Vietnamese rights activists and foreign diplomats went ahead with a planned human rights conference in Hanoi on Wednesday, defying efforts by police to harass and intimidate event organizers, sources said.
The conference, titled “U.N. Protection Mechanisms for Human Rights Defenders in Vietnam,” was held at the Thai Ha church in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, and was attended by over 70 members of civil society groups, together with representatives of the United Nations and embassies of Australia, the U.S., the UK, and the European Union.
After being warned by police that the rare gathering was considered “illegal” by authorities, event organizer Nguyen Quang A was repeatedly blocked in his efforts to arrive at the church, he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday.
“I left home at about 5:00 a.m., and about 200 meters [700 feet] away from my house there were about 10 people on motorbikes and some others on foot who followed me,” Quang A said.
“They then stopped me from getting onto a bus, and when I tried to wave down a taxi, they would not let me get on, and told the taxi to leave,” he said.
Proceeding on foot, Quang A told the people following him that the topics scheduled for discussion at the conference involved their rights, too, and invited them to join him at the church — a site of protests in October by Catholic parishioners against authorities seeking to confiscate church land.
“When I approached the turn-off to the church, about 30 people surrounded me and tried to force me back to the other side of the street,” said Quang A, who by now had walked “for hours” to reach his destination.
After struggling with his pursuers for about 10 to 15 minutes, “some people from the church and representatives from the U.S., Australian, and UK embassies came out, and I took the opportunity to break away and enter the church,” he said.
“It was then 9:00 a.m.,” he said.
Other civil society activists had also been followed and harassed by police and security officers on their way to the conference, which was attended by participants from around the country, Quang A added.
One participant, Trinh Ba Phuong, said his mother Can Thi Thu had been jailed for defending her rights to her land in Duong Noi village, outside the capital.
“Duong Noi farmers will continue our peaceful fight based in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam is a party to,” Phuong told RFA.
On the evening before the conference was held, a police officer and security official from the local Quang Trung commune had entered Thai Ha church to check the residency status of those present, but parishioners protested and demanded that they leave, sources said.
Authorities in Hanoi had also sent an official notice to the church, ordering that the conference be canceled, Quang A said.
The Vietnamese government suppresses virtually all forms of political dissent, using a broad array of repressive measures, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
Freedom of expression, association, and public assembly are tightly controlled in the country, it says. “Religious activists are harassed, intimidated, and imprisoned. The criminal justice system lacks independence and operates under the direction of the government and party.”
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.