Vietnamese authorities treat human rights defenders as “enemies of the State”. HRDs are subjected to intimidation, threats, interrogation, harassment, arrest and routine beatings. Many defenders are victims of arbitrary detention and criminalisation. Most often, they are not informed of the reasons for their arrest or why their request for bail is denied. When put on trial, they are very often sentenced to heavy jail terms and mistreated in prison. Detained HRDs also do not have access to lawyers and families and can be denied medical care. They can be intentionally transferred to remote locations, thus making it more difficult for their families to visit them. Human rights lawyers are often abused and disbarred from their respective bar association.
In Vietnam, there is no independent media – newspapers, television and radio stations as well as Internet communications are strictly controlled by the state. The only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and citizen journalists, who are subjected to harsh forms of persecution including violence by plainclothes policemen, arrest and prosecution. A nationwide crackdown against HRDs engaged in calls for transparency and accountability in the government’s handling of the Formosa environmental disaster – a water pollution crisis – has intensified since 2016. Peaceful demonstrations around the country resulted in mass arrests and attacks against participants by police and individuals in plain clothes believed to be working under police orders. HRDs working for democracy receive accusations of being “foreign spies or agents”, “traitors”, or “violators of public order and peace”. Land rights activists are also frequently arrested.
In order to stifle dissent, the Party is resorting to vaguely worded legislation such as articles 88, 79, and 258 of the Penal Code, under which “anti-state propaganda,” “activities aimed at overthrowing the government” and “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state” are punishable by long prison terms. “Planning to overthrow the Communist Party” and “undermining the unity policy” are also common charges against HRDs. During the summer 2017, the authorities intensified the crackdown on rights defenders by issuing lengthy sentences to prominent activists such as Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Nguyen Van Oai, carrying out a wave of arrests and even deporting HRD Pham Minh Hoang to France.