canada);Review the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion and bring it in conformity with international human rights standards and freedom of religion or belief standards (Croatia)

Nguyen Thi Loan, mother of Ho Duy Hai. Photo credit: Nguyen Lan Thang.

Death Penalty

6.5 Accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aimed at abolishing the death penalty (El Salvador); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Montenegro); Ratify, without reservations, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Slovenia); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Croatia)

6.140 Initiate a moratorium on the imposing of capital punishment and especially for non-violent crimes (Finland); Consider implementing a full moratorium on the death penalty (Georgia); Impose a moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty (Iceland); Establish a de facto moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition (Portugal); Establish a moratorium on the application of the death penalty as a step towards its definitive abolition and modify the Penal Code to reduce the number of crimes for which the capital punishment can be imposed (Spain); Impose a moratorium on executions with the goal of abolishing the death penalty (Albania); Establish a moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards complete abolition of this practice (Australia); Immediately adopt a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to ultimately abolishing it (Austria); Take the necessary measures to establish a moratorium on executions of death row prisoners as well as to repeal the death penalty from their national legislation (Argentina)

6.141 Abolish the death penalty and, without delay, reduce the number of offences punishable by the death penalty (France); Abolish definitely the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Luxembourg); Continue reform towards abolition of the death penalty, including by continuing to reduce the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty under the Penal Code 2015, in particular non-violent crimes, and by providing greater transparency about the numbers, methods and associated crimes relating to its use (New Zealand); Abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty (Uruguay)

6.142 Further reduce the list of offences punishable by death, eliminate the death penalty for “activities against the people’s government”, “espionage”, “embezzlement”, and “taking bribes” as well as for serious drug offences (Germany); Continue to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty and consider introducing a de facto moratorium on its application (Mexico); Continue to reduce the scope of crimes subject to the death penalty only for “most serious crimes” and consider introducing a moratorium (Norway); Continue the process of reduction of offences subject to death penalty, until the abolition of the capital punishment and to publish statistics on the use of death penalty in Vietnam (Romania); Further reduce the offences punishable by death penalty and provide official figures regarding death sentences and executions; consider to introduce a moratorium of death penalty (Italy)

6.143 Reduce further the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty, in particular economic crimes and drug-related offences, and envisage a complete moratorium on the application of the death penalty (Switzerland)

6.144 Assist the process of national discussion on death penalty with a view of its eventual abolishment (Ukraine)

6.146 Restrict the use of the death penalty to crimes that meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” under international law (Belgium)

6.290 Cease applying the death penalty for non-violent crimes, including drug offences (Australia)

6.291 Introduce a national moratorium on the death penalty, aiming at complete abolition. Until then, reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, ensuring that it does not apply to offences other than the “most serious” crimes, in accordance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Sweden)

A group of Jarai people in Vietnam’s Highlands. Photo courtesy: Thinh Nguyen.

Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups

6.90 Continue efforts in eliminating inequalities in access to public services (China)

6.92 Increase efforts in addressing discrimination, in line with its international obligations, and towards improving its legal framework against gender-based violence (Greece)

6.93 Enact legislation to ensure access to gender affirmation treatment and legal gender recognition (Iceland)

6.96 Continue to conduct studies with a view to amend existing or introduce new legal instruments to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV (Malaysia)

6.97 Take further steps to ensure the protection of all vulnerable groups in society including LGBTI persons (Malta)

6.98 Legalize same-sex marriage before the next UPR (Netherlands)

6.99 Explicitly provide “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a forbidden ground of discrimination in the revised Labour Code and other relevant laws (Norway)

6.107 Take further measures to reduce inequalities and enhance access to services especially to vulnerable persons, including women, children and disabled (Bhutan)

6.108 Review the Labour Code and the law on gender equality to include a detailed definition of sexual harassment (Canada)

6.109 Develop legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (Chile)

6.153 Set up a robust legislative framework prohibiting and sanctioning all discriminatory practices, enabling victims access justice (Madagascar)

6.170 Take measures to combat religious motivated violence and harassment and ethnic discrimination and inequality (Brazil)

6.217 Revise the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code and criminalise all forms of violence against women, raise public awareness on gender equality and combating discrimination against women and girls, enhance efforts and measures to prevent and combat human trafficking, especially that of women and children (Hungary)

6.229 Adopt marriage equality legislation, extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples (Iceland)

6.230 Review the Law on Marriage and Family with a view to setting the same minimum age for marriage for women and men (Zambia)

6.231 Review the law on marriage and the family to guarantee the equality to same sex couples (Canada)

6.259 Step up the efforts for the participation of woman in political and public life and their representation in the decision-making bodies (Ethiopia)

6.260 Prohibit all forms of violence against women and strengthen women’s access to justice (Iceland)

6.261 Continue to strengthen measures to prevent abuse and violence against women (Japan)

6.262 Adopt a national plan of action to prevent all forms of violence against women and assign sufficient resources for its implementation (Spain)

6.263 Further invest in women’s economic empowerment and promote decent work for women in partnership with relevant international organizations (Thailand)

6.268 Implement the policy on promoting gender equality and bridging the gender gap, which focusing on enhancing the role and participation of women in the political, economic and social spheres (Cambodia)

6.284 Develop, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, community-based and people-centred mental health services that do not lead to institutionalization and over medicalization and that respect the free and informed consent of persons with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities while combatting stigma and violence against them (Portugal)

6.288 Pursue efforts to adopt national legislation to ensure further respect of the rights of migrants, to prepare the ground for the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Egypt)

6.289 Continue its efforts on prevention and reduction of statelessness through among others reacquisition of Vietnamese nationality and prevent children statelessness (Kenya)

Protest in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018. Photo courtesy: Facebook, unknown author.

Fundamental Freedoms

6.42 Enhance efforts to comply with the recommendations accepted during the second Universal Periodic Review cycle on guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression (Chile)

6.168 Take steps to guarantee freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, including on the internet, in the context of the adoption of the law on cybersecurity (France)

6.179 Protect civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association (Luxembourg)

6.184 Restrictions on freedom of expression, and particularly online freedom, be lifted in line with Vietnam’s obligations under international law (Ireland)

6.189 Strengthen efforts to ensure the freedom of expression, including in the digital environment (Peru)

6.195 Ensure freedom of expression, including online, and promote actions to ensure freedom and independence of the media (Japan)

6.196 Continue the measures aimed at lifting all restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to allow bloggers, journalists and other internet users to promote and protect human rights (Romania)

6.199 Enhance efforts to guarantee freedom of religion or belief, also by further reducing administrative obstacles to peaceful religious activities and by combating violence and discrimination on religious grounds (Italy)

6.200 Adopt legislative changes to guarantee the protection and free exercise of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly (Spain)

6.206 Take the necessary measures to eliminate administrative barriers in order to guarantee exercise of freedom of worship (Angola)

6.207 Enact laws to provide for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Australia)

6.209 Take further steps to ensure an independent and pluralistic media landscape, including by reducing political influence on media outlets (Austria)

6.210 Safeguard freedom of religion and believe for all in Vietnam (Kenya)

6.213 Increase and ensure Vietnamese citizens’ access to information, including by increasing radio and television coverage in all parts of the country (Cyprus)

6.236 Allow for the establishment of independent trade unions and to recognize their right to organise (Canada)

Four death-row inmates from left to right, Ho Duy Hai, Le Van Manh, Nguyen Van Chuong, Dang Van Hien. Photo courtesy: Luat Khoa.

Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process

6.147 Ensure that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in trial in keeping with Viet Nam’s obligations under the Convention against Torture (New Zealand)

6.148 Take steps to prohibit harassment and torture during the investigation process and detention and punish the perpetrators (Togo)

6.150 Abolish immediately at all levels the exercise of outdoor trials to ensure the right to the presumption of innocence, effective legal representation and fair trials (Denmark)

6.152 Revise the judicial system to provide a safer environment to victims in case of all crimes (Hungary)

6.156 Pursue judicial and institutional reforms to bring them into line with international human rights standards (Senegal)

6.158 Ensure that fair trial guarantees and due process rights, as provided in international law and standards, are respected and upheld in all cases (Slovakia)

6.164 Amend the Criminal Procedural Code so that persons are represented by a lawyer immediately following their arrest and to guarantee their right to a fair trial (Canada)

About the Author

Shiwei Ye is an Asia-based independent human rights analyst, strategy advisor, trainer, and civil society consultant.

