Vietnam has become a closed society where dissent is not tolerated. Photo: AFP/Nhac Nguyen

Initially, this text was to be read at an international conference to be held in the capital of a country in Asia. Finally, it was decided not to participate in that conference because of ethical and moral issues. Here is the text of Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt, in its entirety:

At the opening of the 42nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, on September 9, 2019, UN Secretary-General António Guterres published his annual report mentioning acts of intimidation or reprisals committed by governments and non-state actors in 38 states around the world.

Victims are individuals or groups, civil society activists who seek to cooperate, or cooperated with the United Nations, its human rights representatives and mechanisms. Reported acts of intimidation or reprisals include defamation campaigns, surveillance, arbitrary detention, torture, kidnapping or murder, bans on leaving the country, etc. Some governmental authorities threaten and harass family members of victims.

The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (SRV) is among those first incriminated regimes in terms of numbers of individual cases mentioned in official documents (Ref. Reports 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019). The UN Secretary-General stressed that “such acts are contrary to the very principles of the UN. He reiterated that states must end these acts. The world has a duty to ensure respect for the right of participation of those who stand up for human rights with courage and who have responded to requests for information and collaboration with the United Nations.”

The SRV appeared in the UN Human Rights Council’s viewfinder, not only because of its acts of intimidation and reprisals. A member of the Community of Francophone States, the SRV has become more and more brutal, repressive and intolerant.

At its 3rd Universal Periodic Review in 2019, out of the 291 recommendations made by 122 UN Member States, the SRV rejected 50. By this refusal, the SRV is no longer committed to ensuring the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, of peaceful association and assembly.

It will not review the provisions of “national security” and the law on cyber security. It will not release all prisoners of opinion and conscience, and prisoners of environmental and human rights as well. It will not prohibit torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Enforced disappearances inside the country and abroad will not be stopped. As a reminder, Vietnamese fugitives were abducted and secretly taken to Hanoi. One of them, kidnapped in broad daylight in Berlin, Germany, another, Truong Duy Nhat, known journalist, disappeared in Bangkok, Thailand, after contacting the UNHCR in early 2019.

The kidnapped fugitives have been in prison since they were forcibly returned. After these kidnappings, Vietnamese boatpeople refugees, dissidents and former prisoners living in exile in Europe and Southeast Asia no longer feel safe.

The death penalty remains untouchable in Viet Nam. According to Amnesty International, in 2018, SRV ranked third in the world (85 executions) behind Iran (253), Saudi Arabia (149) and before Iraq (52). Data on the death penalty are classified as “state secrets” in Viet Nam.

China continues to secretly carry out “thousands” of executions of death row inmates. The death penalty must be considered as a very serious threat to freedom of expression in Viet Nam and a terrible factor of intimidation. Because it is the ultimate and barbaric form of censorship.

In the past, international opinion has saved the lives of some people who were sentenced to death. Among the few survivors from the hell in the Vietnamese gulag, we remember Thich Tue Sy, Buddhist monk, scholar, philosopher, translator and renowned poet, professor of the Van Hanh Buddhist University Institute, honorary member of an International PEN Centre. Arrested in 1984, he was sentenced to death in 1988. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He served more than 10 years in prison.

In this one-party state of Viet Nam, free print and audiovisual media are effectively non-existent. Private publishers and independent human rights organizations are illegal. The SRV occupies the unenviable place of 176th out of 180 countries in the 2018 world rankings for freedom of the press compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RWB/RSF).

The SRV continues to incriminate and imprison independent writers, journalists and bloggers, social and political dissidents, lawyers and advocates for environmental and human rights. Not to mention members of churches or unrecognized religions.

In the last 24 months, many dozens of women and men have been sentenced to long prison terms of up to 20 years in unfair trials. This is a travesty of justice. The “people courts”’ never respect the rights of the defense and the independence of the judges. There is a blatant absence of witnesses and evidence.

