Annual Report: Viet Nam 2013

May 30, 2013

Annual Report: Viet Nam 2013

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Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

Head of state Truong Tan Sang

Head of government Nguyen Tan Dung

Repression of government critics and activists worsened, with severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly. At least 25 peaceful dissidents, including bloggers and songwriters, were sentenced to long prison terms in 14 trials that failed to meet international standards. Members of ethnic and religious groups faced human rights violations. At least 86 people were sentenced to death, with more than 500 on death row.


A political crisis arose over alleged mishandling of the economy, with high inflation and debt levels, and corruption scandals linked to state businesses. A secret “criticism” and “self-criticism” programme in the ruling Communist Party lasted for several months. The Prime Minister publicly apologized for economic mismanagement, but retained his position. Public consultations were announced on amending the 1992 Constitution, and on gay marriage. An escalation of the territorial conflict with China in the East Sea (also known as the South China Sea) resulted in anti-China demonstrations in Viet Nam. Reports of land disputes and violent forced evictions increased. Viet Nam announced it would run for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in 2014-2016. In November, Viet Nam adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, despite serious concerns that it fell short of international standards.

Freedom of expression

Repression of dissent and attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly continued. Short-term arrests of people taking part in peaceful demonstrations occurred, including in June, when 30 farmers were arrested after protesting for three days outside government buildings in Ha Noi about being forcibly evicted three years earlier.

  • In September, the Prime Minister called for greater controls on the internet and ordered legal action to be taken against three named blogs after they reported on the political crisis.

Vaguely worded provisions of the national security section of the 1999 Penal Code were used to criminalize peaceful political and social dissent. By the end of the year, dozens of peaceful political, social and religious activists were in pre-trial detention or had been imprisoned. They included Nguyen Phuong Uyen, a 20-year-old student arrested in October for distributing anti-government leaflets.

Prisoners of conscience

At least 27 prisoners of conscience (detained before 2012) remained held. They included Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest serving an eight-year sentence for advocating human rights, freedom of speech and political change.


Long prison terms were handed down to bloggers in an apparent attempt to silence others. They were charged with “conducting propaganda” and aiming to “overthrow” the government. Dissidents were held in lengthy pre-trial detention, often incommunicado and sometimes beyond the period allowed under Vietnamese law. Reports of beatings during interrogation emerged. Trials failed to meet international standards of fairness, with no presumption of innocence, lack of effective defence, and no opportunity to call witnesses. Families of defendants were harassed by local security forces, prevented from attending trials and sometimes lost their work and education opportunities.