Vietnam’s human rights abuses receive congressional attention July 31 2013 by Baptist Press


Vietnam’s human rights abuses receive congressional attention

July 31 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Human rights abuses in Vietnam are receiving attention from the U.S. House of Representatives, with a particular focus on the religious oppression of ethnic minority Christians and other groups.

H.R. 1897, the “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013,” was added to the House schedule July 26, a day after a brief state visit to Washington by Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.

President Barack Obama said at a press conference following the visit that the United States and Vietnam had agreed on policies related to defense, technology and climate research. He also said he and the Vietnamese president had “discussed the challenges that all of us face when it comes to issues of human rights.”

“We emphasized how the United States continues to believe that all of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly; and we had a very candid conversation about both the progress Vietnam has made and the challenges that remain,” Obama said July 25.

In a statement released following the press conference, the White House noted “narrow differences” between the two countries on the issue of human rights, but a statement in Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of Vietnam’s Communist Party, claimed the differences were “many and significant.”

07-31-13vietnam.jpg BP file photo
Enduring icons of a romanticized Vietnam, women work rice paddies near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Less than 2 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s 91 million people are evangelical Christians. A recent House bill highlights the limited freedom place on religious organizations and individuals.

“As for democracy and human rights, there are still many and significant differences in approach between the countries,” the statement from the communist newspaper read. “Yet it is important that the two sides stand ready to talk clearly and honestly to enhance mutual understanding, bridge the differences and continue to maintain an annual dialogue on human rights.”

Human rights abuses in Vietnam have been a consistent topic of discussion between the two countries since the normalization of relations in 1995 under President Bill Clinton.

Religious freedom in particular became a focus of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) after forced recantations, imprisonments for preaching, the destruction and confiscation of churches and even the execution of ethnic minority Christians came to light in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

Vietnam continues to deny such allegations, but USCIRF said in a statement prior to the Vietnamese president’s visit that religious freedom has to be addressed for relations between the countries to improve.

According to USCIRF’s current annual report, the government of Vietnam has, despite pledges to the contrary, continued to “expand control over all religious activities, severely restrict independent religious practice, and repress individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority.”

The statement also said the Vietnamese government “uses a specialized religious police force and vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities, and seeks to stop the growth of ethnic minority Protestantism and Catholicism via discrimination, violence and forced renunciations of their faith.

“The government also continues to harass, threaten, intimidate, detain, and sentence lawyers and disbar human rights defenders who have assisted religious communities or religious freedom advocates in cases against the state.”

Vietnam’s constitution contains a statement guaranteeing religious freedom for its citizens, but that freedom extends only so far as it supports the shared goals of the state. A 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief also warns that actions which “undermine the country’s peace, independence and unity” must be stopped because they “negatively affect the cultural traditions of the nation.”

Vietnam once was designated a country of particular concern by the U.S. State Department for this reason and for the abuses experienced by church goers and other religious minorities in the country. The repression of Christians and other religious minorities also was a primary reason for H.R. 1897, which notes that positive steps toward religious freedom were halted in 2006 as soon as the State Department’s CPC designation was lifted.

The House bill notes that the government of Vietnam “continues to limit the freedom of religion, restrict the operations of independent religious organizations, and persecute believers whose religious activities the Government regards as a potential threat to its monopoly on power.”

In particular, “unregistered ethnic minority Protestant congregations, particularly Montagnards in the Central and Northwest Highlands, suffer severe abuses because of actions by the Government of Vietnam, which have included forced renunciations of faith, arrest and harassment, the withholding of social programs provided for the general population, confiscation and destruction of property, subjection to severe beatings, and reported deaths.”

If adopted by the House of Representatives, and later the Senate, H.R. 1897 will prohibit any increase in non-humanitarian aid to Vietnam if significant steps are not taken to end religious abuses and return confiscated property to churches and religious communities. The bill also will urge the State Department to return Vietnam to the CPC list.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – To view the USCIRF report on human rights abuses in Vietnam, visit here.) 

7/31/2013 12:41:50 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Filed under: human rights, religious oppression, Vietnam

Vietnam’s human rights abuses receive congressional attention July 31 2013 by Baptist Press


Vietnam’s human rights abuses receive congressional attention

July 31 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Human rights abuses in Vietnam are receiving attention from the U.S. House of Representatives, with a particular focus on the religious oppression of ethnic minority Christians and other groups.

H.R. 1897, the “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013,” was added to the House schedule July 26, a day after a brief state visit to Washington by Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.

President Barack Obama said at a press conference following the visit that the United States and Vietnam had agreed on policies related to defense, technology and climate research. He also said he and the Vietnamese president had “discussed the challenges that all of us face when it comes to issues of human rights.”

“We emphasized how the United States continues to believe that all of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly; and we had a very candid conversation about both the progress Vietnam has made and the challenges that remain,” Obama said July 25.

In a statement released following the press conference, the White House noted “narrow differences” between the two countries on the issue of human rights, but a statement in Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of Vietnam’s Communist Party, claimed the differences were “many and significant.”

07-31-13vietnam.jpg BP file photo
Enduring icons of a romanticized Vietnam, women work rice paddies near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Less than 2 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s 91 million people are evangelical Christians. A recent House bill highlights the limited freedom place on religious organizations and individuals.

“As for democracy and human rights, there are still many and significant differences in approach between the countries,” the statement from the communist newspaper read. “Yet it is important that the two sides stand ready to talk clearly and honestly to enhance mutual understanding, bridge the differences and continue to maintain an annual dialogue on human rights.”

Human rights abuses in Vietnam have been a consistent topic of discussion between the two countries since the normalization of relations in 1995 under President Bill Clinton.

Religious freedom in particular became a focus of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) after forced recantations, imprisonments for preaching, the destruction and confiscation of churches and even the execution of ethnic minority Christians came to light in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

Vietnam continues to deny such allegations, but USCIRF said in a statement prior to the Vietnamese president’s visit that religious freedom has to be addressed for relations between the countries to improve.

According to USCIRF’s current annual report, the government of Vietnam has, despite pledges to the contrary, continued to “expand control over all religious activities, severely restrict independent religious practice, and repress individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority.”

The statement also said the Vietnamese government “uses a specialized religious police force and vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities, and seeks to stop the growth of ethnic minority Protestantism and Catholicism via discrimination, violence and forced renunciations of their faith.

“The government also continues to harass, threaten, intimidate, detain, and sentence lawyers and disbar human rights defenders who have assisted religious communities or religious freedom advocates in cases against the state.”

Vietnam’s constitution contains a statement guaranteeing religious freedom for its citizens, but that freedom extends only so far as it supports the shared goals of the state. A 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief also warns that actions which “undermine the country’s peace, independence and unity” must be stopped because they “negatively affect the cultural traditions of the nation.”

Vietnam once was designated a country of particular concern by the U.S. State Department for this reason and for the abuses experienced by church goers and other religious minorities in the country. The repression of Christians and other religious minorities also was a primary reason for H.R. 1897, which notes that positive steps toward religious freedom were halted in 2006 as soon as the State Department’s CPC designation was lifted.

The House bill notes that the government of Vietnam “continues to limit the freedom of religion, restrict the operations of independent religious organizations, and persecute believers whose religious activities the Government regards as a potential threat to its monopoly on power.”

In particular, “unregistered ethnic minority Protestant congregations, particularly Montagnards in the Central and Northwest Highlands, suffer severe abuses because of actions by the Government of Vietnam, which have included forced renunciations of faith, arrest and harassment, the withholding of social programs provided for the general population, confiscation and destruction of property, subjection to severe beatings, and reported deaths.”

If adopted by the House of Representatives, and later the Senate, H.R. 1897 will prohibit any increase in non-humanitarian aid to Vietnam if significant steps are not taken to end religious abuses and return confiscated property to churches and religious communities. The bill also will urge the State Department to return Vietnam to the CPC list.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – To view the USCIRF report on human rights abuses in Vietnam, visit here.) 

7/31/2013 12:41:50 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Filed under: human rights, religious oppression, Vietnam

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by USTR


Vietnam

Vietnam Flag

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
The United States and Vietnam held numerous discussions throughout 2011 under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, including convening at the Ministerial level in May 2011. The TIFA provided a forum to help monitor and implement Vietnam’s WTO commitments, address bilateral trade issues, and promote increased trade and investment. In June 2008, the two countries launched negotiations for a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). Three rounds of BIT negotiations were held in 2009 and 2010. Information Communication Technology Commercial Dialogues were held in 2009 and 2010.
Vietnam and the United States are partners in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. In this negotiation, the United States is seeking to develop a high-standard, 21st-century regional trade agreement that will support the creation and retention of jobs in the United States and promote economic growth. In addition to the United States and Vietnam, the TPP negotiating partners include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Singapore. Starting with a group of like-minded countries, the goal is to expand the agreement to include countries across the Asia Pacific, which together represent more than half of global output and over 40 percent of world trade.
U.S.-Vietnam Trade Facts
Vietnam is currently our 29th largest goods trading partner with $24.9 billion in total (two ways) goods trade during 2012. Goods exports totaled $4.6 billion; goods imports totaled $20.3 billion. The U.S. good trade deficit with Vietnam was $15.6 billion in 2012.
Exports
Vietnam was the United States’ 46th largest goods export market in 2012.
U.S. goods exports to Vietnam in 2012 were $4.6 billion, up 7.3% ($314 million) from 2011.
The top export categories (2-digit HS) for 2012 were: Electrical Machinery ($765 million), Machinery ($482 million), Oil seeds and misc. grains (mainly soybeans and flour) ($355 million), Cotton/Yarn/Fabric ($249 million), and Meat (beef and poultry) ($225 million).
U.S. exports of agricultural products to Vietnam totaled $1.7 billion in 2012, making it the 16th largest U.S. Ag export market. Leading categories include: cotton ($249 million), red meats fresh/chilled/frozen ($163 million), horticultural products (mainly edible tree nuts) ($284 million), and feeds and fodders ($152 million).
Imports
Vietnam was the United States’ 23rd largest supplier of goods imports in 2012.
U.S. goods imports from Vietnam totaled $20.3 billion in 2012, a 15.9% increase ($2.8 billion) from 2011.
The top imports categories (2-digit HS) for 2012 were: Knit Apparel ($4.1 billion), Woven Apparel ($2.9 billion), Footwear ($2.4 billion), Furniture and Bedding ($2.3 billion), and Electrical Machinery ($1.4 billion).
U.S. imports of agricultural products from Vietnam totaled $2.5 billion in 2012. Leading categories include: coffee (mainly unroasted) ($621 million), shrimp and prawns ($448 million), fish ($434 million) and tree nuts ($400 million).
Trade Balance
The U.S. goods trade deficit with Vietnam was $15.6 billion in 2012, an 18.7% increase ($2.5 billion) over 2011.
Investment
U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Vietnam (stock) was $747 million in 2011, up 19.9% from 2010. U.S. FDI distribution in Vietnam was not available
Vietnam FDI in the United States (stock) was $20 million in 2011, down 66.1% from 2010. Vietnam’s FDI distribution in the United States was not available. 

NOTE: No services trade data with Vietnam is available.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by USTR