Furthermore, there are preventive detentions without limit and prolonged incommunicado incarcerations. The SRV continues to invoke Article 109 of the Penal Code PC2015 (Activities to overthrow the people’s administration), Article 116 of the PC2015 (Interference with the implementation of the solidarity policies), Article 117 of the PC2015 (Conducting propaganda against the SRV) and Article 318 of the PC2015 (Disturbing public order) to indict and convict its victims.

In forced labor concentration camps, prisoners are punished by isolation. Malnourished and deprived of medical care, the victims of the repression were attacked, humiliated and threatened by common criminals. Since early June 2019, several prisoners of opinion and conscience, prisoners of environmental and human rights, have been on hunger strikes to protest the humiliating and appalling conditions of detention. Especially in camps located in central regions where the winter is very harsh and the summer is hot and stuffy, such as camp No 5 in Thanh Hoa province and camp No 6 in Nghê An province.

It is impossible not to be shocked and to be indignant by the brutality of assault reported. In the afternoon of July 12, 2019, in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council concluded its 41st session, while in Nghê An, Viet Nam, a group of wives and relatives of prisoners from camp No 6 were violently attacked and seriously injured by thugs and plainclothes agents.

In fact, the victims were beaten when they went to camp No 6 to peacefully express their emotional support to their beloved prisoners on hunger strikes.

The Committee to Defend Persecuted Writers of the PEN Suisse Romand Centre is deeply concerned about the continued imprisonment of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Ms Tran Thi Nga – among many others – and here is a non-exhaustive list of prisoners established by the Vietnamese League for Human Rights:

– Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, poet, blogger and online writer. Co-author of the banned book The Way of Viet Nam, he has also published poems and posted articles on his various blogs. Arrested in May 2009, he was sentenced in January 2010 to 16 years in prison and 5 years of probationary detention for “violating articles 117 and 109 of the Penal Code.” In May 2016, he was deported to a camp located about 1,400km from the city where his family lives. His state of health would be affected by his conditions of detention. In addition to the hunger strikes against his unjust and illegal punishment. He has repeatedly refused to go abroad for exile, the condition for his early release. He still pleads not guilty.

– Tran Thi Nga, pen-name Thuy Nga, blogger, environmental and human rights defender, member of the Association of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights which supports and assists prisoners of opinion and conscience. She is well known for defending the victims of illegal expropriation of land. She protested against the alleged perpetrators and accomplices of a vast unprecedented marine pollution in April 2016. Arrested on January 21, 2017, she was sentenced in July 2017 to 9 years in prison and 5 years of probationary detention for “violating article 117 of the Penal Code.” In February 2018, she was deported to a camp more than 1,000km from the city where her two children live. She would have health problems.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Tran Thi Nga are two “representative cases” well known for many years for their nonviolent resistance against an unhappy and unjust fate, their heavy prison sentences, their sufferings (and those of their relatives), their admirable courage in defending the freedom of expression and the dignity of the human being, for attempting to protect social justice against “the endemic corruption plague,” “the abuse of power”, “the cult of impunity”, to relieve the environment in distress, to rescue children, women and men, all hungry and thirsty, without roof and without voice. To build bridges of tolerance and peace … To safeguard their mother tongue – the Vietnamese language – and their once flourishing culture, currently being in the track of alienation.

Furthermore, the SRV government treats prisoners as hostages. It condemns environmental and human rights defenders to very heavy prison sentences (5, 10, 15, 20 years in 2018 and 2019). It discreetly negotiates with some democratic states to exchange these hostages for economic or military aid. It puts pressure on the prisoners to accept forced exile abroad without hope of return, while their prison sentence will only be suspended and not annulled.

How can the Committee to Defend Persecuted Writers resign and be silent in the face of such a situation in Viet Nam or any other country in the world, when intolerance, injustice and barbarism become state law. Let’s hope that such sad and revolting realities in those states known for their very bad behavior will one day appear in the viewfinder of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

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