• As the climate crisis intensifies, so does the crackdown on environmental activism, finds new report

    New research brief from the CIVICUS Monitor examines the crackdown of environmental activism and profiles important victories civil society has scored in the fight for climate justice.

    • Environmental protests are being criminalised and met with repression on all continents
    • State authorities and private companies are common perpetrators of violations to civic freedoms
    • Despite the risks and restrictions, activist groups continue to score important victories to advance climate justice.

    As world leaders meet in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Negotiations (COP26), peaceful environmental activists are being threatened, silenced and criminalised around the world. The host of this year's meeting is one of many countries where activists are regularly facing rights violations.

    New research from the CIVICUS Monitor looks at the common tactics and restrictions being used by governments and private companies to suppress environmental movements. The research brief “Defenders of our planet: Resilience in the face of restrictions” focuses on three worrying trends: Bans and restrictions on protests; Judicial harassment and legal persecution; and the use of violence, including targeted killings.

    As the climate crisis intensifies, activists and civil society groups continue to mobilise to hold policymakers and corporate leaders to account. From Brazil to South Africa, activists are putting their lives on the line to protect lands and to halt the activities of high-polluting industries. The most severe rights abuses are often experienced by civil society groups that are standing up to the logging, mining and energy giants who are exploiting natural resources and fueling global warming.

    As people take to the streets, governments have been instituting bans that criminalise environmental protests. Recently governments have used COVID-19 as a pretext to disrupt and break up demonstrations. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor indicates that the detention of protesters and the use of excessive force by authorities are becoming more prevalent.

    In Cambodia in May 2021, three environmental defenders were sentenced to 18 to 20 months in prison for planning a protest  against the filling of a lake in the capital. While in Finland this past June, over 100 activists were arrested for participating in a protest calling for the government to take urgent action on climate change. From authoritarian countries to  mature democracies, the research also profiles those who have been put behind bars for peacefully protesting.

    “Silencing activists and denying them of their fundamental civic rights is another tactic being used by leaders to evade and delay action on climate change” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor. “Criminalising nonviolent protests has become a troubling indicator that governments are not committed to saving the planet .”

    The report shows that many of the measures being deployed by governments to restrict rights are not compatible with international law. Examples of courts and legislative bodies reversing attempts to criminalise nonviolent climate protests are few and far between.

    Despite the increased risks and restrictions facing environmental campaigners, the report also shows that a wide range of campaigns have scored important victories, including the closure of mines and numerous hazardous construction projects. Equally significant has been the rise of climate litigation by activist groups. Ironically, as authorities take activists to court for exercising their fundamental right to protest, activist groups have successfully filed lawsuits against governments and companies in over 25 countries for failing to act on climate change.



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  • CIVICUS Joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

    Submissions on civil society space– Afghanistan, Chile, Eritrea, Macedonia, Vietnam & Yemen

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on six countries in advance of the 32nd UPR session in January 2019. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

    Afghanistan: CIVICUS, Afghanistan Human Rights Organization (AHRO), Civil Society and Human Rights Network and People’s Action for Change Organization explore the continued insecurity in Afghanistan, which has resulted in the closure of space for civil society, including through targeted attacks on humanitarian workers, protesters and journalists. We further discuss violence against women and the desperate situation faced by women HRDs in Afghanistan who are subjected to a heightened level of persecution because of their gender and their human rights activism.

    Chile: CIVICUS and Pro Acceso Foundation (Fundación Pro Acceso) highlight serious concerns regarding the persistent misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Law to silence members of the Mapuche indigenous community advocating for land rights. We are also concerned by the lack of government commitment to amend legislation regulating the right to peaceful assembly and by the violent suppression of social protests, especially those led by the student movement and indigenous communities. 

    Eritrea: CIVICUS, EMDHR and Eritrea Focus highlight the complete closure of the space for civil society in Eritrea to assemble, associate and express themselves. We note that there are no independent civil society organisations and private media in the country. We further discuss how the government selectively engages with international human rights mechanisms including UN Special Procedures. 

    Macedonia: CIVICUS, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network and the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation outline serious concerns over the institutional harassment of NGOs in receipt of foreign funding since 2016. Despite a recent improvement in respect for civic freedoms, the submission discusses several restrictions on investigative journalists and media outlets. We also remain alarmed over smear campaigns against human rights defenders and critics of the government orchestrated by nationalist groups. 

    Vietnam: CIVICUS, Civil Society Forum, Human Rights Foundation (HRF), VOICE and VOICE Vietnam examine systematic attempts in Vietnam to silence HRDs and bloggers, including through vague national security laws, physical attacks, restrictions on their freedom of movement and torture and ill-treatment in detention. The submission also explores strict controls on the media in law and in practice, online censorship and the brutal suppression of peaceful protests by the authorities.

    Yemen: CIVICUS, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Front Line Defenders discuss the ongoing extreme violence against and HRDs and journalists including regular abductions, kidnappings and detention in undisclosed location. We further examine restrictions on freedom of association including raids on CSOs causing many to reduce their activities drastically and even closed entirely. 

    See full library of previous UPR country submissions from CIVICUS and partners. For the latest news on civic space in all UN Member States, see country pages on the CIVICUS Monitor


  • Deportation of human rights defender highlights repressive environment in Vietnam

    • Vietnam arbitrarily detains and deports global human rights leader attending regional summit
    • Senior Amnesty International official also denied entry to attend World Economic Forum meeting
    • Barred entry of activists comes amid widespread repression of human rights in Vietnam
    • CIVICUS condemns actions, calls for end to harassment, intimidation, imprisonment of activists

    Global human rights groups have condemned Vietnam’s arbitrary detention and deportation of a Malaysian human rights leader who had arrived in the country to attend a regional World Economic Forum (WEF) summit.

    Debbie Stothard, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), had arrived in Vietnam on September 9 and was detained overnight at the Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport overnigh before being deported to Malaysia the following morning. Stothard, who had been invited to speak at the forum, was denied entry for “national defense, security or social order and safety” reasons. She also serves as coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma). ASEAN is the Association of South East Asian Nations, a regional political and economic bloc.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has expressed grave concern at Stothard’s arbitrary detention and deportation and said it illustrates the repressive human rights environment in Vietnam. Amnesty International’s Senior Director of Global Operations, Minar Pimple was also barred from entering Vietnam to speak at the WEF meeting.

    “By arbitrarily detaining and deporting a representative of a well-respected international human rights organisation, Vietnamese authorities have demonstrated serious disdain for international norms. Such actions weaken Vietnam’s commitment to the sustainable development goals framework which promises respect for fundamental freedoms and support for effective partnerships with civil society,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer.

    “The authorities must allow her to participate in the forum without restrictions or reprisals” said Tiwana.