Vietnam

Vietnam Flag

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
The United States and Vietnam held numerous discussions throughout 2011 under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, including convening at the Ministerial level in May 2011. The TIFA provided a forum to help monitor and implement Vietnam’s WTO commitments, address bilateral trade issues, and promote increased trade and investment. In June 2008, the two countries launched negotiations for a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). Three rounds of BIT negotiations were held in 2009 and 2010. Information Communication Technology Commercial Dialogues were held in 2009 and 2010.
Vietnam and the United States are partners in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. In this negotiation, the United States is seeking to develop a high-standard, 21st-century regional trade agreement that will support the creation and retention of jobs in the United States and promote economic growth. In addition to the United States and Vietnam, the TPP negotiating partners include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Singapore. Starting with a group of like-minded countries, the goal is to expand the agreement to include countries across the Asia Pacific, which together represent more than half of global output and over 40 percent of world trade.
U.S.-Vietnam Trade Facts
Vietnam is currently our 29th largest goods trading partner with $24.9 billion in total (two ways) goods trade during 2012. Goods exports totaled $4.6 billion; goods imports totaled $20.3 billion. The U.S. good trade deficit with Vietnam was $15.6 billion in 2012.
Exports
Vietnam was the United States’ 46th largest goods export market in 2012.
U.S. goods exports to Vietnam in 2012 were $4.6 billion, up 7.3% ($314 million) from 2011.
The top export categories (2-digit HS) for 2012 were: Electrical Machinery ($765 million), Machinery ($482 million), Oil seeds and misc. grains (mainly soybeans and flour) ($355 million), Cotton/Yarn/Fabric ($249 million), and Meat (beef and poultry) ($225 million).
U.S. exports of agricultural products to Vietnam totaled $1.7 billion in 2012, making it the 16th largest U.S. Ag export market. Leading categories include: cotton ($249 million), red meats fresh/chilled/frozen ($163 million), horticultural products (mainly edible tree nuts) ($284 million), and feeds and fodders ($152 million).
Imports
Vietnam was the United States’ 23rd largest supplier of goods imports in 2012.
U.S. goods imports from Vietnam totaled $20.3 billion in 2012, a 15.9% increase ($2.8 billion) from 2011.
The top imports categories (2-digit HS) for 2012 were: Knit Apparel ($4.1 billion), Woven Apparel ($2.9 billion), Footwear ($2.4 billion), Furniture and Bedding ($2.3 billion), and Electrical Machinery ($1.4 billion).
U.S. imports of agricultural products from Vietnam totaled $2.5 billion in 2012. Leading categories include: coffee (mainly unroasted) ($621 million), shrimp and prawns ($448 million), fish ($434 million) and tree nuts ($400 million).
Trade Balance
The U.S. goods trade deficit with Vietnam was $15.6 billion in 2012, an 18.7% increase ($2.5 billion) over 2011.
Investment
U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Vietnam (stock) was $747 million in 2011, up 19.9% from 2010. U.S. FDI distribution in Vietnam was not available
Vietnam FDI in the United States (stock) was $20 million in 2011, down 66.1% from 2010. Vietnam’s FDI distribution in the United States was not available. 

NOTE: No services trade data with Vietnam is available.

Joint Statement of Human Rights Organizations Regarding the Upcoming Meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang July 25, 2013


July 25, 2013
The upcoming visit to the United States by President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam presents an opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to reiterate his Administration’s position that Vietnam’s “backsliding” on human rights is a stumbling block to expanded trade and security collaboration between the two countries. Likewise, this is an opportunity for the Vietnamese leadership to demonstrate their commitment to internationally recognized human rights.

We, the undersigned organizations, would like to see expanded U.S.-Vietnam partnership in the context of greater respect for human rights. We strongly believe that President Obama should insist on the full release of all Vietnamese political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. At the same time we call on the Vietnamese government to agree to the following steps as milestones:

(1) Immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, independent journalist Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), and blogger Ta Phong Tan.

Dr. Vu, a constitutional scholar who fought for environmental justice and the rights of indigenous peoples, is serving a seven-year sentence for “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”. He suffers congenital heart problems, acute migraine, unstable blood pressure, high cholesterol, and persistent skin rashes. Dr. Vu needs medical treatment and round-the-clock care. Last month he held a 25-day hunger strike to protest the abject prison conditions.

Last year the U.S. State Department highlighted Dieu Cay’s courage, making his case the first in a series of profiles of bloggers and journalists honored on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. Speaking on that occasion, President Obama specifically called on the international community to not forget Dieu Cay. He is serving a 12-year sentence for “disseminating anti-state information and materials.” He is on hunger strike to protest the abject prison conditions.

On International Women’s Day of this year the U.S. First Lady and Secretary of State John Kerry jointly honored blogger Ta Phong Tan as a woman of courage. She started a blog called Truth and Justice to expose corruption in the Vietnamese legal system. She was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to ten years in prison.

The release of these three prominent prisoners of conscience would be viewed as a positive development and a significant effort toward improving human rights practices in Vietnam. We are confident that this will set a positive tone for President Sang’s upcoming meeting with President Obama.

(2) Release of all known Vietnamese political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience prior to the upcoming ASEAN Summit in Brunei, where U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly will hold a side meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

International human rights organizations have documented at least 150 political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. The Vietnamese government should release all such prisoners unconditionally before the upcoming ASEAN Summit.

Reports of several hundred other such prisoners, particularly among ethnic and religious minorities in highland areas, have been difficult to confirm because the government severely restricts access to these areas.

As the confirmation process may take time, the government of Vietnam should agree to a timeline for verification, which is to start immediately. Verified political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience should then be gradually released from prison in groups and no later than the end of this year.

(3) Prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, and international human rights organizations to inspect the conditions in Vietnamese prisons and detention centers.

We urge the Vietnamese government to end the arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention of people who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religious belief.

The government should ensure that all detained suspects and prisoners are treated in accordance with international human rights standards. Detainees should have prompt access to a lawyer of their choice, be promptly brought before a court, and not be subject to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

We also urge the government to fully apply international standards on the treatment of prisoners and conditions of detention, in particular by enacting into legislation and adhering to the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Regular and unhindered prison visits by credible parties such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and international human rights organizations will help verify such adherence.

Signed by:
Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
Burma Partnership
Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam
Con Dau Parishioners Association
Council for Human Rights in Vietnam
Environmental Defense Law Center
Hmong National Development
Human Rights Watch
ICT Watch Philippines
INDIGENOUS
International Office of Champa
The Lantos Foundation
Vietnamese Committee on Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Joint Statement of Human Rights Organizations Regarding the Upcoming Meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang July 25, 2013


July 25, 2013
The upcoming visit to the United States by President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam presents an opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to reiterate his Administration’s position that Vietnam’s “backsliding” on human rights is a stumbling block to expanded trade and security collaboration between the two countries. Likewise, this is an opportunity for the Vietnamese leadership to demonstrate their commitment to internationally recognized human rights.We, the undersigned organizations, would like to see expanded U.S.-Vietnam partnership in the context of greater respect for human rights. We strongly believe that President Obama should insist on the full release of all Vietnamese political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. At the same time we call on the Vietnamese government to agree to the following steps as milestones:

(1) Immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, independent journalist Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), and blogger Ta Phong Tan.

Dr. Vu, a constitutional scholar who fought for environmental justice and the rights of indigenous peoples, is serving a seven-year sentence for “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”. He suffers congenital heart problems, acute migraine, unstable blood pressure, high cholesterol, and persistent skin rashes. Dr. Vu needs medical treatment and round-the-clock care. Last month he held a 25-day hunger strike to protest the abject prison conditions.

Last year the U.S. State Department highlighted Dieu Cay’s courage, making his case the first in a series of profiles of bloggers and journalists honored on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. Speaking on that occasion, President Obama specifically called on the international community to not forget Dieu Cay. He is serving a 12-year sentence for “disseminating anti-state information and materials.” He is on hunger strike to protest the abject prison conditions.

