CJFE concerned by sentencing of Vietnamese bloggers and activists

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Nguyễn Tấn Dũng
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Office of the State
1 Bach Thao
Hanoi, Vietnam

Dear Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE joins the undersigned organisations in serious concern over the conviction on Tuesday, January 8, and harsh sentencing on Wednesday, January 9, of fourteen human rights activists in Vinh City, namely: Ho Duc Hoa, Dang Xuan Dieu, Paulus Le Son, Nguyen Van Duyet, Nguyen Van Oai, Ho Van Oanh, Nguyen Dinh Cuong, Nguyen Xuan Anh, Thai Van Dung, Tran Minh Nhat, Nong Hung Anh, Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, and Dang Ngoc Minh.

We are alarmed that thirteen activists were dealt severe custodial penalties, ranging from 3 to 13 years' imprisonment, with only one activist receiving a probation sentence.

These activists, many of whom are bloggers and citizen journalists, were charged under Article 79 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration". The criminal activities the group are said to have engaged in include writing commentary that is critical of the Government and distributing this information on the Internet, and both participating in and encouraging peaceful protest.

These activities should not be punished as criminal offences, but are all activities that Vietnam is obliged to protect and promote as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR). The ICCPR protects the right to freedom of expression (Article 19), the right to freedom of peaceful assembly (Article 21), and the right to freedom of association (Article 22).

We are further concerned that the activists may have been targeted because of their religious beliefs. The majority of the activists are Catholic. We remind the Government of Vietnam that as a State Party to the ICCPR, it is also obligated to protect the right to freedom of religion (Article 18 ICCPR) for all of its citizens and the right to non-discrimination on the basis of religion or political belief (Article 2(1) and Article 26 ICCPR).

Family members and supporters of the activists have also received threats and been harassed by uniformed and plainclothes police, leading up to and during the trial of the activists. There are also reports that supporters have been attacked by the police and temporarily detained.

We call on the Government of Vietnam to immediately release the thirteen detained activists and to reverse the convictions for all fourteen. We also call on the Government of Vietnam to ensure the well-being of the activists while they are detained, to protect the safety of their family and supporters, and to investigate and hold to account those responsible for threats and harassment against them and other media workers.
We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours Sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Committee to Protect Journalists
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Globe International
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
I'lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel
Independent Journalism Center
Index on Censorship
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Federation of Journalists
Journalists' Trade Union
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Watch
Pacific Islands News Association
Public Association "Journalists"
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

Cc: Ms. Deborah Chatsis, Ambassador of Canada to Vietnam
H. E. Sy Vuong Ha Le, Ambassador of Vietnam to Canada
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Minister Hà Hùng Cường, Ministry of Justice
Minister Nguyễn Bắc Son, Ministry of Information and Communications
Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief