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Six Vietnamese rights activists and bloggers currently detained for exercising their basic rights. Top row from left to right: Hoang Thi Minh Hong, Bui Tuan Lam, Nguyen Lan Thang. Bottom row: Dang Dang Phuoc, Tran Van Bang, Truong Van Dung. © 2023 Human Rights Watch

(Bangkok) – The Vietnamese government broadly repressed fundamental civil and political rights during 2023, and severely punished those who challenged the Communist Party of Vietnam’s monopoly on power, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2024. The authorities continued to prohibit the formation of independent labor unions and human rights organizations, and outlawed independent religious groups.

“The Vietnamese government has tried to characterize improved relations with the United States and other governments as a substitute for addressing the deteriorating human rights situation in the country,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam’s international trade partners and donors should stop giving a free pass to blatant double standards that undermine pressure for Hanoi to fulfill its human rights obligations.”

In the 740-page World Report 2024, its 34th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In her introductory essay, Executive Director Tirana Hassan says that 2023 was a consequential year not only for human rights suppression and wartime atrocities but also for selective government outrage and transactional diplomacy that carried profound costs for the rights of those not in on the deal. But she says there were also signs of hope, showing the possibility of a different path, and calls on governments to consistently uphold their human rights obligations. 

Vietnam currently imprisons more than 160 people for peacefully exercising their basic civil and political rights. During the first 10 months of 2023, the courts convicted at least 28 rights campaigners, and sentenced them to long prison terms. They included Truong Van Dung, Nguyen Lan Thang, Tran Van Bang, Bui Tuan Lam, and Dang Dang Phuoc. Police were holding at least 19 other people in pretrial detention on politically motivated charges, including former political prisoners Nguyen Hoang Nam and Le Minh The.

In 2023, Vietnam expanded its repression of civil society activists. In May, police arrested a leading environmentalist, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, on bogus tax evasion charges. Hoang Thi Minh Hong was an Obama scholar in 2018, and former President Barack Obama praised her environmental leadership. In September, a court convicted and sentenced her to three years in prison.

The environmental campaigner Dang Dinh Bach, who was sentenced to prison in January 2022 on politically motivated tax evasion charges, remained behind bars. In August, he was reportedly hit on the head from behind for trying to tell his family on a phone call how he was being treated.

Human Rights Watch remained seriously concerned about Vietnam’s repression of freedom of access to information by pressuring social media to take down contents. Vietnamese authorities monitor, harass, and crack down independent religious groups. Members of these groups are denounced in public, forced to renounce their faith, arbitrarily arrested, abusively interrogated, and imprisoned after unfair trials.

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