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Police Crack Down on Human Rights Day Events in Vietnam

Activists in Vietnam have complained of police harassment at events held to mark International Human Rights Day.

To mark the day Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear issued a statement urging the country to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an agreement adopted in 1948 which outlines fundamental freedoms and rights of people across the world.

Shear said achieving demonstrable progress on human rights is vital to the relationship between the two countries and affects every facet of foreign policy.

Over the last few months Vietnam has signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and reached out to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to visit Vietnam, the statement said.

It has also become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, some activists question how much progress has really been made.

This week, participants at rallies to celebrate Human Rights Day reported being harassed by police.

Blogger Me Nam, which means “Mother Mushroom,” was at the inaugural meeting of Vietnamese Women For Human Rights on Tuesday at a pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Today we gave the invitation to about 50 people. Some of them couldn’t be there because the police stop [them] at the beginning at home,” said Me Nam.

The group was launched last month to provide a support network for women involved in human rights activism.

“The important issues that we talk about today is we gave the plan to visit the home of women who were arrested or who have husbands or brothers who were arrested. We also meet some people who are farmers who lost their land and they were evicted by the police,” said Me Nam.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Lan Thang in a Hanoi cafe on Nov. 27, 2013.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Lan Thang in a Hanoi cafe on Nov. 27, 2013.

At another event on Sunday more than 100 people gathered near a park in central Hanoi to hand out balloons marked with the slogan “Our Human Rights Must Be Respected.” However, blogger Nguyen Lan Thang said the event was soon broken up by police.

He said the police prevented bloggers from handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He said at a similar meeting in Ho Chi Minh City the same day police threw mắm tôm - a pungent condiment made of fermented shrimp - at participants.

Thang is a member of the Vietnamese Bloggers Network, a group of online activists who are calling for greater freedom of expression in the country. On Tuesday the group launched a new website.

Thang said the network is new and open, and welcomes anyone who is interested in a broad range of human rights issues to join.

Vietnam has been criticized for using vaguely worded laws to prosecute activists. In a move last month which some analysts believe marks a change in the government's approach, lawmakers passed Decree 174, which lays out restrictions on internet content. The latest legislation outlines fines of up to $2,500 for conducting propaganda against the state via social networks or websites.

Trinh Huu Long, a lawyer and former journalist is among another group of activists who have asked the National Assembly to interpret an article in the constitution which covers freedom of association.

“We want it to be clearer, more specific, not ambiguous like current laws,” said Trinh Huu Long.

However, they have as yet received no response from authorities.

Blogger Thang said the change of tactic will not intimidate online activists. He said people are more confident in speaking out because the activist community is growing larger and stronger.