    Fundamental freedoms are severely curtailed in Vietnam, with activists, journalists and bloggers routinely arrested and imprisoned under vaguely defined national security laws. Activists also face restrictions on their movement and are subject to surveillance, harassment and violent assaults. Media outlets in Viet Nam are heavily censored and peaceful protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by the police.

    In April 2018, three United Nations experts urged Vietnamese authorities “not to crack down on civil society to muzzle dissenting voices and stifle the people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law”.

    These restrictions against civil society highlight relentless efforts by the Vietnamese authorities to silence individuals who have critical or dissenting views.

    In a tweet after her ordeal, Stothard said “whatever inconvenience I am being subjected to is nothing compared to the attacks on Vietnam #HumanRights defenders & the media”.

    CIVICUS calls on the Vietnam government to immediately stop these actions and unconditionally release all human rights defenders imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights. The authorities must also end all forms of harassment and intimidation against them.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, has rated the space for civil society in Vietnam is rated as closed.

    For more information, please contact:

    Josef Benedict


  • Human rights croups call for the urgent release of Vietnamese climate leader, Dang Dinh Bach

    CIVICUS joins calls for the release of Vietnamese climate leader, Dang Dinh Bach and stand in solidarity with civil society in the frontlines of Vietnam’s just energy transition


    We, the undersigned climate justice and human rights advocates worldwide, call for the immediate release of prominent environmental lawyer, Dang Dinh Bach, who is serving a five year prison sentence in Vietnam on trumped-up tax evasion charges after advocating for the country’s movement away from coal.

    Bach has declared that on June 24, 2023 - the two-year anniversary of his arrest - he will go on a hunger strike to the death in defense of his innocence. In his own spirit of nonviolent and peaceful protest, we are launching in solidarity with him a relay hunger strike" joining him in solidarity in a relay hunger strike from May 24 through June 24, to raise awareness about this extreme injustice and call for his release. We are running out of time to address the climate crisis. Action is urgent, and across the world, steps are being taken to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate the impacts of climate change for future generations.

    The Vietnamese government itself has committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and accepted a $15.5 billion deal to support a just transition to clean energy. But this cannot succeed with climate leaders like Bach in jail. Bach is one of four members of the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance who were imprisoned in Vietnam, despite playing an instrumental role in the country’s ambitious climate commitments, indicating an ongoing and highly concerning trend.

    Bach has dedicated his life to improving the health and well-being of marginalized communities throughout Vietnam and worked tirelessly to limit pollutants such as plastic, asbestos, and coal. “I have witnessed so many painful stories of poverty and terrible diseases that weigh on abused communities in Vietnam,” said Bach in a recent statement from prison. “They are deprived of their land and livelihoods and do not have opportunities to speak out for justice and the right to be human in the face of environmental pollution, especially in places with coal-fired power plants across the country.

    In order to conceal the truth and threaten the voices of people, the Vietnamese authorities have arrested, convicted and unjustly detained environmental and human rights activists in defiance of national and international law.” This is why we, the global community, stand in solidarity with Bach through peaceful protest and call for his release, as well as an end to retaliation against government and civil society actors in Vietnam and around the world pushing for human rights and environmental justice.

    Read the full letter here


  • Joint Letter to Secretary-General António Guterres on his visit to Vietnam

    Mr. António Guterres


    United Nations

    UN Headquarters, S-3800

    New York, NY 10017

    Re: October visit to Vietnam

    Dear Secretary-General,

    We are writing ahead of your visit to Vietnam later this week. You have emphasized the importance of combatting climate change, but this cannot be achieved without the role of environmental rights defenders. During your trip, we urge you to publicly call on the Vietnamese government to release the four environmental human rights defenders who were sentenced on trumped-up charges of “tax evasion” earlier this year. These political prisoners are emblematic victims of a new wave of repression in Vietnam which, through a combination of threats and judicial harassment, is threatening progress in combatting climate change, protecting human rights and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

    The persecution of environmental defenders is only the tip of Vietnam’s broader crackdown on dissent. Organizations that monitor the situation have documented how Vietnam is currently holding hundreds of political prisoners. UN Human Rights Mechanisms have noted that once arrested, most of these people are prosecuted for vaguely worded national security crimes, subjected to prolonged periods of incommunicado detention, and denied access to legal counsel and family visitation, often while being subjected to willful neglect or mistreatment. These are people who have been persecuted for exercising their civil and political rights. These are people who should not be prosecuted, and should not be in prison.

    The United Nations should urgently press the Vietnamese government to end its policies and practices that are subverting rather than supporting human rights, and emphasize that there can be no progress on climate change and development without an active civil society that can freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. We call on you to remind Vietnam that, as a newly elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, it has an obligation to uphold the highest human rights standards. Specifically, we urge you to:

    • Publicly urge Vietnam to protect, promote and fulfill human rights obligations enshrined in the international human rights treaties signed and ratified by the government.
    • Publicly urge Vietnam to cease criminalizing policy advocacy and the operation of advocacy coalitions by civil society. Specifically, Vietnam should implement the recommendations provided by the UN Human Rights Council’s independent experts in response to what they describe as Vietnam’s “undue restrictions on civil society…in violation of…international human rights law.”
    • Publicly urge Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release the four environmental defenders Nguy Thi Khanh, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Dang Dinh Bach.
    • Publicly urge Vietnam to commit to stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining any additional environmental defenders, and all other human rights defenders, including journalists.
    • Publicly urge Vietnam to fundamentally amend Decree 58/2022/ND-CP on international civil society groups working in Vietnam to ensure that those regulations fully comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a state party.
    • Publicly urge Vietnam to clarify if, and in what circumstances, non-governmental development organisations are required to pay corporate tax. Specifically, the Vietnamese government should address ambiguity in and inconsistencies between the 2013 Science and Technology Law and the 2019 Law on Tax Administration in relation to the tax obligations of science and technology organisations.[1] These regulations represent a contradictory policy framework that is open to politically motivated attacks on civil society organisations.

    Finally, we believe that the UN system in Vietnam has an important role to play in this process. We urge you to call on the UN Resident Coordinator and UN agencies to publicly and pro-actively demand serious improvements to the government’s atrocious human rights record and to start holding it to account. The best way that the UN can do this is by making itself more accountable to Vietnamese civil society.


    1. Access Now
    2. Amnesty International
    3. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    5. ARTICLE 19
    6. CIVICUS
    7. Defend the Defenders
    8. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
    9. Frontline Defenders
    10. Human Rights Watch
    11. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    12. Legal Initiative for Vietnam
    13. The 88 Project
    14. Safeguard Defenders
    15. Quê Me: Vietnam Committee on Human Rights

    [1] For example, Article 143.2 (“Tax evasion”) of the 2019 Law on Tax Administration stipulates: “Failure to record the revenues relevant to calculation of tax payable in the accounting books.” Similarly, Article 200.1.b (“Tax evasion”) of the 2015 Criminal Code stipulates: “Failure to record revenues related to the determination of tax payable in accounting books.” However, Article 4.7 of the 2008 Law on Corporate Income Tax, describes “Tax-exempt incomes” as “received financial supports used for educational, scientific research, cultural, artistic, charitable, humanitarian and other social activities in Vietnam.” Similarly, Decree 218 (218/2013/NĐ-CP), providing guidance on implementation of Law on Corporate Income Tax, stipulates that only organisations that improperly use financial aid are subject to corporate income tax.