Human Rights

Vietnam To Try Pham Doan Trang For Propagandizing Against The State On November 4, 2021

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Pham Doan Trang. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

On October 14, 2021, attorney Dang Dinh Manh, one of Pham Doan Trang’s lawyers, posted on his Facebook that the People’s Court of Hanoi will try the prominent journalist and writer on November 4, 2021. Manh further indicated that the same court will also try Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam – two of the Duong Noi farmers – on November 3, 2021.[1]

Furthermore, sources informed The Vietnamese Magazine that the authorities have yet to officially approve any of Doan Trang’s attorneys to be her legal representatives. Attorney Manh confirmed that the government informed him of the information about Doan Trang’s trial via telephone. 

On October 6, 2021, Pham Chinh Truc, Doan Trang’s brother, received a notice from the Hanoi People’s Procuracy Office regarding his sister’s case status. That day also marked one year since the Vietnamese authorities arrested Doan Trang in Ho Chi Minh City. During this entire time, she has been held incommunicado. Her lawyers also received minimal information from the authorities about her case. 

Hanoi People’s Procuracy notified Truc that they had decided to transfer the case to the People’s Court of Hanoi after recommending her indictment on August 30, 2021. 

The Procuracy, however, did not specify what its recommendations are and what have been her conducts that fall under its possible charges against Pham Doan Trang. It is charging her with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” which falls under either Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code; she faces the possibility of a 20-year sentence. The Procuracy also failed to provide any evidence that it may have found during the year-long investigation leading up to the case being transferred to the Court. 

However, because none of her attorneys have yet to be officially recognized by the government, they did not receive the government indictment. In other words, both her family and her attorneys still do not know what evidence the government has against Doan Trang or the details of the charges against her. In the next few days, her attorneys will file a motion to delay her trial so that they can better prepare for her defense, The Vietnamese Magazine has learned.

Trinh Huu Long, the co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV) and one of Doan Trang’s closest colleagues told The Vietnamese:

“It’s highly unusual that an activist is held completely incommunicado until just before the trial such as has happened with Doan Trang. This is nothing less than an extremely severe violation of both domestic and international laws. It is also ironic. The government wants to punish Doan Trang because she made it look bad, and Vietnam calls this is the rule of law, while the government itself has long gotten away with all sorts of inhuman treatment and violations of its own laws.”

Notes:

[1] Our previous version of this article has stated that Pham Doan Trang’s trial will be on November 3, 2021. However, Attorney Dang Dinh Manh since then has corrected his earlier statement and her trial will be on November 4, 2021.

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Human Rights

Tightening The Noose: The Latest Developments In Vietnam’s Assault On Internet Freedom

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Screenshot of Vietnam section on CIVICUS website. Photo source: CIVICUS.

On August 25, 2021, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with several of Vietnam’s top leaders. According to a report by Reuters, while the focus of their dialogue centered on the South China Sea dispute and the strengthening of U.S presence in the region, she also brought up several human rights concerns with the Vietnamese government. Although Harris did not provide details about what they had discussed, the vice president assured the press that “[the United States] was “not going to shy away” from difficult conversations with countries the United States has partnerships with.

Prior to her arrival, Vietnam was already dealing with a surge in Covid-19 infections, which resulted in lockdowns and travel restrictions in several places in the country, including Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. As of September 26, Vietnam has tallied over 476,000 confirmed cases with 18,000 deaths. The Vietnamese government’s approach to containing the spread of the virus has been questionable at best with its use of state media and propaganda to control the narrative and deployment of the military to enforce lockdown measures. 

Yet, despite the ongoing health crisis and the dialogue with the U.S. vice president, Vietnam continues its crackdown, detention, and imprisonment of several online critics, journalists, and activists. 

Freedom on the Net 2021

Freedom House, a US-based organization founded to support and defend democracy worldwide, released its annual Freedom on the Net report on September 21, 2021. This report analyzes the state of accessibility and censorship of a country’s cyber domain, alongside violations of internet users’ rights, and ranks each nation as being Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. It comes as no surprise that Vietnam continues to fare poorly in this regard; it has been classified as Not Free for three consecutive years and has been performing terribly under the standards set by Freedom House. 

