NOVEMBER 1, 2021- The 88 Project and the Global Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School (GHRC) submitted a comprehensive report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regarding Vietnam’s ongoing suppression of freedom of expression. This document, which is the culmination of 12 interviews with activists and their families, as well as data collected by The 88 Project for the last four years, was presented to the UNHRC as part of its Universal Periodic Review of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The report states that Vietnam’s Constitution, the 1999 and 2015 Criminal Codes, and the 2018 Cybersecurity Law, are being used by the Vietnamese government to stifle freedom of expression in the country. Project 88 research claims that even though the Vietnamese Constitution “guarantees the protection of human rights for all citizens,” Articles 14, 15, and 44 of the Constitution provide the Vietnamese government with the power to suspend citizens’ rights when “imperative circumstances” deem it necessary, put national interest above the exercise of an individual’s rights, and classify treason a “most serious crime.”
Likewise, the 1999 and 2015 Criminal Codes criminalize vaguely-defined behavior such as “disturbing public order, abusing democratic interests, establishing or joining an organization that opposes the government, sowing division between the State and the people or amongst the people, and disrupting security.” Under these statutes, many activists have also been imprisoned on “extraneous charges,” such as tax evasion, and for “creating, spreading, or storing materials” that the Vietnamese government classifies as propaganda.
Lastly, the report states that the 2018 Cybersecurity Law has been used to force social media companies and online search engines “to remove content that is inconsistent with State interests, to store user data in Vietnam, and to set up offices within the country.”
Articles 109, 116, 117, 118, 318, and 331 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code are also mentioned in the 88 Project report for being “overbroad” which “[lends] themselves to arbitrary application.” Hence, these statutes are claimed to be unlawful under the UN Human Rights Committee’s permissible restriction test and “stand contrary to Vietnam’s international treaty commitments.”
Aside from freedom of expression, the submission of The 88 Project and the GHRC states that Vietnam has also faltered in its commitment to upholding the right to a fair trial, the right to life, security of a person, and freedom from torture as guaranteed by Articles 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The report also highlights the cases of the 111 arrested activists and the 226 “incidents” found in The 88 Project’s database, that illustrate the Vietnamese government’s infringements on these rights; their actions include: arrest and detention, surveillance, harassment of activists and their families, physical assault in public or in private, forcing landlords to evict tenants, subjecting activists to travel restrictions, and engaging in extrajudicial kidnappings. Activists, who are arrested, are also imprisoned without due process and denied legal representation.
The report goes on to cite 12 interviews with activists and their families who have dealt with the ire of the Vietnamese government. For instance, in the case of Trinh Huu Long, co-founder of The Vietnamese and the Luật Khoa online magazines, he was fired by his boss and kicked out by his landlord for his participation in anti-China protests regarding the South China Sea. Psychological trauma, physical injuries, and paranoia are just some of the lasting effects on activists, as illustrated in the report.
In light of the data presented, the authors of the report call on the Vietnamese government to take the following actions:
“a. [Effectuate] the unconditional release of all political prisoners, as their detentions directly contravene Vietnam’s international commitments,
b. [Revise] provisions of the 2015 Criminal Code—specifically, Articles 109, 116, 117, 118, 318 and 331—to ensure that they comply with international law…
c. [Repeal] the Law on Cybersecurity, which grants the government extraordinary power to restrict speech in online fora,
d. [Support] the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and [demand] that technology and social media companies abide by these guidelines in ensuring the respect of the right to freedom of expression….
e. [Ensure] that citizens have access to websites which promote human rights and free expression…
f. [Disband] any and all cyber-armies that flag social media posts and suppress speech through mass reporting,
g. [Renounce] harassment and other extrajudicial and unlawful investigatory tactics, including the use of ‘invitations,’ surveillance tactics, kidnappings, torture, physical violence and forced evictions carried out by law enforcement….
h. [Bring] the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons into compliance with international law…
i. [Guarantee that] defendants accused of national security violations [have] the right to counsel, which would attach from the moment of arrest, and the right to access any and all evidence that will be used against them at trial…”
The full document of the joint report can be found here.