On 30 June, the ICJ and five other organizations sent open letters to the Prime Minister of Vietnam and the European Union (EU) calling for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defenders, Dr. Phạm Chí Dũng, Nguyễn Tường Thụy and Lê Hữu Minh Tuấn.
The ICJ, Boat People SOS, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, VETO! Human Rights Defenders’ Network and Vietnam Committee on Human Rights in their address to the Prime Minister, urged the Vietnamese government to cease all harassment of other activists from the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN).
In November 2019, Dr. Phạm Chí Dũng, founding member and Chairman of IJAVN, was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City for allegedly “making, storing, distributing or disseminating materials” that “oppose the State” in violation of article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. He has since been held in incommunicado detention.
Following Phạm’s arrest, a number of persons were subjected to various forms of harassment up to and including arrest and prosecution in connection with their IJAVN membership. In May and June 2020, two IJAVN members, journalist Nguyễn Tường Thụy and law student Lê Hữu Minh Tuấn, were arrested in Hanoi and Quang Nam provinces on similar charges.
In their letters, the ICJ and other organizations raised concerns that Phạm had been targeted and arrested for his human rights advocacy. From 2013 till his arrest, Phạm wrote independently on key rights issues in Vietnam, including on freedom of expression, labour rights, detention of human rights defenders, and harassment of independent civil society. In July 2012, he was arbitrarily arrested under charges of “conducting propaganda against the State” and released in February 2013 after months in prison without trial. In 2014, he was prevented by Vietnamese authorities from travelling to Geneva to participate in a United Nations Human Rights Council side-event connected to the Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam, following which his passport was confiscated.
The organizations noted that the arrest and arbitrary detention of Phạm, Nguyễn Tường Thụy and Lê Hữu Minh Tuấn contravened article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, as they appeared to have been politically motivated to curtail the rights of the three individuals to freely express their opinions and share information relating to domestic affairs.
In a 2019 ICJ report on freedom of expression and information online across Southeast Asia, national security-related provisions in Vietnam’s Penal Code, including article 117, were shown to have often been abused to curtail free speech and access to information online.
The organizations further noted that the prolonged incommunicado detention of Phạm constituted a violation of the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment, the right to liberty and the right to be treated with dignity under articles 7, 9 and 10 of the ICCPR.
They further called on Vietnam to protect and facilitate the work of human rights defenders in line with the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Human Rights Defenders Declaration).
The letter to the Prime Minister of Vietnam by the ICJ, Human Rights Watch and VETO! Human Rights Defenders’ Network is available here.
The letter to the European Union by the ICJ, Boat People SOS, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, VETO! Human Rights Defenders’ Network and Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is available here.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia and Pacific Regional Director, e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org
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