Overview of recent campaigning for human rights defenders in Vietnam

November 18, 2017

The NOW! campaign, founded by 14 human rights organizations, calls for the immediate release of 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. The campaign has established a comprehensive online database containing information about Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience. According to the database, Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience included bloggers, journalists, environmentalists, students, farmers, and workers who were arrested for their peaceful activism. Together, these men and women are serving 955 years and one month in prison, followed by 204 years under house arrest. Most of them were charged with violating article 79 of the criminal law, “plotting to overthrow the government”, and article 88, “conducting propaganda against the state”. But Civil Rights Defenders, one of the members of the NOW! campaign, said that the number of prisoners of conscience could be higher. [see also earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/14/assaults-on-human-rights-defenders-on-the-rise-in-vietnam/]

A letter signed by 17 civil society organizations urged leaders who attended the 2017 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Vietnam to raise the issue of human rights violations committed by state forces. The letter informed APEC leaders that Vietnam has detained at least 25 peaceful activists and bloggers since last year. “This crackdown is contrary to the goal of “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future” which is the stated theme of this year’s APEC gathering. Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards. We believe it is in the strong interest of APEC and of the international community to speak out against the widespread and systematic violations of human rights violations in Vietnam.”

Nine human rights groups launched the #StopTheCrackdownVN campaign decrying the crackdown of bloggers and activists in recent months and the harsh prison terms handed out to critics of the state. Don Le, a writer and member of Viet Tan political party, explained how the notorious articles 79 and 88 of the law are used by authorities to silence citizens: The law also allows authorities to filter, block or temporarily shutdown networks on the basis of any information that may be seen to “incite” mass gatherings that disturb national security and order. Given the Vietnamese government’s broad interpretation of national security, we might expect to see more attacks and shutdowns aimed at independent media and bloggers and arrests of peaceful community mobilisers.

But Vietnam is not easily impressed as the recent case of reprisals shows: Front Line Defenders reports that three human rights defenders were briefly arrested after meeting the EU Delegation in Hanoi. [On 16 November 2017, human rights defenders Pham Doan Trang, Bui Thi Minh Hang and Nguyen Quang were arrested by police after attending a meeting with the European Union Delegation in Hanoi to discuss human rights issues ahead of the EU – Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, scheduled for 1 December 2017. After being kept incommunicado without access to legal representation, the human rights defenders were released. They remain under surveillance.] From Line adds that: Authorities in Vietnam have a habit of tightening the grip over human rights defenders and civil society ahead of international meetings. During the APEC Summit in Danang between 6 and 10 November 2017, and afterwards, during the state visits of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, several human rights defenders and activists were kept under house arrest and heavy surveillance. Reports also state that human rights defenders were harassed by policemen in plainclothes to prevent them from meeting with international officials or organising demonstrations.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement in July 2017 expressing concern about the detention and persecution of citizen journalists: We urge the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release all those detained in connection with their exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, and to amend the overly broad ill-defined laws that are used – under the pretext of national security – to crack down on dissent.

4 Responses to “Overview of recent campaigning for human rights defenders in Vietnam”

  1. lenguyenhoangminh Says:


