Latest Update: 31 March 2013
The human rights environment in Vietnam remains poor despite the government’s decision to apply for membership of the UN Human Rights Council. The beginning of the year saw a number of human rights activists, especially bloggers, receive long custodial sentences during trials which were often behind closed doors.
Prominent human rights campaigner Nguyen Quoc Quan was released at the end of January after nine months in detention for links with the banned Viet Tan group. Human rights defender Le Cong Dinh was released in February after serving three and a half years of a five year sentence.
Reporters Without Borders list Vietnam in their 2013 “Enemies of the Internet” report as one of five states conducting systematic online surveillance resulting in serious human rights violations. They describe Vietnam as the world’s third biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China and Oman.
Vietnam is currently preparing for a Universal Periodical Review (a periodical UN assessment of its human rights situation) which will be completed in 2014.
The General Secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, visited the UK in January. He met both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Human rights were among the topics discussed. Prior to the visit BBC Vietnam were invited to Vietnam to conduct interviews with Ministers, senior officials and the British Ambassador.
During his visit to Europe the General Secretary also had an (unprecedented) audience with the Pope.
This year has already seen two high profile cases, including the sentencing of 14 Catholic activists in Vinh province for subversive activity. Of these, 13 were given prison sentences of between three and 13 years and one received a suspended sentence. The UK supported the statement by Franz Jessen, the EU Ambassador to Vietnam, calling for the upholding of the fundamental right for people to express their opinions freely. This case attracted substantial international media coverage. Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders posted strong statements in support of the activists on their websites. The UK, along with other diplomatic missions from Canada, USA, Australia, Switzerland and Norway, met family members of the 14 activists to receive a petition calling for their release.
At the beginning of February 22 people were convicted of trying to overthrow the government. Suspected leader Phan Van Thu, 65, was sentenced to life imprisonment. 21 other defendants were sentenced to between ten and 17 years imprisonment. In another high profile case journalist Nguyen Dac Kien was fired from his newspaper for criticising the General Secretary on his blog about constitutional reform. Constitutional reform has opened up greater space for discussion, including about the Party’s role, but the government’s reaction to comments that are critical of their position has been broadly negative.
The British Embassy continues to be active on the human rights agenda, engaging with government officials as well as journalists, activists, bloggers, NGOs and foreign diplomats.