Vietnam’s restrictions threaten progress: donors

Vietnamese Catholics hold a vigil outside a court in Hanoi

HANOI — Vietnam’s restrictions on the news media and Internet sites such as Facebook threaten the country’s rapid economic progress, Western donors told an annual meeting of World Bank and other officials on Thursday.

“Economic growth and development requires an open and transparent environment for all stakeholders, Vietnamese and international,” US ambassador Michael Michalak told the opening session of talks between Vietnam and its aid-givers, known as the Consultative Group.

There has been a “shrinking of the space for honest, reliable information” recently, Michalak told the two-day meeting where pledges of aid are announced.

Michalak and the Swedish ambassador, Rolf Bergman, both expressed concern about recent reports that the world’s most popular online social networking site, Facebook, is being restricted.

“This is not about teenagers chatting online. It is a question of people’s rights to communicate with one another, share ideas and to do business,” Michalak said.

An Internet provider said last month that Vietnam’s public security ministry had ordered blockage of the site which, like other online platforms, offers room for expression not permitted in traditional media which are all linked to the communist state.

The Minister of Information and Communication, Le Doan Hop, last month indicated to legislators that he wanted to reinforce control of the Internet. He said “toxic and bad-intentioned information” has sometimes circulated in cyberspace.
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Donors say Vietnam should respect rights

HANOI (Reuters) – Aid donors urged Vietnam on Thursday to unleash the press to help fight corruption and to respect international human rights norms, or risk negatively impacting investment and aid flows.

“Vietnam’s economic performance and its international reputation are compromised by restrictions placed by the government on the personal freedoms of its citizens,” a statement by the U.S. delegation to an annual donor summit in Hanoi said.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party brooks no opposition, and in the past year has detained or jailed several reporters, bloggers, lawyers and dissidents, and deployed an administrative decree to bring down the country’s only independent policy think-tank.

The party recognises widespread corruption as a major impediment to development, but restricts the media’s ability to ferret out cases.

The United Nations said governments must “own” the battle against corruption, but others would make it more effective.

“Broadening the scope for collaboration and involvement of non-State actors such as the media, mass organisations and individuals makes anti-corruption efforts more effective,” it said in its report to the meeting, called the Consultative Group.

Sweden, as president of the European Union, went further.

“The government of Vietnam has to allow media to scrutinise the power,” it said.

“Researchers, journalists and lawyers have to be encouraged to raise their voices to be able to contribute to the future of Vietnam. They should not be silenced or discouraged. Recently, however, worrying signs seem to indicate that the development is going in the wrong direction.” U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak also noted in prepared remarks that recent events “have contributed to a shrinking of the space for honest, reliable information”.

“Access to reliable, objective information; the ability to conduct research freely and publish one’s findings; the right to articulate and consider differing views — are absolutely essential to technical innovation and economic prosperity.”

(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Vietnam admits shortcomings at U.N. rights review

* Exiles and rights activists accuse Vietnam of crackdowns

* Vietnam defends record, admits individual shortcomings

* Demonstration coincides with rare U.N. scrutiny

(Updates with Vietnam presentation to U.N. Human Rights Council)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, May 8 (Reuters) – Vietnam acknowledged some human rights “wrongdoings” in its appearance before a United Nations human rights forum on Friday, but rejected accusations from exiles about its treatment of dissidents and minorities.

Those exiles, backed by a major international human rights group, submitted a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council accusing the Southeast Asian country of quashing press freedom and Internet access in a bid to silence critics.

Their report demanded the release of political prisoners held under “vague national security provisions” of Vietnam’s law, and raised concerns about religious repression, widespread use of the death penalty and coercive birth control practices.

Vietnam defended its record at the 47 member-state forum in Geneva, which is assessing the Vietnamese human rights record under a “universal periodic review” mechanism which will subject all United Nations members to scrutiny.

Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, said Hanoi had made achievements in protecting human rights. Religious activities have increased and ethnic minorities are “participating in an increasingly equal manner in social and political life,” he said.

He acknowledged shortcomings, including “wrongdoings” by some civil servants who had a limited understanding of human rights, but rejected “unfounded reports” about its record.

“Vietnam is still victim of hostile activities like terrorism, sabotage, acts to destabilise the country and infringe upon national security and territorial integrity,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to build a strong country and prosperous people in a just, democratic and advanced society.”


The activists’ report says Vietnam’s ruling Communist authorities routinely use charges of espionage to detain “cyber-dissidents” for posting their views on the Internet.

“These crimes, which make no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism and the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, are punishable by harsh prison terms including life imprisonment,” it said. Seven crimes carry the death penalty.

Penelope Faulkner, executive secretary of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, told Reuters: “There are several thousand political prisoners all over the country. They are detained in all sorts of ways including house arrest.”

Vietnamese exiles demonstrated outside the U.N. offices in Geneva, sheltering from the rain under umbrellas, to draw attention to the rare international scrutiny of their homeland.

An administrative detention in Vietnamese law empowers local officials to commit perceived political or religious opponents to mental hospitals or “rehabilitation camps,” the groups said.

