By BosNewsLife News Center
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)-- A major human rights watchdog accused the Vietnamese government on Friday, March 9 of "flouting" its commitments on human rights by launching "one of the worst crackdowns on peaceful dissidents," including Christians, "in 20 years."
US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) especially condemned the recent arrests of an outspoken Catholic priest and two human rights lawyers which it claimed happened as Vietnam has been "emboldened" by "international recognition" after joining the World Trade Organization and hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
"Vietnam has now taken its place on the world economic stage, but its human rights record lags far behind," explained Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement. "The governmentâ€™s ongoing criminalization of peaceful political dissent and violations of basic human rights threatens to undermine its economic achievements."
On March 6, police arrested Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan in Hanoi. Nguyen Van Dai, one of Vietnamâ€™s few practicing human rights lawyers, founded the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam in 2006. He recently received the prestigious Hellman/Hammett award for persecuted writers, which is administered by HRW.
Le Thi Cong Nhan, also a lawyer, has served as spokesperson for the 'Dang Thang Tien Vietnam Party' or 'Vietnam Progression Party', one of several opposition parties that have been created during the last year. She is known as a vocal champion of human rights, HRW said.
A leading Vietnamese human rights activist, Tran Nam, told BosNewsLife that the two lawyers began a hunger strike March 6 to protest their detention in Hoa Lo prison of Cau Dien village outside the center of Hanoi.
Their temporary detentions will last four months and continue to extend up to more than 12 months before go to trial, according to Vietnamese dissidents.
"Currently, Police in Hanoi have set up signs as "No Foreigners Allow", "No Pictures Taken", "No Cameras Allowed" around Lawyer Nguyen Van Daiâ€™s house," in Hanoi, Tran Nam said. "His wife, Vu Minh Khai, has been constantly watched, followed and video recorded by plain-clothed police after Dai was taken to custody."
Opposition parties, independent media and labor unions, as well as unsanctioned religious organizations are also strictly banned "by the one-party communist state," HRW claimed. It recalled that on February 18, "dozens of police in Hue" raided the parish home of Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and former prisoner of conscience.
They confiscated computers, telephones and more than 200 kilograms of documents, the group said. "The authorities moved him to a remote location, where he remains under house arrest." Father Ly is one of the founders of 'Block 8406', a democracy movement launched in April 2006 when hundreds of people throughout Vietnam signed public petitions calling for democracy and human rights.
Father Ly, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan have all been charged with carrying out propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, under article 88 of the Penal Code. If convicted, they face sentences of up to 20 years in prison, HRW said.
"These are all peaceful dissidents," added HRWâ€™s Richardson. "They have simply advocated for rights guaranteed both by Vietnamâ€™s Constitution and its international obligations under human rights treaties."
Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan and "many other dissidents" were confined to their homes last November, before and after Hanoi hosted the APEC summit, HRW and dissidents told BosNewsLife. The two were apparently detained and interrogated again on February 4. In February, authorities temporarily detained and questioned a number of other free speech activists and democracy advocates, including church leaders.
HRW identified them as Catholic priests Chan Tin and Phan Van Loi, editors of the underground publication 'Tu Do Ngoan Luan' or 'Freedom of Speech'; Vietnam Progression Party members Nguyen Phong, Nguyen Binh Thanh, and Hoang Thi Anh Dao and Democracy activists Bach Ngoc Duong, Nguyen Phuong Anh and Pham Van Coi.
HRW also expressed concerns that Mennonite pastors Nguyen Hong Quang in Ho Chi Minh City and Nguyen Cong Chinh in Kontum, as well as members of independent Protestant churches in the northern and central highlands, face "ongoing pressure from the authorities."
Besides, dissidents told BosNewsLife of the destruction of church properties by government backed forces, including the statue of Sorrowful Virgin Saint Mary on GO Mountain at the Dong Dinh Catholic parish. "The heads, arms and legs of the Sorrowful Virgin Saint Mary statue who still holds her baby son Jesus Christ on her hands have been completely crushed off and cut down," human rights activist Nam Dao told BosNewsLife.
In addition authorities reportedly attacked Buddhists, detaining and interrogating Buddhist monks belonging to the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, including Thich Thien Tam and Thich Hue Lam.
There is also pressure on activists representing workers, HRW explained. "On January 12, police arrested Tran Quoc Hien, spokesperson of an independent trade union, United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam (UWFO), which was formed last year. He is currently detained at Phan Dang Luu prison in Ho Chi Minh City."
Last November, police apparently arrested several other UWFO trade unionists as part of the APEC crackdown. Those arrested were identified as Nguyen Tan Hoanh, Doan Van Dien, Doan Huy Chuong, Tran Thi Le Hong, Le Ba Triet, and Nguyen Tuan.
They are among hundreds of religious and political prisoners in Vietnam, including cyber-dissident Nguyen Vu Binh, nine or more members of the Cao Dai religion, 10 Hoa Hao Buddhists, and more than 350 ethnic minority Christian Degar-Montagnards from the Central Highlands, HRW and other groups said.
Vietnamese officials have denied any wrongdoing. In a February 26 article announcing Father Lyâ€™s arrest, the Vietnamese Communist Party daily newspaper, Nhan Dan (The People) reportedly defended the governmentâ€™s actions saying it had "smashed" the "extremists' sabotage scheme."
The article apparently also underscored the governmentâ€™s confidence following the APEC meeting. "Vietnamâ€™s prestige has been lifted to new heights following the events of becoming an official member of the WTO, the successful organization of the 14th APEC Meeting and then the nomination by Asian countries to become a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2008-2009 period," the paper noted.
"The country [has a] bright future under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnamâ€¦[which] is striving to build a prosperous people, a strong country and an equitable, democratic and civilized society," the commentary reportedly added.
Richardson disagrees. "Despite the official rhetoric, the Vietnamese government canâ€™t really pretend to be working towards a just and democratic society when it continues to persecute those who articulate different political views, who support multi-party democracy, or simply advocate for basic human rights." (With reports from Vietnam).
Copyright 2007 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent.