(Brussels) – The European Union should press for concrete and measurable improvements on human rights at its upcoming bilateral dialogue with Vietnam, Human Rights Watch said today. Essential reforms include ending politically motivated trials and convictions, the release of political prisoners, guarantees on freedom of association and labor rights, and religious freedom. The outcome of the dialogue in Hanoi on December 15, 2015, should be made public.
“The EU should use this opportunity to make it loud and clear to Vietnam that friendly trade relations will be accompanied by increasing demands on human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should insist that Vietnam agree to clear and verifiable benchmarks for progress, or Vietnam will simply make empty promises.”
In a submission to the EU prior to the dialogue, Human Rights Watch urged the EU to press Vietnam to immediately release all political prisoners and end restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion, and take steps to end attacks on critics while ending the scourge of police brutality.
In November, Police General Tran Dai Quang publicly admitted that within the last three years the government had “received, arrested, and dealt with cases involving 2,680 people who violated national security” and during the same period noted that “opposition persons” had illegally established more than 60 human rights and democracy groups.
Although Vietnam has decreased the number of political trials and convictions in 2015 in order to gain favor during negotiations with the United States over the Trans-Pacific Partnership and with the EU over the Vietnam–EU Free Trade Agreement, the country still continues to hold at least 130 political prisoners.
Other peaceful critics are simply being held without trial, such as bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (known as Anh Ba Sam), Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (known as Nguyen Ngoc Gia), who were arrested in 2014 for their pro-democracy statements and remain in police custody. Activists who were arrested in 2015 included Nguyen Viet Dung, Dinh Tat Thang, Tran Anh Kim, and Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy.
In an apparent change of tactics from arrests to intimidation and violence, assaults against bloggers and rights activists worsened significantly during 2015. In every month pro-democracy campaigners have reported being attacked by plainclothes agents or police. No one involved in the assaults has been held accountable. In November 2015, the police of Dong Nai province detained and assaulted labor activist Do Thi Minh Hanh for helping workers at Yupoong Company to exercise their rights. At least 45 other bloggers and rights activists have been assaulted by thugs on various occasions. They include Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, J.B Nguyen Huu Vinh, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Chi Tuyen, Trinh Anh Tuan, Dinh Quang Tuyen, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Chu Manh Son, Dinh Thi Phuong Thao, Ta Tri Hai, and Tran Minh Nhat.
Most recently, on December 6, 2015, a group of rights activists including former political prisoner Nguyen Van Dai, Ly Quang Son, Vu Duc Minh, and a man named Thang, were attacked and beaten in Nghe An province by a group of about 20 men in civilian clothes and wearing surgical masks. Earlier that day, Nguyen Van Dai gave a talk about the constitution and basic human rights to an audience of about 70 people at the house of former political prisoner Tran Huu Duc at Nam Loc commune, Nam Dan district, Nghe An. The talk was among a series of events that Vietnamese activists carried out to celebrate Human Rights Day.
“The EU should tell the Vietnamese government that they won’t fall for the trick of replacing political arrests with political beatings,” said Adams. “Vietnam should understand that resorting to violence will simply make the government look like thugs to the rest of the world.”