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The Vietnamese authorities should stop impeding and abusing people trying to hold “human rights picnics” in public spaces. Despite government abuse and bullying, some people did succeed in holding informal gatherings and discussed the day’s events online.

On Sunday, May 5, 2013, a group of Vietnamese rights activists made a public call for people to meet and discuss human rights issues at public parks in Hanoi, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City. The authorities employed various devices to prevent people from attending and dispersed those who arrived at the parks in Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese rights activists are calling for public distribution and discussion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Sunday, May 12.

“Why is the Vietnamese government afraid of allowing its citizens to gather in parks to discuss human rights?” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Vietnam has ratified international human rights treaties and there is a vibrant discussion about how to incorporate rights into a new constitution, yet people who want to discuss this subject face harassment, intimidation, house arrest, and physical assaults.”

In advance of the May 5 picnics, police put a number of bloggers under house arrest so they could not attend the events. In Hanoi, blogger Phuong Bich (also known as Dang Bich Phuong) reported that under police instruction, 14 people blocked her hallway so she could not leave her house.

Blogger Tran Thi Thuy Nga and her two sons, aged 3 years and 5 months, came from Ha Nam to Hanoi on Saturday evening so they could attend the human rights picnic at Nghia Do Park on Sunday morning. Police pressured a motel owner to kick Nga and her sons out during the rain at midnight. Nga and her sons had no choice but to sleep on the sidewalk until her friends came to help them.

In Hai Phong, police blocked the house of blogger and former prisoner of conscience Pham Thanh Nghien to prevent her from leaving the house. They also prevented visitors from coming to the house that morning. Pham Thanh Nghien then held her own “human rights picnic” in her yard with her 77-year-old mother, posting photographs of the event on the Internet.

In Ho Chi Minh City, police and members of the local civil defense force blocked Giac Hoa pagoda of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and prohibited Venerable Thich Vien Hy and other monks from leaving the pagoda. Blogger Trinh Kim Tien (a.k.a. Trinh Kim Kim) and her husband Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh (a.k.a. Paolo Thanh Nguyen) were not allowed to leave their house, even to buy food.

The police also employed other methods to prevent the human rights picnics from occurring. In Hanoi, youth delegations were sent to intimidate picnickers at Nghia Do Park, chanting slogans such as “Long Live the Glorious Communist Party of Vietnam” and “Long Live Ho Chi Minh.”

In Nha Trang, police and members of the Communist Youth League occupied Bach Dang Park where activists planned to meet and held their own picnic with loudspeakers. Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (a.k.a. Mother Mushroom), the planned moderator for the discussion in Nha Trang, was escorted by police officers to a café where she held a spontaneous human rights talk and distributed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to members of the security force and several café customers. Her mobile phone was blocked so she could neither receive nor make any calls during the entire “picnic” at the café.

In Ho Chi Minh City, police sent workers to cut down branches of trees at April 30 Park outside Independence Palace so people could not sit in the shade on a very hot day. Workers in blue uniforms were sent to spray water on spotlessly clean pathways and sidewalks to chase people away.

Rights activists Nguyen Hoang Vi (a.k.a. An Do Nguyen), the planned moderator for the discussion in Ho Chi Minh City, and Vu Quoc Anh (a.k.a. August Anh) were detained shortly after they distributed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to people at the park. Vu Quoc Anh was beaten both during the arrest and interrogation for refusing to cooperate with the police. Nguyen Hoang Vi’s personal belongings, including her cell phone and iPad, were confiscated. The next day, Nguyen Hoang Vi and her family went to the police station in Phu Thanh ward, Tan Phu district, to demand her belongings back. They were surrounded by members of the security force, the Communist Youth League, the Women’s Union, and the Civil Defense orce, and beaten outside Phu Thanh police station. Vi’s mother, Nguyen Thi Cuc, was burned with a cigarette on her forehead and kicked. Nguyen Hoang Vi was punched in the face. Her sister Nguyen Thao Chi had three teeth knocked out. Rights activist Chau Van Thi (a.k.a. Yeu Nuoc Viet) tried to protect Nguyen Thao Chi and was also beaten.

“Vietnam is a party to human rights treaties and is even running for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council, but the authorities are so scared of public discussions of human rights that they detain and assault their own citizens to stop them,” Adams said. “Now might be a good time for Vietnam’s leaders to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to understand the rights that the Vietnamese people are demanding.”

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