Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2005 - Vietnam

Arbitrary detention of cyber-dissidents81

By the end of 2005, several defenders sentenced and imprisoned for having posted, on the Internet, articles critical of the government or promoting human rights remained in detention, including:

– Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh, a journalist arrested on 25 September 2002 and sentenced to seven years in prison in December 2003 for having posted articled "of a reactionary nature", including an account of human rights violations sent to the United States Congress. The sentence was confirmed on appeal on 5 May 2004. The prison authorities put pressure on him so that he make a "self-criticism", which he always refused;

– Mr. Nguyen Khac Toan, a businessman and former military officer arrested on 8 January 2002 in a cybercafé in Hanoï. Accused of having helped peasants to draft complaints to the authorities to protest against the confiscation of their land by the State, and of having sent information to exiled Vietnamese human rights organisations, he was sentenced on 20 December 2002 to twelve years in prison for "espionage";

– Dr. Pham Hong Son, a doctor and director of a pharmaceutical company, arrested on 27 March 2002 for having translated and posted online an article entitled "What is Democracy?" he found on the website of the American Embassy in Vietnam. He had previously written several articles supporting democracy and human rights that he had posted online on Vietnamese discussion websites. He had been sentenced in June 2003 to 13 years in prison for "espionage", a punishment that, under international pressure, had been reduced on 26 August 2003 to five years in prison and three years of house arrest. By the end of 2005, his health condition was particularly critical. He might suffer from tuberculosis.

Release of several defenders and ongoing harassment of Mr. Nguyen Dan Que and Mr. Thich Thien Minh82

On 2 February 2005, several Vietnamese human rights activists were released after having benefited from an amnesty on the occasion of the Lunar New Year. These included:

– Dr Nguyen Dan Que, arrested on 17 March 2003 and sentenced in July 2004 to two and half years in prison for "abusing democratic rights to jeopardise the interests of the State and the legitimate rights and interests of social organisations and citizens", after he denounced obstacles on freedom of expression and the press in Vietnam. Nevertheless, since he was released, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que was subjected to constant police surveillance and persistent acts of harassment;

– Mr. Nguyen Dinh Huy, founder of the Movement to Unite the People and Build Democracy, arrested on 17 November 1993 and sentenced in April 1995 to 15 years in prison for having organised a conference in Ho Chi Minh City on development and democracy;

– Father Nguyen Van Ly, sentenced to fifteen years in prison (reduced to five years) and five years of probation in 2001, for having protested against attacks on the freedom of religion and given evidence to the American Commission on International Freedom of Religion;

– Monk Thich Thien Minh, sentenced to a double life sentence (in 1979 and 1986), later reduced to 20 years, for supporting the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and attempting to escape from a re-education camp. Since his release, Mr. Thich Thien Minh remained subjected to acts of harassment by the police. In particular, he received repeated phone calls threatening him with death if he did not cease all contact with foreign human rights organisations, and if he continued to denounce violations of human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam to foreign media. Some of these calls also targeted his brother Mr. Huynh Huu Nghia, as well as his wife.

Furthermore, on 23 March 2005, a delegation of officials of the Ministry of Health in Hanoi came to Bac Lieu and summoned Mr. Huynh Huu Nghia for an interrogation, which was held in a local hotel. On 24 March 2005, the delegation, accompanied by local security officials, also visited Mr. Thich Thien Minh, at the home of his brother.

On 18 October 2005, Mr. Huynh Huu Nhieu, another of his brothers, was threatened and harassed following an interview that Mr. Thich Thien Minh had given to Radio Free Asia.

By the end of 2005, Mr. Thich Thien Minh and his brothers remained watched and harassed on a daily basis.

Ongoing acts of harassment of UBCV members83

By the end of 2005, the patriarch Mr. Thich Huyen Quang and his assistant, Mr. Thich Quang Do, both members of UBCV, remained under house arrest since 1982. Mr. Thich Huyen Quang was living in the Nguyen Thieu Monastery, in Binh Dinh province, and Mr. Thich Quang Do was in his Zen Thanh Minh Monastery, in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). On 9 October 2003, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the two monks had been charged with "holding State secrets" (Articles 263 and 264 of the Criminal Code).

Furthermore, since he launched his "Appeal of the New Year", supporting pluralism and democracy in Vietnam in February 2005, Mr. Thich Quang Do has been subjected to even more severe controls.

