Vietnam NGOs in Appeal to APEC Leaders Over Rights Crackdown

Activists say Hanoi's arbitrary detention of bloggers and rights defenders violates the spirit of APEC.

Vietnam's Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, chairman of APEC Senior Officials' Meetings and spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang attend a press conference in Da Nang, Nov. 7, 2017.

A group of 17 non-governmental organizations wrote a joint letter on Tuesday urging world leaders attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit later this week to press host Vietnam to free bloggers and rights defenders.

The letter targetted U.S. President Donald Trump, China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin, among other leaders set to join the main summit of the  21 member  APEC on Friday and Saturday in Da Nang.

"In a series of sham trials, the Vietnamese government has orchestrated the wrongful conviction and sentencing of prominent human rights defenders and bloggers,"  said the letter.

The letter mentioned Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Van Oai, and Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. Quynh, arrested in October 2016 and Nga, arrested in January of this year were sentenced to 10 and nine years’ imprisonment respectively. Oai was sentenced to five years in prison and four years of house arrest for resisting police officers and leaving his home while on probation

"The Vietnamese government has used unsubstantiated national security concerns to justify, and illegitimate charges to carry out, the criminalization of free expression, dissemination of information, and peaceful advocacy," said the NGO letter.

"Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards," read the letter.

Among the 17 NGOs tat signed the letter are Access Now,  Brotherhood for Democracy, English PEN, Frontline Defenders, the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Reporters Without Borders, the Viet Labor Movement and Viet Tan.

Tuesday's letter came a week after a group of 40 Western and Vietnamese scholars and experts on Vietnam sent a statement to Hanoi government and Communist Party leaders, denouncing the jailing of Quynh and Nga.

The statement’s 40 signatories include foreign and Vietnamese scholars from leading universities in Australia, Canada, France, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, and The United Kingdom as well as engineers and independent researchers.

By Amnesty International’s count, Vietnam is currently holding at least 84 prisoners of conscience, the highest number in any country in Southeast Asia.