On International Women’s Day of this year the U.S. First Lady and Secretary of State John Kerry jointly honored blogger Ta Phong Tan as a woman of courage. She started a blog called Truth and Justice to expose corruption in the Vietnamese legal system. She was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to ten years in prison.

The release of these three prominent prisoners of conscience would be viewed as a positive development and a significant effort toward improving human rights practices in Vietnam. We are confident that this will set a positive tone for President Sang’s upcoming meeting with President Obama.

(2) Release of all known Vietnamese political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience prior to the upcoming ASEAN Summit in Brunei, where U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly will hold a side meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

International human rights organizations have documented at least 150 political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. The Vietnamese government should release all such prisoners unconditionally before the upcoming ASEAN Summit.

Reports of several hundred other such prisoners, particularly among ethnic and religious minorities in highland areas, have been difficult to confirm because the government severely restricts access to these areas.

As the confirmation process may take time, the government of Vietnam should agree to a timeline for verification, which is to start immediately. Verified political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience should then be gradually released from prison in groups and no later than the end of this year.

(3) Prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, and international human rights organizations to inspect the conditions in Vietnamese prisons and detention centers.

We urge the Vietnamese government to end the arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention of people who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religious belief.

The government should ensure that all detained suspects and prisoners are treated in accordance with international human rights standards. Detainees should have prompt access to a lawyer of their choice, be promptly brought before a court, and not be subject to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

We also urge the government to fully apply international standards on the treatment of prisoners and conditions of detention, in particular by enacting into legislation and adhering to the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Regular and unhindered prison visits by credible parties such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and international human rights organizations will help verify such adherence.

Signed by:
Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
Burma Partnership
Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam
Con Dau Parishioners Association
Council for Human Rights in Vietnam
Environmental Defense Law Center
Hmong National Development
Human Rights Watch
ICT Watch Philippines
INDIGENOUS
International Office of Champa
The Lantos Foundation
Vietnamese Committee on Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Cồn Dầu – US House Resolution 1572 Condemning CON DAU Persecutions in Vietnam


Cồn Dầu – US House Resolution 1572 Condemning CON DAU Persecutions in Vietnam

U.S. House Resolution 1572 Condemning Con Dau Persecutions in Vietnam
August 6, 2010
111th CONGRESS
2d Session
H. RES. 1572
Condemning and deploring the violence, threats, fines, and harassment faced by the villagers of Con Dau, Da Nang, for seeking to protect their land, the historic cemetery, and other parish properties, and to receive an equitable resolution of their property dispute, and for other purposes.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
July 29, 2010
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey (for himself, Mr. CAO, and Mr. WOLF) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs


RESOLUTION
Condemning and deploring the violence, threats, fines, and harassment faced by the villagers of Con Dau, Da Nang, for seeking to protect their land, the historic cemetery, and other parish properties, and to receive an equitable resolution of their property dispute, and for other purposes.
Whereas in May 2007, the People’s Committee of Da Nang, Vietnam, announced a plan to lease the land in the Hoa Xuan district area, including the entire village of Con Dau, to international developers to build a resort and tourist area;
Whereas the People’s Committee of Da Nang announced that all residents in the affected area would be required to move and that they would be compensated for the land;
Whereas, on August 15, 2010, the Con Dau parish will be celebrating 85 years since its establishment and 135 years since the first religious refugees settled on the land;
Whereas the village of Con Dau is coterminous with a Catholic parish of the same name and consists of approximately 400 Catholic households;
Whereas the village of Con Dau vigorously resisted the People’s Committee of Da Nang’s proposal as village land including a Catholic cemetery with approximately 700 tombs, a chapel within the cemetery, a parish church, and most of the farm land in the parish belongs to the Catholic parish;
Whereas several generations of Catholics are buried in the village cemetery which is over 100 years old and considered a national historic heritage site, and the chapel in the cemetery serves as the place of worship for hundreds of parishioners living near the cemetery;
Whereas the People’s Committee of Da Nang ordered the relocation of the parish cemetery to a mountainous area, far from any inhabitable place and ordered the people of Con Dau to be relocated to another area, far removed from the newly designated relocation of the cemetery;
Whereas the people of Con Dau requested that the government not relocate either the parishioners or the cemetery, but rather grant permission for the parishioners to move closer to their church while allowing the rice fields to be included in the new resort;
Whereas the Da Nang authorities refused the petition of the parishioners and on January 25, 2010, Da Nang government officials led an aggressive week long campaign in Con Dau, with armed police officers and government officials going from house to house to exert pressure on the parishioners to sign an agreement to sell their land and move;
Whereas, on January 26, 2010, 400 Con Dau heads of household signed an appeal letter to the Vietnamese central government in Hanoi, complaining about the Da Nang officials’ use of threats and intimidation to force parishioners to sign the agreement, requesting to be relocated around their church in order to continue to live in the vicinity of the Catholic cemetery and practice their religion, and filing a complaint regarding the unjust compensation the People’s Committee of Da Nang initially offered in exchange for village land;
Whereas, on March 4, 2010, the People’s Committee of Da Nang led a second campaign in Con Dau to force parishioners to sign the agreement;
Whereas in April, the People’s Committee of Da Nang issued an order and posted a sign in the Con Dau cemetery forbidding future burials and posted police officers to block entrance to the cemetery;
Whereas the police attacked parishioner Le Van Sinh with tear gas when he attempted to remove the sign which had been placed on his father’s grave;
Whereas, on May 1, 2010, Mrs. Maria Dang Thi Tan, an elderly parishioner, died in Con Dau after requesting that she be buried with her husband and ancestors in the parish cemetery;
Whereas, on May 3, 2010, police placed barbed wire at the entrance of the cemetery, and assaulted and dispersed parishioners, including women, children, and the elderly, as they gathered at the chapel in the cemetery to say prayers;
Whereas, on May 4, 2010, during the funeral procession of Mrs. Dang which attracted approximately 1,000 parishioners, local police and a mobile `anti-riot’ police force which had been posted in anticipation of the funeral, attacked the funeral procession and attempted to seize the casket when it approached the cemetery entrance;
Whereas the police ordered the mourners to leave, but several hundred remained;
Whereas after several hours, the police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the mourners near the casket and began to beat everyone with batons and electric rods, injuring more than 100 people;
Whereas the police then proceeded to search homes, desecrating religious symbols in those homes, to look for suspected organizers of the funeral procession;
Whereas the police arrested 62 persons who were brought to the county police station in Cam Le;
Whereas reports indicate that the police beat each detainee for his or her involvement in the funeral, beating some until they were unconscious;
Whereas a pregnant woman, Le Thi Van, reportedly suffered a miscarriage as a result of the beatings she received;
Whereas after being forced to sign the agreement to sell their land and relocate, admit to false allegations that they had assaulted the police, ordered not to seek medical care for their injuries or speak to the foreign news media, and threatened with additional beatings if they did not remain silent, most of the detainees were released after several days in detention;
Whereas five of the detainees, Nguyen Huu Liem, Phan Thi Nhan, Nguyen Thi The, Le Thanh Lam, and Tran Thanh Viet, remain incarcerated, having been beaten severely, and are awaiting trial based on accusations of `opposing law enforcement’ and `disturbing public order’;
Whereas Nguyen Thi Lieu, remains in detention in another facility and is reported to have been severely tortured;
Whereas, on May 27, 2010, Nguyen Huu Minh, Vice Chairman of the Con Dau Parish Committee, was also arrested for his lead role in meetings between the parishioners and the People’s Committee of Da Nang;
Whereas none of the above detainees have been allowed visits even by their closest family members;
Whereas Doan Cang was also among those beaten and detained but was temporarily released to care for his family while awaiting trial;
Whereas, on July 1, 2010, the police apprehended Nguyen Nam, a member of the funeral support group who had been among those beaten at the time of the funeral procession, handcuffed him, and severely beat him;
Whereas, on July 3, 2010, Nguyen Nam died due to injuries to the head, face, chest, and hands sustained during the beatings;
Whereas many United States citizens have family members who are residents of Con Dau, including victims of police beatings, torture, and detention;
Whereas these violations of human rights of the residents of Con Dau are sources of continuing, grave concern to Congress;
Whereas according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2010 Annual Report, `property disputes between the government and the Catholic Church continue to lead to harassment, property destruction, and violence, sometimes by `contract thugs’ hired by the government to break up peaceful prayer vigils’ and other religious ceremonies;
Whereas property issues involving local Catholics in Dong Chiem, Thai Ha, Tam Toa, and Bau Sen have reportedly led to harassment, discrimination, detention, property destruction, and beatings;
Whereas according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2010 Annual Report, Vietnam’s `overall human rights record remains poor, and has deteriorated since Vietnam joined the WTO in January 2007′, with dozens of arrests and continued harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, democracy activists, and religious freedom advocates;
Whereas according to the United States Department of State 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the Government of Vietnam `increased its suppression of dissent’, and `tightened controls over the press and freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and association.’;
Whereas according to the United States Department of State 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Vietnamese police `commonly mistreated suspects during arrest or detention’ and `corruption remained a significant problem, and members of the police sometimes acted with impunity.’;
Whereas according to the United States Department of State 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, in August 2009, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung `issued a decree that offers compensation, housing, and job training for individuals displaced by development projects. Nevertheless, there were widespread reports of official corruption and a general lack of transparency in the government’s process of confiscating land and moving citizens to make way for infrastructure projects.’; and
Whereas according to the Human Rights Watch 2010 Annual Report, the Government of Vietnam `tightened its controls on internet use, blogging, and independent research, and banned dissemination and publication of content critical of the government. Religious freedom continued to deteriorate, with the government targeting religious leaders–and their followers–who advocated for civil rights, religious freedom, and equitable resolution of land disputes’: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That–
(1) the House of Representatives–
(A) condemns and deplores the violence, threats, fines, and harassment faced by the villagers of Con Dau, Da Nang, for seeking to protect their land, the historic cemetery, and other parish properties, and to receive an equitable resolution of their property dispute;
(B) condemns and deplores the arrests of parishioners and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Nguyen Huu Liem, Phan Thi Nhan, Nguyen Thi The, Doan Cang, Le Thanh Lam, Tran Thanh Viet, Nguyen Thi Lieu, and Nguyen Huu Minh;
(C) strongly urges the Government of Vietnam to hold accountable police and security agents who reportedly beat and mistreated Con Dau residents at the funeral procession and later while the residents were in detention, including a public investigation of those whose actions led to the death of Nguyen Nam; and
(D) strongly urges the Government of Vietnam to consider the implications of its actions in Con Dau, as well as of other serious human rights violations, issues of police impunity, and corruption for the broader relationship between the United States and Vietnam; and
(2) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that–
(A) the President should call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Vietnam to investigate ongoing and serious human rights violations in that country, including those violations targeting the villagers of Con Dau;
(B) the Secretary of State should call on the Government of Vietnam to uphold commitments made during the United Nations Periodic Review of May 2009 to engage with various United Nations special procedures, including inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief to inquire, investigate, and report on the situation throughout Vietnam and specifically in Con Dau, including the discrimination, police impunity, mistreatment in detention, desecration of religious and historical properties, and the beating death of Nguyen Nam;
(C) the United States Embassy in Vietnam should visit those detained, including, Nguyen Huu Liem, Phan Thi Nhan, Nguyen Thi The, Doan Cang, Le Thanh Lam, Tran Thanh Viet, Nguyen Thi Lieu, and Nguyen Huu Minh, as well as the family of Nguyen Nam, and other parishioners, and report its findings to Congress;
(D) the United States Embassy should continue to raise with the Government of Vietnam the issues faced by the village of Con Dau including police impunity, beatings, fines, and the deaths of individuals engaged in a peaceful religious ceremony;
(E) the United States Department of State should examine instances of property disputes in Vietnam which involve religious communities, including the case of Con Dau, report its findings to Congress, and continue to raise disputed religious properties at United States-Vietnam meetings and forums, including the bilateral United States-Vietnam human rights dialogue; and
(F) the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom should visit the Con Dau parishioners and report to Congress on the violence and harassment faced by the Catholic villagers.