Once released, they said former political prisoners are subjected to probationary detention, which puts them under house arrest and constant police surveillance for up to five years.

Faulkner said Vietnam executes an average of 100 people a year, with capital punishment applied for 29 offences ranging from murder to economic crimes and treason.

Repression on religious grounds was also described in the group’s report as widespread, despite freedom of religion being guaranteed in the constitution.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, effectively banned since 1981, and ethnic Montagnards — the mainly Christian tribespeople from the Central Highlands who sided with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War — are the main victims, it said. (Editing by Laura MacInnis)

Western Donors Urge Vietnam To Respect Human Rights

Editor: Sharon Li
5 Dec 2008 08:35:00 GMT

HANOI (AFP)–The European Union and the United States on Thursday urged communist Vietnam to guarantee civil liberties, following the recent jailing of a journalist who helped uncover a major corruption case.

The European Union told Vietnam at an international donors meeting focused on Vietnam’s economy that it wanted to “underline that political and civil rights are equally important and should not be separated.”

“We strongly believe that by not respecting the political and civil rights, the path of progressive development will be seriously hampered” in Vietnam, the E.U. said in a statement.

The bloc said it “shares international concern” over the recent two-year jail term for newspaper journalist Nguyen Viet Chain, who had helped uncover a major corruption scandal in a transport ministry unit three years ago.

The U.S. said in its statement to the Consultative Group meeting that “Vietnam’s economic performance and its international reputation are compromised by restrictions placed upon the personal freedom of its citizens.”

“Greater tolerance of dissent and differing views are essential for the country to achieve its full potential,” it said.

Meanwhile, a group of four Western countries urged Vietnam “to continue to improve access to religion” in the Central Highlands, where unrest broke out in 2001 and 2004 fueled by land pressures in the coffee-growing region.

Rights groups say the government has repressed ethnic minorities practicing Christianity there because it links the religion to “hostile forces” in the United States, the communist government’s former wartime enemy.

The Western group – made up of Canada, Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand – said it had “noted some positive trends towards greater religious freedom in the region” during a visit to three provinces there last month.

Vietnam seeks Google, Yahoo! help to control bloggers: reports

Students search and play games online inside an Internet shop in Hanoi

Students search and play games online inside an Internet shop in Hanoi

HANOI (AFP) — Communist Vietnam wants Internet giants Google and Yahoo! to help “regulate” the country’s flourishing blogging scene, state media said Tuesday, and stop “incorrect information” being published online.

The government will announce new rules this month, stressing that weblogs should serve as personal online diaries, not as organs to disseminate opinions about politics, religion and society, senior officials were quoted as saying.

The regulations aim “to create a legal base for bloggers and related agencies to tackle violations in the area of blogging,” said Information and Communication Deputy Minister Do Quy Doan, according to the Thanh Nien daily.

The ministry “will contact Google and Yahoo! for cooperation in creating the best and the healthiest environment for bloggers,” he added.

The proposals follow the jailing in September of the high-profile blogger Dieu Cay — real name Nguyen Hoang Hai — for two and a half years on tax fraud charges. His appeal hearing is set for Thursday, court officials said.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders charged that he was punished for criticising China’s claims over disputed South China Sea islands and called on the court “to acquit this cyber-dissident.”

The territorial issue is seen as highly sensitive by the Vietnam and Chinese governments.

Vietnam’s blogosphere has exploded in recent years, with school children to newspaper editors freely sharing their thoughts in a way that has not been possible in the state-controlled media.

Most users have chatted about lifestyle and personal issues, but some online writers have strayed into sensitive political areas and incurred the wrath of the authorities, with several bloggers, including Cay, ending up in prison.

The director of the state-run Bach Khoa Internet Security Centre, Nguyen Tu Quang, last month said under draft rules being debated, violators could face 12,000-dollar fines and up to 12 years jail.

“This is quite a strict punishment but perfectly suitable for those who intentionally release incorrect information about religion, the political system, state and government of Vietnam,” Quang was quoted as saying.

The OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration by experts from Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and other universities, warned in a report last year that political Internet filtering in Vietnam is “pervasive.”

“Vietnam’s filtering regime is multi-layered, relying not only on computing technology but also on threats of legal liability, state-based and private monitoring of users’ online activities, and informal pressures such as supervision by employees or other users in cyber-cafes,” the report said.

UN calls for human rights to not be sacraficed

A new report from the United Nations Population Fund says universal human rights should not be compromised for cultural reasons.

The UNFPA report says women are dying for medical, as well as cultural reasons.

It says the challenge is to make development more culturally sensitive, to ensure overcome inequalities that harm women.

UNFPA representative, Ian Howie, says his current post in Vietnam provides a good example of cultural factors harming women.

“In the Hmong ethnic areas of Vietnam for example, women often choose a traditional birth at home or literally walk alone into the forest to give birth rather than go to a health clinic,” he said.

“Why do they do this? Because they don’t want to show their bodies to people who are not of their own ethnicity and who do not understand their culture.”

