Amnesty International Campaigner for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Janice Beanland discussed the state of human rights in Vietnam with reporter Viet Ha of Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese Service. Amnesty International just released its report on human rights in 160 countries and territories during 2015. In addition to the more typical threats to human rights, the organization found that the governments are painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national “values.”
RFA: Focusing on Vietnam, what did you find in 2015?
Janice Beanland: As in previous years Vietnam in 2015 was characterized by severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. This has the effect of preventing peaceful activists from exercising their fundamental rights. It’s really quite severe in Vietnam.
RFA: Is there any improvement, or is it just getting worse?
Janice Beanland: Compared to 2014, what we have seen is a reduction in the number of prosecutions of individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression. This seems to be have been compensated for by the increase in physical attacks against activists. Some have been very violent, and this is a grave concern that we are worried about.
RFA: Amnesty International says short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns are threatening human rights across the globe, is this true for Vietnam?
Janice Beanland: Yes, in a way. Vietnam has continued this trend for many years now. The really quite sad thing about that is … there is no shift from this sense that you can’t be critical of the government and you can’t hold different opinions because that’s a threat to the state.
RFA: Is there any data that illustrates the breadth of the issue in Vietnam?
Janice Beanland: We know that during 2015 there were at least 45 prisoners of conscience who are still in prison after unfair trials, and we have seen reports that there were physical attacks against almost 70 individuals during the year and more than 30 violent attacks. That’s a large number.
RFA: Who were the attackers?
Janice Beanland: In some cases it was uniformed police. In some cases it was plainclothes people where there are allegations that they are police, or they were recognized as police.
RFA: The government in Vietnam signed the Trans Pacific Partnership, and there’s pressure internationally to protect human rights. Does that have any impact?
Janice Beanland: Vietnam tends to fall under the radar for the international community. It tends to face less criticism than other countries, despite the fact that it has some very, very serious human rights concerns. Amnesty International would like to see the international community be much more forthright about the problems there currently are in Vietnam. We will see with the TPP.
RFA: But Vietnam made a big show of releasing some prisoners of conscience last year, doesn’t that show a good-faith effort?
Janice Beanland: In most cases those released had reached the end of their sentences. That’s not a step forward for human rights, and the high-profile person who was released last year, Ta Phong Tan, was forced into exile. That’s a very cynical way of trying to put forward that you are taking these steps to respect human rights. That’s a very dubious way of doing things.
RFA: With this year’s election in Vietnam, do you have any hopes for Vietnam that the government will relax its restrictions?
Janice Beanland: I don’t think there are any indications that that will happen, but I hope we will be surprised.