The United Nations human rights monitor for Southeast Asia called on Vietnam to release three rights advocates who were detained by the government and to investigate allegations that the trio were tortured while in custody.
In its statement issued Tuesday, the U.N. Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia said prominent blogger Ho Van Hai and two political activists pushing for greater freedoms Vietnam, Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do, should be granted unconditional release.
The three were arrested in early November and charged under a pair of legal provisions that Hanoi often uses to imprison government critics in an attempt to silence dissent.
“These two penal provisions, along with other similar articles dealing with so-called National Security offences, run contrary to international human rights standards and should be repealed,” said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the office.
Ho Van Hai was arrested on Nov. 3 for allegedly distributing “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” He was officially charged under article 88 of the Vietnam’s penal code that carries a sentence of between three and 20 years of imprisonment.
Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do were arrested on Nov. 6, under article 79 of the Penal Code for conducting “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” That charge carries a sentence of between 12 years and life imprisonment or capital punishment.
Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do recently founded the “Coalition of Self-determined Vietnamese Peoples,” an organization aimed at promoting multi-party democracy and human rights.
Investigate torture allegations
Meillan also called on Vietnam to “conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of torture.”
Vietnam uses a raft of broadly worded national security laws like article 88 and article 79 to jail dissidents and critics.
While all newspapers and television channels are state-run in Vietnam and private media is banned, blog sites and social media forums have become an increasingly popular arena for citizens to air anti-government grievances.
Nguyen Van Duc Do’s sister, Nhi Hoang, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the government doesn’t want to take on issues like corruption and the government officials’ abuse of power and silences those who do.
“They find it difficult to address these issues because it does not affect their interests,” she said. “However dissidents and activists who dare to address them are arrested arbitrarily.”
Le Thi Thap, the wife of Luu Van Vinh, told AFP she has been unable to reach her husband since police came to their home in southern Ho Chi Minh City.
“He was accused of conspiracy to overthrow the state, but my husband is a kind person,” she said. “I don’t know what my husband did as I never go deep into his work.”
Independent civil society organizations backed up the Human Rights Office, as about 20 civil society organizations, two rival political parties and 39 individuals signed a statement condemning the illegal treatment and actions of the government and law enforcement.
They accused the government of clamping down on people who are exercising their basic rights guaranteed in the constitution, and vowed to continue their fight against abuse of power by the government and law enforcement.
Included in the groups that signed the statement are the Vietnam Reform Party, the Civil Society Forum, Brotherhood for Democracy, the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam.
“Citizens have their rights to freedom of expression, press and access to information, freedom to association and protest but instead of letting people exercise their legitimate rights, the communist government of Vietnam always cracks down on them,” the groups wrote.
In their statement the groups singled out the government’s use of plainclothes police to throttle dissent.
‘They crack down on people on streets by brutally blocking, beating or taking people to the police stations,” the groups wrote. “In some cases people were detained for hours, even days without any arrest order.”