Cồn Dầu – US House Resolution 1572 Condemning CON DAU Persecutions in Vietnam


Cồn Dầu – US House Resolution 1572 Condemning CON DAU Persecutions in Vietnam

U.S. House Resolution 1572 Condemning Con Dau Persecutions in Vietnam
August 6, 2010
111th CONGRESS
2d Session
H. RES. 1572
Condemning and deploring the violence, threats, fines, and harassment faced by the villagers of Con Dau, Da Nang, for seeking to protect their land, the historic cemetery, and other parish properties, and to receive an equitable resolution of their property dispute, and for other purposes.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
July 29, 2010
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey (for himself, Mr. CAO, and Mr. WOLF) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

RESOLUTION
Condemning and deploring the violence, threats, fines, and harassment faced by the villagers of Con Dau, Da Nang, for seeking to protect their land, the historic cemetery, and other parish properties, and to receive an equitable resolution of their property dispute, and for other purposes.
Whereas in May 2007, the People’s Committee of Da Nang, Vietnam, announced a plan to lease the land in the Hoa Xuan district area, including the entire village of Con Dau, to international developers to build a resort and tourist area;
Whereas the People’s Committee of Da Nang announced that all residents in the affected area would be required to move and that they would be compensated for the land;
Whereas, on August 15, 2010, the Con Dau parish will be celebrating 85 years since its establishment and 135 years since the first religious refugees settled on the land;
Whereas the village of Con Dau is coterminous with a Catholic parish of the same name and consists of approximately 400 Catholic households;
Whereas the village of Con Dau vigorously resisted the People’s Committee of Da Nang’s proposal as village land including a Catholic cemetery with approximately 700 tombs, a chapel within the cemetery, a parish church, and most of the farm land in the parish belongs to the Catholic parish;
Whereas several generations of Catholics are buried in the village cemetery which is over 100 years old and considered a national historic heritage site, and the chapel in the cemetery serves as the place of worship for hundreds of parishioners living near the cemetery;
Whereas the People’s Committee of Da Nang ordered the relocation of the parish cemetery to a mountainous area, far from any inhabitable place and ordered the people of Con Dau to be relocated to another area, far removed from the newly designated relocation of the cemetery;
Whereas the people of Con Dau requested that the government not relocate either the parishioners or the cemetery, but rather grant permission for the parishioners to move closer to their church while allowing the rice fields to be included in the new resort;
Whereas the Da Nang authorities refused the petition of the parishioners and on January 25, 2010, Da Nang government officials led an aggressive week long campaign in Con Dau, with armed police officers and government officials going from house to house to exert pressure on the parishioners to sign an agreement to sell their land and move;
Whereas, on January 26, 2010, 400 Con Dau heads of household signed an appeal letter to the Vietnamese central government in Hanoi, complaining about the Da Nang officials’ use of threats and intimidation to force parishioners to sign the agreement, requesting to be relocated around their church in order to continue to live in the vicinity of the Catholic cemetery and practice their religion, and filing a complaint regarding the unjust compensation the People’s Committee of Da Nang initially offered in exchange for village land;
Whereas, on March 4, 2010, the People’s Committee of Da Nang led a second campaign in Con Dau to force parishioners to sign the agreement;
Whereas in April, the People’s Committee of Da Nang issued an order and posted a sign in the Con Dau cemetery forbidding future burials and posted police officers to block entrance to the cemetery;
Whereas the police attacked parishioner Le Van Sinh with tear gas when he attempted to remove the sign which had been placed on his father’s grave;
Whereas, on May 1, 2010, Mrs. Maria Dang Thi Tan, an elderly parishioner, died in Con Dau after requesting that she be buried with her husband and ancestors in the parish cemetery;
Whereas, on May 3, 2010, police placed barbed wire at the entrance of the cemetery, and assaulted and dispersed parishioners, including women, children, and the elderly, as they gathered at the chapel in the cemetery to say prayers;
Whereas, on May 4, 2010, during the funeral procession of Mrs. Dang which attracted approximately 1,000 parishioners, local police and a mobile `anti-riot’ police force which had been posted in anticipation of the funeral, attacked the funeral procession and attempted to seize the casket when it approached the cemetery entrance;
Whereas the police ordered the mourners to leave, but several hundred remained;
Whereas after several hours, the police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the mourners near the casket and began to beat everyone with batons and electric rods, injuring more than 100 people;
Whereas the police then proceeded to search homes, desecrating religious symbols in those homes, to look for suspected organizers of the funeral procession;
Whereas the police arrested 62 persons who were brought to the county police station in Cam Le;
Whereas reports indicate that the police beat each detainee for his or her involvement in the funeral, beating some until they were unconscious;
Whereas a pregnant woman, Le Thi Van, reportedly suffered a miscarriage as a result of the beatings she received;
Whereas after being forced to sign the agreement to sell their land and relocate, admit to false allegations that they had assaulted the police, ordered not to seek medical care for their injuries or speak to the foreign news media, and threatened with additional beatings if they did not remain silent, most of the detainees were released after several days in detention;
Whereas five of the detainees, Nguyen Huu Liem, Phan Thi Nhan, Nguyen Thi The, Le Thanh Lam, and Tran Thanh Viet, remain incarcerated, having been beaten severely, and are awaiting trial based on accusations of `opposing law enforcement’ and `disturbing public order’;
Whereas Nguyen Thi Lieu, remains in detention in another facility and is reported to have been severely tortured;
Whereas, on May 27, 2010, Nguyen Huu Minh, Vice Chairman of the Con Dau Parish Committee, was also arrested for his lead role in meetings between the parishioners and the People’s Committee of Da Nang;
Whereas none of the above detainees have been allowed visits even by their closest family members;
Whereas Doan Cang was also among those beaten and detained but was temporarily released to care for his family while awaiting trial;
Whereas, on July 1, 2010, the police apprehended Nguyen Nam, a member of the funeral support group who had been among those beaten at the time of the funeral procession, handcuffed him, and severely beat him;
Whereas, on July 3, 2010, Nguyen Nam died due to injuries to the head, face, chest, and hands sustained during the beatings;
Whereas many United States citizens have family members who are residents of Con Dau, including victims of police beatings, torture, and detention;
Whereas these violations of human rights of the residents of Con Dau are sources of continuing, grave concern to Congress;
Whereas according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2010 Annual Report, `property disputes between the government and the Catholic Church continue to lead to harassment, property destruction, and violence, sometimes by `contract thugs’ hired by the government to break up peaceful prayer vigils’ and other religious ceremonies;
Whereas property issues involving local Catholics in Dong Chiem, Thai Ha, Tam Toa, and Bau Sen have reportedly led to harassment, discrimination, detention, property destruction, and beatings;
Whereas according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2010 Annual Report, Vietnam’s `overall human rights record remains poor, and has deteriorated since Vietnam joined the WTO in January 2007′, with dozens of arrests and continued harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, democracy activists, and religious freedom advocates;
Whereas according to the United States Department of State 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the Government of Vietnam `increased its suppression of dissent’, and `tightened controls over the press and freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and association.’;
Whereas according to the United States Department of State 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Vietnamese police `commonly mistreated suspects during arrest or detention’ and `corruption remained a significant problem, and members of the police sometimes acted with impunity.’;
Whereas according to the United States Department of State 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, in August 2009, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung `issued a decree that offers compensation, housing, and job training for individuals displaced by development projects. Nevertheless, there were widespread reports of official corruption and a general lack of transparency in the government’s process of confiscating land and moving citizens to make way for infrastructure projects.’; and
Whereas according to the Human Rights Watch 2010 Annual Report, the Government of Vietnam `tightened its controls on internet use, blogging, and independent research, and banned dissemination and publication of content critical of the government. Religious freedom continued to deteriorate, with the government targeting religious leaders–and their followers–who advocated for civil rights, religious freedom, and equitable resolution of land disputes’: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That–
(1) the House of Representatives–
(A) condemns and deplores the violence, threats, fines, and harassment faced by the villagers of Con Dau, Da Nang, for seeking to protect their land, the historic cemetery, and other parish properties, and to receive an equitable resolution of their property dispute;
(B) condemns and deplores the arrests of parishioners and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Nguyen Huu Liem, Phan Thi Nhan, Nguyen Thi The, Doan Cang, Le Thanh Lam, Tran Thanh Viet, Nguyen Thi Lieu, and Nguyen Huu Minh;
(C) strongly urges the Government of Vietnam to hold accountable police and security agents who reportedly beat and mistreated Con Dau residents at the funeral procession and later while the residents were in detention, including a public investigation of those whose actions led to the death of Nguyen Nam; and
(D) strongly urges the Government of Vietnam to consider the implications of its actions in Con Dau, as well as of other serious human rights violations, issues of police impunity, and corruption for the broader relationship between the United States and Vietnam; and
(2) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that–
(A) the President should call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Vietnam to investigate ongoing and serious human rights violations in that country, including those violations targeting the villagers of Con Dau;
(B) the Secretary of State should call on the Government of Vietnam to uphold commitments made during the United Nations Periodic Review of May 2009 to engage with various United Nations special procedures, including inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief to inquire, investigate, and report on the situation throughout Vietnam and specifically in Con Dau, including the discrimination, police impunity, mistreatment in detention, desecration of religious and historical properties, and the beating death of Nguyen Nam;
(C) the United States Embassy in Vietnam should visit those detained, including, Nguyen Huu Liem, Phan Thi Nhan, Nguyen Thi The, Doan Cang, Le Thanh Lam, Tran Thanh Viet, Nguyen Thi Lieu, and Nguyen Huu Minh, as well as the family of Nguyen Nam, and other parishioners, and report its findings to Congress;
(D) the United States Embassy should continue to raise with the Government of Vietnam the issues faced by the village of Con Dau including police impunity, beatings, fines, and the deaths of individuals engaged in a peaceful religious ceremony;
(E) the United States Department of State should examine instances of property disputes in Vietnam which involve religious communities, including the case of Con Dau, report its findings to Congress, and continue to raise disputed religious properties at United States-Vietnam meetings and forums, including the bilateral United States-Vietnam human rights dialogue; and
(F) the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom should visit the Con Dau parishioners and report to Congress on the violence and harassment faced by the Catholic villagers.

