Authorities in Viet Nam must immediately and unconditionally release human rights lawyer Nguyễn Vãn Ðài, who has been detained on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state” shortly after the EU-Viet Nam Human Rights dialogue was held in the capital Ha Noi, Amnesty International said today.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Public Security, Nguyễn Vãn Ðài was taken into police custody on Wednesday and charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code, which has frequently been used to imprison peaceful activists and human rights defenders. A search warrant was issued for his house in Ha Noi. The arrest comes a month before the once every five years National Congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam which is often preceded by a crackdown on dissent.
“Nguyễn Vãn Ðài is a brave and passionate activist who has been raising awareness domestically and internationally about human rights violations in a country that tolerates no dissent. His arrest highlights Viet Nam’s spurious commitment to human rights. He must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The timing of Ðài’s arrest is worrying and may indicate the start of a crackdown on government critics similar to those which have preceded previous party congresses. Rather than locking up its critics, Viet Nam should be looking on the party congress as an opportunity to reform and to move the country towards a genuine commitment to human rights.”
Nguyễn Vãn Ðài is a well-known human rights lawyer and former prisoner of conscience. He founded the dissident Committee for Human Rights in Viet Nam in 2006 – now called the Vietnam Human Rights Centre – and was one of the original signatories to an online petition on Freedom and Democracy for Viet Nam which garnered the support of thousands.
Between 2007 and 2011, Nguyễn Vãn Ðài served four years in prison on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state”. In April 2013, he founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, and he now faces imprisonment for a second time for his commitment to human rights. If convicted for “spreading propaganda against the state”, Nguyễn Vãn Ðài faces between three and 20 years in prison. Since his arrest this morning, activists inside Viet Nam have been describing Ðài as Viet Nam’s Pu Zhiqiang.
The arrest comes 10 days after Ðài and three colleagues were brutally assaulted by 20 men in plain clothes after they had delivered a small workshop on human rights. The attack is the latest in a series of physical assaults on human rights defenders in Viet Nam over the past 18 months which have been highlighted by the UN, among others.
“The Vietnamese authorities must also take immediate steps to end intimidation, harassment and other forms of attacks against human rights defenders, and establish an independent and impartial body to investigate and bring suspected perpetrators to justice,” said Champa Patel.
Amnesty International and others have repeatedly called for Article 88 to be repealed or amended to conform with international human rights law and standards, which Viet Nam is obliged to uphold as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Vietnamese authorities have stated that several laws relating to human rights are under preparation for approval by the National Assembly in 2016. They include the draft Amended Law on the Press, the draft Law on Association, the draft Law on Demonstrations and the draft Law on Access to Information.