      Civic space in Vietnam is rated as "closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor


  • Joint statement on human rights violations in Vietnam

    UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
    Interactive dialogue on human rights in Vietnam

    CIVICUS presents this statement together with VOICE

    We are gravely concerned by the crackdown on human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. Despite its international treaty obligations and recommendations accepted at the UPR to respect freedom of expression and civil society space, the Government of Vietnam is doing the exact opposite.

    In the first eight months of this year, at least 16 activists have been detained, arrested or sentenced under the country’s draconian Penal Code, including 6 members of the group, Brotherhood for Democracy, who remain in pre-trial detention and could face the maximum sentence of death for their peaceful human rights work. Two female activists, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, have been sentenced to 10 years and 9 years in prison, for peacefully criticizing the government and have been subjected to dire prison conditions. I am also here with Ms. Le Thi Minh Ha, wife of Anh Ba Sam who was sentenced to 5 years for simply blogging against the Government.

    There are, in fact, hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam right now, yet Vietnam fails to acknowledge their existence.  

    Mr. President, we call on the Vietnamese government to implement in good faith the UPR recommendations it accepted in 2014 as well as those made by Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. We call on the Council members and observers to urge Vietnam to free all prisoners of conscience. 


  • Repressive Vietnam Ramps Up Crackdown On Activists and Bloggers

    Authorities in Vietnam have increasingly been using the country’s draconian security laws to attack and silence human rights defenders in recent weeks.  

    Ahead of Vietnam’s Independence commemorations on 2 September 2017, global civil society alliance CIVICUS demands the release of all bloggers and activists prosecuted on fictitious charges and jailed following questionable judicial processes. We have observed with serious concern, the state’s ongoing campaign of persecution of those who highlight human rights violations and are critical of the government and the Communist Party.  

    Said Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns officer: “Vietnam has always been a repressive state but the ongoing increased onslaught against activists and bloggers is very disturbing. The Communist Party continues to use security laws to prosecute human rights defenders and security forces attack, intimidate and harass bloggers.”

    On 29 July 2017, Hanoi police arrested four activists - Pham Van Troi, pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, writer Truong Minh Duc and lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, accusing them of "plotting to overthrow the people's government". Nguyen Trung Ton, president of the Brotherhood for Democracy NGO, is accused of associating with Nguyen Van Dai, a lawyer detained by Vietnamese police since 2015 for anti-state propaganda.

    Nguyen Trung Ton has, in the past, been a victim of judicial persecution and violent attacks for his peaceful human rights activism. He was jailed for two years in 2011 for "propaganda against the state" and in February 2017 was abducted and beaten, suffering multiple injuries including broken bones.

    On 25 July 2017, human rights activist Tran Thi Nga was sentenced to nine years imprisonment plus an additional five years of house arrest after she was convicted for spreading “anti-state propaganda” in online videos and articles she posted, in which she condemned Vietnam’s abuse of human rights. A member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, she was initially arrested in January 2017. Before that, she was arrested in 2014 and tortured for documenting human rights violations.

    Vietnam has also increased its stranglehold on bloggers. On 27 June blogger Ngoc Nhu Quynh - known as ‘Mother Mushroom’, - was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the Penal Code, following a one-day trial that was sealed off to the public. She was known for using the famous tagline ‘Who will speak out if you don’t?’ Her blog entries concerning deaths of people in police custody and interviews given to foreign media were presented as evidence of anti-state propaganda.

    CIVICUS demands that the Vietnamese authorities:

    • Release the four activists arrested on 29 July and all others being detained for their human rights activities.
    • Review the country’s Penal Code with a view to amending the vague anti-state propaganda clause.
    • Stop persecuting and harassing human rights activists, lawyers and bloggers.

    Civic space in Vietnam is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a tool that tracks the state of civil society in all countries.

    For enquiries, contact:

    Teldah Mawarire

    Advocacy & Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS


    Tel: 27 (0)11 833 5959


  • Statement: Vietnam's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Mr President, VOICE, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA welcome the government of Vietnam's engagement with the UPR process including its decision to accept 241 recommendations on a range of human rights issues.

    We welcome the commitment of the government of Vietnam to extend cooperation with UN Special Procedures  and in the spirit of such cooperation we urge the authorities to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

    We note that Vietnam accepted recommendations to guarantee  and lift  restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. However, we regret that since the review activists have been arrested or convicted for online posts including Le Minh The, and Nguyen Ngoc Anh. We are also disappointed that the recommendations pertaining to the release of political prisoners including Tran Thi Nga and Hoang Duc Binh were not accepted by the government. According to human rights groups an estimated 264 political prisoners remain in jail. Many have been ill-treated in prison and detained thousands of kilometers from their families.

    We note that Vietnam accepted recommendations to guarantee  and improve protection  of freedom of peaceful assembly. Despite these commitments, over a hundred protesters who participated in the nationwide demonstrations against bills on Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity in June 2018 have been convicted and jailed, or are at risk of physical attacks, since the review. We remain concerned about the restrictive legal framework use to suppress the formation of independent CSOs. 

    Mr President, VOICE and CIVICUS call on the Government of Vietnam to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


  • UN Human Rights Council: Civic Space in Egypt, Tanzania and Vietnam

    38th Session of the Human Rights Council  
    General Debate – civic space in Egypt, Tanzania and Vietnam

    CIVICUS is concerned about the situation in Egypt where authorities have arrested, interrogated and detained several activists, bloggers and journalists over the last few weeks, indicating a significant escalation in the crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in the country. While we welcome the release during Aid last Friday of many prisoners, we call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently being held for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, and for authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations and abuses.

    CIVICUS is also deeply concerned about the deterioration of the situation in Tanzania. Although it has long been a model for democratic pluralism, the last three years have been marked by a worrying decline in respect for the rights fundamental to civic space. These include unwarranted closure of media outlets, judicial persecution and harassment of independent journalists, the targeted assassination of opposition party members, blanket restrictions on peaceful protests and the introduction and invocation of a raft of laws to undermine freedom of speech online. Mr. President, we call on the Council to urge the authorities to create an enabling environment for civil society and the media to operate in accordance with its international obligations.  

    Finally, since 9th June  mass nationwide demonstrations have arisen in several major cities across Vietnam. The protests we have emerged in response to two controversial bills on Special Economic Zones (SEZ), currently before the National Assembly, and on Cyber Security, which was approved this month. Security officials responded to the rare protests with violence and arbitrary arrests, and activists have reported ill-treatment and physical abuse in detention. We call on authorities to allow the peaceful expression of dissent and to release all protestors and investigate and prosecute security personnel responsible for the excessive use of force. 


