Vietnamese authorities increased restrictions on basic political and civil rights in 2020, especially freedom of expression and association, an international rights group has said.
US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its World Report 2021 that the Vietnamese communist government, last year, frequently punished people for criticizing its authority or for joining groups to promote democracy or human rights.
In a statement the rights group said that the tightening of restrictions on free expression appears to be linked to the National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, scheduled for Jan. 25 to Feb. 2.
HRW said that the authorities arbitrarily arrested or prosecuted at least 28 people for violations of overbroad and vague national security crimes, such as “conducting propaganda” against the state or “abusing rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
The Vietnamese authorities also blocked access to politically independent websites and pressured social media companies to take down accounts, posts, or video clips critical of the government.
“The Vietnamese government fears democracy, an independent media, and freedom,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW.
“Donors and trade partners need to publicly raise concerns about the government’s abysmal rights record and to press Vietnam to meet its international human rights obligations,” Sifton said.
Facebook and YouTube collaborating
In April, the government throttled access to Facebook’s local cache servers, demanding that the company remove pages controlled by dissidents, HRW said Facebook, bowing to pressure, agreed to restrict access to the pages within Vietnam, setting a worrying precedent. In early September, the Ministry of Information and Communications praised Facebook and YouTube for their “positive change in collaborating with MIC to block information that violates Vietnam’s law.”
Also in April, the police arrested a former political prisoner, Tran Duc Thach, for being affiliated with a pro-democracy group called Brotherhood for Democracy. He was charged for subversion under article 109 of the penal code. In December, a court convicted and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
In May and June, the police arrested two members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. In January, a court in Ho Chi Minh City convicted and sentenced them each to 11 years in prison. In the same trial, the founder of the association, blogger Pham Chi Dung, received a 15-year prison sentence.
In June, the police arrested three contributors of the Liberal Publishing House, Can Thi Theu, also a former political prisoner, and her sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu. In October, police arrested the co-founder of the Liberal Publishing House, prominent independent blogger Pham Doan Trang. All of them were charged with conducting propaganda against the state under article 117 of the penal code.