(New York) – Vietnamese government officers and men in civilian clothes raided a concert in Ho Chi Minh City on August 15, 2018, and severely beat the performer and two prominent activists in the audience, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam should conduct an impartial, transparent, and thorough investigation of the attack.
“This kind of shocking and brutal physical assault against human rights activists, bloggers, and artists is rapidly becoming the new normal in Vietnam,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By failing to investigate or hold accountable those committing these thuggish acts, the authorities are signaling that attacks against dissidents will enjoy impunity.”
On the evening of August 15, a crowd of approximately 50 people, including children and elderly people, gathered at Café Casanova in Ward 7 of District 3 in Ho Chi Minh City for the musical show A Memory of Saigon by the singer and rights activist Nguyen Tin. At about 9 p.m., a group of uniformed government officers, security agents, and men in civilian clothes, some wearing surgical masks, burst into the cafe.
While some of the intruders filmed the scene, government officers demanded that the concert organizers produce papers to show that they had permission to hold the event. Others demanded that audience members produce their government-issued identification cards. As members of the audience started to leave, several of the intruders grabbed Pham Doan Trang, an activist in the audience, and dragged her to a car outside the cafe. Pham Doan Trang is a prominent and outspoken journalist, activist, and blogger whose writing covers a wide range of topics, many related to human rights and the rule of law. She is one of the few journalists in Vietnam who publishes bilingually in Vietnamese and English.
Trinh Huu Long, the editor-in-chief of Luat khoa Tap chi, an online magazine that focuses on law and human rights and includes Pham Doan Trang as an editor, wrote on his Facebook page that she “was taken to the police headquarters of Ward 7, District 3, where she was beaten repeatedly during interrogation…. The police confiscated her laptop, ID card and ATM card, and several hundred thousand VN dong.”
After the interrogation, the police took Pham Doan Trang from the station in a taxi, dropped her off on a dark street, and gave her 200,000 Vietnamese Dong (US$8.50) to order a new taxi. As soon as the police left, six men on three motorbikes arrived and assaulted her, beating her over the head with a motorcycle helmet. She wrote on her Facebook page: “When I was able to sit up, I touched the wound on my head, and tried to slow down the bleeding, I saw a broken helmet and many fragments of the helmet by the side of the road.” She suffered multiple bruises, nausea, and dizziness. At the hospital, doctors diagnosed her with a concussion. Security agents harassed and beat her friends who tried to visit her at the hospital.
The intruders also interrogated and beat Nguyen Tin, the singer, at the cafe. He told a reporter for the internet website Dan Lam Bao that “[security agents] took me to a corner of the room and began to punch and kick me hard with their hands and feet. Worse still, they used a water bottle to hit my [left] eye. I could not see anything. I covered my face. After beating me for about an hour, they asked me for the password of my cell phone. When I did not comply, they intensified the beating. They asked who organized the concert. I said I didn’t know. They then tied my hands [behind my back] so tight that it hurt a lot. They covered my head with a plastic bag so that I could not see who was beating me. They stripped off my shoes, kicked my feet, and took me to a car.”
Security agents took his money, mobile phone, and identification papers and abandoned him in a deserted rubber plantation in Cu Chi district, 60 kilometers from the center of Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen Tin sometimes performs sentimental songs composed during the historical period of the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) that remain prohibited by the communist regime. Recently, he has begun to sing about social and human rights issues and the plight of political prisoners.
The concert organizer Nguyen Dang Cao Dai was also beaten at the cafe, taken away in the same car, and abandoned at a different spot in Cu Chi. He revealed that that security agents “beat me a lot, took a rest, then beat me again.” They punched him in the stomach and head, knocked him on the ground, and stamped him with their shoes. Both Nguyen Tin and Nguyen Dang Cao Dai suffered multiple bruises and soft-tissue injuries.
