A wave of violent attacks on government critics is leading Vietnam into a state of lawlessness and chaos, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
The New York based group said a pattern of often brutal assaults on bloggers and activists was clearly intended to silence critics.
In a 65 page report, “No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam,” HRW investigated 36 incidents in which plainclothes thugs attacked rights campaigners and independent bloggers.
It said the assaults often resulted in serious injuries and that uniformed police did nothing to intervene, even when the assaults happened in front of their eyes.
“These brave activists and bloggers suffer persecution on a daily basis, yet they do not give up their cause,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director for HRW.
“International donors and trade partners with Vietnam should support their struggle by urging the Vietnamese government to stop the beatings and to hold these violent assailants accountable.”
The report says that activists already risk prison for speaking out – now they have to put their physical safety in jeopardy on a daily basis merely for exercising their rights.
It says that many of the assaults occurred in broad daylight in full public view on the streets of Vietnam.
One of the cases highlighted is that of La Viet Dung, an environmental activist, who suffered a fractured skull after being hit with a brick in July 2016.
The report underlines the acquiescence and sometimes open collusion of the police in such attacks.
“In June 2016, an unknown man punched democracy campaigner Nguyen Van Thanh in the face in a cafe in Da Nang. When police arrived, instead of investigating the assault they detained Nguyen Van Thanh for several hours and questioned him about his political writings.”
Beaten then arrested
In a number of cases, activists were abducted off the street by plainclothes men and bundled into vans. They were then beaten, stripped and dumped in remote areas.
“The fact that thugs abducted activists in broad daylight, forced them into vans, and beat them demonstrates the impunity with which activists are persecuted,” said Adams.
One of Vietnam’s best known human rights lawyers and campaigners, Nguyen Van Dai, was badly beaten after being intercepted by a number of unidentified men on motorcycles in December 2015.
A week later he was arrested by uniformed police on a charge of spreading propaganda against the state and is still in jail awaiting trial, denied all access to lawyers and family members.
Activists have long believed that the plainclothes men who carry out the attacks are either working directly for the police or are local toughs happy to do the bidding of the authorities.