Eight Asia-Pacific nations ‘closed’ to democratic freedoms: CIVICUS

The civil society group singled out Vietnam for ‘transnational repression’ against refugees in nearby nations.
By Mike Firn for RFA
2023.12.07
Bangkok, Thailand
Eight Asia-Pacific nations ‘closed’ to democratic freedoms: CIVICUS YouTuber Duong Van Thai in a photo taken in February 2023. Thai was abducted by Vietnamese agents in Thailand on April 13, 2023.
X account: Thai Van Duong

Civil society organizations, journalists and protesters in many Asia-Pacific nations are facing increasing repression, according to a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Vietnam came under particular criticism for failing to honor its obligations as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 term.

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, assessed conditions in 198 countries and territories for its “People Power Under Attack 2023” report, classifying eight in this region – Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea Vietnam and Bangladesh – as “closed.”

In Vietnam CIVICUS cited many cases of repression, including the March sentencing of land rights activist Truong Van Dung to six years in prison, and the eight year sentence against alleged anti-state propagandist Tran Van Bang, handed down in May.

Other imprisoned activists named in the report included Bui Tuan Lam, jailed for over five years for “propaganda;” anti-corruption campaigner Dang Dang Phuoc, who received an eight-year sentence; Phan Son Tung, handed a six-year term; and Nguyen Lan Thang, jailed for six years.

Conditions in Vietnam’s prisons also worsened, the report said. Lawyer Dang Dinh Bach was assaulted by policemen in August after telling his family he’d been threatened by inmates.

CIVICUS also criticized Hanoi’s growing use of censorship, blocking hundreds of websites and ordering social media platforms to take down “anti-state” posts.

People’s freedom to protest was also curtailed with dozens of ethnic Ede demonstrators dispersed by armed police when they tried to block a drainage project in April.

“What we have seen is ongoing efforts to criminalize and jail human rights defenders including environmental activists and minority rights activists using a range of restrictive national security laws after unfair trials,” CIVICUS Montior’s Asia-Pacific researcher Josef Benedict told Radio Free Asia.

“It is extremely worrying that the authorities have continued to use torture and ill-treatment against political prisoners with the purpose of coercing confessions, obtaining information or punishing political dissidents for their opinions,” he added.

Benedict called on the international community to put pressure on Vietnamese authorities “to release all political prisoners and repeal all restrictive laws.”

He also urged Vietnam’s neighbors to protect dissidents seeking refuge in their countries, citing the abduction of Duong Van Thai by Vietnamese security agents operating in Thailand and accusing Hanoi of “transnational repression.”

RFA called Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get its reaction to the report but nobody answered.

Edited by Taejun Kang.

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