This research highlights several aspects of the state of internet freedom in Vietnam. Regarding accessibility, Freedom House states that smartphone and internet penetration in the country has been good with internet prices becoming more affordable. However, connectivity continues to remain an issue for those living in extreme poverty and for ethnic minorities who live in the remote mountainous areas of Vietnam. Censorship also continues to be practiced by the Vietnamese government as it blocks or filters content coming from individuals and organizations that are critical of the regime. Predictably, Vietnam’s violation of internet-user rights is just as rampant compared to prior years with “police routinely [flouting] due process, arresting bloggers and online activists without a warrant or retaining them in custody beyond the maximum period allowed by law.”

CIVICUS: Latest Developments in Vietnam

On September 27, 2021, CIVICUS, an international alliance of various organizations that aim to strengthen citizen action and civil society worldwide, released its own report that details more recent events regarding the state of internet freedom in Vietnam. Similar to Freedom House, CIVICUS classifies Vietnam as Closed according to its own standards; a country with this rating exhibits “a complete closure of civic space” where “an atmosphere of fear and violence prevails, where state and powerful non-state actors are routinely allowed to imprison, seriously injure and kill people with impunity.” Criticism of those in power is also severely punished. Likewise, media freedom is virtually non-existent and the internet is heavily censored.

The CIVICUS report begins by highlighting the cases of several Facebook users who were arrested or imprisoned under Articles 117 and 331 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code. Nguyen Van Lam and Tran Hoang Minh were both found guilty by Vietnamese courts of violating these statutes on July 20, 2021. Lam was sentenced to nine years in prison for “posting anti-state writings and sharing videos and other content, including broadcasts considered politically subversive,” and for “creating, storing, disseminating information and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Minh was given five years of jail time for “abusing democratic freedom” and for his objections to the Dong Tam land dispute incident

The report continues with the arrests of Facebookers Tran Hoang Huan and Bui Van Thuan, on August 10, 2021, and August 30, 2021, respectively. Huan’s recent posts voiced his objections and concerns regarding Vietnam’s use of Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines. He was charged by the Tien Giang People’s Procuracy for “making, storing and spreading or propagandizing information or documents against the state under Article 117 of the Penal Code.”  Bui Van Thuan was arrested in his home by policemen who pretended to be medical workers. Bui Van Thuan’s wife, Trinh Nhung, stated with The 88 Project that Thuan had previously posted “biting commentaries against the government’s handling of COVID-19 and other political issues.”

The more recent cases of Nguyen Thuy Duong and Nguyen Duy Linh are also mentioned in the report. CIVICUS states that Amnesty International had reported on September 2, 2021, that Duong had been fined 5 million dong (US$220) for sharing a Facebook post that accused Vietnamese authorities of neglect during the COVID-19 lockdown. This post blamed the government for the rampant spread of hunger among city residents during this time. Nguyen Duy Linh was arrested on September 14 and charged by state authorities with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.

Updates regarding the case of detained human rights defender, journalist, and co-founder of The Vietnamese and the Luat Khoa online magazines, Pham Doan Trang, are also included in the CIVICUS report. On September 6, 2021, the government informed Doan Trang’s lawyer, Luan Le, that his client would be “formally indicted with ‘conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code.” Despite her case being brought to the attention of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), she still faces the very real possibility of being sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. 

Radio Free Asia’s coverage regarding the arrest of five journalists from the Facebook-based news outlet, Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) is also mentioned in the report. Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, Nguyen Phuong Trung Bao, and Le The Thang were charged with violating Article 331 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code for posting “anti-state and reactionary information” which delved into information that was “inappropriate, distorting, against the country’s interests, and slanderous of the people’s administration.” Thang is currently released on bail while the other four journalists are still in detention. Truong Chau Huu Danh, the founder of Bao Sach, also faces the additional charge of posting stories that “generated bad interactions between internet users in the cyber environment” which “propagandized, distorted, defamed and seriously slandered Party organizations and local Party committees.”

