Vietnam: UN Review Should Call for Urgent Reform

Countries Need to Highlight Lack of Free Speech, Religious Freedom, Fair Trials


HRW | April 22, 2024

(Geneva) – United Nations member countries should use the upcoming review of Vietnam’s rights record at the UN Human Rights Council to press the government to end its crackdown on dissent and other fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said in its submission to the UN. Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will take place on May 7, 2024, in Geneva.

The Vietnamese government’s human rights record has worsened significantly since its last appearance periodic review in January 2019. In February, the government, which has criticized the UPR process as “unobjective,” submitted its own human rights report to the Human Rights Council.

“Governments at the UN Human Rights Council should not be swayed by the Vietnamese government’s attempt to whitewash its appalling human rights record,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “UN member countries should use Vietnam’s review to call out the government’s systematic repression of civil and political rights and demand genuine reforms.”

The Vietnamese government’s UN submission is riddled with falsehoods about the rights to freedom of speech and media freedom in the country, Human Rights Watch said. More than 160 people are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for criticizing the government, which the penal code criminalizes. All media are under the control of the Vietnamese Communist Party and Vietnam is the world’s third largest jailer of journalists. The authorities carry out intrusive surveillance of the internet, and posting or sharing criticism of the government online could lead to a long prison sentence.

Between January 2019 and August 2023, the Vietnamese authorities prosecuted and convicted at least 139 people, for criticizing the government or joining pro-democracy groups, all of whom were sentenced to long prison terms. Among them was the prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang, who on May 16 will receive the 2024 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Since August 2023 the authorities have imprisoned an additional 23 people for peacefully exercising their basic civil and political rights, and sentenced them to between 9 months and 13 years in prison. During the first four months of 2024, the police arrested at least 11 people on politically motivated charges, including the prominent rights activists Nguyen Chi Tuyen and Nguyen Vu Binh, and the religious freedom campaigners Thach Chanh Da Ra and Kim Khiem.

People arrested on politically motivated charges face months in pretrial detention without access to lawyers. The authorities may not even allow family members to be present at trials. The trials of rights activists last only a few hours, leaving no time for a genuine defense or cross-examination of evidence. Vietnam has no presumption of innocence or fair trial rights.

Despite government claims to the contrary, the authorities frequently hold “mobile trials,” informal courts in public spaces, to shame defendants and their families even before conviction. Between 2019 and 2023, Vietnam carried out mobile trials in at least 55 of its 58 provinces and the major cities of Hanoi, Hai Phong, Can Tho, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang. During the first four months of 2024 alone, mobile trials took place in at least 39 provinces and all five cities.

On January 16, a court in Dak Lak began a mobile trial against 100 defendants who were accused of terrorism in a violent attack on government offices that caused nine deaths in June 2023. On January 20, the court convicted and sentenced all 100 to terms ranging from nine months to life in prison, with each defendant’s hearing lasting less than 24 minutes.

The right to religious freedom is also sharply controlled, Human Rights Watch said. All religious organizations allowed to operate must be officially recognized by the state and under the management of state-approved boards. Religious groups not recognized by the government are labeled “evil religions.”

Unrecognized independent religious groups face constant surveillance, harassment, and intimidation, and their followers are subject to public criticism, forced renunciation of faith, arbitrary detention, abusive interrogation, torture, and imprisonment.

In December 2023, Y Bum Bya, 49, from Dak Lak province, reported that he had been detained, interrogated, and beaten by the police for being affiliated with the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, a religious group that the government has labeled “reactionary.” He was also publicly criticized and forced to renounce his faith on television. On March 8, he allegedly received a phone call from the police and then went out. An hour later, he was found dead, hanging in a local cemetery. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, officials are not investigating his death.

“Case after case of abuse is why concerned countries should speak out about Hanoi’s terrible human rights record,” Pearson said. “UN member countries should not only press Vietnam at its UN review for real change but follow up to ensure that reforms are actually being undertaken.”




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