Sunday, February 28, 2021

‘Chilling’ crackdown on dissent in Vietnam forward of key congress

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As Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party gears up for its most necessary assembly in years, its management has presided over an intensified crackdown on dissent, in response to rights teams, activists and information collated by Reuters information company.
A file variety of political prisoners, longer jail phrases, and elevated harassment of activists lately have contributed to the crackdown forward of this week’s Communist Party congress, a gathering to find out nationwide management and coverage that takes place as soon as each 5 years.
The crackdown has left some worldwide human rights teams and legislators questioning whether or not Vietnam has breached the spirit of commerce agreements with Western nations – accords which have helped propel the nation to a place of financial energy in Southeast Asia.
“I have been summoned by the police several times since December 9, 2020,” mentioned Nguyen Quang A, a veteran activist in Hanoi, declining to element the circumstances saying he was topic to an ongoing investigation. He advised Reuters Vietnam’s safety ministry had in current weeks rounded up different authorities critics with out saying why, citing his contacts with activists.
“They [the police] summon them and find reasons to convict them under those very fuzzy articles of criminal law. It completely violates the law but they use it very regularly,” mentioned Quang A. “I’ve told them they can’t shut me up.”
Vietnam’s international ministry, which handles inquiries from international media, didn’t reply to Reuters’s request for touch upon activist detentions.
‘Anti-state’
Despite reforms and rising openness to social change, the Communist Party of Vietnam, led by 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong, tolerates little criticism and controls home media tightly.
Vietnam drew worldwide condemnation this month when it sentenced three freelance journalists recognized for criticism of the federal government to between 11 and 15 years in jail, discovering them responsible of spreading anti-state propaganda.
Journalists Pham Chi Dung, proper, Le Huu Minh Tuan, centre, and Nguyen Tuong Thuy, left, stand between police throughout their trial at a court docket in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam January 5, 2021 [VNA/Handout via Reuters]The nation’s structure says it protects “freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, access to information, to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations”.
In actuality, public criticism of the social gathering isn’t tolerated, and teams which promote democratisation are focused by the authorities in a battle taking part in out on-line on platforms like Facebook, Vietnam’s premier platform for each e-commerce and dissent.
A Reuters tally primarily based on state media stories discovered 280 folks had been arrested for “anti-state” actions over the 5 years for the reason that final social gathering congress: 260 had been convicted, many being sentenced to greater than 10 years in jail. In the 5 years main as much as the 2016 congress, there have been 68 arrests and 58 convictions.
‘Force 47’
Last yr, Amnesty International mentioned it had recorded probably the most “prisoners of conscience” in Vietnam because it started publishing figures in 1996 – 170, near double the 97 recorded in 2018. Of the 170, some 70 had been arrested for on-line activism, Amnesty mentioned.
In late 2017, Vietnam unveiled a 10,000-strong navy cyber-unit, Force 47, to counter what it mentioned had been “wrong” views on the web. According to rights teams, the unit additionally recruits volunteers on-line to focus on dissidents and activists.
Reuters reviewed dozens of posts throughout a number of Facebook teams and pages from December and January that claimed hyperlinks with Force 47. Many attacked outstanding activists, together with Quang A, accused by one group of making anti-state propaganda.
A girl carrying a standard conical hat walks previous a poster for the upcoming 13th nationwide congress of Vietnam Communist Party on a road in Hanoi, Vietnam, January 18, 2021 [Kham/Reuters]Some group moderators had been wearing navy uniform of their profile pictures whereas others ran pages for official native branches of Communist Party organisations.
Last November, Vietnam threatened to close Facebook down if it didn’t toughen rules on native political content material on the platform.
Facebook’s native servers had been taken offline by the federal government earlier final yr till it agreed to considerably enhance policing of “anti-state” posts by native customers, a request with which Facebook beforehand mentioned it complied.
A Facebook spokesman mentioned the corporate confronted “additional pressure” from Vietnam to limit content material final yr.
‘Driver’s seat’
For some, the crackdown has a reference to fluctuations in world commerce ties with Vietnam.
“During the [former US President Barack] Obama administration, pressure on rights connected with TPP [trade] negotiations helped the cause of human rights activists and political dissidents,” mentioned Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The early visit of Prime Minister [Nguyen Xuan] Phuc in 2017 to the Trump White House saw human rights completely dropped from the agenda,” he mentioned.
Robertson mentioned commerce tensions with China have additionally left Vietnam “in the driver’s seat” as US and European Union firms search for different provide chains, serving to the Vietnamese economic system thrive.
“The EU had an important opportunity to make real changes through the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement,” mentioned Robertson, referring to a pact that has been a boon for Vietnam. Instead, he mentioned, the EU “fell short, settling for vague promises … instead of substantive changes”.
EU officers didn’t instantly reply to Reuters’s request for remark.
After the jailing of the three journalists earlier this month, the United Nations human rights workplace mentioned: “Coming just weeks ahead [of the party congress], the convictions and long sentences are not only a blatant suppression of independent journalism but also a clear attempt to create a chilling effect among those willing to criticise the government.”
The United States described the sentences because the “latest in a troubling and accelerating trend of arrests and convictions of Vietnamese citizens exercising rights enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution”.

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