SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIET NAM: Surge in number of prisoners of conscience, new research shows

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14 May 2019
[International Secretariat]
  • One tenth are jailed for online activity, such as sharing views on Facebook
  • US pressed to challenge Viet Nam at human rights dialogue this week
  • The number of prisoners of conscience unjustly jailed across Viet Nam has surged by one third to 128 in signs of a growing crackdown on peaceful activism, new research by Amnesty International reveals today.

The number of prisoners of conscience unjustly jailed across Viet Nam has surged by one third to 128 in signs of a growing crackdown on peaceful activism, new research by Amnesty International reveals today.

The Vietnamese government holds at least 128 prisoners of conscience in prisons across the country, a sharp rise from the 97 identified last year. Detention conditions remain appalling, with evidence of prisoners being tortured and otherwise ill-treated, routinely held incommunicado and in solitary confinement, kept in squalid conditions, and denied medical care, clean water, and fresh air.

Among these prisoners of conscience are an increasing number of people jailed for comments made on social media platforms who now represent almost 10 percent of those jailed. With a new and deeply repressive Cybersecurity Law having taken effect on 1 January 2019, the use of invasive surveillance methods to target perceived critics is likely to intensify.

“Beyond crushing any sign of political opposition, the Vietnamese authorities are also going after anyone who challenges corruption or wants to improve communities through human rights work and activism. The right to speak one’s mind is at risk.”

The list includes lawyers, bloggers, human rights defenders, environmental activists and pro-democracy campaigners. Many were handed long jail sentences after farcical trials, and were often detained for lengthy periods even before charges were brought against them.

A new penal code took effect in Viet Nam in 2018. Like the previous one, it contains vague and overly broad provisions that are often used to prosecute activists and other perceived critics. At least 34 people on this list were prosecuted under provisions from the new penal code.

US pressed to challenge Viet Nam at human rights dialogue this week

This new research comes as Viet Nam seeks closer diplomatic and economic ties with the United States and the European Union.

This week, US representatives will visit Vietnam to participate in a ‘human rights dialogue’ with Vietnamese counterparts. The US-Vietnam ‘human rights dialogue’ has been held regularly since 2006. In October 2018, prisoner of conscience Mẹ Nấm, known by her blogging name Mother Mushroom, was released in the margins of a visit by then US defence secretary Gen. James Mattis.

“The rising number of prisoners of conscience shows the Vietnamese authorities’ duplicity when it comes to engaging in official discussions on human rights,” said Nicholas Bequelin.

“Mother Mushroom’s release was a huge relief - but the price of her freedom was exile, and the whole operation was a convenient diversion from the many dozens still languishing behind bars.”

A current prisoner of conscience, Tran Hoang Phuc, is in jail even though his peaceful activism was recognised by the United States in the past. Phuc was a member of the US’ Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and was invited to meet former President Barack Obama during his state visit to Viet Nam in May 2016, although authorities denied him access to the meeting.

Phuc was arrested a year later, in June 2017. Tried on charges of ‘conducting propaganda against the state’ for making and sharing videos perceived to be critical of the government on social media, he was sentenced to six years in prison, followed by four years under house arrest.

At the upcoming dialogue, the US government should reiterate that without real progress on human rights there are limits to how far the US-Vietnam relationship can go. That progress should be measured by concrete actions, including the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience.

13 May 2019

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