Tran Huu Duc and Le Thi Kim Phi were accused by the authorities of using Facebook to connect with members of the U.S.-based Provisional Government of Vietnam, an organization founded in 1991 by former soldiers and refugees who remained loyal to the South Vietnamese government after the war. Than Huu Duc was arrested in January 2021 and charged under Article 109 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for “gathering information on Nghe An residents … for a referendum on naming [Provisional Government of Vietnam] member, Dao Minh Quan, as president of Vietnam.” Duc was also accused of “posting political content online” that opposed government policies and “slandering leaders of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.” In September 2021, Le Thi Kim Phi was arrested and charged under the vague clause of “carrying out activities to overthrow the government.” 

In January 2018, the Provisional Government of Vietnam was labeled a “terrorist organization” by the Vietnamese authorities. 

Additional Restrictions on Internet Freedom 

Following the passage of the controversial Cybersecurity Law in 2018, the CIVICUS report further mentions a draft of a government decree which further restricts internet freedom by limiting live-streaming on popular social media sites. CIVICUS states that, “under the terms of the decree, any account that operates on a social media platform in Vietnam and has more than 10,000 followers must provide contact information to authorities” and that “only registered accounts will be allowed to live-stream.” The draft also imposes additional responsibilities on social media providers, requiring them to block or remove content within 24 hours if they receive a “justified complaint” from an individual or organization. 

When passed this decree, coupled with the already draconian Cybersecurity Law, will serve to further cement the Vietnamese Communist Party’s (VCP) rule over the country’s already restrictive cyberspace, putting social media users more at risk of the government’s retribution and reducing social media platforms to tools of government surveillance. 

Freedom on the Net 2021 provides an overall look at the state of internet freedom in Vietnam while the CIVICUS report presents recent, documented, and specific events that support Freedom House’s outlook on the country. Both illustrate a very grim and depressing reality about Vietnam: that despite international pressure, in the form of U.S Vice-President Harris’ visit, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the VCP is more concerned about maintaining power and control over its people than prioritizing their welfare and safety during these difficult times; the Party would rather control the narrative than work to give actual aid to much of its struggling populace. 

In the end, the actions of the Vietnamese government serve only as a reminder of its ineptitude during times of crisis and its callousness to the plight of everyday Vietnamese; in its relentless attack against internet freedom and freedom of speech, the more pressing and immediate threats to the welfare of the Vietnamese people remain half-heartedly addressed. 

Citations:

  1. Bose, N. (2021, August 25). U.S. VP Harris offers Vietnam support to counter Beijing in the South China Sea. Reuters. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-vp-harris-offers-vietnam-support-counter-beijing-south-china-sea-2021-08-25/
  2. Jaffe, A. (2021, August 26). Harris says she urged Vietnam to free political dissidents. – The Diplomat. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://thediplomat.com/2021/08/harris-says-she-urged-vietnam-to-free-political-dissidents/
  3. Nguyen, J. (2021, August 19). State media and social media during the COVID-19 pandemic: A tale of two cities in Vietnam. The Vietnamese. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/08/state-media-and-social-media-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-a-tale-of-two-cities-in-vietnam/
  4. Nguyen, J. (2021, September 12). Why did the Vietnamese Communist Party militarize its fight against COVID-19? The Vietnamese. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/09/why-did-the-vietnamese-communist-party-militarize-its-fight-against-covid-19/
  5. Shahbaz, A., & Funk, A. (n.d.). Freedom on the net 2021: The global drive to control Big Tech. Freedom House. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2021/global-drive-control-big-tech
  6. Reed, A. (2021, September 21). New research: Vietnam remains “not free” on internet freedom, Freedom House says. The Vietnamese. Retrieved Sept 30, 2021, from https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/09/new-research-vietnam-remains-not-free-on-internet-freedom-freedom-house-says/
  7. Huu Long, T. (2021, September 21). Vietnam: Freedom on the net 2021 country report. Freedom House. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://freedomhouse.org/country/vietnam/freedom-net/2021
  8. C. I. V. I. C. U. S. (2021, September 27). CRACKDOWN ON ONLINE CRITICS PERSISTS IN VIETNAM AS NEW DECREE CONTROLLING LIVESTREAMING PROPOSED. Civicus. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2021/09/27/crackdown-online-critics-persists-vietnam-new-decree-controlling-livestreaming-proposed/
  9. Civicus. (2020, April 7). ONLINE DEBATE ON DONG TAM INCIDENT FOLLOWED BY PANDEMIC SILENCED BY VIETNAM AUTHORITIES. Civicus. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/04/07/online-debate-dong-tam-incident-followed-pandemic-silenced-vietnam-authorities/
  10. The 88 Project (2021, September 6). Vietnam free expression newsletter no. 34/2021 – week of August 30-September 5. The 88 Project. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://the88project.org/newsletter-no-34-2021/
  11. Finney, R. (2021, September 3). Vietnamese facebook user fined for ‘fake news’ as criticism grows of government’s handling of pandemic. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/fine-09032021182640.html
  12. Whong, E. (2021, September 10). Vietnam indicts five journalists from Facebook-based outlet. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/baosach-09092021174755.html
  13. Finney, R. (2021, September 14). Vietnam court sentences member of ‘Provisional Government’ to three-year prison term. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/court-08182021185109.html
  14. Gerin, R. (2021, September 14). Third Vietnamese charged for Facebook connections with US-based Exile Group. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/le-thi-kim-phi-09102021183034.html