  • VIETNAM: ‘Failure to address torture of political prisoners should trigger a review of trade deals’

    88ProjectCIVICUS speaks with Kaylee Uland and Jessica Nguyen, co-director and advocacy officer with The 88 Project, about the criminalisation and repression of human rights activism in Vietnam.

    The 88 Project is a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for and shares the stories of Vietnamese political activists who are persecuted because of their peaceful activism for human rights.

    What does The 88 Project do?

    The 88 Project is a research and advocacy organisation that maintains the most comprehensive and up-to-date database on the situation of political prisoners and human rights activists in Vietnam. Our database informs media coverage and policy debates on Vietnam and is used by journalists, diplomats and policymakers. According to our database, as of 24 June 2022, there are at least 208 known political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam, the highest number of any country in Southeast Asia.

    What is the current situation of civic freedoms in Vietnam?

    The 88 Project has tracked very negative trends regarding the Vietnamese government’s crackdown on political dissent. These include an increase in arrests of those in formal and informal media professions over a period of four years from 2018 to 2021. The arrests of media workers as a percentage of total activist arrests went up from less than three per cent in 2018 to 18 per cent in 2020 and 34 per cent in 2021.

    The use of harsh sentences of at least five years in prison to stifle critical voices has also increased: while such sentences were 23 per cent of total sentences of activists in 2018, the rate rose rapidly to 44 per cent in 2019, 48 per cent in 2020 and 72 per cent in 2021.

    The practice of holding activists and political prisoners incommunicado for extended periods of time – of eight months or more – has become increasingly common: it was applied to 12 per cent of all activists arrested in 2018 and to 21 per cent in 2019, surging to 49 per cent in 2020, before slightly decreasing to 42 per cent in 2021.

    The crackdown on dissent has also expanded to include new issues and groups, as seen in the recent arrest and imprisonment of four CSO leaders working on climate change and environmental issues. They were charged with ‘tax evasion’, a tactic used by the government to silence critics who cannot be tried under the national security provisions of the criminal code. This sent tremors of fear through the environmental movement in Vietnam.

    Efforts to censor social media have intensified, as has compliance with government censorship requests by US-based tech companies. With a population of 98 million, Vietnam is one of Facebook’s top 10 markets by user numbers, with 60 to 70 million people on the platform. Facebook provides one of the few spaces where Vietnamese people can communicate relatively freely. This space is, however, rapidly closing as Facebook increasingly complies with censorship requests from the government and allows bad actors to exploit content moderation rules to have accounts locked and posts deleted. Exacerbating the situation, Vietnam is now planning to impose new rules that require social media firms to take down content it deems illegal within 24 hours.

    Further, the deliberately complex law regulating the ability of CSOs to receive and spend domestic or foreign funding gives the government control over organisations and individuals. CSOs find it hard to comply fully with these laws, which makes them vulnerable to government scrutiny. Punishment for tax violations may include heavy fines, closure and criminal charges that lead to the imprisonment of CSO managers.

    What is the situation of political prisoners?

    The authorities commonly use torture and other inhumane treatment against political prisoners, particularly those in pretrial detention. The most common perpetrators of these violations are public security officers at the provincial level, followed by those at the district and city levels, and then those at the national level. Occasionally, activists who are at risk but not imprisoned are assaulted or otherwise harassed by people suspected to have ties to the government, such as plainclothes police.

    The government insists that there is no incommunicado detention in Vietnam, while acknowledging that for national security cases, a ‘very special measure’ applies, under which detainees are not allowed to see their defence counsel until after the investigation has concluded. Activists are often subjected to unobservable interrogation and to conditions that begin to break down their emotional and physical health. Isolation also removes their plight from the public eye, as information about their condition is sporadic and incomplete at best. Thirty-five activists arrested in 2020 and 2021 were held in incommunicado pretrial detention for eight months or longer.

    Eight people who were arrested in 2020 have not yet been brought to trial. Journalist Le Anh Hung, arrested in July 2018, has not only not yet been brought to trial but has also been repeatedly transferred to mental health facilities for forced psychiatric treatment. 

    Political prisoners are often denied legal representation during the investigation period and at trial. The 88 Project has documented the cases of at least 14 political prisoners who were denied legal representation in 2020 and 2021. When political prisoners are denied legal representation, they are often less aware of their rights and lack a critical communication channel to their families and the outside world. Often, families do not know about trial dates well in advance; sometimes, they learn nothing until after activists have been sentenced. An emblematic case of denial of legal representation is that of two activists from the Hmong minority, Lau A Lenh and Sung A Sinh, who were charged with overthrowing the state and attempting to establish a separate state in north-western Vietnam and sentenced to life in prison.

    Prisoners are often denied medical treatment and family members are prevented from providing medication to them. Many with pre-existing conditions or those who experience health problems while imprisoned have claimed that inadequate medical treatment resulted in greater long-term health complications. Some, including Huynh Huu Dat, have died in prison due to lack of proper healthcare. 

    The government claims that prison conditions have improved, but political prisoners and their families continue to report unclean food, overcrowding, lack of access to clean water, poor sanitation and lack of lighting. Virtually all prisoners suffer from harsh prison conditions, and they are often disciplined and retaliated against if they try to petition for improved prison conditions for themselves or others.

    Cutting prisoners off from family and support networks is yet another way to mistreat them without using force. The authorities often limit family visitation rights or detain political prisoners in places far from their homes, making it extremely difficult for families to visit. Under the pandemic, ‘COVID restrictions’ were also used as an excuse to deny family visits. The 88 Project identified at least 21 political prisoners subjected to this treatment in 2020 and 2021.

    We have also documented many cases of physical and psychological pain, which often amount to torture as defined under international law, inflicted to coerce confessions, obtain information, or punish political dissidents for their opinions. A frequent form of psychological abuse consists in sending political prisoners to mental health institutions against their will, even if they have no history of mental illness. Examples of political prisoners subjected to forced mental health treatment include Le Anh Hung, Nguyen Thuy Hanh and Pham Chi Thanh. Another harsh aspect of prison treatment is the use of solitary confinement to isolate political prisoners and punish them for asserting their rights.

    Is there any accountability for cases of torture and ill-treatment?

    Unfortunately, there is very little accountability. Regarding COVID-19-related restrictions, the government argued that the right to health of the community took priority over prisoners’ right to see family members. The authorities also justify forced mental health treatment tactics on ‘humanitarian aid’ grounds. They say they are respecting and protecting political prisoners’ right to health by sending them to mental health institutions for medical treatment. However, to the best of our knowledge, most cases are of forced treatment, used to isolate political prisoners from their support networks and to discredit them.

