NOW! Campaign Calling on Vietnam to Release Prisoners of Conscience

As world leaders have gathered in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Civil Rights Defenders joins a coalition of 14 human rights organisations launching the NOW! Campaign. Through the campaign, the coalition calls on the Vietnamese Government to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders who have been jailed for their activism.

As of November 2017, there are 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam; men and women who have been arrested for their political, religious or conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status, who have not used violence or advocated violence or hatred. The NOW! Campaign seeks to call attention to this phenomenon and to advocate for the release of all prisoners of conscience and an end to arrests of men and women for the peaceful exercise of their internationally protected rights.

The NOW! Campaign database outlining the cases of the 165 prisoners of conscience currently in Vietnam is available at the NOW! Campaign website which will be updated when prisoners of conscience are released and others are arrested. The NOW! Campaign seeks to engage the Vietnamese government in dialogue for the release of all prisoners of conscience and to lobby other governments to use their influence with their Vietnamese counterparts to call for releases and an end to arrests. The NOW! Campaign also seeks to provide moral and material support to prisoners of conscience and their families. The NOW! Campaign website provides information on how individuals and organisations can support this initiative, including through donations to prisoners of conscience and their families.

Summary of findings

For the purposes of the NOW! Campaign, an individual is deemed a prisoner of conscience where he/she is arrested for peacefully exercising his/her internationally protected human rights. Whereas Vietnam has undertaken to respect and protect a wide range of human rights through its ratification of international treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 165 men and women have been targeted by the criminal justice system for peacefully exercising these rights and are currently in detention or imprisoned. Those identified as prisoners of conscience by the NOW! Campaign include human rights defenders, such as bloggers, lawyers, trade unionists, land rights activists, and political dissidents, as well as the followers of non-registered minority religions, including those who have advocated for freedom of religion or belief or who have simply professed or practised their faith.

The government’s near total control of media in Vietnam and the secrecy that surrounds the arrests and jailing of certain prisoners of conscience, especially those from ethnic minority groups, mean that it is often difficult to find information about cases of prisoners of conscience and it is impossible to state definitively that all prisoners on conscience in the country have been identified. As such, the figure of 165 prisoners of conscience is not exhaustive and it is likely that there are others behind bars in Vietnam who are not accounted for in the NOW! Campaign database. Further, barriers to information in Vietnam mean that in 30 cases it has been possible for the NOW! Campaign to confirm only the identity of the individual in question; their gender and ethnicity; and the fact that he/she has been arrested and detained/imprisoned for peacefully exercising his/her rights. Of the remaining 135 cases, a greater level of information is publicly available permitting a detailed analysis of the profiles of those targeted, the articles they are charged under and the punishments they have been subjected to.

Of these cases, all are in pre-trial detention or prison, with the exception of Venerable Thich Quang Do, the patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam who is under “temple arrest”. 32 are detained pending trial; including 17 who were arrested this year. Twelve others who were arrested and convicted in 2017, together with two others – Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a blogger better known by the nom de plume Me Nam (“Mother Mushroom”) and Tran Minh Loi, both of whom were arrested last year and convicted this year – have between them received prison sentences cumulatively totalling 65 years followed by a total of 13 years under house arrest.

In the 103 cases in the database for which we have information on sentencing, 101 are serving time-bound sentences. Together, these men and women are serving 955 years and one month in prison, followed by 204 years under house arrest. When the time already spent behind bars by the 32 men and women who are in pre-trial detention – a cumulative total of 19 and a half years – and by Venerable Thich Do, who is under seemingly indefinite arbitrary detention, and Phan Van Thu, the founder of a minority Buddhist sect, An Dan Dai Dao, who is serving a life sentence, is added, the 135 prisoners of conscience for whom there is clear information on dates or arrest and sentencing account for 999 years and seven months behind bars. In other words, these peaceful human rights defenders and religious followers, between them, account for just short of a millennium behind bars.

Support the NOW! Campaign

In recent years, the United States and other foreign governments have negotiated the release of certain high profile prisoners of conscience. While releases are welcome, these men and women regained their liberty in exchange for agreeing to go into exile in the US or elsewhere. These conditioned releases treat the symptoms rather than the cause of a deep-seated problem which can only be resolved with the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam and an end to arrests of people for the exercise of their internationally protected rights. To learn more about prisoners of conscience in Vietnam and to find out how you join the call for their immediate and unconditional release, visit the NOW! Campaign website.

Supported by              

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Boat People SOS

Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Civil Rights Defenders

Defend the Defenders

Democratic Voice of Vietnam

Front Line Defenders

Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam

Montagnard Human Rights Organization

Stephanus Alliance

The 88 Project

Vietnamese Women for Human Rights

The World Organisation Against Torture