Human Rights Recap January 2016

In Hanoi this month, police detained ~30 people in a protest over land grabs. The entire protest drew about 100 participants and 200-300 police. Radio Free Asia notes that, “Land grabs in which government officials use their authority to confiscate and sell land to developers are a common cause of social unrest across Southeast Asia, sparking small- and-large scale protests on an almost weekly basis.” Just days before the protest, Hanoi police had participated in a public gathering “anti-terrorism” scenario.

On January 15th, Ho Thi Bich Khuong was released after serving a 5-year sentence. However, even after gaining her freedom, the government is still interfering with her human rights. The government seized her land and house. Read about her life and activism, here.

In Human Rights Watch’s recent World Report, the organization highlighted Vietnam’s changing, but ever-present, methods of cracking down on dissent.

“Vietnam tried to minimize political trails and convictions in 2015 to gain favor during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but repression against activists remained firm, with beatings increasing. –Brad Adams, Asia director, Human Rights Watch

In 2015, attacks on activists rose, the National Assembly passed a revised penal code further targeting activists, and land grabs and civil organization repression continued. Several were arrested in 2015, including environmental protester Nguyen Viet Dung, former political prisoner Tran Anh Kim, and activists Ngueyn Van Dai, charged under Article 88, and Le Thu Ha. Several were also released, including labor activist Do Thi Minh Hanh. However, countless others remained imprisoned, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Bui Thi Minh Hang. Small steps of progress were made on other fronts, including criminal procedure and gender recognition. Read more from the 2015 report, here.

Additionally, Freedom House termed Vietnam as “Not Free” in its Freedom in the World 2016 report.

On the political side, Vietnam’s General Secretary has promoted one-party Communist rule over “authoritarianism disguised as democracy.” General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong has been re-elected to another five-year term at the head of the Party, alongside new Prime Minister (former Deputy Prime Minister) Nguyen Xuan Phuc and new President (former Minister of Public Security) Tran Dai Quang. The Jakarta Post noted that “The party has 4.5 million members in a country of 93 million people, who have no direct say in how their leaders are elected.” With no change in leadership or the leadership structure, business-as-usual is likely, with little change in the direction of the country expected.

January 20th marked 6 years since Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was sentenced to prison under Articles 79 and 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. The blogger and entrepreneur is serving 16 years.

Other January anniversaries include the following:

On January 7, 2015, Tran Anh Kim, former military officer, was released from prison after serving 5.5 years for his pro-democracy work. However, he was re-arrested later in 2015.

Also on January 7, 2015, newspaper Nguoi Cao Tuoi had its license taken away for its coverage of corruption; the editor, Kim Quoc Hoa, has been targeted by authorities.

On January 9, 2013, fourteen bloggers, writers, and activists were convicted under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code and sentenced to between three and 13 years in prison (they were originally arrested in 2011); among those convicted were Ho Duc Hoa, Paulus Le Van Son, Dang Xuan Dieu, Nguyen Van Duyet, and Nong Hung Anh.

On January 28, 2013, the twenty-two members of a religious environmental group, arrested in February of 2012, were tried under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. They received sentences ranging from a minimum of 10 years to life in prison (for the founder).

On January 29, 2011, Pham Thanh Nghien was sentenced to four years in prison with three years of probation.

Please see our timeline for more information on arrests, trials, releases, civil organization and political events, and other human-rights related events.