Human Rights Report 2020

ILLINOIS, U.S., April 6, 2021 – 

In our 2020 Human Rights Report, we highlight the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Vietnam. We document arrests, trials, harassment, and abuse of political prisoners and activists at risk. The 52-page report also includes an evaluation of Vietnam’s persistent failure to comply with its 2019 Universal Periodic Review commitments and lists of all those activists arrested, tried, and/or subjected to harassment in 2021.

In 2020, Vietnam continued to repress free speech and target human rights defenders and civil society groups for their peaceful dissent. This included:

35 individuals arrested for peaceful activism; 

27 individuals tried for “national security” crimes; 

26 activists at risk who faced harassment in 59 incidents;

Numerous documented cases of physical and psychological abuse of political prisoners.

Fewer people were arrested and tried in Vietnam in 2020 than in 2019, but more women were arrested this year than last, as well as more communication professionals, such as journalists. A larger proportion of those tried under so-called “national security laws” in 2020 were sentenced to 5+ years in prison in 2020 than 2019 as well, and two people were sentenced to life in prison. 

Arrests of key civil society leaders in 2020, such as Pham Doan Trang, land rights activist Can Thi Theu of Duong Noi Commune, and Le Huu Minh Tuan and Nguyen Tuong Thuy of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, showed that the government continues to try to dismantle successful civil society groups and hone in on areas of activism it finds particularly worrisome. Many activists were harassed multiple times throughout the year or harassed in the weeks leading up to their eventual arrests.

In prison, political prisoners continued to face difficulties in accessing healthcare, meeting with lawyers and family, and appealing their sentences, leading some to protest prison policies or even go on hunger strike to demand better conditions. Prison authorities continued their use of forced mental health treatment to discredit and weaken activists. 

All these developments came as Vietnam received international praise for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. We call on foreign governments and international human rights organizations to hold Vietnam accountable for the human rights commitments that it accepted in the recommendations from its 2019 UPR and to press Vietnam for change in 2021 during its midterm UPR review. 




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