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HRWF/ THE 88 Project (08.06.2020) – The National Assembly of Vietnam has ratified a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), which over the next 10 years will cut or eliminate 99 per cent of tariffs on trade between the two sides.

 

Lawmakers of the Vietnamese Parliament approved the Europe-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which will come into effect in July.

 

Negotiations between the EU and Vietnam began in 2012 but remained stalled for several years over the latter”s refusal to accept human rights and environmental clauses.

 

Political Prisoners (The 88 Project)

Dinh Van Phu

On May 13, the Provincial Security Investigation Agency completed the investigation of Dinh Van Phu. Phu was arrested in January and charged with “Propagating information and documents against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” according to Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. No trial date has been set yet. He was arrested for using various Facebook pages to post and share articles on political issues, broadcasting live-stream reports, and participating in live broadcasts organized by other organizations, the content of which was deemed by the authorities to be “anti-state.” He also reportedly participated in the June 2018 national protests against the draft laws on Cybersecurity and Special Economic Zones, together with Duong Thi Lanh, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2019 for propaganda against the state.

 

Le Dinh Chuc

 

Almost five months after the raid on Dong Tam Commune, which led to local land rights leader Le Dinh Kinh’s death, as well as the arrests of dozens of other community members, those arrested are still being denied visits from their families. The authorities are also restricting what supplies they can receive. Twenty-nine people have been arrested in the aftermath of the raid. Le Dinh Chuc, one of Le Dinh Kinh’s sons, was injured in the raid and initially paralyzed on one side of his body. However, his lawyer reports that his condition is now improving. Dong Tam Commune is the site of a long running conflict between local authorities and the local residents over the usage of the traditionally agricultural land. Read testimony from the raid on January 9, 2020, here.

 

Chau Van Kham

 

Neither his family nor the Australian government has had contact with jailed Australian retiree Chau Van Kham in over four months. Kham is serving a 12-year prison sentence and is dealing with a myriad of health issues, such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, and kidney stones– all likely exacerbated by prison conditions. His son, Dennis, said of his current condition: “My father is of old age now without any forms of communication to the outside world, I worry not only for his health but his mental state … it frightens me how he’s doing inside. He’s now on a long journey until his release with no support from the Australian government at all, it seems like they’ve forgotten about him.” Kham was recently transferred to a new prison and hasn’t been allowed to see his sister, who had been providing him with some supplies and medication, since February.

 

The Australian consulate has been unable to visit due to restrictions in place from COVID19. It is unclear whether they will be permitted to visit him in June.

 

Birthdays and the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Phan Kim Khanh, birthday June 3, student activist and blogger, sentenced to six years in prison
  • Nguyen Quang Tuy, driver and Build-Operate-Transfer toll protester, tried June 3, 2019, and sentenced to two years in prison
  • Phan Cong Hai, birthday June 5, blogger sentenced to five years in prison
  • Nguyen Trung Truc, birthday June 6, member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, sentenced to 12 years in prison
  • Nguyen Ngoc Anh, engineer and activist, tried June 6, 2019, and sentenced to six years in prison

Community at Risk

 

Conflict broke out last week at a Taiwanese company in Binh Duong Province that makes shoes for Adidas as workers went on strike to protest impending layoffs as a result of the pandemic’s economic toll. Workers went on a five-day strike starting on May 26. Over 10,000 participated in the strike, and the local authorities arrested four participants. In addition, a pregnant worker reportedly fainted when the police used a stun gun on her during the protest. The company claims that it will be offering support to workers during the layoffs, and it said that the layoffs will only be temporary. However, the lack of communication around these new policies appears to have played a role in the unrest this week. Management announced it will notify workers about these support policies by June 20; in response to this, the workers ended their strike and resumed working. Another strike associated with different Taiwanese-owned company happened in Binh Duong on June 2 over issues with severance pay

 

Freedom of Publication

 

On June 3, the International Publisher’s Association (IPA), in a virtual ceremony, announced that the Liberal Publishing House (Nhà xuất bản Tự Do) has won the 2020 Prix Voltaire Award. The chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee said of the LPH: “The work of Liberal Publishing House in Vietnam as guerilla publishers, making books available in a climate of intimidation and risk for their own personal safety is nothing short of inspirational.” The LPH motto is: “We write for you to read, (Vietnam).” They were among four nominees shortlisted for the award.

Pham Doan Trang

 

Pham Doan Trang, spokesperson for the LPH, sent a video message acknowledging the win, saying, “The award that we receive today does not just recognize our tireless efforts but it represents the bravery of tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers who have been harassed, and who have been arrested and interrogated simply for reading our books.”

Watch the full message, hereThe Liberal Publishing House has faced near constant harassment from the Vietnamese authorities– including arrests of and physical attacks against its employees, distributors, and buyers– since its inception in 2019. Despite this, the LPH has distributed over 25,000 books. Just hours before LPH received its award, on the morning of June 3 2020, two officers of the Security Investigation Agency of the Ministry of Public Security went to Trang’s house in Hanoi to meet with her mother, Bui Thi Thien Can. Can is 80 years old. However, despite this, two officers forced her to participate in their interrogation with questions about Trang’s whereabouts and communication between the two. They forced her to sign a statement saying that Trang has produced and distributed “anti-state” materials.

 

International Advocacy

 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, last week released a statement urging Asian Pacific countries to improve protections for freedom of expression and to make sure that their response to fake information amidst the pandemic is “proportionate.” She cited arrests over online posts related to the pandemic in many countries, including Vietnam. “This crisis should not be used to restrict dissent or the free flow of information and debate. A diversity of viewpoints will foster greater understanding of the challenges we face and help us better overcome them,” she said.

Last week, The 88 Project published an article analyzing how Vietnamese authorities are utilizing the pandemic to normalize the practices of a police state. For instance, in Ha Giang Province, three teachers were fined around 10 million Dong (approximately US$450) for simply saying “The outbreak is out of control!,” along with posting some photographs of Vietnamese patients in a quarantine area. According to the security forces, these posts caused “unnecessary panic” among the public. They also asserted that this was fake news because the photographs were from different provinces, and not Ha Giang.

 

See the pictures of the political prisoners at https://the88project.org/

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