Despite Criticisms, Hanoi Claims It Guarantees Human Rights at the Universal Periodic Review

Notable events:

  • Hanoi Says it Guarantees Human Rights at the Universal Periodic Review
  • UN Special Rapporteurs Raise Concerns over Le Huu Minh Tuan’s Health in Joint Letter
  • Family of Dang Dinh Bach’s Struggle: “We Are Cornered in a Dead End”
  • The 88 Project: Vietnam Arrests Labor Reformer Who Works to Legalize Independent Trade Unions
  • Phan Tat Thanh, Former Administrator of Dissident Fan Page, Sentenced to Eight Years

Hanoi Says It Guarantees Human Rights at the Universal Periodic Review

Hanoi defended its human rights record during the fourth Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on May 7, responding to international concerns about declining civic space and increasing restrictions on individual liberties. The review session was recorded and broadcast live.

The Vietnamese delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Do Hung Viet, proclaimed Hanoi’s guarantee of fundamental rights with examples of the country’s social stability and economic development. Several representatives from the ministries of justice, telecommunications, education and training, and public security also made speeches. They denied allegations that the government suppressed freedom of speech and assembly.

A spokesperson for the telecommunications ministry said that Vietnam “has a consistent policy of not censoring press publications before printing or broadcasting,” and it only censors information that “infringes on the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals.” Meanwhile, a speaker for the Ministry of Public Security said that Hanoi still “allows people to hold rallies and mass demonstrations although the country has yet to adopt the law on protest.” The public security spokeswoman also rejected reports about the government’s crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) activities. 

On the recommendations for Vietnam, a majority of representatives present during the review session, including members of the European Union and South American nations – such as Argentina and Chile – have urged Hanoi to adopt a moratorium on the application of the death penalty, reduce the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty, and move towards its eventual abolition.

Among others, Cyprus, Italy, and Denmark call on Hanoi to guarantee freedom of religion and belief. The Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom propose repealing or revising Articles 117 and 331 of the Penal Code to protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

UN Special Rapporteurs Raise Concerns over Le Huu Minh Tuan’s Health in Joint Letter

In a joint letter sent to the Vietnamese government dated March 5, 2024, a group of five United Nations human rights experts raised concerns about the health of Le Huu Minh Tuan, an independent journalist and a member of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), who is serving an 11-year sentence under Article 117 of the Penal Code, which forbids “distributing anti-state propaganda.” The letter was published on May 3 after Hanoi failed to respond.

The letter, co-signed by special rapporteurs who work on the right to freedom of expression and torture and degrading treatment, detailed the worrisome deterioration of Tuan’s health, especially his digestive problems, and urged the Vietnamese authorities to provide more information about his current conditions and to ensure that he has access to adequate health care.

Several reports revealed that Tuan’s poor health seems to be exacerbated as a result of insufficient medical care while in detention, in addition to the reported poor standard of living conditions in the Xuyen Moc Prison in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, where he is being held.

Based on information from the journalist’s family, in late 2022, a prison physician diagnosed him with ulcerative colitis after he began to experience digestive problems. Although the family sent Tuan medications prescribed by a doctor, the prison officials only allowed him to take medicines provided by the prison medical unit.

On December 27, 2023, Tuan’s family filed a request to several government agencies, including the management body of the C10 Department, the prison supervisor, and the Ho Chi Minh City Supreme People’s Procuracy, to suspend his sentence on medical grounds and transfer him to hospital for necessary medical treatment. The prison management department denied the request on Jan. 9, stating he “is not eligible for suspension of sentence.” Tuan’s family has expressed a concern that his symptoms reportedly resemble those of colon cancer.

The UN special rapporteurs previously sent two other joint letters to the Vietnamese government regarding Tuan’s case. The first letter was sent on Sept. 17, 2020, after the arrests of Tuan and two other IJAVN journalists, Pham Chi Dung and Nguyen Tuong Thuy. In another letter dated Nov. 22, 2021, UN experts questioned whether these journalists were convicted for exercising their freedom of expression. 

Tran Phuong Thao, wife of prisoner of conscience Dang Dinh Bach, described the intolerable distress and difficulty she had endured during her husband’s imprisonment in a letter dated April 27. The 88 Project published Thao’s letter, which she addressed to those concerned about Bach and international human rights organizations.

In the letter, Thao opened her heart to disclose both the financial and psychological hardship she had to face regarding their family’s future as Bach was held behind bars.

She wrote that their three-year-old son will not be able to attend a public school later this year because she does not have their home registration to submit to the school. The registration belongs to Bach, who is in prison and cannot provide it to the school.

The financial pressure has become increasingly burdensome for Thao, who is grappling with a higher cost of living. “Yes, we are cornered in a dead end,” she wrote in the letter.

