Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang in the hospital after being assaulted by anonymous thugs.

(New York) – The Vietnamese authorities should immediately stop using violence against human rights campaigners, Human Rights Watch said today. In January 2015, leading bloggers were targeted by plainclothes agents and beaten. The attacks violated basic rights and that all involved in the assaults against bloggers and rights activists should be held accountable for their acts of violence, intimidation, and harassment.

“The Vietnamese government has some serious questions to answer,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Is it now government policy to have police travel with thugs to punish people who don’t immediately follow their orders?”

On January 21, a group of 12 bloggers and rights activists went from Hanoi to Thai Binh province to visit Tran Anh Kim, a political prisoner who was released on January 7 after completing five years and six months in prison for alleged affiliation with a political party banned by the authorities. The visitors included geophysicist Nguyen Thanh Giang; film artist Nguyen Thi Kim Chi; former editor Nguyen Le Hung; former political prisoner Nguyen Vu Binh; bloggers Nguyen Tuong Thuy and JB Nguyen Huu Vinh; and rights activists Tran Thi Nga, Truong Minh Tam, Truong Van Dung, Nguyen Thanh Ha, Bach Hong Quyen, and Ngo Duy Quyen.

As soon as the visitors left Tran Anh Kim’s house, their van was stopped by three police officers from Tran Hung Dao ward where Kim lives. The officers ordered them to report to police headquarters. When members of the group refused, saying they did nothing wrong, a group of thugs, acting in apparent coordination with the police, entered the van and assaulted them. Prominent blogger JB Nguyen Huu Vinh was dragged out of the van, beaten, and injured. Upon arriving at the police headquarters, he spat up blood. Film artist Nguyen Thi Kim Chi’s glasses were broken. Others including Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Tran Thi Nga, Ngo Duy Quyen, Bach Hong Quyen, and Truong Minh Tam were also beaten.

The government’s apparent use of thugs to assault rights campaigners is on the rise in Vietnam. Just three days prior to the Thai Binh visit incident, religious activist Nguyen Hong Quang, a pastor of an independent Mennonite branch in Ho Chi Minh city, was attacked by anonymous thugs. Pastor Quang was hospitalized with a broken nose and other injuries. In 2014 alone, at least 22 bloggers and activists reported that they were beaten by unknown persons. No one has been arrested or charged in any of these incidents.

After returning to Hanoi on January 21, 2015, blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, one of the victims of the assault, wrote on his Facebook page, “The terror caused by ‘the kingdom’ of Thai Binh [province] under the order of its leaders, aiming to terrorize us, will never succeed. Absolutely no violence can prevent us from reaching out to prisoner of conscience Tran Anh Kim or any other prisoners of conscience.”

“The government has no business using thugs to intimidate and beat up peaceful critics,” Adams said. “Despite these assaults, harassment, and imprisonment, bloggers and activists continue to speak out. They need and deserve international support.”