    The Vietnamese government has been repeatedly warned about its failure to meet its international obligations against torture. The United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT) has stressed the importance of proper criminalisation of torture, fundamental legal safeguards, direct applicability of the Convention against Torture by domestic courts and independent investigation concerning allegations of excessive use of force or deaths under custody.

    During Vietnam’s 2019 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a number of states raised concerns about allegations of torture and the Vietnamese government voluntarily agreed to several important recommendations, such as making sure that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible at trial and taking steps to prohibit harassment and torture during the investigation process and detention.

    Despite these international warnings, in its responses to CAT’s comments and recommendations from the 2018 Concluding Observations, issued in September 2020, Vietnam continued to maintain that ‘allegations of the widespread use of torture and ill-treatment, particular in police stations, and in certain places where persons are deprived of their liberty [...] are all unsubstantiated and inaccurate claims’. This contradicts the findings of our report.

    How have domestic and international CSOs raised these issues?

    Many international groups report on allegations of torture and inhumane treatment in Vietnam as part of their ongoing human rights research. However, torture is a difficult topic to research and report on, as information flowing out of Vietnamese prisons is minimal and often censored, and prisoners and family members may fear further retaliation for raising their concerns. Prisoners are often better able to report on prison conditions upon their release, as was recently the case of Tran Thi Thuy.

    Thuy was imprisoned for eight years and was denied communication with her family and adequate medical treatment despite having severe tumours. The authorities demanded a confession in exchange for treatment. Thuy was also forced to work under extreme labour conditions; by the end of her sentence, she could barely walk. The international community should question the treatment prisoners face, and whether it may be even worse than what is reported in the news that reach international outlets.

    Regardless of the obstacles they face, activists, their families and CSOs continue to raise the issue of ill-treatment of political prisoners via research and direct advocacy. For example, in April, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the International Federation on Human Rights jointly issued an urgent appeal for international intervention in the case of land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong. Groups also petition the UN, and especially its Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, to investigate cases where inhumane treatment is suspected. Further, abuse by Vietnam’s police force more broadly is well-documented.

    What can the international community do to address the issue of torture in Vietnam?

    Given the absolute nature of the right to freedom from torture, failure on the part of the Vietnamese government to address issues of torture and inhumane treatment of political prisoners should trigger a review of its trade deals and other relationships with international actors. We urge human rights advocates and representatives of the USA, the European Union, and others to demand that Vietnam implement the concrete actions that are clearly stated in CAT’s Concluding Observations in the Initial Report of Viet Nam of 208 and to follow up on the UPR recommendations that Vietnam accepted in 2019.

    We also urge the authorities to accept visits by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as visits by states’ consular representatives to conduct investigations of prison conditions in multiple locations.

    Civic space in Vietnam is rated ‘closedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with The 88 Project through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@The88Project on Twitter.


  • VIETNAM: ‘The government is using non-state actors against minority religions’

    Thang NguyenCIVICUS speaks with Thang Nguyen of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), a civil society organisation based in the USA and Thailand, about the challenges for civil society and religious minorities in Vietnam, and about their work to enable civil society responses.

    Can you tell us about BPSOS and the work it does?

    I’m currently the CEO and President of BPSOS, having joined initially as a volunteer. BPSOS was founded in 1980. We have two major divisions. The first, our domestic programme, is about serving refugees and migrants in the USA, across six locations. Second, we have our international initiatives, run from our regional headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.

    In Bangkok, we provide a legal clinic to help refugees and asylum seekers with their asylum claims and with protection – not only those coming from Vietnam but also from other countries, including Cambodia, China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We have a programme to help Vietnamese human rights defenders at risk, whether they be in prison or in hiding in Vietnam or seeking refuge in Thailand or elsewhere. A major component is to build capacity for civil society in Vietnam at the community level. Finally, we have a religious freedom project, working with local, regional and global partners, to build up a network for advocates for freedom of religion or belief in South East Asia. We hold an annual conference, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference (SEAFORB).

    What are the key current challenges experienced by civil society in Vietnam?

    The regime is still very oppressive. The government has heavy-handed policies against people coming together to form their own associations, which make it hard for organised civil society to develop. The government is now somewhat more tolerant with individuals speaking out, or perhaps it is that the government struggles to control expression on social media to the same extent.

    Another challenge comes with the people themselves. Living in a closed society, they don’t have many opportunities to develop the necessary skills or experience to come together and form associations.

    Further, there’s very little commitment or investment from the international community to develop civil society in Vietnam, compared for example to Cambodia or Myanmar. There are very few organisations from outside Vietnam that work hand in hand with groups in Vietnam to help them develop capacity to implement programmes.

    Because of this, there are very few truly functional independent civil society organisations in Vietnam and the number of these has decreased over the last five years because they cannot sustain themselves in the face of interference from the government. There are only individual human rights defenders, some of them well-known, but not organised civil society.

    In contrast, there are tens of thousands of government-owned ‘non-governmental’ organisations (GONGOs) that are controlled by the Communist Party. They present themselves as the civil society of Vietnam.

    What are the challenges minority groups face in Vietnam, particularly religious minorities?

    Many of the minority groups are indigenous peoples, but the government of Vietnam does not recognise them as such; it only classes them as ethnic minorities. They therefore face a fight for the right to be recognised as indigenous people. They are often separated from their ancestral land.

    For many groups, a religion that is a minority belief in Vietnam is part of their social and cultural makeup. For example, the Cham are Muslim and the Khmer Krom are Theravada Buddhists, which is very different from the Mahayana Buddhism practised by the majority of Vietnamese Buddhists. Then there are the Hmong and the Montagnards: Christianity has spread among the Montagnards for decades, and the government wants to control and stop this. Since the early 1980s, Christianity also started to develop in the Northwest Region among the Hmong population. The government of Vietnam viewed this as an undesirable influence from the west, and therefore it has taken drastic messages to stop its further spreading in the Northwest and Central Highlands regions.

    Most of these groups of people are located remotely and so don’t have access to the internet, and don’t know how to attract resources, even from within Vietnam. Other people in Vietnam aren’t aware of the situation, let alone the international community. Little information is available about these groups.

    The government authorities are directly suppressing independent house churches. In the Central Highlands, thousands of house churches have been closed, set on fire and destroyed. In 2004 the government issued an ordinance on belief and religion, meaning that house churches have to be registered. There are credible reports that the government trained a lot of its own people to become pastors, and they have set up new churches allowed by the government. These are run and controlled by the government.

    A major challenge is the forced renunciation of faith. Christians have been ordered to leave their parish churches and told not to follow any religion, or to join a government-controlled church. People who have resisted joining government-controlled churches have been harassed, persecuted and tortured. Several deaths in police custody have been documented. There are quite a lot of religious prisoners of conscience, many of them Montagnard Christians.

