Mass Arrests of Peaceful Protestors; Bloggers Detained Indefinitely
(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International today called on Vietnamese authorities to end their crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, following an August 5 clampdown in Hanoi. Officials detained around 30 participants who were peacefully protesting China’s territorial claims to the disputed South China Sea.
“This is the latest blow to freedom of expression in Vietnam, with the authorities using short term arrests as a way of intimidating those who seek to protest peacefully,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s researcher on Vietnam. “The ongoing crackdown has put bloggers, lawyers, businesspeople, democracy activists and countless others behind bars.”
Though all detainees have now been released, concern over the recent crackdown is increasing. The mass arrests in Hanoi followed news of a further delay in the trial of three well-known bloggers accused of dispersing anti-state propaganda. Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Than and Phan Thanh Hai are all founding members of the Free Vietnamese Journalists’ Club and write frequently on human rights. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.
“The three bloggers are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression,” said Abbott. “Amnesty International again calls on Vietnam’s government to immediately and unconditionally release them.”
The trial–already delayed once–has been further postponed as authorities investigate the death last week of Ta Phong Tan’s mother, who set herself on fire outside the government buildings in southern Bac Lieu province to protest against the treatment of her daughter. The three bloggers have all been held in lengthy pre-trial detention, with Dieu Cay and Phan Thanh Hai already exceeding the legal maximum period of 16 months. The bloggers have only had limited access to their families and lawyers.
Although Vietnam is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which protects freedom of expression, authorities are harassing and imprisoning those who criticize government policies and advocate for greater freedoms.
Last year, more than 20 dissidents were put on trial for anti-state propaganda and other crimes, all receiving lengthy prison sentences. At least 18 more individuals were arrested and held in pre-trial detention on similar charges before their release.
In 2012, the crackdown on freedom of expression has continued, with even more trials and detentions taking place. Despite this, Vietnam has expressed its intent to obtain a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Donor countries have done their part to urge Vietnam’s government to improve its human rights record, with the United States demanding the release of the three bloggers.
“Amnesty International is calling on donor countries to prioritize human rights in developing their relationships with Vietnam,” concluded Abbott. “They must do all that they can to support those whose voices the Vietnamese authorities are trying to silence.”
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.