Internet Censorship Is Taking Root in Southeast Asia


Internet Censorship Is Taking Root in Southeast Asia

Vietnam Internet Crackdown
Na Son Nguyen / AP

A man blogs on his iPad in Hanoi in 2012

Every time Le Anh Hung starts to write he thinks of his three young children. The 38-year-old has already been imprisoned twice for blogging about human rights and corruption from his home in Hanoi and lives half-expecting another fateful knock at the door. And yet “I’m not scared,” he says, “I know what I choose to do is risky but I accept the fight.”
Forty-six bloggers and democracy activists have been imprisoned so far this year in Vietnam — more than the whole of 2012 — amid a vicious crackdown. The intolerance is mirrored across Southeast Asia as regimes attempt to stem brewing dissent. Corruption, lack of effective democracy and a widening wealth gap have all bolstered popular protests in the region. In Malaysia, tens of thousands have taken to the streets to condemn alleged irregularities during May 5 elections that returned the incumbent National Front coalition to power. In Laos, protesters are calling for the safe return of outspoken activist Sombath Somphone. Demonstrations are ongoing in Cambodia, where a ballot slated for July 28 has been hit by accusations of dirty tricks. In recent years, strikes and social unrest have erupted in Vietnam, which is beset by inflation, land-rights abuses and venality.
(MORE: China’s Nobel Laureate Mo Yan Defends Censorship)
This political dissatisfaction is buttressed by “deeper forces of economic change and challenges wafting through the region … and the rise of new classes,” Professor Kevin Hewison, director of the Asia Research Centre at Australia’s Murdoch University, tells TIME. Access to the Internet is also creating a culture of dissent that crosses borders. Demonstrators in Vietnam sport red shirts to mimic supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies they venerate, while ubiquitous V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks point to a shared yearning for transparency.
Karin Karlekar, director of the annual Freedom of the Press report by Freedom House, sees “definite parallels” with the Arab Spring, where social media was key in heralding regime change. “It’s not surprising that governments are seeking to clamp down on this as people are being mobilized by the media,” she says. The mounting discord has led to new curbs on the Internet in the countries concerned. Besides the Vietnamese crackdown, there has been a ban in Cambodia on Internet cafés within 500 m of schools. Malaysian Internet intermediaries have meanwhile been made legally accountable for material that disseminates through their systems, including wi-fi terminals.
Stricter media controls are also being applied elsewhere in the region. New licensing rules governing online news led 150 Singapore websites to black out in protest last month, and brought more than 2,000 demonstrators to the streets (an exceptional sight in the tightly run city-state.) The Philippines Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was suspended amid public clamor that it threatened free speech, and a replacement draft has also been widely condemned. Thailand has seen a spike in lèse majesté prosecutions and Internet censorship — 20,978 URLs were blocked last year compared with just 5,078 in 2011, according to the country’s i-Law monitoring group — with a “chilling effect on freedom of expression throughout Thai society,” writes Frank La Rue, U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.
(PHOTOS: Living in Malaysia’s Melting Pot)
Dissenting voices in newspapers and television in Southeast Asia have traditionally been contained through litigation, intimidation and cronyism, but the blogosphere is an entirely different beast. Prickly elites, unable to replicate China’s Great Firewall and shocked at having their actions dissected and criticized online, are choosing to “shoot the messenger,” says Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. China employs the world’s most advanced censorship apparatus that filters millions of blog posts and social-media interactions every day. Neighboring governments envy this capability yet lack sufficient tools or expertise, and so employ cruder tactics. These include “Thailand hammering free-speech advocates touching previously sacrosanct topics, Vietnam jailing bloggers left and right on specious charges, and, of course, Singapore moving its censorship regimen to the Internet,” explains Robertson.
Governments must reckon, however, with the determination of online dissidents like Hung. Blogging channels his burning desire for a freer society, despite the hardship it brings to his family. “Everywhere I and my wife work, the police come and they pressure the employer to sack us,” he says, adding that he was once incarcerated inside a mental hospital in a cruel attempt to have him both humiliated and discredited. Unperturbed, he vows to “keep blogging as I accept all intimidation and harassment in the fight for human rights.”
Perhaps history will be on his side. In 2009, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Burma, officially known as Myanmar, as the world’s worst place to be a blogger. Today (albeit with the specter of draconian regulations still lurking on the statute books) it boasts one of the region’s freest Internet realms, its hard-won freedoms serving as an example to dissidents elsewhere.
“People are certainly seeing things overseas and adopting them,” says Hewison. “The media is becoming much more important.” With dissidents and governments in Southeast Asia both realizing the same thing, it looks like the struggle for control of the region’s online realms has only just begun.

