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Report says Vietnam holds 288 prisoners of conscience, including religious figures

Among those said to be in detention are journalists, social media users, religious figures, and land rights and anti-corruption activists

Vietnam is holding at least 288 prisoners of conscience in the country’s various prisons and jails, with at least 79 arrested in the past year, said a report released this week by a US-based rights group.

Among those said to be in detention are journalists, social media users, religious figures, and land rights and anti-corruption activists.

“Vietnam continues to violate fundamental human rights, from discrimination, arbitrary arrest and detention, and violation of trial fairness to restrict freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and expression, [and] freedom of association,” said the report.




The Report on Human Rights in Vietnam 2020-2021 was released on June 20 by the Vietnam Human Rights Network.

It claimed that up to May 31, 2021, “at least 46 people expressing their political opinions through social media have been detained and prosecuted for violating the 2015 Penal Code,” often for what authorities called anti-state writings.

Others taken into custody during the year included political activists, independent journalists, and land-rights petitioners, the rights group said.

The report, which was quoted by Radio Free Asia, said the treatment handed out during the year to political prisoners included transfer to prison camps far away from family homes, denial of family visits and medical treatment, and beatings by prison guards.

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Among those arrested or sentenced in 2020 were Pham Doan Trang, a winner of Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Award who had worked as a journalist before she became a human rights activist and cofounder of the now-banned Liberal Publishing House.

Also sentenced were writer Than Duc Thach, who was handed a 12-year prison term, upheld on appeal on March 24, by the People’s Court of Nghe An province on Dec. 15, 2020 for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

Vietnamese activist La Viet Dung holds up a phone with the screen displaying an open letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg in Hanoi on April 10, 2018. A group of 50 Vietnamese activists and rights organizations wrote an open letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg suggesting his company may be colluding with communist authorities to scrub out online dissent. (AFP photo)

Independent Journalists Association members Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of the association, was arrested on May 24, 2020, and Le Huu Minh Tuan was arrested on June 12, 2020.

Facebook users and bloggers were also subject during the year to heightened surveillance and harassment by police sometimes dressed in civilian clothes, and to travel bans, forced interrogations, and assaults, according to the report.

The report alleged that Vietnamese authorities were aided in their efforts to repress political opposition during the reporting year by social media platforms Facebook, Google, and YouTube.

These media platforms reportedly “complied with the Vietnamese government’s escalating demand to censor dissidents.”

According to government sources, Facebook during the last four months of 2020 removed nearly 4,500 offending articles and 290 “fake accounts posting false information propagating against the Party and State.”

Google meanwhile removed more than 30,000 illegal videos and 24 “reactionary channels” on YouTube, government sources cited by the rights group said. – with additional report from Radio Free Asia

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