    Celebrated on 15 November 2017, Day of the Imprisoned Writer reminded us of a sad reality: the degrading situation of freedom of expression and opinion in many countries. Last September, in Lviv, the cultural capital of Ukraine, “Reclaiming Truth in times of Propaganda’’ was the Theme of the 83rd World Congress of PEN International. The writers attending the Congress were greeted on arrival at the Lviv airport by young Ukrainian volunteers holding ‘’Oleg Sentsov’’ signs. This Ukrainian artist and filmmaker, Oleg Sentsov, born in Simferopol, Crimea, was abducted shortly after the annexation of his hometown. He was allegedly given the Russian nationality by force. Transferred to Russia, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison after an unfair trial. Today, he is serving his sentence in a detention centre in Yakutsk, Siberia. In fact, one of the Empty Chairs is reserved for him at the centre of the Congress. Like Russia, the United States of America and China are also serious concerns for PEN International. Still in terms of freedom of expression and opinion, some ten resolutions adopted in Lviv also concern Ukraine, Venezuela, Mexico, Turkey, Eritrea, Spain, Kazakhstan, Poland, Hungary, Honduras, India, Socialist Republic of VietNam, Autonomous Regions of Tibet, Uygur, Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong and People Republic of China. Furthermore, PEN International Congress has said No to blasphemy and death penalty by adopting two resolutions.
    In the face of dictatorial and corrupt powers, armed crime groups or war fires, writers and journalists have only speeches and words. Several hundreds of women and men have been threatened, harassed, assaulted, tortured, imprisoned, deported, taken hostage, killed with impunity or forced into exile because of their writings, drawings or words. Hundreds of authors and media professionals are serving heavy prison sentences. Inhumane conditions of detention. The proof is: having almost completed his 12-year prison sentence and been released in August 2017 to withdraw a brain tumor, the writer Yang Tongyan died on 8 November, 2017. A tragedy, an unspeakable crime when jailers, those especially from Beijing and Hanoi, do not release their prisoners of opinion and conscience until the approach of their certain death. Already in July 2017, before the disappearance of Yang Tongyan, we failed in our collective campaigns to give a little hope of Malraux, a ray of freedom of Eluard and a moment of life of Hugo and Prévert to our brother and fellow writer Liu Xiaobo who died of liver cancer, a few weeks after his conditional release. Or let us not forget the murders of Gauri Lankesh, Daphne Caruana Galizia and Yameen Rashid, as well as the barbaric execution of Anabel Flores Salazar the previous year. Turkey is the biggest prison for writers and journalists. But the concentration camps are in China, Tibet, North Korea and Viet Nam. In the year 2017, more than 50 journalists and writers were killed, murdered or missing: 11 in Mexico, 9 in Syria, 8 in Iraq, 4 in the Philippines, 2 in China, India, Somalia and Yemen, and 1 in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Honduras, Maldives, Malta, Russia and South Sudan.
    On the Day of the Imprisoned Writers marked by Memories and Gratitude, the PEN Suisse Romand Centre wished to pay homage to women writers murdered or persecuted all over the world. Among many other cases mentioned in the non-exhaustive list published by the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, for example:
    * Anna Politkovskaya, Russian journalist and human rights defender, murdered on 7 October 2006 in Moscow. Well known for her denunciations of human rights violations in Russia and Chechnya.
    * Anabel Flores Salazar, Mexican journalist, mother of a 15-day-old baby and a 4-year-old boy, abducted on 8 February, 2016, whose body was found on 9 February on the Cuacnopalan-Oaxaca road in the state of Puebla, the head surrounded by a plastic bag.
    * Gauri Lankesh, Indian journalist, publisher and human rights defender, well known for her stance in favor of women and against the caste system and racism. She was murdered at her home in Bangalore on 5 September 2017.
    * Daphne Caruana Galizia, Maltese journalist and columnist, very popular because she had been on the front line for years against corruption and organized crime. She was murdered after her car was trapped on 16 October 2017 in Malta.
    * Liu Xia, poet and Chinese artist, the widow of Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize, forcibly isolated and placed under strict house arrest in a secret location since the tragic death of her husband in July 2017.
    * Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, pen-name Me Nâm (Mother Mushroom), Vietnamese blogger and human rights defender, mother of an 11-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for “propaganda against the socialist state”.
    * Tran Thi Nga, Vietnamese blogger and human rights defender, mother of 2 girls aged 6 and 4, sentenced to 9 years in prison in July 2017 for “propaganda against the socialist state”.
    * Dareen Tatour, Palestinian poet, arrested in October 2015 for her poem published on YouTube. In January 2017, placed under house arrest pending her trial in November. She faces 8 years in prison for her “incriminated” poems.
    * Pinar Selek, Turkish sociologist and writer. She was tortured before the exile in France. 4 times sentenced to life imprisonment, 4 times acquitted. After 20 years of waiting, in January 2017, the prosecutor of the Court of Cassation asked for a life sentence.
    * Asli Erdoğan, Turkish poet and novelist, arrested in August 2016 and conditionally released in December 2016. Threatened with life imprisonment for her chronicles in a newspaper today banned.
    * Fatima Naout, Egyptian writer and columnist, sentenced in January 2016 to 3 years in prison for “insulting Islam” on Facebook. She regretted that her remarks were misunderstood. She pleaded not guilty.
    * Razan Zaitouneh, Syrian writer, lawyer, human rights defender and co-founder of the Violations Documentation Centre. Abducted on 9 December 2013 with her two colleagues Samira Al-Khali and Nazem Al-Hamadi and her husband Wael Hamada. Since then, there has been no news of Razan Zaitouneh . The perpetrators of the abduction are still unknown.
    * Zehra Doğan, Kurdish poet, journalist and painter (Turkey), arrested on 24 March 2017 and sentenced to 2 years and 9 months in prison. Her crime: “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. Already placed in pre-trial detention in July 2016 before being released under judicial supervision in December 2016.
    In the face of intolerance, hate and death, may we remain united in heart and soul in our linguistic and cultural diversity. And by mutual agreement, let us express our outrage, show our solidarity with writers and media professionals against the shadow of threat, complicity and complacency. Let us raise our human voice, broken but limpid, to light a candle, however fragile it is, against the cold night of indifference, silence and oblivion.
    Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt *
    Vice President of the PEN Suisse Romand Centre. For the Writers in prison Committee.
    *member of the Independent Centre of Vietnamese Writers (in Exile).

  2. […] See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defende… […]

  3. […] [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defende…] […]

  4. […] The 88 Project, an organisation supporting freedom of expression in Vietnam, released the first video of an ongoing interview series with female activists in Vietnam. In the first interview with Pham Doan Trang, a dissident journalist and political activist, she discusses the challenges women face as bloggers and human rights activists: “In general, Vietnamese women are not respected. Not only in democracy activism but in all fields. In democracy activism, female activists are disadvantaged because they get attacked no less than male activists. They get beaten and assaulted. The work they do is no less than their male counterparts. But what they often get from other people is pity. I think it is not respect.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defende… […]

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