Nguyen Dang Cao Dai is a construction engineer and a human rights advocate who has helped support political prisoners. He previously participated in a democracy movement known as Bloc 8406, named after the date of its founding on April 4, 2006.
The attack at Café Casanova is not an isolated incident. It is one of a series of recent assaults against activists who are under police surveillance. In Lam Dong province in June, men in civilian clothes broke into the house of Hua Phi, a campaigner for Cao Dai religion in Vietnam. The attackers beat him and cut off his beard.
In June and July, also in Lam Dong province, unidentified men threw rocks and a hand-made incendiary device into the house of labor activist and former political prisoner Do Thi Minh Hanh. After fellow activists Dinh Van Hai and Vu Tien Chi visited Do to show support, two men in civilian clothes attacked them with wooden sticks. Dinh Van Hai was hospitalized with two broken ribs, and injuries to his right hand and left shoulder.
In June 2017, Human Rights Watch published a 65-page report, “No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam,” highlighting 36 incidents in which unknown men in civilian clothes beat rights campaigners and bloggers between January 2015 and April 2017, often resulting in serious injuries. Many victims reported that beatings occurred in the presence of uniformed police who did nothing to intervene.
“This pattern of brutal physical assaults carried out by shadowy thugs, in apparent coordination with the police, is an intensification of the government’s persecution of political activists,” Robertson said. “International donors and trade partners of Vietnam should condemn the use of violence and urge the country to immediately stop its thuggish behavior.”
Pham Doan Trang
Pham Doan Trang is a prominent and outspoken journalist, activist, and blogger whose writing covers a wide range of topics including LGBT rights, women’s rights, environmental issues, the territorial conflict between Vietnam and China, police brutality, suppression of activists, law and human rights. Her book, Chinh tri Binh dan (Politics for the Common People) – a kind of primer for budding activists – was published in samizdat form in September 2017. Pham Doan Trang is also a street activist committed to peaceful protest. She has joined demonstrations outside police stations and at airports when fellow activists have been detained, participated in anti-China protests, and pro-environmental marches. She has shown solidarity for fellow activists by trying to attend show trials staged to convict them, and at great personal risk, she periodically visits families of imprisoned dissidents to provide them with support and assistance.
She has suffered numerous episodes of harassment, persecution, and physical assault at the hand of government forces. In 2009, police detained her for nine days for “national security” reasons. Government security agents subsequently detained and interrogated her on many occasions and placed her under house arrest to stop her from joining public protests or meeting foreign diplomats. She walks with a pronounced and permanent limp caused by an injury she suffered when security forces forcibly broke up an environmental protest in Hanoi in April 2015.
In September 2015, she went to the police headquarters of Hai Ba Trung district in Hanoi to protest the arbitrary detention of a fellow activist, Le Thu Ha, and others. There, security agents beat protesters, bloodying her mouth. In May 2016, police detained her while she was on her way to a meeting with U.S. President Barrack Obama who had invited her to join a gathering of activists during his visit to Hanoi. In November 2017, she was detained after meeting with an EU delegation that was preparing for the annual bilateral human rights dialogue between the EU and Vietnam. Police detained her again in February and June 2018 and interrogated about her writing and activities.
Pham Doan Trang holds an MBA from the School of Management, Asian Institute of Technology in Hanoi, and a B.S. in International Economics from the Foreign Trade University, Hanoi. She publishes articles in various Vietnamese print and online media. In 2008, she co-authored Bong, Tu truyen cua mot nguoi dong tinh (Autobiography of a Gay Man), a best-selling book about discrimination against gay men in Vietnam and their demands for equal rights.
