Vietnam Must End Arbitrary Detention of Human Rights Defenders

In a statement released today, Civil Rights Defenders joins 25 civil society groups in calling on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release and drop charges against human rights defenders Mr Nguyễn Vãn Ðài and Ms Lê Thu Hà, who have been in police custody in Hanoi after their arrest three weeks ago. The police have charged Ðài, a former prisoner of conscience, and his colleague Hà with “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code, which carries a prison sentence of between three and 20 years.

The signatories have also highlighted concerns that the two defenders may be at risk of torture and other ill treatment in detention. Ðài was still recovering from injuries he sustained ten days before his arrest when he and three other activists were viciously attacked by stick-wielding, masked assailants in Nghe An province. The police have reportedly denied Ðài access to his lawyer and family members.

“Brave human rights defenders like Ðài and Hà do not belong behind bars and must be allowed to freely conduct their legitimate work defending and educating others about the rights guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution and by international law,” said Robert Hårdh, Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders.

Ðài and Hà’s arrests came a month before the 12th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Past party congresses were usually preceded by an escalation of crackdown on human rights advocates and dissidents.

There have been multiple incidents of violence against and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, petitioners, religious followers, and their family members in 2015. Civil Rights Defenders has highlighted an alarming rise in such incidents in the second half of the year. Since Ðài and Hà’s arrests on 16th December, there have been reports of attacks targeting at least ten more activists and two young children of a woman activist.

The United Nations Human Rights Office for South East Asia has expressed its serious concern at Ðài’s arrest and called for his immediate release. Several concerned governments have also criticised the arrest. Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid expresses shock and calls for his release and charges against him be dropped. The European Union spokesperson says the arrest “goes against Vietnam’s international human rights obligations” and calls for his immediate release as well as a full investigation into the assault against him. The European Union’s ambassador and ambassadors of EU Member States in Vietnam issued a joint statement expressing serious concerns over the arrest and calling for the release of “all peaceful advocates of human rights in the country.” A statement by the US ambassador to Vietnam echoes the EU’s concerns and calls. Legislators in Australia, Canada, and the United States have also issued similar statements of concern.

“The growing international concerns should make it very clear to the Vietnamese authorities that their treatment of human rights defenders is unacceptable,” says Robert Hårdh. “The on-going arbitrary detention of Ðài, Hà and other prisoners of conscience is reinforcing Vietnam’s reputation as a country under the rule of fear, not the rule of law.”

Download the statement in full: Joint statement calling for the release of Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha.