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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Viet Nam

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Viet Nam, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Despite having obtained several marks of international recognition, especially with its entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), its election to the United Nations Security Council, its removal from the American list of "Countries of Particular Concern" with respect to religious freedom and its hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) in November 2006, the Vietnamese Government nevertheless pursued its policy of repression of dissident voices in 2007. Particular targets are activists who demand political reforms that would enable a real protection of human rights and the establishment of democracy: religious leaders, trade union members, independent journalists, peasant farmers who protest against the enforced expropriation of land, and university members whose actions attempt to challenge the monopoly of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

A particularly restrictive legislative environment that is hostile to all human rights activity

Criminalisation of human rights activities

In spite of the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission (2002), of the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance (1998) and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (1994), Viet Nam continues to criminalise human rights activities on the basis of Criminal Code articles that include particularly vague crimes such as "preventing the implementation of solidarity policies" (Article 87 of the Criminal Code), "profiting from democratic freedom to threaten State interests" (Article 258), "spying" (Article 80), or "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam" (Article 88), which entail extremely heavy prison sentences. The Vietnamese authorities have again this year arrested several human rights defenders. Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, a lawyer, pro-democracy activist and founder of the Viet Nam Human Rights Committee, was thus sentenced on May 11, 2007 to five years in prison for "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam". As for Father Nguyen Van Ly, he was sentenced on March 30, 2007 to eight years in prison on the same charges.1

Furthermore, although, at the end of March 2007, Viet Nam strongly repealed Decree 31/CP on "administrative detention", the authorities continue to arrest defenders and assign them to house arrest without trial, on the grounds of Ordinance 44 on "Regulation of Administrative Violations" which came into force on October 1, 2002 and fulfils the same function as the Decree, additionally permitting dissidents to be placed in psychiatric hospitals.

Obstacles to freedom of association

No truly independent NGO, association or free trade union exists in Viet Nam. There is only one official, party-controlled trade union, the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour, which serves mainly to repress any strike movement.

Moreover, international NGOs may only operate in Viet Nam if they have Government approval and work under its control. In 2006 for instance, the Observatory was not permitted to carry out an international fact-finding mission and was forced to send mission investigators unofficially.2

Threats to the freedom of expression: repression of cyber-dissidents

Although the cyber-dissident Nguyen Vu Binh was released in June 2007, after being sentenced to seven years in prison in 2003 for publishing articles "of a reactionary character", including one that was sent to the American Congress and provided evidence of human rights violations, the Vietnamese authorities nevertheless continued their strict control of Internet and severely repress defenders who use Internet to promote human rights and democracy. Thus, six cyber-dissidents who advocate democracy and fundamental freedoms were given prison sentences in May 2007 after being arrested under Article 88 of the Viet Nam Criminal Code, forbidding the dissemination of any "propaganda hostile to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam".

Ongoing repression of defenders of religious freedom

In 2007, there was continued, even increased, repression of leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Viet Nam (UBCV), a prohibited movement that peacefully promotes religious freedom, democracy and human rights. These leaders include Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, who were more and more regularly subjected to house arrest, summons to police stations, arbitrary arrests, restrictions on their freedom of movement, etc. The members of 20 Provincial Committees of poor provinces, set up to assist deprived populations, were also regularly harassed, interrogated, arrested and threatened so that they resign from the committees in the provinces of Binh Dinh, Thua Thien-Hue, Dong Nai and Bac Lieu in particular.

Similarly, the Vietnamese authorities see the activities of the Khmer Krom monks as a threat to national integrity, in that they regularly inform the international community about violations of religious freedom by the Vietnamese regime. On November 8, 2007 for instance, Mr. Tim Sa Khorn, a Khmer Krom bonze and member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples' Organisation (UNPO), was brought before the People's Court of Justice of the An Giang Province, Southern Viet Nam, to be tried for "sabotaging the unification policy" under Article 87 of Viet Nam's Criminal Code. Mr. Tim Sa Khorn was sentenced to one year of imprisonment and denied the right to appeal, in the framework of a trial that took place after four months of incommunicado detention.

Obstacles encountered by defenders of the rights of peasant farmers and workers

The authorities also used repression against peasant farmers who protest against corruption and the confiscation of lands by the State. Indeed, following the ban on demonstrations in front of public buildings (Decree 38/2005), the authorities have systematically made use of violence to control the growing protests of "Victims of Injustice", i.e. the hundreds of thousands of peasants expropriated from their land by the State with no indemnity or with derisory compensation, and who regularly come from the rural regions to lodge complaints and demonstrate in front of Government buildings in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Moreover, since its creation in 2006, the United Workers-Farmers Organisation (UWFO) and its members have regularly been subjected to acts of harassment and some have been forced to carry on their activities secretly.3 For instance, Mr. Tran Quoc Hien was arrested in January 2007, two days after being appointed UWFO Spokesperson. Four other UWFO leaders who had been arrested in November 2006 were sentenced to several years in prison in December 2007. On May 15, 2007, Mr. Tran Quoc Hien was in turn given a five-year prison sentence for "spreading anti-Government propaganda" and "endangering national security".

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 To that extent, the Presidency of the European Union expressed its concern "that several peaceful human rights defenders [Father Nguyen Van Ly, and Messrs. Nguyen Phong, Nguyen Binh Thanh, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Huynh Nguyen Dao, Le Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan, Tran Quoc Hien] have been arrested and given long prison sentences on charges of "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam"" and requested "the government of Viet Nam to release all non-violent political activists who have simply exercised their rights to freedom of expression and association [...]" (See Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the EU on the sentencing of human rights defenders in Viet Nam, May 15, 2007). Similarly, in its Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0359, adopted on July 12, 2007, the European Parliament called for "the immediate and unconditional release of all individuals imprisoned for the sole reason that they have peacefully and legitimately exercised their right to freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of religion [...]" and called on "the Government to put an end to all forms of repression of [these] people [...]".

2 See Report of the Observatory International Fact-Finding Mission, Vietnam: Twelve human rights defenders have the floor, April 2007.

3 In a country in which trade unions are not authorised, the UWFO, which is not recognised by the Government, works for the protection and promotion of workers' rights, including the right to form or belong to a trade union without Government interference. The organisation also calls for justice for people whose lands or goods have been illegally confiscated by Government officials, and for an end to the use of cheap labour and dangerous working conditions.

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