Vietnam govt steps up witch-hunt against peace campaigners

The Vietnamese government has launched one of the most severe crackdowns on peaceful dissidents in 20 years, campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims.

It has included the arrest of two of Vietnam’s few practising human rights lawyers earlier this month (March), both of whom have been charged with carrying out propaganda against the government under Article 88 of the Penal Code. If convicted they face sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Nguyen Van Dai, who helped found the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights last year, was arrested on 6 March 2007. Le Thi Cong Nhan, a human rights champion who has served as spokesperson for the Vietnam Progression Party, one of several opposition parties created last year, was arrested on the same day.

Opposition parties remain banned by Vietnam’s one-party communist state.

HRW deputy director for Asia Sophie Richardson said: “These are peaceful dissidents. They’ve simply advocated for rights guaranteed both by Vietnam’s constitution and its international obligations under human rights treaties.”

More than 1,000 other people have also been imprisoned, including human rights campaigners, trade union leaders, Buddhist monks and more that 350 Protestants.

HRW argues that the Vietnamese state was emboldened to launch the crackdown by winning international recognition after joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit.

In a 26 February 2007 article, the Communist Party of Vietnam’s daily newspaper Nhan Dan (The People) announced that the government had “smashed” the “extremists’ sabotage scheme”.

The article underscored the government’s confidence following the Apec meeting, saying: “Vietnam’s prestige has been lifted to new heights following the events of becoming an official member of the WTO [and] the successful organisation of the 14th Apec Meeting.”

HRW’s Richardson said: “Despite the official rhetoric, the Vietnamese government can’t really pretend to be working towards a just society when it continues to persecute those who simply advocate for basic human rights.”