Moreover, in October 2005, Mr. Thich Vien Phuong was summoned to pay a fine of 15 millions dongs (the equivalent of 43 months of the minimum salary) for having filmed a message that Mr. Thich Quang Do wished to address to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in March-April 2005 (this message was finally only provided in audio form). On 30 March 2005, Mr. Thich Vien Phuong was arrested by the police at the exit of the Zen Thanh Minh Monastery (Saigon), where he had just filmed Mr. Thich Quang Do. The police confiscated the camera and the video. On 4 November 2005, the People's Committee of the District of Phu Nhuan (Saigon) refused his appeal against the fine, which had to be paid within 30 days. Mr. Thich Vien Phuong was found guilty of "producing films or videos that slander or bring into question the prestige of organisations, honour or dignity of individuals".

In addition, shortly after Vietnam was retained on the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) in relation to religious freedom by the American State Department on 8 November 2005, the official Vietnamese media once more launched a denigration campaign against Mr. Thich Quang Do.

Finally, on 19 November 2005, the security forces that continually surrounded the Zen Thanh Minh Monastery, where Mr. Thich Quang Do resides, attempted to prevent him from going to the Giac Hoa Pagoda (in Ho Chi Minh City), where commemoration ceremonies were taking place in honour of the founder of the principles of the Buddhist schools of Vietnam, Master Zen Nguyen Thieu (17th century). As a result, a heated confrontation between the police, Buddhist monks and the crowd took place. Security forces finally had to allow Mr. Thich Quang Do to go, but not without manhandling him. Mr. Thich Quang Do was thus able to attend the ceremonies (under close police surveillance).

Acts of harassment and intimidation against Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh84

At the end of August 2005, Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh, 83, former Dean of the Hanoi Institute of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, and an advocate for democratic reforms, gave evidence before the American Congress Committee on International Relations, as well as at Harvard University, on the lack of democratic freedoms in Vietnam, during a visit to the United States for medical reasons. His statements were vehemently criticised by the official Vietnamese press. On 31 October 2005, he lodged a complaint for defamation against seven newspapers.

Back to Vietnam on 13 November 2005, Mr. Minh Chinh and his wife went to their daughter's house, in Ho Chi Minh City, where they wished to stay for a while, due to Mr. Minh Chinh's health. The police then granted him a temporary residence permit of 10 days (indeed, according to Vietnamese law, residence permits have to be obtained from the local police each time one wants to overnight in another place than one's official residence).

On 19 November 2005, a local security agent warned the daughter of Mr. Minh Chinh that her father's presence caused serious unrest and dissatisfaction in the neighbourhood because he was "a traitor and an enemy of the people". The agent allegedly stated that the police would not protect him if any violence broke out.

Two days later, a crowd gathered outside the house of Mr. Minh Chinh's daughter, threatened him and committed acts of vandalism. They threw a bucket filled with sulphuric acid into the house. The police made a report on this incident, but took no further action. Later in the evening, a group of ten young men banged loudly on the door and threatened Mr. Minh Chinh, demanding that he return to Hanoi. The police repeated that they would not be able to protect him.

Since their return to Hanoi on 1 December 2005, Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh and his wife were taken aside on five occasions by a crowd of around fifty persons who insulted them during several hours and sprayed them with fermented prawn sauce (a sauce with a strong and unpleasant odour), without any intervention from several present police officers. Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh's complaints to the authorities remained unanswered.

Acts of harassment against cyber-dissident Mr. Do Nam Hai85

In December 2004, Mr. Do Nam Hai, a bank employee in Ho Chi Minh City, had been subjected to acts of harassment for having openly criticised the authorities in articles published on the Internet and called for democratic reforms and pluralism in Vietnam, under the pen name of Phuong Nam. In particular, he had been interrogated several times by the police. Two months after having given an interview to the American radio station Radio Free Asia in October 2004, the police had searched his home, seized his computer and told him that he would be able to recover it "once all the information contained in it would be deleted".

In February 2005, he was dismissed for having refused to cease his activities. Mr. Do Nam Hai remained very closely watched by the Vietnamese security services.

In the night of 8 to 9 December 2005, he was arrested and interrogated for 24 hours, before being released. The arrest could possibly be related to the project of dissidents Mr. Tran Khue and Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh to launch a website called The Voice of Democracy on 10 December 2005.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

81. See Annual Report 2004.

82. See Press Releases, 1 February and 29 March 2005.

83. See Annual Report 2004.

84. See Urgent Appeal VNM 001/1105/OBS 116.

85. See Vietnam Committee for the Defence of Human Rights.


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