Proposed legislation threatens existence of independent CSOs in Vietnam

Association 

Proposed legislation seeks to worsen an already overbearing legal framework governing freedom of association in Vietnam. The Vietnamese authorities' submission of the Law on Association to the National Assembly in October is the culmination of over a decade of discussion about revising the legal framework for associations. The draft has been widely criticised by domestic and international civic actors because it gives authorities the power to interfere in the operation of CSOs. The draft law also includes a clause that prohibits Vietnamese CSOs from receiving funding from abroad without explicit permission from authorities, in contravention of international best practice standards on freedom of association. Many within civil society worry that the proposed legislation will allow Vietnamese authorities to forcibly close or over-regulate CSOs working in sectors such as human rights monitoring. 

Civic groups have already mounted a fightback. The People’s Participation Working Group (PPWG) have coordinated an online petition against the adoption of the bill by claiming its provisions are unconstitutional. A joint statement signed by 22 independent CSOs in Vietnam stated: 

Since the right to associate freely is guaranteed by the Constitution, any individual may start or join an association, and anyone who wants to establish an association needs only to register and declare the intention rather than applying for permits and having to wait for such permits.

As of 26th October, the law was still under debate in the National Assembly.

On 7th October, using anti-terrorism legislation Vietnamese officials banned pro-democracy CSO Viet Tan. While the organisation is actually based in the United States of America and run by exiled diaspora members, the group has continued to work with activists in Vietnam. The government's decision allows the security forces to prosecute and jail anyone in Vietnam found to be collaborating with the banned CSO. Viet Tan is well-known as an external critic of the Vietnamese authorities and the ruling party; their banning under spurious allegations of terrorism has lead many to believe the charges are a politically-motivated attempt to silence the group and their affiliates in Vietnam.

Peaceful Assembly 

Environment concerns have prompted large protests in Vietnam lately. Earlier this year, a chemicals spill by the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation onto a 200 km stretch coastline had a devastating affect on marine life. The local economy, which is largely dependent on fishing, has been brutally hit as a result. Despite admitting guilt and agreeing to pay compensation, local residents remain unsatisfied with the company's refusal to negotiate directly with the communities affected. On 2nd October, more than 10,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Taiwanese-owned steel company, demanding that it leave the country. It was reported that there were no injuries or arrests during the protest. 

Expression

Vietnam has gained a reputation as a country that frequently imprisons and harasses bloggers. On 10th October, prominent female online blogger Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who blogs under the name Mother Mushroom, was arrested by the police for conducting propaganda. Quynh has been well known for blogging extensively on the Formosa Steel Company chemical spill and for conducting investigative journalism exposing government corruption. The state has accused her of criticising the government and compromising national security. Her status has been unknown since her arrest.