Vietnam’s communist regime today imprisoned several activists for promoting democracy and defending the country’s territorial claims in the Eastern Sea. The prosecutions are designed to stifle dissent and offset pressures for reform in the run-up to a major communist party congress, analysts suggest.
Exiled pro-democracy reformers say the trials confirm that Hanoi criminalizes free speech and violates international human rights covenants to which it is a signatory.
The trials were “bundled together for maximum deterrent effect”, said Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the University of New South Wales. “It is no coincidence that renewed repression coincides with advance preparations for the 11th Party congress. Party conservatives are trying to stem pressures to step up the pace of political reform in order to remain in power.”
“We have 85 million people and we have 85 million views, and we have to respect that,” Tran Vu Hai, a lawyer representing some of the accused, told the court.
“No democracy, freedom or human rights, also due to the communist regime,” declared banners hung from bridges. Another banner mentioned the banned Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy group founded in 2006.
The diverse group of dissidents includes poet Tran Duc Thach, high school teacher Vu Hung, engineer Pham Van Troi, writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, university student Ngo Quynh, former communist party member Nguyen Manh Son, essayist Nguyen Van Tinh, land rights activist Nguyen Van Tuc, and electrician Nguyen Kim Nhan. Collectively, they were sentenced to 32 years in prison and 27 years of probation.
The convictions come as Vietnam is presiding over the UN Security Council. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a prominent body which reviews cases of unlawful imprisonment, has declared that the dissidents are wrongfully detained.
When the UN Human Rights Council recently met to adopt the final report of its Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam, Vo Van Ai, president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, denounced Hanoi’s rejection of several measures proposed by UN member states to promote human rights, whilst ruthlessly cracking down on peaceful dissidents.
“The UN should seriously re-examine the UPR process,” said Vo Van Ai. “The principle of a universal yardstick to measure and encourage human rights progress is a noble ideal. But in practice, the UPR is manipulated by non-democratic countries such as Vietnam to enhance their image internationally without making any concrete progress on the ground.”
The VCHR, or Que Me, is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.