    The repression of the Hmong is even more drastic. In many parts of Northwest Region, Hmong Christians who have refused to renounce their faith have been evicted from their villages by the local authorities. Their villages have been declared as Christian-free zones. Tens of thousands of Hmong have been affected, something that continues to this day. They became itinerant, and it has taken them many years to coalesce into new communities, usually in previously uninhabited areas unknown to local government. Many moved to the Central Highlands. They are completely undocumented and so have become functionally stateless. They live outside society. Married people are not issued with marriage certificates, babies do not get birth certificates, children can’t formally receive education – although some slip into school unofficially – and people can’t get legal employment, set up a business, or open a bank account. They are restricted in their travel: pastors can’t travel into these communities, while they cannot travel to worship elsewhere.

    In many provinces Catholics, even when they are part of the major ethnic groups, have been persecuted by the government. And then there is the Cao Dai religion, a minority religion with about five million reported followers, although the government only recognises around 1.2 million Cao Daiists. Its church structures were disbanded in 1978. In 1997 the government created a new Cao Dai sect, and then 10 years later turned this into a new religion with a similar name and transferred all the property of the Cao Dai religion to it. To the world the government presents this sect as the representative of the Cao Dai religion.

    The government is also using non-state actors against minority religions. In Nghe An Province, the authorities use organised mobs known as Red Flag Associations, which are supported and encouraged by local authorities to attack churches and beat up parishioners. We have had several reports of this.

    What steps are needed to help civil society respond to these rights violations?

    Because of the restriction of organised civil society there’s very little response to the suppression of religious minorities. This lack of organised civil society also makes it difficult to foster partnerships between civil society groups in Vietnam and international human rights organisations. In response, we are trying to build community capacity to develop organisations in Vietnam to protect rights.

    We train a lot of people in Vietnam to know how to report human rights violations. So far we’ve trained about a thousand local rapporteurs and they have generated about 200 different reports that have been submitted to various United Nations (UN) special procedures and UN bodies, and shared with other governments and international human rights organisations to raise awareness of the situation in Vietnam.

    We are helping to form community-based CSOs in each minority community. So far there are about 20 of these, and we aim to have 100 by the end of 2020. We have incubated a number of CSOs specialising in different aspects of human rights, based on the international commitments Vietnam has made as a result of signing various conventions. For example, we have supported the creation and development of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, the Vietnam Coalition Against Torture and the Vietnam Freedom of Religion or Belief Roundtable. We have worked with Montagnard people to form a CSO specialising in Montagnard minorities. Now we are connecting these specialist CSOs with their peers outside Vietnam. For instance Vietnamese Women for Human Rights is now a member of FORUM-ASIA, a network of human rights organisations throughout Asia and the Pacific. We are cultivating these kinds of partnerships.

    What more support is needed?

    Once CSOs in Vietnam have developed some capacity, there is a need to connect them with civil society outside Vietnam. We are advocating for organisations to offer internship and fellowship schemes to enable staff to develop skills, experience, connections and exposure outside Vietnam.

    We hope to see more projects geared at further developing civil society in Vietnam, through training, coaching and technical assistance as well as advocacy. There has been an almost complete lack of this kind of investment from civil society worldwide. Organisations are issuing statements about Vietnam and that is appreciated, but this is the next step needed. Amnesty International now has a Vietnamese national working on Vietnam, who was with BPSOS before, so this is a positive step and a model to replicate.

    It would be much more effective if international human rights organisations working on Vietnam could coordinate among themselves, and with groups within Vietnam. For instance, a joint advocacy project on the functionally stateless Montagnard Christians, with pressure coming from multiple directions, would help.

    Civic space in Vietnam is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with BSPOS through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@BoatPeopleSOS on Twitter.


  • VIETNAM: ‘We hope UN member states will listen to civil society’


    Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam’s human rights record at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on 22 January 2019, CIVICUS speaks to Anna Nguyen from VOICE, a civil society organisation that promotes civil society development and advocates for human rights, including refugee protection, and the rule of law in Vietnam. Founded in 2007, VOICE’s mission is to empower individuals to build a strong, independent and vibrant civil society.

    A Vietnamese-Australian lawyer, Anna Nguyen is VOICE's Director of Programs. She oversees a training programme for Vietnamese activists in Southeast Asia, a refugee resettlement programme in Thailand and advocacy efforts, including at the UN, to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Vietnam.

    Along with VOICE, Civil Society Forum, Human Rights Foundation and VOICE Vietnam, CIVICUS made aUPR submissionon to the Human Rights Council in July 2018.

    What is the current situation for human rights and civil society in Vietnam?

    The human rights situation in Vietnam is dire. While the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are supposedly protected by the constitution, they are not respected in practice. In 2018, 88 human rights defenders (HRDs) were arrested, and at least 194 remain in prison for peacefully exercising their civil and political rights. This is a staggering number and surely shows that the government of Vietnam is doing as much as it can to stifle political dissent.

    Civil society in Vietnam has been steadily growing since mass protests over territorial disputes with China were held in Hanoi and Saigon in 2011, and thanks to the increasing use of social media such as Facebook and YouTube. There are more independent civil society groups now than there were seven years ago, and more people are willing to speak up on Facebook and attend protests to raise awareness of atrocities committed by the government, as well as attend training programmes relating to human rights. On the other hand, the Vietnamese government has used many tactics to stifle the development of an independent civil society movement, including the brutal suppression of protests, the physical harassment and imprisonment of HRDs and its refusal to pass a law on association.

    How is the government persecuting online and offline dissent?

    Peaceful protests are subject to brutal suppression, and their participants are victims of harassment and continuous surveillance. In June 2018, following a mass protest opposing proposed cybersecurity and Special Economic Zones legislation, the authorities cracked down heavily on peaceful protesters by using teargas and excessive force to prevent and punish participation, resulting in a range of human rights violations, including torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

    Peaceful dissidents are often harassed, physically assaulted, criminalised with vague national security laws and imprisoned. In 2018, nine of the many peaceful activists imprisoned received the longest prison terms available, ranging from 12 to 20 years.

    Bloggers in Vietnam who have been at the forefront of exposing abuses by the state, including human rights violations, corruption, land grabbing and environmental issues have faced intimidation, threats and imprisonment.

    Prominent blogger and entrepreneur, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, was sentenced to 16 years jail for “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration in January 2010 while Hoang Duc Binh, a blogger and environmental activist, was sentenced to 14 years after being convicted on two separate charges of “resisting officers acting under their duty” and for “abusing freedoms and democratic rights”

    In July 2017, Tran Thi Nga, a blogger and labour rights activist was convicted of “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment for sharing articles and videos online highlighting ongoing rights abuses tied to environmental crises and political corruption.

    A draconian Cybersecurity Law, inspired by China’s, entered into force on 1 January 2019. This law tightens the government’s control of information and its ability to silence its online critics. Among other things, it allows the government to demand the removal, within 24 hours, of any posts that are deemed critical.

    Why is the UPR process important for civil society?