Internet Censorship Is Taking Root in Southeast Asia


Internet Censorship Is Taking Root in Southeast Asia

Vietnam Internet Crackdown
Na Son Nguyen / AP

A man blogs on his iPad in Hanoi in 2012

Every time Le Anh Hung starts to write he thinks of his three young children. The 38-year-old has already been imprisoned twice for blogging about human rights and corruption from his home in Hanoi and lives half-expecting another fateful knock at the door. And yet “I’m not scared,” he says, “I know what I choose to do is risky but I accept the fight.”
Forty-six bloggers and democracy activists have been imprisoned so far this year in Vietnam — more than the whole of 2012 — amid a vicious crackdown. The intolerance is mirrored across Southeast Asia as regimes attempt to stem brewing dissent. Corruption, lack of effective democracy and a widening wealth gap have all bolstered popular protests in the region. In Malaysia, tens of thousands have taken to the streets to condemn alleged irregularities during May 5 elections that returned the incumbent National Front coalition to power. In Laos, protesters are calling for the safe return of outspoken activist Sombath Somphone. Demonstrations are ongoing in Cambodia, where a ballot slated for July 28 has been hit by accusations of dirty tricks. In recent years, strikes and social unrest have erupted in Vietnam, which is beset by inflation, land-rights abuses and venality.
(MORE: China’s Nobel Laureate Mo Yan Defends Censorship)
This political dissatisfaction is buttressed by “deeper forces of economic change and challenges wafting through the region … and the rise of new classes,” Professor Kevin Hewison, director of the Asia Research Centre at Australia’s Murdoch University, tells TIME. Access to the Internet is also creating a culture of dissent that crosses borders. Demonstrators in Vietnam sport red shirts to mimic supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies they venerate, while ubiquitous V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks point to a shared yearning for transparency.
Karin Karlekar, director of the annual Freedom of the Press report by Freedom House, sees “definite parallels” with the Arab Spring, where social media was key in heralding regime change. “It’s not surprising that governments are seeking to clamp down on this as people are being mobilized by the media,” she says. The mounting discord has led to new curbs on the Internet in the countries concerned. Besides the Vietnamese crackdown, there has been a ban in Cambodia on Internet cafés within 500 m of schools. Malaysian Internet intermediaries have meanwhile been made legally accountable for material that disseminates through their systems, including wi-fi terminals.
Stricter media controls are also being applied elsewhere in the region. New licensing rules governing online news led 150 Singapore websites to black out in protest last month, and brought more than 2,000 demonstrators to the streets (an exceptional sight in the tightly run city-state.) The Philippines Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was suspended amid public clamor that it threatened free speech, and a replacement draft has also been widely condemned. Thailand has seen a spike in lèse majesté prosecutions and Internet censorship — 20,978 URLs were blocked last year compared with just 5,078 in 2011, according to the country’s i-Law monitoring group — with a “chilling effect on freedom of expression throughout Thai society,” writes Frank La Rue, U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.
(PHOTOS: Living in Malaysia’s Melting Pot)
Dissenting voices in newspapers and television in Southeast Asia have traditionally been contained through litigation, intimidation and cronyism, but the blogosphere is an entirely different beast. Prickly elites, unable to replicate China’s Great Firewall and shocked at having their actions dissected and criticized online, are choosing to “shoot the messenger,” says Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. China employs the world’s most advanced censorship apparatus that filters millions of blog posts and social-media interactions every day. Neighboring governments envy this capability yet lack sufficient tools or expertise, and so employ cruder tactics. These include “Thailand hammering free-speech advocates touching previously sacrosanct topics, Vietnam jailing bloggers left and right on specious charges, and, of course, Singapore moving its censorship regimen to the Internet,” explains Robertson.
Governments must reckon, however, with the determination of online dissidents like Hung. Blogging channels his burning desire for a freer society, despite the hardship it brings to his family. “Everywhere I and my wife work, the police come and they pressure the employer to sack us,” he says, adding that he was once incarcerated inside a mental hospital in a cruel attempt to have him both humiliated and discredited. Unperturbed, he vows to “keep blogging as I accept all intimidation and harassment in the fight for human rights.”
Perhaps history will be on his side. In 2009, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Burma, officially known as Myanmar, as the world’s worst place to be a blogger. Today (albeit with the specter of draconian regulations still lurking on the statute books) it boasts one of the region’s freest Internet realms, its hard-won freedoms serving as an example to dissidents elsewhere.
“People are certainly seeing things overseas and adopting them,” says Hewison. “The media is becoming much more important.” With dissidents and governments in Southeast Asia both realizing the same thing, it looks like the struggle for control of the region’s online realms has only just begun.