Pham Doan Trang's blog, Doan Trang, covers a range of sensitive topics, including the relationship between Vietnam and China and the dispute between the two countries over territorial claims in the Eastern Sea/ South China Sea. Most entries on her blog address sensitive political issues. She was the editor of Tuan Vietnam, an online weekly that is a component of VietnamNet, one of the country’s most popular news websites. She is the editor for the website Vietnam Right Now, which aims to distribute “objective, accurate, and timely information on the current social and political conditions in Vietnam today.” She is one of the authors of Vietnam & Tranh chap Bien Dong (Vietnam and the Conflict on the Eastern Sea), published by Tri Thuc Publishing House in Vietnam. She is the contributor in two other books that were published in samizdat form: Anh Ba Sam – a book devoted to the work and on the imprisonment of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh; and Tu Facebook xuong duong (From Facebook Down To The Street) – a book that documents five years of rights activism and protests in Vietnam from 2011 – 2016.
Pham Doan Trang’s writing and activism addresses a broad human rights agenda. First and foremost, she promotes human rights education, such as the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and other rights, including the right to remain silent. She urges people to educate themselves about their rights. As a journalist and blogger, she also focuses on the role of media in social and political life. While she fights against censorship in all forms, she is especially concerned with freedom of information on the internet and freedom of the press.
Aided by other bloggers, she wrote and published on her blog a brief history of the Vietnamese “blogosphere” from the beginning to the present time and continues to update the piece. She writes in real-time on the arbitrary and illegal arrests of activists, protesters and bloggers, and the shutting-down of newspapers. She urges people to use social media in a responsible way to promote a non-violent, thriving civil society movement.
In addition, Pham Doan Trang advocates for the rule of law. She is an editor for Law Magazine, which was founded online in November 2014. The magazine has published many articles and translations concerning various legal issues such as lawyers and human rights, the struggle against forced confessions, and the use of corporal punishment, domestic violence, legal reforms in China, high-profile death sentence cases in Vietnam, “Miranda” rights, and many more. The magazine has also published articles about Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Other social issues that Pham Doan Trang works on include LGBT rights, the environment, and women’s rights. She does advocacy work on international issues such as the yellow umbrella democracy movement in Hong Kong, for which she provided a timeline of events and key issues for Vietnamese readers who cannot read other languages, and the human rights crisis in Crimea, translating articles about these subjects into Vietnamese.
She is the co-author of many articles on legal matters with the legal scholar Trinh Huu Long. She also operates a number of websites with other bloggers, including Vietnam Rights Now and Law Magazine. She has traveled internationally with other bloggers and activists to draw attention to human rights problems in Vietnam.
Pham Doan Trang’s work is also marked by her unusual effort to attract international attention to Vietnam’s abysmal human rights record. Her blog includes English translations of her writing in Vietnamese, including materials calling for the release of political prisoners. Other entries includes “Report on Suppression of Bloggers celebrating International HR Day in Vietnam,” “Refoulement When Vietnam Hands Uighur Immigrants Back to China?” “The Laws of State Impunity,” “Media Censorship in Vietnam,” and “Chronology of Blogging Movement in Vietnam.”
Nguyen Tin is a singer who sometimes performs sentimental songs composed during the historical period of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) that remain prohibited by the communist regime. Recently, he has begun to sing about social and human rights issues and the plight of political prisoners such as Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (“Mother Mushroom”), and Ho Van Hai (Dr. Ho Hai).
Nguyen Tin also raised money to help the families of political prisoners. In June 2018, he participated in a public demonstration against the draft law on the special economic zones and the draft law on cyber security. Afterward, police detained him for 48 hours and demanded the password to his cell phone. When he declined, police beat him severely. He went on a hunger strike during his detention.
Nguyen Dang Cao Dai
Nguyen Dang Cao Dai is a construction engineer and a human rights advocate who has helped support political prisoners including Tran Hoang Phuc, Phan Kim Khanh, Tran Thi Nga, and many others. He once participated in the democracy movement known as Bloc 8406, named after the date of its founding on April 4, 2006. He campaigned against the activities of Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a massive marine disaster along the central coast of Vietnam in April 2016. He joined protests against China’s Nine-Dash Line and its President Xi Jinping. He has supported a popular movement in favor of a clean and green environment.