    The UPR process is open to all actors, not just states, which is why it is a great opportunity for civil society, and especially unregistered civil society groups, to get involved in the process by bringing in a perspective that is different from that of governments. It gives civil society an opportunity to highlight a state’s human rights record, as well as to provide recommendations to improve it.

    Has Vietnamese civil society been able to participate in the UPR process? Has it encountered any challenges in doing so?

    While the Vietnamese government held national consultations during the UPR process, it did not include independent and unregistered groups such as VOICE. This has been a challenge, because we haven’t had an open dialogue with the state.

    In addition, reprisals are a big factor. Some HRDs who have been involved in the UPR process have faced difficulties upon returning home to Vietnam, including the confiscation of their passports and continuous surveillance and harassment. Reprisals are just another tactic that the government uses to stifle the growth of a civil society movement and punish civil society for peacefully raising its voice about the state’s failure to meet its human rights obligations.

    What are some of civil society’s key recommendation to states participating in the upcoming review of Vietnam at the Human Rights Council?

    Civil society is calling on states to urge Vietnam’s government to amend the Penal Code to ensure that ambiguous provisions relating to national security - notably articles 79 (109), 87 (116), 88 (117), 89 (118), 91 (121), 257 (330) and 258 (331) - are clearly defined or removed so they cannot be applied in an arbitrary manner to stifle legitimate and peaceful dissent and the freedom of expression.

    We also want states to recommend that the government amend or repeal legislation specifically related to the freedoms of expression and information, and related to privacy and surveillance, in line with international standards such as articles 17, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We are particularly concerned about the Press Law, the Law on Publications and the Cybersecurity Law, as well as about Decree No. 72/2013/ND-CP on the management of internet services and information and Decree No.174/2013/ND-CP, which imposes penalties for the violation of post, telecommunication, information technology and radio regulations.

    State representatives at the Human Rights Council should also call on Vietnam to ensure that civil society activists, HRDs, journalists and bloggers are provided with a safe and secure environment in which to carry out their work. They should also conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks on and harassment and intimidation against them and bring the perpetrators to justice.

    Finally, there should be recommendations to ensure the independent and effective investigation of and implementation of remedy for arbitrary detention and physical or mental abuse by the state, with special attention to the protection of HRDs. Specifically, the government of Vietnam should be urged to release, unconditionally and immediately, all HRDs, including journalists and bloggers, detained for exercising their fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and drop all charges against them.

    What would you like to see come out of the UPR review?

    We hope that UN member states in the Human Rights Council will listen to civil society and our recommendations, and that a diverse range of civil society’s human rights concerns, including the rights of women, young people and LGBTQI people, and civil and political rights, will be addressed by strong recommendations - by recommendations that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. This will allow civil society groups and other stakeholders to monitor easily whether the government of Vietnam follows through with their implementation.

    We would also like Vietnam to have more dialogue with unregistered and independent groups, to ensure there is a balanced representation of civil society in national dialogues for future reviews. This will strengthen the impact of the UPR process and improve the integrity of the mechanism.

    What are you plans following the UPR review, and what support is needed from the international community and international civil society?

    VOICE will raise awareness of the commitments made by Vietnam through translation and dissemination among the public, media, parliamentarians, embassies and civil society.

    We will make sure to follow up on the recommendations made to Vietnam to ensure they are being followed through by holding regular stakeholder meetings, including with other civil society groups and embassies in Hanoi. We will continue to update the states that have made specific recommendations during advocacy meetings, to let them know whether progress has been made and urge them to put some additional pressure if it has not.

    We would like the international community, including international civil society organisations, to keep up the pressure so the government of Vietnam follows through with the recommendations they have received, and to provide a platform for civil society groups and HRDs to raise awareness about the state’s progress or lack of progress in human rights.

    Civic space inVietnam is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor

    Get in touch with VOICE through their website  orFacebook page, or follow@VoiceVietnam on Twitter


  • Vietnam: Immediately release journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang


    Ahead of her upcoming trial on 4 November, the undersigned 28 human rights and freedom of expression organizations today condemn the ongoing arbitrary detention of independent journalist and woman human rights defender Pham Doan Trang. We call on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against her. The persecution of Doan Trang and other human rights defenders, including independent writers and journalists, is part of the worsening assault on the rights to freedom of expression and information in Vietnam.

    Pham Doan Trang was arrested more than a year ago in Ho Chi Minh City, on 7 October 2020, and initially charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and its successor provision, Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, which both criminalize ‘making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.’ She is now being charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, according to the indictment made public on 18 October 2021.

    A month before her arrest, Doan Trang was the subject of a joint communication issued by five UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteurs (independent experts) responding to mounting harassment against her and other independent writers and journalists. In its December 2020 response, the government of Vietnam denied all allegations of wrongdoing and, without providing evidence, justified Doan Trang’s arrest as a response to her alleged abuse of the internet to overthrow the State.

    It is clear that Pham Doan Trang is being persecuted for her long-standing work as an independent journalist, book publisher, and human rights defender, known for writing about topics ranging from environmental rights to police violence, as well as for her advocacy for press freedom. Vietnamese authorities have regularly used Article 88 (and later Article 117) of the Penal Code to punish human rights defenders, independent journalists and writers, and others who have peacefully exercised their human rights.

    International human rights experts have repeatedly called on Vietnam to amend the non-human rights compliant provisions of its Penal Code and bring them into line with international law. In 2021, four UN Special Rapporteurs noted that Article 117 is ‘overly broad and appears to be aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others.’ In 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Vietnam ‘as a matter of urgency’ to revise vague and broadly formulated legislation, including Article 117, and to end violations of the right to freedom of expression offline and online.

    In June 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, responding to the detention of an Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam member, pointed to a ‘familiar pattern of arrest that does not comply with international norms, which is manifested in the circumstances of the arrest, lengthy detention pending trial with no access to judicial review, denial or limiting of access to legal counsel, incommunicado detention, prosecution under vaguely worded criminal offences for the peaceful exercise of human rights, and denial of access to the outside world. This pattern indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in Vietnam which, if it continues, may amount to a serious violation of international law.

    Since her arrest, Doan Trang has been held incommunicado, until 19 October 2021, when she was finally allowed to meet with one of her lawyers after having been denied access to her family and legal representation for over a year. Prolonged incommunicado detention is a form of prohibited ill-treatment under international law under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Vietnam has ratified. As a result of this denial of her rights to a fair trial, liberty, and security, she has faced increased risk of torture and other ill treatment.

    On 30 August 2021, following the conclusion of the police investigation, the Hanoi Procuracy Office issued its formal indictment against Doan Trang. Alarmingly, her family did not learn of this until more than a month later, on 7 October, and only after having requested information from the authorities. The family and lawyers were again denied visitation. Authorities at the time also refused to provide Doan Trang’s lawyers with a copy of the indictment or access to the evidence they had prepared against her. This undue delay in the proceedings and refusal to grant access to a lawyer of her choosing amounts to a violation of her right to a fair trial under Article 14 of the ICCPR.

