Vietnam Human Rights and Democracy 2012 The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report Latest update: 30 June 2013


The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report

Latest update: 30 June 2013
There has been an upsurge in high profile human rights incidents in Vietnam since April. These included human rights themed ‘picnics’ over the course of two weekends in early May. In Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang activists gathered to promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and discuss human rights more broadly. At the first picnic they were met with obstruction, harassment and occasionally violence. After adverse international coverage, including a letter from Amnesty International to Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security, a second wave of picnics passed the following weekend without incident.
Lack of transparency in the application of law and justice is a theme which runs through four other high profile cases of the last update. Two students Dinh Nguyen Kha and Nguyen Phuong Uyen were sentenced on 16 May under national security articles. Uyen received six years, while Kha received eight years after the one-day trial; it took the court approximately 3 ½ hours to try and convict the two individuals.
In May the appeal of 14 Catholic activists convicted in early January for subversion was heard. The original sentences, during a closed trial, ranged from three to 13 years in prison, with one activist given a suspended sentence. The 14 activists – which included students, bloggers, and citizen journalists – were accused of having ties to the banned Viet Tan network. At the appeal, sentences were later reduced for four of the activists, Paulus Le Van Son who had the greatest reduction from 13 years to 4 years. The others were reduced by 6-12 months.
Another case which hit the headlines was the hunger strike of human rights activist, Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu. Dr Vu began a hunger strike at the end of May to protest the conditions of his imprisonment and the lack of response to his letters of complaint. All four issues showed the authorities failing to provide information or holding a trial behind closed doors. The UK was active in supporting EU statements on all four cases.
Also in May a court sentenced eight people, from the ‘Ha Mon’ religious group to between three to 11 years in prison for “sabotaging the policy on solidarity”. The issue is linked to land rights. Adecade earlier the villagers had established a sacred site on an area earmarked for development. The villagers were sentenced at a one-day trial.
There were more cases in June. In Long An, the blogger Dinh Nhat Uy was detained for three months for posting article “that distort the truth and defame state organisations.” Similarly well known blogger Pham Viet Dao, was arrested for abuse of “democratic freedoms to attack state interests…”. Finally Da Nang-based blogger Truong Duy Nhat was arrested and moved to Hanoi. Nhat had previously written asking for the Prime Minister and Secretary General to resign and asked for a public vote of confidence.
All three were arrested under law 258 for abusing democratic freedoms. The reasons for his arrest are unclear, again highlighting the lack of transparency in this type of case, but likely to be for his criticism of the government.
On a different track but an issue which again received international coverage and resonated with the public was the dropping of certain international new channels including BBC World by some cable and satellite operators. The problem occurred due to the requirement for an editing licence for foreign broadcasters. The BBC in common with other established news broadcasters will not allow for its content to be edited pre-broadcast. Part of the reason was the lack of clarity of the law and nervousness on the part of cable and satellite operators. The Embassy raised the issue with both the Ministry of Information and Communication and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Following this the channels were restored. We hope this to be the end of the matter.
Finally, in May the British Ambassador opened the Embassy funded ‘Lao Cai Compassion House’ a reintegration shelter for human trafficking girl victims originating from the north of the central areas of Vietnam. The Compassion House will be used by Lao Cai provincial government and Pacific Links Foundation to teach the girls skills designed to help them reintegrate into society.
Update: 31 March 2013

The human rights environment in Vietnam remains poor despite the government’s decision to apply for membership of the UN Human Rights Council.  The beginning of the year saw a number of human rights activists, especially bloggers, receive long custodial sentences during trials which were often behind closed doors.
Prominent human rights campaigner Nguyen Quoc Quan was released at the end of January after nine months in detention for links with the banned Viet Tan group.  Human rights defender Le Cong Dinh was released in February after serving three and a half years of a five year sentence.
Reporters Without Borders list Vietnam in their 2013 “Enemies of the Internet” report as one of five states conducting systematic online surveillance resulting in serious human rights violations. They describe Vietnam as the world’s third biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China and Oman.
Vietnam is currently preparing for a Universal Periodical Review (a periodical UN assessment of its human rights situation) which will be completed in 2014.
The General Secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, visited the UK in January.  He met both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.  Human rights were among the topics discussed.   Prior to the visit BBC Vietnam were invited to Vietnam to conduct interviews with Ministers, senior officials and the British Ambassador.
During his visit to Europe the General Secretary also had an (unprecedented) audience with the Pope.
This year has already seen two high profile cases, including the sentencing of 14 Catholic activists in Vinh province for subversive activity.  Of these, 13 were given prison sentences of between three and 13 years and one received a suspended sentence. The UK supported the statement by Franz Jessen, the EU Ambassador to Vietnam, calling for the upholding of the fundamental right for people to express their opinions freely. This case attracted substantial international media coverage.  Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders posted strong statements in support of the activists on their websites. The UK, along with other diplomatic missions from Canada, USA, Australia, Switzerland and Norway, met family members of the 14 activists to receive a petition calling for their release.
At the beginning of February 22 people were convicted of trying to overthrow the government.  Suspected leader Phan Van Thu, 65, was sentenced to life imprisonment. 21 other defendants were sentenced to between ten and 17 years imprisonment.  In another high profile case journalist Nguyen Dac Kien was fired from his newspaper for criticising the General Secretary on his blog about constitutional reform.  Constitutional reform has opened up greater space for discussion, including about the Party’s role, but the government’s reaction to comments that are critical of their position has been broadly negative.
The British Embassy continues to be active on the human rights agenda, engaging with government officials as well as journalists, activists, bloggers, NGOs and foreign diplomats.

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