Vietnamese environmental activist and filmmaker Thinh Nguyen, a member of the independent civil group Green Trees, was detained on Friday in Hanoi in what was thought to be the government’s response to a film on other environmental activists who were detained for their advocacy.
Cao Vinh Thinh, a fellow member of Green Trees group, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Nguyen, who was later released, had been outspoken about the government’s rights abuses.
“I know Mr. [Nguyen] is a brave artist, he specializes in making videos on [about his story] to let people know about the tortuous circumstances of injustice and death row inmates … as well as the right to speak up against the government’s wrong doing in causing people to lose their land unjustly,” she said.
“We heard that he had been arrested, beaten and handcuffed by the police at his own home. Since he has no relatives, no one witnessed the arrest," she added.
Cao said she was upset that the police arrested Nguyen without any prior notice or any search warrant.
“Before [Nguyen], other members of Green Trees like myself and Dang Vu Luong had the same [thing happen to us]. They [came with] no announcements or orders at all. They can just come and arrest people, just like they can ban people from traveling aboard, just like that," she said.
She said she thought that Nguyen got arrested because of his movie “Do Not Be Afraid,” which was released by Green Trees.
According to her, the film "has the sole purpose of protecting the environment, contributing to the voice and light, the truth about people like Hoang Duc Binh, who for standing up to protect the environment was arrested and imprisoned for 14 years".
Hoang was arrested in 2017 and handed the lengthy sentence for his involvement in protests regarding the Formosa disaster, a major toxic spill in central Vietnam’s by a steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics Group, a large Taiwan-owned industrial conglomerate, that devastated more than a hundred miles of coastline in four central provinces of Vietnam.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an email that Nguyen’s arrest should never have happened.
"Vietnam has no good reason to arrest photographer and film-maker Thinh Nguyen for his peaceful advocacy for the environment and human rights,” said Robertson
“Sending squads of police to grab him from his house this morning shows the authorities' incredible intolerance for any sort of criticism. Vietnam should immediately and unconditionally release Thinh Nguyen and end its abusive surveillance and harassment of people exercising their rights," he said.
RFA contacted the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security and the Tay Ho District Police in Hanoi by telephone to inquire about the arrest several times but did not receive a response.
In Taiwan, meanwhile, a resolution expressing concern over the human rights situation in Vietnam was unanimously adopted Friday by organizations affiliated with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) submitted the resolution to the 40th FIDH Congress, which met this week in Taipei. The annual congress, held for the first time in Asia this year, was attended by 400 human rights leaders, academics and civil society representatives.
VCHR’s resolution drew attention to the Vietnamese government’s suppression of criticism and peaceful protests, pointing out that activists are routinely detained for long periods of time. It also spoke out against the criminalization of free expression though legislation designed to “create a climate of fear among all those seeking to participate in public affairs.”
The resolution also called upon the European Union to postpone signing of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) “until it ensures the agreement guarantees the Vietnamese people’s fundamental rights.”
The FTA was signed in June this year, but has yet to be approved in the European Parliament.
“This resolution is deeply meaningful for human rights defenders in Vietnam,” said VCHR representative Võ Trần Nhật in a statement released by the organization.
“While the government deploys its vast machinery of repression, censorship, intimidation and imprisonment to suppress their voices, this statement shows that international civil society stands with them in their struggle, and will not be silenced,” he said.
Another resolution on Vietnamese environmental justice was also submitted by the Taiwanese Association for Human Rights at the congress.
The resolution, also unanimously adopted by the FIDH, drew attention to the environmental damage caused by the Formosa toxic spill.
It was critical of Vietnam’s failure in supporting victims and urged them to address human rights concerns including “the right to a clean environment, the right to food and health, the right to work, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, the right to information and the right to an effective remedy.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Eugene Whong.