Activists detained and prosecuted in Vietnam

Association

On 20th November 2017, Vietnamese civil society organizations released a joint statement to strongly condemn the detention of three prominent activists (Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Quang A and Bui Thi Minh Hang) who were arrested right after a meeting with the EU delegation in preparation for the 1st December annual EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. They stated that:

"The government’s treatment of the activists, through the illegal detention and unlawful taking of their personal property, is a direct attack on independent civil society and its development in Vietnam...We demand the Vietnamese authorities to immediately cease their attacks on and harassment of civil society activists, open right away an investigation into the incident as mentioned above, and announce the findings to the public as soon as possible."

All three were subsequently released.

According to the  NOW! Campaign, launched by a coalition of 14 rights groups on 11 November there are 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, as of November 2017. They have been mainly imprisoned for peacefully exercising their freedom of association, assembly and expression. The campaign was launched as world leaders arrived in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum. The campaign database archives the cases of the 165 prisoners of conscience and provides information on how individuals and organisations can support the initiative to call for an immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners.

Peaceful Assembly

On 27th November, a 22-year-old citizen journalist (Nguyen Van Hoa) was sentenced to seven years in prison. Hoa has played an important role in triggering others to protest against the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant’s toxic spill in Vietnam. He has also been a critical voice against the government through his blog and social media platforms. Hoa is also known to be the first blogger to use a fly cam to report peaceful demonstrations against Formosa. He was charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code on allegedly “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State and the rights and legitimate interests of organizations and citizens”. Although authorities insist that the trial was open, no relatives and friends including the defendant’s lawyers were allowed access to the trial. A number of international and local rights organisations called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Expression

In 2017, more than 20 activists were arrested under the Vietnamese penal code as part of Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on dissidents, human rights defenders, social activists and online bloggers. In reaction to the recent sentencing to seven years in prison of Nguyen Van Hoa, the chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) issued a statement calling on the Vietnamese government to respect the right of freedom of expression of Vietnamese citizens and to reconsider the sentencing.

On 1st December, Human Rights Watch said in its statement that the Vietnamese government should immediately release and drop all charges against the prominent blogger known as “Mother Mushroom” (Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh) following the rejection of her appeal against a 10-year prison sentence on 30th November. The blogger, aged 38, has written on social and political issues and participated in numerous public protests to advocate for human rights and the environment. She was arrested and charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” in October 2016 and sentenced to ten years in prison in June 2017.

The government is also eager to gain stronger control over cyberspace. Reports indicate that, since 2013, it has operated a team of hundreds of “public opinion shapers” to monitor and direct online discussions on major social issues. A recently proposed law on cyber security requires all foreign internet-related service providers to open data centers in Vietnam in order to continue offering their services. The law may require the service providers or individuals to break encryption, further hindering protection of human rights defenders and journalists.