‘Chilling’ crackdown on dissent in Vietnam forward of key congress | Vietnam Information
As the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party prepares for its most important meeting in years, its leadership has led a heightened crackdown on dissent, according to rights groups, activists and data compiled by Reuters news agency.
A record number of political prisoners, longer prison terms and increasing harassment of activists in recent years have all contributed to the crackdown ahead of this week’s Communist Party Convention, a five-year rally to determine national leadership and politics.
After the crackdown, some international human rights groups and lawmakers have questioned whether Vietnam has broken the spirit of trade deals with Western countries – deals that have helped bring the country to a position of economic strength in Southeast Asia.
“I have been summoned by police several times since December 9, 2020,” said Nguyen Quang A, a veteran activist in Hanoi, declining to detail the circumstances under which he was the subject of an ongoing investigation. He told Reuters that the Vietnamese security ministry had rounded up other government critics in the past few weeks, without saying why, citing its contacts with activists.
“She [the police] Summon them and find reasons to condemn them under these very vague articles of criminal law. It is completely against the law, but they use it very regularly, “said Quang A.” I told them they couldn’t silence me. “
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which handles inquiries from foreign media, did not respond to Reuter’s request for comment on activist detention.
Despite reforms and increasing openness to social change, the Vietnamese Communist Party, led by 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong, tolerates little criticism and tightly controls the domestic media.
Vietnam was internationally convicted this month when it sentenced three freelance journalists known for criticizing the government to 11-15 years in prison and found them guilty of disseminating anti-state propaganda.
Journalists Pham Chi Dung (right), Le Huu Minh Tuan (center) and Nguyen Tuong Thuy (left) stand between the police during their trial in a court in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on January 5, 2021 [VNA/Handout via Reuters]The country’s constitution states that it “protects freedom of expression and expression, freedom of the press, access to information, gathering, forming associations and holding demonstrations”.
In reality, public criticism of the party will not be tolerated, and groups promoting democratization are being targeted by the authorities in an online battle on platforms such as Facebook, Vietnam’s leading platform for e-commerce and dissent.
A Reuters report, based on state media reports, found that in the five years since the last congress, 280 people were arrested for “subversive” activities: 260 were sentenced, many sentenced to more than ten years in prison. There were 68 arrests and 58 convictions in the five years prior to the 2016 Congress.
Last year Amnesty International said it had registered the highest number of “prisoners of conscience” in Vietnam since the figures began to be published in 1996 – 170, almost twice as many as in 2018. Of the 170, around 70 were for online activism arrested, Amnesty said.
At the end of 2017, Vietnam unveiled a 10,000-strong military cyber unit, Force 47, to counter allegedly “wrong” views on the Internet. According to rights groups, the unit also recruits volunteers online to target dissidents and activists.
Reuters checked dozens of posts on multiple Facebook groups and pages alleging links to Force 47 as of December and January. Many attacked prominent activists, including Quang A, who was accused by a group of conducting anti-state propaganda.
A woman wearing a traditional conical hat walks past a poster for the upcoming 13th National Communist Party of Vietnam Congress on a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 18, 2021 [Kham/Reuters]Some group moderators were dressed in military uniforms in their profile photos, while others were conducting pages for official local branches of communist party organizations.
Last November, Vietnam threatened to shut down Facebook if the rules for local political content on the platform were not tightened.
Facebook’s local servers were taken offline by the government earlier last year until it agreed to significantly step up its monitoring of “anti-state” postings by local users, a request that Facebook had previously complied with.
A Facebook spokesman said the company had faced “additional pressure” from Vietnam over the past year to restrict content.
For some, the approach is related to fluctuations in global trade relations with Vietnam.
“During the [former US President Barack] Obama administration, pressure on rights related to TPP [trade] Negotiations have helped the cause of human rights defenders and political dissidents, ”said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch.
“The Prime Minister’s early visit [Nguyen Xuan] Phuc in 2017 at the Trump White House saw human rights completely removed from the agenda, ”he said.
Robertson said trade tensions with China have also left Vietnam “in the driver’s seat” as US and European Union companies seek alternative supply chains to help the Vietnamese economy thrive.
“The EU had an important opportunity to make real change through the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement,” said Robertson, referring to a pact that has been a boon to Vietnam. Instead, the EU “came up short and was satisfied with vague promises … instead of substantial changes”.
EU officials did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
After the three journalists were arrested earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Bureau said, “It’s only a few weeks left [of the party congress]The convictions and long sentences are not only an overt repression of independent journalism, but also a clear attempt to have a dissuasive effect on those willing to criticize the government. “
The United States called the rulings “the latest in a worrying and accelerating trend of arrests and convictions of Vietnamese citizens for exercising rights under the Vietnamese Constitution”.