(VNRN) – A coalition of 15 independent Vietnamese civil society organizations (CSOs) has made the following report to express their concern about the government’s reprisals against activists engaged in UN human rights mechanism.
The coalition includes groups that have been advocating for human rights in Vietnam in recent years, such as the Vietnam Path Movement, No-U Football Club, Vietnamese Redemptorists’ News Service, and Dan Lam Bao (Citizen Journalism).
The full text of the report follows.
On 05 February 2014, Vietnam went through its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process that occurs every 4.5 years in Geneva, Switzerland. The UPR process serves as a platform to review the human rights situation of UN Member States and to ensure that each State complies with their human rights obligations. Although this was the second time for the Vietnamese government at this event, it was the first time independent civil society representatives were present. Yet, instead of promoting and protecting human rights, the Vietnamese government harassed delegates of independent civil society organizations prior to and following the UPR, in violation of their freedom of movement and personal integrity.
II. Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders for engaging with the UPR
Civil society groups play an essential role in all stages of the UPR process. However, in an apparent attempt to stifle independent reporting on Vietnam’s human rights record, the Vietnamese authorities’ have sought to undermine civil societies’ engagement in the process through a combination of harassment, intimation, judicial persecution and unwarranted restrictions on the freedom of movement.
On 15 January 2014, blogger Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, also known as Paulo Thanh Nguyen, had his passport confiscated at the Tan Son Nhat airport and was banned from traveling to the United States and Geneva, Switzerland for “security reasons”. Mr. Nguyen is a member of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, which had joined a UPR Delegation campaigning for human rights for Vietnam. His intended purpose of travel was to bring awareness to the human rights violations in Vietnam and to raise a voice for independent CSOs in Vietnam before the UPR. To date, Mr. Nguyen’s passport has not been returned despite repeated appeals.
On 01 February 2014, journalist Pham Chi Dung, a member of the Vietnamese Friendship Association of Former Political and Religious Prisoners, was prevented from flying to Geneva. Dr. Pham had been invited to attend a UPR side event organized by UN Watch, he was to come as a representative for one of the independent NGOs in Vietnam. Although the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs and the UN raised their voices to protest Dr. Pham’s case to Vietnamese authorities, he was still prohibited from flying to Geneva.
On 9 February 2014, human rights lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, founding member of the Association of Political and Religious Prisoners, an organization which formed part of the UPR Delegation, along with his fiancé, were arrested and detained in Dong Thap province. Mr. Nguyen’s property was destroyed and his laptop, cell phone, and camera were confiscated. Upon his release, he traveled to the capital, Hanoi, where he was severely assaulted when he tried to inform international embassies about their harassment and detention.
On top of prohibiting activists from traveling abroad before the UPR, Vietnamese authorities also harassed delegates upon their return from Geneva. Ms. Nguyen Thi Tram, mother of human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan, was subjected to an invasive strip-search upon her arrival on 17 February 2014 at Tan Son Nhat airport. She had attended Vietnam’s examination at the HRC and also travelled prior to the UPR to the U.S. to bring awareness to her son’s situation, along with other human rights issues.
Another member of this UPR Delegation, Mr. Dang Van Ngoan, has faced unrelenting harassment since his return from Geneva. Mr. Dang is a member of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, an independent religious group, and had spoken out regarding the lack of religious freedom in Vietnam. Since returning to Vietnam, the authorities have repeatedly requested him to report to them for ‘immigration related matters’.
Blogger Bui Tuan Lam, aka Peter Lam Bui, a member of the civil society UPR Delegation which attended the UPR session on 05 February 2014, was detained and questioned for 8 hours at Tan Son Nhat airport upon his return from Geneva. Mr. Bui’s passport was also confiscated. Mr. Bui represented “No-U Vietnam”, a group opposing China’s unilateral imposition of a nine-dotted line claiming for itself almost all of the South China Sea – which Vietnamese citizens call the East Sea. The group’s name comes from the fact that China’s line looks like the letter U. Moreover, on 16 April 2014, Mr. Bui was ambushed and physically attacked by 8 policemen on a deserted road near Ky Trung Bridge in Tam Ky city, Quang Nam province. He sustained internal injuries as a result of this incident.
To address the issue of the Vietnamese authority’s restriction of the freedom of movement and the possibility that many more activists may be banned from travelling, on 20 March 2014, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers organized a public roundtable discussion. This meeting, called the “Human Rights Coffee”, was held in Hanoi and focused on discussing “Citizens being banned from exiting for national security reasons, seen from an international perspective”. Participants were activists who were banned from traveling abroad, together with four diplomats—David Skowronski, Second Secretary of the Embassy of Australia, Felix Schwarz, Political Counselor and Consul, German Embassy, Elenore Kanter, Counsellor Head of Political and Trade Section, Embassy of Sweden, and Alex Jully, Attaché at European Union Delegation. Mr. Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, who is mentioned above, was one of two activists who led this meeting. During the meeting, he stated “national security has been used as a wide-ranging pretext by the Vietnamese government to ban people from leaving the country”.
One of the organizers of the “Human Rights Coffee”, Trinh Anh Tuan (aka Gio Lang Thang), was beaten up by three plain-clothes policemen right after the event. According to Tuan, these policemen had participated in the seminar and followed him when he was going back home. They kicked his motorcycle down and repeatedly beat him, breaking down his mobile phone. Everything happened in a few minutes before they left.
On 19 April 2014, Mr. Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, along with Ms. Trinh Kim Tien and Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, aka Mother Mushroom, were arbitrarily arrested at a coffee shop by Nha Trang city police while attempting to participate in another workshop, this one concentrating on the UN Convention against Torture, a treaty which Vietnam recently signed. Ironically, they were detained for 12 hours, interrogated and assaulted by the authorities before being released.
Since becoming a member of the HRC, the Vietnamese government has failed to take the necessary steps to improve its human rights record. Instead, the environment for human rights defenders has significantly deteriorated following Vietnam’s examination under the UPR, including targeted persecution of peaceful activists for engaging with UNHRC mechanisms.
List of members of the coalition (signed):
- Civil Society Forum
- Network of Vietnamese Bloggers
- Vietnam Path Movement
- No-U FC, No-U Sài Gòn
- Vietnamese Redemptorist News
- Dan Lam Bao
- Association of Former Political and Religious Prisoners
- Brotherhood for Democracy
- Hoa Hao Buddhist Church
- Association of Workers & Farmers Solidarity
- Aggrieved Citizens Struggle Alliance Movement
- Association of Religious Freedom Protection
- Vietnam Interfaith Council
- United Buddhist Church of Vietnam Sangha