Vietnam to Respect Rights
Dialogue Should Address Political Prisoners, Online
Human Rights Watch
For Immediate Release
(Sydney, August 28, 2019) – The Australian government
should press the Vietnam government
to respect human rights at the 16th Australia-Vietnam human rights
dialogue on August 29, 2019, in Canberra, Human Rights Watch said today.
Australia’s bilateral relationship with Vietnam has deepened significantly,
upgrading to a strategic partnership in 2018. In August 2019, Prime Minister
Scott Morrison visited Hanoi, but failed to address human rights concerns
publicly during his visit.
In a June submission,
Human Rights Watch urged the Australian government to use the dialogue to
improve Vietnam’s poor human rights record, including the systematic suppression
of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion.
Australia should also press the government of Vietnam to immediately release all
political prisoners, and to revise its problematic cybersecurity law.
“Australia’s close ties with Vietnam mean the Australian government has a
responsibility to speak out publicly on Vietnam’s abysmal human rights record,”
Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The crackdown on basic rights in
Vietnam is escalating, with more political prisoners being unjustly detained for
As of August, Human Rights Watch has documented that at least 131 people are
behind bars in Vietnam for exercising their basic rights. The Vietnamese
government should immediately release all these political prisoners and
detainees. Some of the most urgent cases include people with serious health
conditions who require medical assistance, including Ngo
a religious activist; Nguyen
a rights campaigner; and Nguyen
Van Tuc and Ho
The Vietnamese government has detained Chau Van Kham, an Australian citizen
and pro-democracy activist, since January. He is being investigated for alleged
offenses under Vietnam’s sweeping national security laws, including attempting
to “overthrow the state.” Under Vietnam’s criminal procedure code, he will be
allowed to have a defense lawyer only after the police say the investigation is
“Australia should be publicly calling for the immediate release of Chau Van Kham,
an Australian citizen, and all other political prisoners who have been unjustly
jailed in Vietnam,” Pearson said. “Australia should press Vietnam to change its
rights-violating criminal procedure code so that all criminal detainees have
prompt access to legal counsel as international law requires.”
Activists and bloggers in Vietnam face frequent physical assaults by official or
government- connected thugs, who are not punished for these attacks. In January,
unidentified men abducted an anti-corruption campaigner, Ha Van Nam, and drove
him around in a van, where they covered his head and beat him repeatedly,
eventually leaving him outside a hospital with two broken ribs.
In July, a group of rights activists accompanied Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh, the wife
a political prisoner, to Prison No. 6 in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An
province, to show their support for political prisoners who were on a hunger
strike to protest the violation of their rights. When the visitors got close to
the prison, a large group of men in civilian clothes attacked them with sticks
and helmets, broke their phones, and robbed them. Many people in the group were
injured, including a prominent blogger, Huynh
and his wife, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a human rights activist.
Online repression is on the rise in Vietnam. Vietnam’s problematic
cybersecurity law went
into effect in January. This overly broad and vague law gives the authorities
wide discretion to censor free expression and requires service providers to take
down content the authorities consider offensive within 24 hours of receiving the
In August, Minister
of Information and Communications Nguyen
Manh Hung claimed that Facebook had complied with “70 to 75 percent” of the
government’s requests to restrict content, up from “about 30 percent”
previously. Among the materials Facebook removed, according to the ministry,
than 200 links to articles with
content opposing the Party and the State.”
The minister also claimed that Google complies with “80 to 85 percent” of its
requests to restrict content on YouTube and other Google services – up from “60
It is unclear how the ministry arrived at these figures, or when the social
media giants’ compliance rate began to increase. The ministry did not disclose
the legal bases for these requests.
The ministry said it has asked Facebook to limit live-streaming
its platforms to accounts that it has authenticated. It is unclear how Facebook
will be expected to conduct such authentication, or what criteria authenticated
accounts would have to satisfy. The ministry also said that it told the company
to “pre-censor” online content and remove ads “that spread fake news related to
political issues upon request from the government.”
When asked how it would respond to these requests, Facebook stated that its
standards relating to its livestream and other services “are global.” The
process for taking down content, Facebook added, is the “same in Vietnam as it
is around the world.” Reported content is first reviewed against its Community
Standards; if it passes muster, the company will assess whether the government
request is legally valid.
Human Rights Watch also contacted Google for comment on the ministry’s
allegations, but it had not responded at the time of publication.
“Vietnam is increasingly aggressive in its approach to online censorship,
including its enforcement of the cybersecurity law, an attempt to silence
critical voices online,” Pearson said. “Australia should press Vietnam to amend
this law and to end the government’s systemic repression of dissidents and
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Vietnam, please visit:
more Human Rights Watch reporting on Australia, please visit:
more information, please contact:
In Sydney, Elaine Pearson (English): +61-400-505-186 (mobile); or email@example.com.
In Bangkok, Phil Robertson (English, Thai): +66-85-060-8406 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In London, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or email@example.com.