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Human Rights

Vietnam Says It Is Promoting And Defending Human Rights, But The Reality Proves Otherwise

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Photo credit (left to right): Luat Khoa Magazine/ Reuters. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

In Vietnam, the beginning of this October marks two significant events that challenge and reflect upon the country’s actual circumstance over its commitment to uphold human rights values: the one year anniversary of the arrest of journalist Pham Doan Trang and the mass exodus of migrant workers who have had to use all sorts of means to return to their hometowns due to the lack of help from the government.

Earlier, in March, Vietnam also announced its candidacy for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the agency’s 2023-2025 term. This announcement has astonished many local pro-democracy activists and critics, who have expressed their opposition to such a move.

According to the UNHRC’s membership requirements [1], member states running for the seats need to fulfill their “contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights,” and once they gain the council’s membership, the members must bear the responsibility to “uphold high human rights standards.” 

However, given the one-party Communist state’s poor human rights record and its consistently oppressive policies and actions in curtailing the people’s fundamental civil and political rights, Vietnam’s legitimacy to become a member of the UNHRC should remain out of the question [2].

On the one hand, Vietnam’s state-controlled media has been seen praising [3] the country’s efforts in securing a seat at the United Nations body, betting on its early successful containment of COVID-19 and the donations of masks and medical equipment to other countries. From the government’s reasoning, keeping people safe and protecting their daily livelihoods are crucial to the promotion of human rights. “The country has tackled the pandemic head-on, putting the people at the center of all its efforts,” state media quoted Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as saying at the UNHRC’s 46th Regular Session.

On the other hand, the apprehension of journalist Pham Doan Trang and the dire situation of Vietnamese migrant workers during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country provide us with a contrasting narrative. Those unparalleled stories vividly portray an authoritarian government that shows virtually no tolerance for dissenting opinions, in addition to highlighting its disregard for the most basic human rights, which are recognized in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the country’s own Constitution.

Pham Doan Trang and her freedom of speech

Pham Doan Trang was arrested by the Vietnamese authorities at around midnight on October 6, 2020, and she has been held incommunicado since her detainment. Her arrest came only hours after officials from Vietnam and the United States held a video conference for the two countries’ 24th annual Human Rights Dialogue. However, Doan Trang, her friends and colleagues, and also the readers of her books, had long been anticipating her arrest.

As a dedicated journalist and a prominent writer, Pham Doan Trang has devoted her career to documenting and writing about controversial social issues and human rights violations committed by the Vietnamese government. She also publishes books popularizing general knowledge about politics, laws, and human rights for the Vietnamese people.

Pham Doan Trang and her book “Politics for The Masses.” Photo: Luat Khoa Magazine.

In theory, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has consistently trumpeted [4] its respect for the people’s right to freedom of speech, right to access to information, and press freedom, which were promised to its citizens under the Constitution. But in reality, the VCP has systematically harassed and detained independent journalists and activists [5], restricted access [6] to critical online newspapers and blogs, including The Vietnamese Magazine and Luat Khoa Magazine, and tracked down and intimidated [7] anyone who disagrees with its political doctrine.

