Vietnam in dock at Geneva

Vietnam has failed to honour the commitments it made on human rights at the United Nations and is becoming even more repressive, according to international monitors.

In a submission to the universal periodic review (UPR) at the UN human rights council, Vietnam was accused of tightening its penal code since the last review in 2014 and cracking down harder on independent bloggers and other government critics.

“The government of Vietnam has shown little interest in improving its human rights record. It continues to restrict basic freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and religion,” said Human Rights Watch.

“It owns and controls all media in the country, blocks or shuts down critical websites, and prosecutes those using social media to criticise the government and ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).”

Vietnam had accepted recommendations at its last UPR in 2014 to ensure that its penal code complied with its human rights obligations.

It undertook to amend provisions on national security that restricted freedom of expression.

However, the National Assembly passed a revised penal code in 2017 that extended the scope for prosecuting bloggers and other activists, adding clauses that criminalised actions perceived as preparing for a criminal offence.

Human Rights Watch said that lawyers could now also be held criminally responsible if they failed to report their clients to police for suspected violations of national security.

Further provisions meant that suspects could now be held in isolation for longer, in some cases for up to two years, without access to a lawyer.

Vietnam had also agreed in 2014 to ensure freedom of the press and the internet in line with its commitments as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“But the Vietnamese government continues to prohibit independent or privately-owned media outlets to operate. It exerts strict control over radio and TV stations and printed publications,” said HRW.

“Criminal penalties apply to those who disseminate materials deemed to oppose the government, threaten national security, or promote reactionary ideas.”

A new cyber security law due to come into effect next month gives the authorities even wider discretion to determine when expression should be termed illegal.

More than 130 people are currently believed to be serving prison sentences for criticising the government, with the number of arrests and convictions picking up pace over the last 12 months.