(New York) – The Vietnamese government engaged in a broad crackdown on freedom of speech, opinion, association, assembly, and religion in 2016, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017. Rights bloggers and activists faced constant police intimidation and harassment, were subject to incommunicado detention, and imprisoned for exercising their basic rights.

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

Farmers from Duong Noi village protest during the trial of Can Thi Theu, a farmer and land rights activist in Hanoi. The placards read "Can Thi Theu is innocent," "Justice for innocent Can Thi Theu" and "Make arrest - grabbing land is criminal," September 20, 2016.

“Hopes that Vietnam’s new crop of leaders selected at the Communist Party Congress in 2016 would ease up on repression were dashed over the last year,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “If they want the country to live up to its full potential, the authorities need to engage in dialogue with critics instead of silencing them.”

In 2016, at least 19 people, including prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh, also known as “Anh Ba Sam,” Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, also known as “Nguyen Ngoc Gia,” and land rights activist Can Thi Theu, were sentenced from 20 months to nine years in prison for their blogging or peaceful rights campaigning. The police also arrested at least eight others, including bloggers Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as “Mother Mushroom,” and Ho Van Hai, also known as “Dr. Ho Hai,” for allegedly “conducting propaganda against the state.” Others, such as Nguyen Van Dai and Tran Anh Kim, arrested in 2015, continue to be detained without trial.

If they want the country to live up to its full potential, the authorities need to engage in dialogue with critics instead of silencing them.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

2016 also saw frequent physical assaults against human rights bloggers and campaigners at the hands of anonymous men who appear to be acting with state sanction and impunity. Several dozen people, including former political prisoners Tran Minh Nhat and Nguyen Dinh Cuong, and activists Nguyen Van Thanh and La Viet Dung, reported that they were attacked by men in civilian clothes. No one was charged in any of the cases.

Police frequently used excessive force to disperse pro-environment marches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Many protesters reported that they were beaten and detained for hours. Others, including prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang and rights activist Nguyen Quang A, were put under house arrest or detained so they could not attend a specific event, such as a meeting with foreign diplomats and dignitaries or participating in a public protest.

“Vietnamese bloggers and activists frequently risk their freedom and personal safety to campaign for democracy and basic rights,” said Adams. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners have for too long prioritized commerce and good relations over support for these brave individuals and the holding of multiparty elections that would bring an end to one of the world’s longest running one-party dictatorships.”