As APEC Summit looms, Vietnam escalates crackdown on rights campaigners



From L-R: Truong Minh Duc, Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, and Nguyen Bac Truyen.

Vietnam should drop all charges and immediately release student blogger Phan Kim Khanh, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s donors and regional leaders should make it clear that they will demand that all political prisoners be released before the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit taking place in Da Nang the week of November 6-11, the group added:

Phan Kim Khanh (right) is set to face trial on October 25, 2017, at the People’s Court of Thai Nguyen province. He was arrested in March 2017 for posts critical of the government on the internet and charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” under article 88 of the penal code, one of the country’s many national security provisions that has been regularly used to arbitrarily punish critics and stifle dissent. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years of imprisonment.

“The bogus crime of conducting propaganda against the state is designed to silence peaceful critics of the Vietnamese authorities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Vietnam ought to get rid of these laws and stop persecuting students and ordinary people for just talking about the country’s problems on the internet.”

Vietnamese and international human rights groups [including grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy] this month called on Vietnam’s government to end what they called an “unprecedented crackdown” on peaceful political expression that has seen at least 25 activists and bloggers jailed or exiled so far this year, RFA adds.

The government of Vietnam, a one-party communist state, “has resorted to unsubstantiated national security charges (especially Articles 79 and 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code) to justify repression of free expression, free information and peaceful advocacy,” the statement said. “Vietnamese authorities continually resort to tactics of prosecution, arbitrary detention, abuse, and harassment to silence dissenting voices.”

Despite sweeping economic reforms and growing openness to social change, the Communist Party tolerates little criticism. The crackdown on dissent follows changes in the ruling party hierarchy early last year which gave greater influence to the security establishment, Reuters adds.

Labor rights activist Truong Minh Duc, vice-president of the unregistered Free Viet Labour Federation (right)– which advocates for workers’ rights in the absence of independent unions – was one of many victims of Vietnam’s harsh summer, The Guardian notes. The crackdown has dampened expectations that the space for civil society actions was slowly opening up.

Despite recent repression in Vietnam, the transformation wrought by the internet in a short period had been “astonishing and hopeful,” said Jonathan London, a Vietnam specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands. It is “remarkable that in a country that as recently as 15 or 20 years ago had one of the lowest rates of telephone usage in the world has thrust rapidly into an era of 24-hour news and continuous social and political criticism accessible to everyone,” he told The NY Times.

Vietnam should “immediately and unconditionally” free a blogger sentenced to prison for “disseminating anti-state propaganda” and end the persecution of other activists targeted under the vaguely-worded criminal act, a rights group said on the one-year anniversary of her jailing:

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh [left] also known by her blogger handle Me Nam, or Mother Mushroom—was arrested on Oct. 10, 2016 while on her way to visit a fellow rights campaigner in prison and sentenced to 10 years in jail on June 29 under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code….. Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) called 38-year-old Quynh’s sentence “politically motivated” and “nothing more than persecution against her courageous defense of human rights,” demanding that Vietnam’s government drop her conviction.

Catholics in a central Vietnamese province have expressed support for a female activist who was arrested for “attempting to overthrow the government.” Teresa Tran Thi Xuan, a member of Cua Soc Parish, was arrested while traveling to work in her home province of Ha Tinh on Oct. 17, according to reports:

The Ha Tinh Provincial Public Security Department accused Xuan of “acting to overthrow the people’s government under Article 79 of the Penal Code.” The department said Xuan is a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a domestic civil society group which the government sees as reactionary group acting to overthrow the communist state.

Earlier this year, United Nations officials and Vietnamese civil society groups denounced the severity of a jail term handed down to a prominent human rights activist and blogger earlier this week, RFA adds:

Tran Thi Nga, 40, was sentenced by a court in northern Vietnam’s Ha Nam province to nine years’ imprisonment and five years’ house arrest for “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, a provision frequently used to silence dissident bloggers and other activists.

Civil conflict and a post-independence heavily centralized state put a hold on individuality for much of the second half of the 20th century” in Vietnam, analysts suggest:

Not until the doi moi, or renovation, reform policy launched in 1986 did the state begin to open its doors to private ownership, foreign ideas and international trade. Even now, over 30 years later, creative expression is not remotely free. It is also reasonably ambiguous, since there are few clear-cut guidelines as to how censorship laws apply.

Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh lived in the Central Highland of Vietnam, where he ministered to ethnic minority communities.  He has been a longtime pro-democracy activist and critic of the Vietnamese government’s ban on independent religious practice, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission notes:

In exercising his religious freedom, Pastor Chinh was sentenced to 11 years in prison under false charges of “undermining national solidarity”.  In prison, he was physically and verbally abused by the authorities and was denied medical treatment.  His wife, Mrs. Tran Thi Hong and their five children were constantly harassed, monitored, and sometime violently attacked by plain-clothed public security forces.  Pastor Chinh is the founder of the Vietnamese People’s Evangelical Fellowship and Mrs. Hong is a member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights.  In 2014, Pastor Chinh’s profile was added to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project and was adopted “Prisoner of Conscience” by his Congressional advocate, Representative Alan Lowenthal (CA-47).  Through collective efforts by Members of Congress and the U.S. State Department, on July 28th, 2017, the Vietnamese government released Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh on the condition that he immediately leave the country in exile.  Pastor Chinh, Mrs. Hong and their five children now reside in the United States.

Congressional Caucus on Vietnam

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

Cordially invite you to a Congressional Briefing with:

Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh

Evangelical Lutheran Pastor, former Prisoner of Conscience in Vietnam

Mrs. Tran Thi Hong

Vietnamese Women for Human Rights

Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

2200 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Briefing to focus on: 

The experience of Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and his wife, Mrs. Tran Thi Hong;

The current state of Religious Freedom in Vietnam and the ongoing persecutions, crackdowns, and intimidations against independent religious institutions, leaders, and practitioners;

The need to re-designate Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern”.

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