Meanwhile, Bach’s living conditions in Nghe An Prison No. 6 further distraught Thao. When Bach called home on April 26, he revealed the inhumane conditions of his confinement, which led to “a deterioration of his physical and mental health.” The detention cell he was assigned was packed and surrounded by high walls and wire mesh above, earning it the name “tiger cage.” The extreme temperatures, poor ventilation, and the lack of natural light at Nghe An Prison further exacerbate Bach’s plight as he has to spend nearly his whole day in the prison cell.

Given these unbearable circumstances, Thao pleads with those who care about Bach to bring attention to his situation by calling for an emergency visit of the U.N. Special Rapporteurs. She also hopes Bach’s friends, colleagues, and other international organizations send him letters in prison.

The 88 Project: Vietnam Arrests Labor Reformer Who Works to Legalize Independent Trade Unions

According to a May 6 report by The 88 Project, an advocate for freedom of expression in Vietnam, the Hanoi Police Department has arrested Nguyen Van Binh, 51, the director general of the Legal Affairs Department at the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA).

The report writes that multiple sources have confirmed Binh’s arrest and that he is under investigation for his alleged violation of Article 337 of the Penal Code. Article 337 criminalizes the “deliberate disclosure of classified information; appropriation, trading, [and] destruction of classified documents.” According to The 88 Project, Binh’s name and title have also been removed from MOLISA’s website.

Binh is a trade unionist known for his efforts to expand the protection and promotion of labor rights. He has a doctorate in economic law and has conducted extensive research on strengthening the independence and representation of national trade unions.

In 2015, Binh drafted the first code of conduct on sexual harassment in the workplace. Before his arrest, Binh had been working on the ratification of ILO Convention 87 to submit to the National Assembly as part of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, which could pave the way for independent trade unions to operate in Vietnam.

More worryingly, The 88 Project notes that Binh’s detention occurred after the Politburo adopted Directive 24, a leaked document that stipulates more stringent control over the operation of civil society organizations and trade unions. The directive frames these groups as threats to national security and urges authorities to prevent reformist tendencies among officials “that weaken our regime from within and threaten the interests of the nation.”

Phan Tat Thanh, Former Administrator of Dissident Fan Page, Sentenced to Eight Years

A court in Ho Chi Minh City on May 8 sentenced defendant Phan Tat Thanh, 38, to eight years in prison under Article 117 of the Penal Code for “making, storing, disseminating or propagating information, documents to oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” state media reported. The prosecutors claimed that Thanh’s activity “constitutes a serious crime which threatens national security” and  that “it is necessary to impose a harsh punishment to deter similar activities.”

Phan Tat Thanh is a pro-democracy activist and an administrator of a dissident Facebook fan page called Nhật ký yêu nước (A Patriot’s Diary). The Ho Chi Minh City Police Department detained him in July 2023 and charged him with violating Article 117 of the Penal Code. However, his family said Thanh had no longer engaged in pro-democracy activism but focused on building his business.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that court officials allowed Thanh’s parents into the courtroom. However, they rejected requests from foreign diplomatic missions in Vietnam, such as the Consulate General of Germany and the United States, to send representatives to observe the trial. Phan Tat Chi, Thanh’s father, said he was very frustrated since the sentence the court handed was higher than the recommendation of the Procuracy, which suggests between five to seven years of imprisonment. 

Chi said that in his last words, Thanh pleaded not guilty and said that the investigators obtained his testimonies through forced confessions. However, the judge interrupted his speech and said, “This is not a forum for you to talk nonsense.”

Rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on May 7 called on the Vietnamese government to immediately drop all charges against activist Phan Tat Thanh and to release him, according to a statement sent to VOA News Vietnamese language service.

“Peaceful advocacy for democracy and human rights is not a crime,” said Patricia Gossman, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). “The Vietnamese government needs to immediately release Phan Tat Thanh and drop all charges against him.” Gossman called on the government to immediately release all those imprisoned or detained simply for expressing peaceful political views.

Four months, $75,000: How Vietnamese are being smuggled to the U.S.

RFA/ Cao Nguyen/ May 7

“Just 263 Vietnamese crossed into the United States via its border with Mexico between October 2021 and October 2022, but nearly 3,300 made that crossing a year later, according to figures from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP. That number is certain to be surpassed in 2024. From last October to this March, nearly 2,400 have already crossed.

The surge in migration to the U.S. has found parallels elsewhere. In April, the UK’s Home Office announced a partnership with Vietnam to tackle illegal migration routes amid skyrocketing numbers of risky small boat crossings over the English Channel. In 2022, 1% of those arriving on small boat arrivals came from Vietnam, rising to 5% in 2023. So far this year, more Vietnamese have crossed by boat than any other nationality.”


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