(Geneva) – Vietnam’s government should release all political prisoners and uphold its pledges to respect basic civil and political rights, Human Rights Watch said in a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Vietnam will be appearing before the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in January 2019. During its 2014 UPR review, Vietnam accepted 182 out of 227 recommendations it received from UN member countries. Since then, the Vietnamese government has done little to honor its commitment – and in some cases has made the situation worse, Human Rights Watch said.
“Vietnam seems to be contending for the title of one of Asia’s most repressive governments,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The Communist Party-controlled government systematically crushes any challenges to its actions and punishes any person or group it deems a threat to its absolute monopoly on power.”
Vietnamese authorities frequently use loosely interpreted provisions in its penal code and other laws to imprison peaceful political and religious activists. During the first seven months of 2018, the government convicted and imprisoned at least 27 rights bloggers and activists under various abusive laws. Prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Mother Mushroom), who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for her rights campaigning, is carrying out a hunger strike at Prison No. 5 in Thanh Hoa province to protest abuses by prison staff against her.
During its 2014 UPR, Vietnam accepted recommendations to amend provisions related to national security in the penal code and to ensure its compliance with international law. However, in June 2017, the National Assembly passed a revised penal code that extends even wider liability to rights bloggers and activists and those who assist them. Among these are new clauses that criminalize unspecified actions in preparation for committing an offense. For example, one new clause provides that whoever “takes actions in preparation of committing this crime” faces up to five years in prison.
“Instead of repealing or reforming its many abusive laws in line with UN recommendations, Vietnam did the opposite by revising them to apply more broadly,” Robertson said. “Hanoi’s leaders are snubbing the UN review process, and it’s time member countries took them task for it.”
In 2014, Vietnam also accepted recommendations to ensure freedom of the press and the Internet. In June, the National Assembly passed an overly broad and vague cyber security law that severely restricts freedom of expression on the internet.
The rights to freedom of assembly and association have also been under attack. Independent labor activists such as Hoang Duc Binh and Truong Minh Duc have been sentenced to many years in prison. Unidentified thugs attacked the house of labor campaigner and former political prisoner Do Thi Minh Hanh for several nights in June and July, and police failed to intervene to stop the attacks. Police frequently use excessive force to disperse public protests.
Just in June, William Anh Nguyen, a US citizen, was arrested and apparently beaten along with others for participating in a peaceful protest in Ho Chi Minh City. On July 20, during a trial that lasted for several hours, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City ordered him to be immediately deported from Vietnam.
In its submission to the UPR, Human Rights Watch provides concrete recommendations for Vietnam regarding freeing political prisoners and enacting legal reforms to ensure the rights to freedom of expression, information, association, assembly, and religion, and to end police brutality.
“Vietnam has a long history of trampling on rights while making weak excuses that it is upholding the rule of law,” Robertson said. “Countries at the UN Human Rights Council have the evidence before them and should press Vietnam to end its systemic rights abuses.”