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SILENCED

VIETNAM'S PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE Lucy Howard-Robbinson

Many people do not realise that Vietnam is more than an idyllic backpacking location and a significant battlefield in history. Vietnam is quickly developing one of the largest populations of prisoners of conscience in the region, and is thus the site of significant human rights abuses.

A prisoner of conscience is someone who has been imprisoned or restricted because of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, among other things, and who has not used violence or advocated violence or hatred. Human Rights Watch claims that there may be up to 200 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam with sixty-three convicted in 2013. Amnesty has documented seventy-five cases.

Article 9(3): Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release ...

There is no free and independent media in Vietnam; it is tightly controlled by the government, and freedom of association and assembly are restricted. As a result, Vietnam’s prison population increasingly includes human rights defenders, land rights activists, bloggers, writers, musicians, lawyers, union organisers and members of minority ethnic communities and religious groups who question, critique, expose, protest or call for change.

Article 10(1): All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Article 19: Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression ...

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Vietnam has been governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam under one-party rule since 1975. Dissidents are calling for democratic alternatives to one-party rule, opposing the monopoly on state power and demanding basic freedoms and protection of human rights. Religious groups are protesting for religious freedoms, and ethnic minorities and rural communities are protesting land grabs and evictions.

Article 21: The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized ...

Article 22: 1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests ...

The Vietnamese government has woven a legal net to prevent protest and dissent. All political parties, labour unions and human right organisations independent of the government are banned. On 1 September 2013, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung put into force a decree which legalised content-filtering and censorship and outlawed vaguely defined ‘prohibited acts’.

The government is debating a revised constitution but, according to Amnesty analysis, the amended constitution contains loopholes that will allow the government to continue to restrict freedom of expression.

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