Vietnam Criminalizes Peaceful Dissent Once Again

Vietnam must end the ongoing repression of peaceful dissent, repeal its repressive laws and immediately release all political prisoners, rights groups said Thursday. The call followed the imprisonment of three government critics in three days.

Amnesty InternationalFIDH and the Vietnamese Committee for Human Rights (VCHR) condemn Vietnam’s continuing failure to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, contrary to its obligations as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to VCHR, Vietnam holds about 130 political prisoners – the largest number among Southeast Asian countries.

“Vietnam’s relentless persecution of government critics using repressive laws and kangaroo courts shows that compliance with the country’s international human rights obligations ranks at the bottom of Hanoi’s priorities,” said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

On Thursday, the People’s Supreme Court in Hanoi upheld a lower court’s conviction of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy for “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Criminal Code and sentenced them to five and three years in prison respectively. The trial was held behind closed doors. In addition, Vinh’s wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, has not been allowed to visit him in prison for the past five months.

Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy were arrested on May 5th 2014 and accused of “publishing online articles with bad contents and misleading information to lower the prestige and create public distrust of government offices, social organizations, and citizens.” On March 23rd 2016, a People’s Court in Hanoi sentenced the two to five and three years in prison respectively.

Vietnamese authorities have repeatedly used legislation inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under international law to suppress the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to detain government critics.

“Vietnam’s protracted refusal to repeal its repressive laws and release all political prisoners shows it has absolutely no intention of respecting fundamental human rights. Hanoi’s repression must be met by stronger international condemnation, not friendly overtures,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

Vietnam has criminalized peaceful protest yet again by convicting Can Thi Theu, a well-known land rights activist, by a court in Hanoi on September 20th. She was sentenced to 20 months in prison on charges of “disturbing public order” under Article 245 of the 1999 Penal Code.

Dozens of people who went to Dong Da district People’s Court to support Can Thi Theu were also arrested outside, including her son Trinh Ba Phuong, and taken to a police station in Ha Dong district; others who went to the police station to call for their release were also arrested. They were all released several hours later, with reports that some had been beaten.

Can Thi Theu was arrested at home on June 10th 2016 on accusations of posting photos on her Facebook page inciting protests against reclamation of land in Duong Noi, Ha Dong district of Hanoi, and also “inciting” a boycott of the May 2016 elections for the National Assembly. She is a veteran campaigner for the rights of farmers whose land has been confiscated by the authorities with unfair compensation. Her own family farm was confiscated in 2007. Following her arrest, Can Thi Theu went on hunger strike for 13 days in protest.

This is now the second time in two years that Can Thi Theu faces imprisonment. She was previously arrested in April 2014 and imprisoned for 15 months for “activities against public officials” under Article 257 of the 1999 Penal Code, for allegedly leading protests in Duong Noi.

Amnesty International called on Vietnam to quash the ruling and to cease their continuing intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and activists. The authorities should immediately end the misuse of the legal and criminal justice system to prevent the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the country.

Amnesty International has documented at least 82 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, either convicted after unfair trials and serving long sentences, or held in pre-trial detention solely for exercising their human rights. They include bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities and advocates for human rights and social justice.

Prisoners of conscience in Vietnam are at risk of enforced disappearances; prolonged periods of incommunicado detention and solitary confinement; the infliction of severe physical pain and suffering; the withholding of medical treatment and punitive prison transfers.

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