Crackdown on activists, dissidents escalates in Vietnam


Vietnam is intensifying its crackdown on human rights activists and dissidents ahead of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s 13th party congress on January 2021, Human Rights Watch said Friday.

Authorities have arrested and convicted numerous people for political crimes between late 2019 and June 2020.

Members of the Independent Journalists Association, a member of the human rights group Brotherhood for Democracy, and several other independent writers and activists have also been detained and charged, while courts have convicted several previously detained dissidents and sentenced them to significant prison time, said the rights group.

“Vietnam is clamping down hard on dissent this year, and other countries need to speak up,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “Vietnam’s allies and trading partners should be complaining about these new cases to Hanoi and demanding that the authorities release these political prisoners.”

In the past, Vietnamese authorities have rounded up dissidents and activists to ensure that the party congress appears to run smoothly and without any dissident or opposition voices. At least 150 people convicted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association and currently in prison. At least 15 others have been charged but not yet put on trial, according to HRW.

Among the troubling arrests of members of the Independent Journalists Association, were that of Nguyen Tuong Thuy in May and Le Huu Minh Tuan in June, by the Ho Chi Minh City police apparently for their affiliation with the association.

The president of the organisation, Pham Chi Dung, had been arrested last November, apparently in connection to his opposition to the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement. All three were charged with spreading anti-state propaganda under article 117 of the penal code.

The Independent Journalists Association was founded in July 2014 to promote media freedom and democracy. Members have contributed commentary pieces for the association’s website Viet Nam ThoiBao (Vietnam Times), participated in anti-China and pro-environment protests, supported political prisoners and fellow activists, and attended human rights-related events.

In the past, the authorities have subjected the group to intrusive surveillance, harassment, intimidation, house arrest, travel bans, detention, and interrogation.

“Government documents in Vietnam typically contain letterhead with the words ‘independence-freedom-happiness’ – but with these cases we see that anyone who exercises independence has their freedom and happiness taken away,” Sifton said. (Source: HRW)