The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights called on the Vietnamese government on Tuesday to release all women detained for demanding human rights and revise provisions of the criminal code routinely used to imprison female activists.
The Paris-based organization issued a statement to call attention to the plight of women and female human rights activists in the authoritarian country on the eve of International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8 to recognize the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
The committee specifically wants the Vietnamese government to free all women detained for the peaceful advocacy or exercise of their human rights and revise Articles 79, 88, 258, and other vaguely worded provisions of the country’s criminal code used to imprison women who support human rights and denounce abuses.
Article 79 pertains to “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” while Article 88 refers to “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Article 258 pertains to “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.”
The articles are among the broadly-worded national security section of the 1999 Penal Code that rights groups and Western governments say Vietnam uses to persecute dissidents. They carry lengthy jail sentences or even life imprisonment in some cases.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights also called on the government to begin political reforms promoting pluralism so women can fully participate in the country’s social, economic, intellectual, and political development.
“[W]omen human rights defenders, bloggers, online journalists, land rights and worker rights activists, religious and political dissidents are the target of brutal attacks, harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and ill-treatment in detention simply for the peaceful advocacy or exercise of their human rights,” the statement said.
Bloggers, activists in jail
The organization cited the example of Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a 37-year-old blogger and human rights defender better known as Mother Mushroom, who has been repeatedly harassed by authorities for commenting on social and political issues.
She was arrested on Oct. 10, 2016 in central Vietnam and charged under Article 88 for “spreading propaganda” against the state, a “crime” for which she could spend up to 20 years in prison.
Authorities have extended her pretrial detention by three months to May without explanation and have not allowed her to see her lawyer or family, the organization said.
“I myself, her teachers, and her friends can say that she always stands up for vulnerable people,” Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, the blogger’s mother told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Activist Nguyen Trong Hien from Australia called Mother Mushroom “a brave and honest woman.”
“[S]he dared to speak up for issues and victim of injustice, be they about people who died in police custody or Formosa,” she said, in a reference to the country’s largest environment disaster caused by a toxic chemical spill by Taiwanese company Formosa along the coast of Vietnam’s central provinces.
“She always tells the truth, and she is not afraid of confronting others,” Hien said.
‘Beautiful image of a fighter’
The organization cited the case of Tran Thi Nga, a 40-year-old human rights defender and labor and land rights activist, who was arrested on Jan. 21 in Phu Ly, capital city of northern Vietnam’s Ha Nam province and charged under Article 88 for “using the internet to spread propaganda videos and writings” against the state.
She has also been harassed and beaten for her activities, and now faces up to 20 years in prison.
Blogger Pham Thanh Nghien, co-founder of a network of Vietnamese bloggers, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Tran Thi Nga is very brave.
“She might not be one who can talk about politics on a grand scale, but in the fight for our country’s reform, people like Nga are precious,” she said. “I like the image of Nga when she was arrested and still confronted the authorities. That is a very beautiful image of a fighter—fighter Tran Thi Nga.”
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights also said Tran Thi Thuy, a 45-year-old Hoa Hao Buddhist who is serving an eight-year sentence for “activities aimed at overthrowing” the state because of her involvement in land rights, is critically ill from a tumor on her uterus but has been denied medical care.
Her treatment is a violation of the United Nations Convention against Torture, which Vietnam ratified in 2015, the statement said.
There are at least 84 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, including bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice who have been convicted after unfair trials or are held in pretrial detention, according to a July 2016 report on Vietnamese political prisoners issued by London-based Amnesty International.
The report did not specify the number of female political prisoners.
The organization also took the government to task for discriminating against women in the workplace, health care, education, and land rights, as well as failing to address the trafficking of girls and women for labor and sexual exploitation or curbing domestic violence against women, despite having ratified the U.N. Covenant on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 35 years ago.
“Given the absence of independent women’s civil society organizations, free trade unions, independent media, and an independent judiciary in Vietnam’s communist state, women have no means to voice their grievances or seek remedy for abuses of their rights,” the statement said.
Reported by Kinh Hoa for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.