Vietnamese authorities have sent a woman land-rights activist to a reeducation camp in a move that has been challenged by her lawyer and criticized by human rights groups.
The Hanoi Municipal People’s Committee ordered 47-year-old Bui Thi Minh Hang’s two-year detention without any trial under a law on "administrative violations" and she had no opportunity to contest the decision in a court, Human Rights Watch said.
On Nov. 28, 2011, authorities sent her to the Thanh Ha Education Center in Binh Xuyen district, Vinh Phuc province, after arresting her a day earlier outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City for allegedly “causing public disorder.”
She had been conducting a silent protest against the arrest of her compatriots who had staged peaceful demonstrations condemning what they saw as Chinese aggression in Vietnamese territory in the disputed South China Sea.
Hang’s lawyer, Ha Huy Son, has challenged the detention through a complaint to Chairman Nguyen The Thao of the Hanoi Municipal People’s Committee, saying that the arrest and order were illegal.
There has been no response to the complaint.
“There is no justification for the Vietnamese authorities to pack off a peaceful protester to what is effectively a forced labor camp,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Detaining Bui Thi Minh Hang without trial shows a disturbing disregard for her human rights and guarantees for freedom of expression contained in Vietnam’s own constitution.”
Lack of due process
The U.S. government also demanded her release and the release of all other political prisoners locked up in Vietnam, saying the lack of due process in Hang's case "contradicts Vietnam’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
"We call on the Vietnamese government to release Ms. Hang and all political prisoners, and affirm that no person should be imprisoned for exercising their freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly, or any internationally recognized human right," according to a U.S. embassy statement,
Hang's detention has also been questioned by local groups.
More than two dozen intellectuals, including professors, writers, and a 96-year-old army general, had sent an open letter to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in late December demanding her immediate release.
They said that Hang had expressed her views peacefully and that her treatment violated international human rights rules.
“Detaining people for expressing their views on relations with neighboring countries is as much a rights violation as detaining them for talking about problems at home,” Robertson said.
“The right to free speech includes speaking out on matters both domestic and international."
Those sent to “education centers” must “work eight hours per day” and must “fulfill the assigned quota,” according to Vietnamese law, which allows a detainee to be disciplined if her or she does not fulfill the assigned work quota or runs afoul of center officials.
Prior to her most recent arrest, Bui Thi Minh Hang had been detained at least four times in five months for participating in protests.
Vietnam has also moved to silence other activists publicly critical of the Chinese government in the past.
In 2008, nine days before the Beijing Olympic torch traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, authorities arrested activist Nguyen Van Hai, whose pen name is Dieu Cay and who has blogged critically about China’s claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands as well as other issues.
He was later sentenced to 30 months in prison on a trumped-up tax evasion charge and has been held incommunicado since Oct. 20, 2010, the day of his scheduled release.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.