Viet Nam
Urgent Interventions

Obstacles to defenders' freedom of expression during APEC Summit

Geneva-Paris, November 20, 2006. As thousands of participants met to discuss free trade and open markets at the APEC meeting in Hanoi, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), expresses its deep concern at reports of obstacles to the freedom of expression of several Vietnamese human rights defenders.

Indeed, over the past week, the security police have set up permanent surveillance posts outside the homes of many pro-democracy activists and placed signs saying “No Foreigners” in English on their doors, as if the dissidents themselves were finding foreign visitors unwelcome. Several dissidents were threatened, physically assaulted and subjected to intensive interrogations in the run up to the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which took place in Hanoi from November 17 to 19, 2006. Among others:

  • On November 14, 2006, police from the Ministry of Public Security and local security officials set up a surveillance post in front of the home of Mr. Hoang Tien, a writer, in Hanoi, preventing anyone from visiting him, and preventing him from leaving the building. When he asked for an explanation, the security police said they had no official mandate, but had “received orders from their superiors to blockade his home during APEC”. In August 2006, Mr. Hoang Tien was subjected to intensive interrogations after he founded an unofficial online publication entitled Freedom and Democracy along with several other Hanoi dissidents.
  • Since November 14, 2006, 10 security police officers have surrounded the home of Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, a lawyer, and prohibited all visitors. In October 2006, Mr. Nguyen Van Dai founded a “Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam”, and has been summoned repeatedly for questioning by the Police.
  • The security police have also been posted around the home of Mr. Nguyen Khac Toan, a journalist who was released in a government amnesty in February 2006 after serving four years of a 12-years sentence of “espionage” for helping expropriated farmers to write complaints to the National Assembly (See Observatory 2005 Annual Report). He has been repeatedly harassed and interrogated since his release. The police prohibit Mr. Nguyen Khac Toan from receiving visitors. On November 12, 2006, the police placed a sign in English on his door saying: “Security area. No foreigner allowed”.
  • Mr. Nguyen Phuong Anh, a cyber-dissident, is also prevented from receiving visitors, with security police officers keeping non-stop guard outside his Hanoi home. He has been subjected to repeated interrogations this month for pro-democracy articles posted on the Internet.
  • Mr. Duong Van Duong (aka Dai Duong), who publicly denounced corruption by government officials in Thai Binh Province and helped protesters against land confiscation in Mai Xuan Thuong Park, near public administrative buildings, to express their grievances, was brutally beaten by four undercover police officers as he left Mai Xuan Thuong Park, where farmers and other “Victims of Injustice” regularly meet to protest. One of the policemen said: “we will beat you to death”, and hit him in the face and stomach. Mr. Duong Van Duong is also prohibited from receiving visitors or meeting foreigners.
  • The security police have also stepped up controls on dissidents in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where the international media and several world leaders, including US President George W. Bush, will pay a visit after the APEC Summit. Thus, on November 14, 2006, Mr. Hoang Huy Chuong, a member of the newly founded unofficial United Workers-Farmers Organisation (UWFO), was arrested in Saigon with his two brothers in his home. His arrest would be linked with his belonging to the UWFO. They were arrested without a police warrant, and no information have been provided on their whereabouts since then.
  • Ms. Bui Thi Kim Thanh, a lawyer, has been committed to the Central Psychiatric Hospital in Bien Hoa, Saigon, following interrogations by the security police. According to her family, in early November 2006, Police firstly took her to a local psychiatric hospital, where the doctors found no evidence of mental illness. Ms Bui Thi Kim Thanh is an outspoken critic of Vietnam’s land confiscation policies and an active defender of expropriated farmers and other “Victims of Injustice”, whom she has helped to file complaints and seek compensation.
  • On November 19, 2006, Mr. Thich Vien Dinh, Vice-President and Secretary General of “Vien Hoa Dao”, the Executive Institute of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), was summoned by the Head of Security Police in Ho Chi Minh City’s 7th Ward, to come for a “working session” (i.e. interrogation) at the police station. The session lasted two hours. In addition, security officials strictly prohibited him and other UBCV monks at Giac Hoa Pagoda from speaking to foreign media or diplomats in Vietnam during the APEC Summit. These facts occurred just a few days after that Ms. Thich Nu Dam Thoa, a Buddhist nun, was arrested in Hanoi, on November 14, 2006. She is currently detained in a “Camp for social elements” in Bac Giang, Northern Vietnam. She is accused of being on a list of people who would allegedly have sought to meet US President George W. Bush during the APEC Summit.

Moreover, contrary to the past practices of APEC Summits, Vietnam has not permitted an NGO People’s Forum to be held alongside the Summit in Hanoi, thus preventing civil society from expressing their concerns.

The Observatory expresses its deep concern at such acts of reprisals against human rights defenders, which are in flagrant violation of their right “to promote the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” as provided by Article 1 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, and urges the Vietnamese authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all above-mentioned human rights defenders, as well as to put an immediate end to any kind of reprisals against them.

More generally, the Observatory urge the authorities to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards ratified by Vietnam.

For more information, please contact:
OMCT: 00 41 22 809 49 39
FIDH: 00 33 1 43 55 25 18

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