Vietnam mulls less crimes punishable by death

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam, which sends dozens of people to the firing squad each year, might sharply restrict the number of crimes that are punishable by death, state media reported Tuesday.

Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong asked the lawmaking National Assembly on Monday to consider eliminating the death penalty for crimes like embezzlement, bribery and plane hijacking, saying it was “in line with the global trend to limit and abolish the death penalty altogether,” the Laborer newspaper reported.

The Justice Ministry proposed reducing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty from 29 to 12, it said. Forty-four crimes were punishable by death in 1999.

Vietnam has been criticized by international human rights organizations for its frequent application of the death penalty.

The country condemns about 100 people to death each year, many of them on drug-related offenses.

Cuong recommended that corruption crimes be punished with a maximum sentence of life in prison, the report said.

But Le Thi Thu Ba, head of the assembly’s judiciary committee, expressed reservations about the plan.

“The death penalty should not be removed for embezzlement and bribery because corruption is a national disaster,” she was quoted as saying.

The Associated Press: Vietnam mulls less crimes punishable by death

Vietnam police arrest marriage brokers

Hanoi – Police in Ho Chi Minh City have broken up an illegal marriage brokerage, which matched Vietnamese women and South Korean men, a police official said Tuesday. Police Lt Col Nguyen Van Nam said officers had raided a house in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 8 at 2 am Monday, and had “caught red-handed” 161 women presenting themselves as potential spouses to seven South Korean men.

The men were fined an undisclosed amount.

Nam said police were holding a 34-year-old woman, Phung Bich Thao, and a 39-year-old man, Huynh Xuan Phu, for organizing the show.

Nam said the accused had confessed to brokering numerous marriages between foreigners and young Vietnamese women from poor Mekong Delta provinces. He said the agency charged brides a matching fee of 100 dollars when a foreign client chose them.

In recent years, Vietnamese brides have become popular in Taiwan and South Korea. South Korean statistics show over 20,000 Vietnamese brides residing in the country.

The Vietnamese public has become concerned that such arranged brides are vulnerable to domestic violence abroad. The Vietnam’s Women’s Union claims “most” Vietnamese arranged brides become alienated due to language barriers and a lack of cultural understanding.

Last year, two young Vietnamese brides in South Korea, Huynh Mai and Le Thi Kim Dong, died as a result of mistreatment by their husbands.

Mai’s body was found in the basement of her husband’s house eight days after he beat her to death. Dong died after jumping from the ninth floor of her building while attempting to escape from a violent husband.

Vietnam police arrest marriage brokers : Asia World

EU calls for reassessment of Vietnam rights dialogue

The European parliament says the European Union must reassess its cooperation with Vietnam over human rights.

The parliamentarians adopted a text, by 479 votes to 21, saying human rights dialogue between the EU and Vietnam must lead to tangible improvements in Vietnam.

They called on the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to reassess cooperation policy with Vietnam, based on respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights.

They denounced in particular religious intolerance, and called for the immediate release of all people imprisoned or detained for the peaceful expression of political or religious beliefs.

These include more than 300 Montagnard Christians, as well as Khmer Krom Buddhist monks, Catholics and adherents of the Cao Dai religion, as well as democracy activists, land rights petitioners and trade union leaders.

MEPs want progress on human rights before cooperation accord is signed 

In a resolution on EU-Vietnam relations, Parliament calls for Vietnam to be pressed to observe human rights and various key freedoms before a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU is finalised.

According to the resolution, which was adopted by 479 votes to 21 with 4 abstentions, freedom of assembly and of the press as well as internet access are severely restricted in Vietnam, while religious groups and ethnic minorities – such as Catholics, Buddhists and the Montagnard and Khmer minorities – suffer discrimination and persecution.

Better implementation of human rights under existing accord needed

Looking, firstly, to the current EU-Vietnam cooperation agreement, Parliament stresses that “the human rights dialogue between the European Union and Vietnam must lead to tangible improvements in Vietnam” and “asks the Council and the Commission to reassess cooperation policy with Vietnam, bearing in mind Article 1 of the 1995 Cooperation Agreement, which states that cooperation is based on respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights”.  It calls on the Commission “to establish clear benchmarks for the evaluation of the current development projects in Vietnam in order to ensure their compliance with the human rights and democracy clause”.

New agreement not to be finalised until rights violations stop

Secondly, MEPs urge the Commission and the Council, in the current negotiations for a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, “to raise with the Vietnamese side the need to stop the current systematic violation of democracy and human rights before the finalisation of the agreement”.

In particular, Parliament, which has a consultative role in the conclusion of the new agreement, wants Vietnam to be asked:

– to cooperate actively with UN human rights mechanisms, by inviting the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to visit Vietnam;

– to release all people imprisoned or detained for the peaceful expression of political or religious beliefs;

– to allow independent religious organisations to freely conduct religious activities without government interference;

– to repeal provisions in Vietnamese law that criminalise dissent and certain religious activities on the basis of imprecisely defined ‘national security’ crimes;

– to end the Vietnamese Government’s censorship and control over the domestic media.

Vietnam: MEPs want progress on human rights before cooperation accord is signed