(New York) – The human rights situation in Vietnam in 2014 continued to be characterized by one-party rule, politically motivated convictions, lack of labor rights, widespread police abuse, and an escalating land crisis, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. The Vietnamese government kept tight control over freedom of expression and association as bloggers, human rights defenders, labor and land rights activists, and religious and democracy advocates continued to face harassment, intimidation, physical assault, and imprisonment.
“Vietnam’s revolving door of political prisoners continued in 2014, with some coming out but an even greater number of peaceful activists going into the country’s prisons as convicted criminals,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Many of these releases were made to gain international favor, but the fact that the number of people convicted was more than double those released undermines the Vietnamese government’s attempt to put forward a face of reform.”
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.
In 2014, the authorities prosecuted at least 29 dissidents and activists and sentenced them to a total of 129 years in prison. Among those convicted for their peaceful advocacy were bloggers Truong Duy Nhat and Bui Thi Minh Hang. The authorities arrested at least 13 other rights activists pending investigation and/or trial, including prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (known as Anh Ba Sam), Hong Le Tho (known as Nguoi Lot Gach), and Nguyen Quang Lap (known as Bo Lap).
The government released 12 political prisoners before the end of their prison terms. Prominent blogger Dinh Dang Dinh died shortly after being released. Legal activist Cu Huy Ha Vu and blogger Nguyen Van Hai (known as Dieu Cay) were granted temporary parole and sent to the United States. If they return to Vietnam, they will have to serve the rest of their sentences.
Other forms of harassment, including intimidation, brief detention, and physical assaults, intensified in 2014, Human Rights Watch said. At least 14 rights activists, including former political prisoners Huynh Ngoc Tuan, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Van Dai, and Nguyen Hoang Vi, reported that they were attacked and assaulted by anonymous thugs. No one was charged in any of these cases.
Police continued to restrict movement to prevent citizens from attending rights-related events and to target unrecognized branches of the Cao Dai church, the Hoa Hao Buddhist church, Protestant and Mennonite house churches, and the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). At least 20 people were convicted during the first nine months of 2014 for participating in religious groups unapproved by the authorities.
“Freedom of religion does not mean freedom to worship only how the government approves,” said Adams. “It means getting out of the business of monitoring and suppressing the way in which people choose to practice their religion.”
Police brutality, including deaths in police custody, reached near-epidemic levels, Human Rights Watch said. In 2014, even the heavily controlled state media frequently published reports about police abuse. Many detainees were allegedly beaten to extract confessions, sometimes for crimes they maintained they did not commit. Victims of beatings included children. In many cases, those killed in police custody were being held for minor infractions. Police frequently provided causes, including alleged suicide, for custodial deaths that strained credulity and gave the appearance of systematic cover-ups.
In a welcome move, in November the National Assembly ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture (CAT). However, Human Rights Watch expressed concern over Vietnam’s reservation on article 20, which requires a state party to cooperate and respond to inquiries about individual cases made by the U.N. committee responsible for the implementation of CAT.
“Ratification of the UN Convention against Torture is a milestone for Vietnam, but explicitly refusing to cooperate with the UN on individual cases calls into question the government’s sincerity to implement the treaty,” Adams said. “2015 will show whether CAT ratification was just a public relations stunt or will have real meaning for the people of Vietnam.”