On September 22, 2016, the Higher People’s Court of Hanoi will hear the appeal of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy who ran a website critical of the Vietnamese government.
Police arrested Nguyen Huu Vinh, also known as Ba Sam, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy in May 2014 and charged them under article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interest of the state.” In March 2016, the People’s Court of Hanoi sentenced Nguyen Huu Vinh to five years in prison and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to three years. Nguyen Huu Vinh’s wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, said that his family has not been allowed to see him for more than 11 months, despite multiple requests.
“Vietnamese authorities have decided it is a crime to provide independent information to the Vietnamese public,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The appeals court now has an important opportunity to uphold the right to free speech in Vietnam.”
A court in Vietnam sentenced land rights activist Can Thi Theu (right) to 20 months in jail on Tuesday for causing public disorder, her lawyer said, jailing her for a second time over a similar offense in a case a top human rights group said should have been dropped, Reuters reports.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and the Hudson Institute held a conference on “Religious Freedom in Vietnam: Its Importance for Regional and Global Security” on 12 September 2016 at the Institute’s Stern Policy Center in Washington D.C. (above). Keynote speakers included former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Elliott Abrams, Commissioner Kristina Arriaga of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and Võ Văn Ái, President of the VCHR.
VCHR President Võ Văn Ái noted that Western democracies and Vietnam were moving in completely opposite directions concerning religious freedom. Whereas the U.S. passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and the EU has adopted Guidelines on Freedom of Religion of Belief (2013) and appointed Mr. Ján Figel as Special Envoy on FoRB outside the EU this year, Vietnam is seeking to use the law “to prevent, rather than protect this right”. …
Elliott Abrams [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] stressed the fundamental importance of religious freedom: “A regime that does not permit freedom of thought and belief and worship is one that sees the inhabitants of the country not as citizens, but as suppliers of labor—to use the old term, as a proletariat. It sees them as cogs in the machinery, as automatons whose job is to work, to rally when assembled, and to shout praise of the regime when required. Thought—free thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion—would get in the way of all that. In communist systems, individuals have no rights; only the Party has rights”…..
Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Commissioner of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, stressed that pressure for improvements could only be efficient if the U.S. government made it clear that relations were conditional on progress in religious freedom. ”We are at a unique moment of inflexion, because we are changing our administration. We must put pressure on the new administration, and they in turn must put pressure on Vietnam. They must tell Vietnam that if it wants to be fully integrated into the world community, it must treat religious freedom as a right, not as a gift by the state. Rights do not belong to governments, so governments can neither give them nor take them away”……
Tina Mufford, Senior policy analyst and Vietnam specialist at USCIRF agreed that, unless there was a “sea change” in its religious policies, USCIRF would continue to designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) as it had done for the past 16 years. Ms. Mufford said that the main problem with the upcoming law on belief and religion was the government’s “whole attitude and its need to have a tight control over religions. There is no reason for that, no excuse for that, but that is what the new law, in its current form, represents”. USCIRF, she said, “would like to see Vietnam leave unregistered groups alone” and give legal recognition “to those who just don’t want to be associated with the government. They aren’t working against [the government], they just want to be independent.”…..
Võ Trần Nhật, VCHR Executive Secretary, described government repression against the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). The UBCV is victim of “stealth repression”, he said, which consists of daily harassments, isolation, surveillance, house arrest and intimidation, with Buddhists being threatened with losing their jobs or seeing their children expelled from school if they attend UBCV pagodas. ….