Arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of human rights defenders sharply increased in Vietnam in 2020, while the number of prisoners of conscience reaches a record high with at least 173 people in custody, high most since Amnesty International began making reports on these numbers in 1996.
The new human rights report published on April 6 by Amnesty International said that 2020 was a year that democracy activists, independent journalists, and publishers in Vietnam were constantly facing harassment, attacks, arbitrary prosecution, torture, and cruel treatment after being arrested by the police.
According to the report, before the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam which was held in late January and early February 2021, the Vietnamese government carried out a massive crackdown on those who dared to give mixed opinions in any form.
Vietnam’s authorities in 2020 launched a broad crackdown on the public’s right to freely express their opinions, especially targeting individuals who posted their opinions online. The Amnesty International report states: “There has been an increase in online censorship, in addition to a significant increase in arrests, detention and arbitrary convictions of individuals in connection with their actions exercising their right to freely express their opinion online and outside the network. Journalists and writers were targeted with a series of arrests and prosecutions against unsanctioned Liberal Publishing House and the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists’ Association of Vietnam. Two people from the Liberal Publishing House were tortured by the police while being detained in Ho Chi Minh City.”
Under pressure from the Vietnamese government, Facebook in 2020 also increased its censorship of online content that was deemed not beneficial for the government.
“Human rights defenders and activists have been alerted to content restrictions they face both Facebook and YouTube at the request of officials, including blocking and suspending accounts having posted sensitive content. These measures mark a significant decline in the free-expression space in Vietnam.”
According to Amnesty International, out of 173 prisoners of conscience detained in Vietnam as of December 2020, 72 were detained for expressing their opinions online. As many as 24 out of 30 people arrested in 2020 were detained for expressing their opinions online. Most of them are accused of violating Article 331 on taking advantage of democratic freedoms and Article 117 on anti-state propaganda of the 2015 Criminal Code.
A new report by Amnesty International also addresses the inhumane treatment of prisoners of conscience. Families of prisoners of conscience often reflect the situation of relatives being discriminated against and tortured in prison. The report named a number of prisoners of conscience typically subject to discrimination in 2020 including Nguyen Van Hoa, Nguyen Van Tuc, Huynh Truong Ca, Le Dinh Luong, and Nguyen Ngoc Anh.
According to Amnesty International, in 2020, the courts in Vietnam continued to impose death sentences. However, information about the execution of the death penalty is considered confidential in Vietnam.
In December 2020, Vietnam abstained at the United Nations regarding the postponement of the execution of the death penalty.
According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam is holding at least 256 prisoners of conscience.