    According to the indictment, which was only made public on 18 October—more than a year after her arrest—Doan Trang is being charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code, for alleged dissemination of anti-State propaganda. The authorities dropped the similar charge under Article 117 of the amended Penal Code.

    The indictment calls attention to three specific pieces of writing. It mentions a book-length report Doan Trang wrote with Green Trees, an environmental rights group, about the 2016 Formosa Ha Tinh Steel disaster; a 2017 report on the freedom of religion in Vietnam; and an undated article titled ‘General assessment of the human rights situation in Vietnam.’ The indictment also accuses her of speaking with two foreign media, Radio Free Asia and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to allegedly defame the government of Vietnam and fabricate news. These publications highlight Doan Trang’s vital work as an author, journalist, and human rights defender who has worked tirelessly for a more just, inclusive, and sustainable Vietnam. Her peaceful activism should be protected and promoted, not criminalized, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the undersigned organizations said.

    The use of human rights reports as evidence in a criminal prosecution sends a chilling message to civil society against engagement in human rights documentation and advocacy, and increases the risk of self-censorship. In light of the fact that Doan Trang’s report on Formosa was also part of direct advocacy with the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights in 2016, its inclusion as evidence against her may constitute an act of intimidation and reprisal for cooperation with the UN and consolidate an environment of fear, as already noted by several UN actors.

    Ahead of her 4 November 2021 trial, Doan Trang was only granted her first meeting with her lawyer on 19 October 2021. While the lawyer noted Doan Trang’s overall positive attitude, he also recounted several serious medical concerns. Doan Trang’s legs, which were broken by the police in 2015, have been in greater pain as a result of the denial of adequate medical care during her detention. She has not been allowed to visit a doctor to treat other preexisting conditions, including low blood pressure, and as a result she has lost 10 kilograms.

    We denounce this unacceptable denial of her rights to a fair trial and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and call for an immediate end to her arbitrary detention, and for all charges against her to be dropped.

    Doan Trang’s background as an independent journalist and human rights defender

    Doan Trang is among the leading voices and best-known independent writers in Vietnamese civil society and recognized internationally for her human rights advocacy. She is the author of thousands of articles, blog entries, Facebook posts, and numerous books about politics, social justice, and human rights.

    She is the co-founder of the environmental rights group Green Trees, and the independent media outlets Luat Khoa Magazine, The Vietnamese Magazine, and the Liberal Publishing House. Doan Trang is the recipient of the 2017 Homo Homini Award presented by Czech human rights organization People in Need and the 2019 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award Prize for Impact. In 2020, the International Publishers Association awarded her organization, the Liberal Publishing House, with their Prix Voltaire Award.

    Pham Doan Trang is no stranger to harassment and intimidation by the State for her writing and human rights advocacy. This has included torture and other ill-treatment, including physical assault. In 2015, she was beaten so badly by security forces that she was left disabled and has since often needed crutches to aid her mobility. In 2018, she was hospitalized after being subjected to torture in police custody. For three years preceding her arrest, she was forced to move constantly and lived in fear of intimidation and harassment by police and other State authorities.

    In view of the above, we call on the government of Vietnam to:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against Pham Doan Trang and all other human rights defenders currently imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms;
    • Pending her immediate and unconditional release, guarantee humane treatment and conditions, and ensure prompt access to medical attention;
    • Guarantee Doan Trang unrestricted access to and regular communication with her family and confidential access to legal assistance of her choosing;
    • Ensure that her chosen lawyers are promptly provided with timely access to all relevant legal documentation and granted unrestricted communication and access in confidentiality with Doan Trang and adequate time and facilities to prepare for her defense;
    • Ensure the trial is open to the public, including diplomatic and human rights civil society observers and the media, and refrain from any arbitrary restriction on travel or interference of trial observers, media, and civil society preceding and during the trial;
    • Repeal or substantially amend the Penal Code and other non-human rights compliant legislation, used to harass and imprison individuals—including independent journalists and human rights defenders—for the exercise of their fundamental rights, and bring them in conformity with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam has been a State Party since 1982, and other applicable international law and standards.


    1. Access Now
    2. ALTSEAN-Burma
    3. Amnesty International
    4. ARTICLE 19
    5. Asia Democracy Chronicles
    6. Asia Democracy Network
    7. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    8. Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
    9. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    10. Committee to Protect Journalists
    11. Defend the Defenders
    12. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
    13. Front Line Defenders
    14. Green Trees
    15. Human Rights Watch
    16. International Commission of Jurists
    17. International Publishers Association
    18. Legal Initiatives for Vietnam
    19. Open Net Association
    20. PEN America
    21. People in Need
    22. Que Me - Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
    23. Reporters Without Borders
    24. Safeguard Defenders
    25. The 88 Project
    26. Vietnam Human Rights Network
    27. Vietnamese Women for Human Rights
    28. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    Civic space in Vietnam is rated 'closed' by theCIVICUS Monitor.


  • Vietnamese activists jailed after sham trial

    The sentencing of the six activists yesterday for peacefully expressing their opinions, illustrates the Vietnam authorities’ utter contempt for freedom of expression, said global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

    The six, linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy, include prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Van Dai, arrested in 2015, is the co-founder of the Vietnam Human Rights Committee and a pro-democracy activist. He has provided legal assistance to citizens who have faced human rights violations committed by the government and members of religious minorities, and has faced judicial harassment.

    Others also received equally harsh sentences. Nguyen Trung Ton and Truong Minh Doc, 12 years imprisonment; Nguyen Van Bac Truen, 11 years imprisonment; Le Thu Ha, nine years imprisonment and Nguyen Van Troi, seven years imprisonment. 

    The activists were all charged under Article 79 of the Penal Code for ‘attempting to overthrow the state ‘and sentenced after a one-day summary trial.

    “The convictions of these activist after a sham trial is a slap in the face of justice. It demonstrates the ruthless determination of the authorities to crush all forms of dissent in Vietnam and to silence peaceful critics. CIVICUS calls for the verdict to be quashed and for the immediate and unconditional release of all of them” said David Kode, Advocacy & Campaigns Lead.

    Fundamental freedoms are severely curtailed in Vietnam with activists, journalists and bloggers routinely arrested and imprisoned under vaguely defined national security laws. Media outlets are heavily censored and peaceful protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by the police. Jailed activists have also been transferred to remote prisons, thousands of kilometers from their families.

    In February 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said ‘he was deeply concerned by the increasing number of arrests and the detention of rights activists and journalists covering issues of public relevance in Vietnam.’

    “Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The authorities must comply with its obligations and halt the harassment, arbitrary arrest and prosecution of activists and bloggers for peacefully carrying out their activities to promote and protect human rights.”

    Civic space in Vietnam is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a tool that tracks the state of civil society in all countries.