To the international community and admirers of her work, Doan Trang has only done what a journalist should be doing: report truthfully and inform the global audience about alleged human rights abuses by the VCP. What the Vietnamese government has been doing to silence opposition critics and dissidents like her only exposes the country’s serious violations of basic human rights and its lack of commitment to steadfastly protect those fundamental rights of its citizens.

The homebound journeys of Vietnamese migrant workers 

Also at the beginning of October, heartrending photos and video footage of thousands of migrant workers rushing to return to their hometowns were widely shared on Vietnamese social media. These migrant workers decided to flee big cities en masse due to financial difficulties that affected them as a result of COVID control measures and the lack of help from the government. “We are tired,” one migrant worker said [8].

On their way home, many of the laborers were seen breaking through the barricades at checkpoints set up by local authorities, with many beaten by security forces and some even seen begging the officers to let them through. According to the government, these methods were to prevent the wave of mass migrations that resulted from concerns about the transmission of the coronavirus. Despite facing many hurdles and uncertainty during their homebound journeys, those migrant workers hardly had any other choice.

Police and security forces guard a checkpoint in Ho Chi Minh City as people, who are mostly migrant workers, attempt to return to their hometowns. The photo was taken on September 30, 2021, by Reuters/ Stringer.

This abrupt and large-scale migration wave was a result of Vietnam’s months-long abusive lockdown mandates [9], which largely excluded human rights matters from its protocols, and the negligence of the government regarding the well-being, and more importantly, the dignity of workers.

As written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vietnamese people in general, and migrant laborers in particular, have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their own country; they also have the right to be treated with dignity and to seek their own security of life. Those allegedly unlawful actions by the Vietnamese government are clearly blatant violations of universal human rights, which are ironically the key conditions that the VCP must meet to gain its seat at the UNHRC.

Steward Rees, an advocacy associate with The 88 Project, a non-profit organization that promotes free speech in Vietnam, suggests [10] that if Vietnam is genuinely serious about contributing to the development of global human rights, unconditionally releasing Pham Doan Trang would be a good place to start.

References:

  1. Membership of the Human Rights Council. (2020). United Nations Human Rights Council. https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/pages/membership.aspx
  2. Jamal, U. (2021, March 17). Should Vietnam become a member of the UN Human Rights Council? ASEAN Today. https://www.aseantoday.com/2021/03/should-vietnam-become-a-member-of-the-un-human-rights-council/
  3. VNA. (2021, March 15). Vietnam stands for election to UNHRC in 2023–2025 tenure. VietnamPlus. https://en.vietnamplus.vn/vietnam-stands-for-election-to-unhrc-in-20232025-tenure/197570.vnp
  4. VNA. (2021b, July 8). Press freedom in Vietnam – Undeniable objective reality. VietnamPlus. https://en.vietnamplus.vn/press-freedom-in-vietnam-undeniable-objective-reality/204350.vnp
  5. Database of persecuted activists in Vietnam. (n.d.). The 88 Project. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://the88project.org/database/
  6. Freedom House. (2021, September). Freedom on The Net 2021 (Vietnam). https://freedomhouse.org/country/vietnam/freedom-net/2021
  7. Human Rights Watch. (2021). World Report 2021: Vietnam. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/vietnam
  8. Reuters. (2021, October 4). “We are tired”: Workers flee Vietnam’s largest city as long lockdown eases. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/the-great-reboot/we-are-tired-workers-flee-vietnams-largest-city-long-lockdown-eases-2021-10-04/
  9. Nguyen, J. (2021, July 21). How The Latest Outbreak Reveals The Darker Side Of Vietnam’s Anti-Coronavirus Strategy. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/07/how-the-latest-outbreak-reveals-the-darker-side-of-vietnams-anti-coronavirus-strategy/
  10. Rees, S. (2021, October 5). Vietnamese rights activist marks first year in jail. Asia Times. https://asiatimes.com/2021/10/vietnamese-rights-activist-marks-first-year-in-jail/

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