The Vietnam government systematically suppresses freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and persecutes those who question government policies, expose official corruption, or call for democratic alternatives to one-party rule. Police harass and intimidate activists and their family members. Authorities arbitrarily arrest activists, hold them incommunicado for long periods without access to legal counsel or family visits, subject them to torture, and prosecute them in politically pliant courts that mete out long prison sentences for violating vaguely worded national security laws.
In 2012, police used excessive force in response to public protests over evictions, confiscation of land, and police brutality.
Land confiscation continues to be a flashpoint issue, with local farmers and villagers facing unjust confiscation of their lands by government officials and private sector projects. Those who resist face abuses from local authorities.
Following a series of arrests of well-connected tycoons and managers of state-owned companies, the Party Central Committee held its sixth plenum in October. During the session, factions led by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and by Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong and President Truong Tan Sang vied for control of the state’s political and economic machinery in a still ongoing power struggle. However, neither faction has voiced or otherwise demonstrated a commitment to protect human rights.
Vietnam has stated that it will seek a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for the 2014-2016 term.
Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Information
On the surface, private expression, public journalism, and even political speech in Vietnam show signs of enhanced freedom. This trend was especially evident in a surge of criticism of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during the course of the 6th Plenum of the Party Central Committee in October, and a high-profile call for his resignation issued from the floor of the National Assembly in November. However, there continues to be a subcurrent of state-sponsored repression and persecution of individuals whose speech crosses boundaries and addresses sensitive issues such as criticizing the state’s foreign policies in regards to China or questioning the monopoly power of the communist party.
The government does not allow independent or privately owned media outlets to operate, and exerts strict control over radio and TV stations, and publications. Criminal penalties apply to those who disseminate materials deemed to oppose the government, threaten national security, reveal state secrets, or promote “reactionary” ideas. The government blocks access to politically sensitive websites and requires internet cafe owners to monitor and store information about users’ online activities.
In April, the government revealed a draft Decree on Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Information on the Network. As drafted, the decree will outlaw posting internet content that opposes the Vietnam government, national security, public order, customs and traditions, national unity, offends the reputation of an individual or group, or transgresses a number of other ill-defined areas of concern. The decree would also require domestic and foreign companies to filter whatever content the government finds objectionable. The National Assembly had not yet begun considering the draft at this writing.
In September, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered the Ministry of Public Security to target blogs and websites not approved by the authorities, and to punish those who create them.
On August 5, authorities forcibly dispersed peaceful marchers in Hanoi protesting Chinese foreign policies on sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratly islands. Authorities temporarily detained more than 20 protesters for disrupting public order. Yet on the same day, authorities did not interfere with over 100 people on bicycles participating in Vietnam’s first public demonstration for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Repression of Rights Activists
During 2012, the Vietnam government used vaguely defined articles in the penal code that criminalize exercise of civil and political rights to send at least 33 activists to prison and arrest at least another 34 political and religious advocates. At least 12 other rights campaigners detained in 2011 were still being held, awaiting trial at this writing.