HRW: Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security continues Stalinist crackdown

The deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division says government stuck in ‘repressive communist history.’


RFA | 2022.09.21

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Vietnamese police have adopted a Stalinist model of repression with propaganda it describes as ‘laughable’ and ‘pathetic.’

Deputy Director of HRW's Asia division, Phil Robertson’s comments came in response to an article in the Công an Nhân dân (People's Police) online newspaper, the mouthpiece of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS).

The MPS article was published on Sept. 19 with the title "Wrong interference is a violation of principles in ensuring human rights," smearing two newly detained dissidents, Bui Tuan Lam and Dang Dang Phuoc. It also criticized HRW for speaking out for their freedom.

"Calling for the release of subjects being investigated for criminal acts is against the principles of international relations and is an unreasonable interference in the proceedings of a state,” said the two authors Anh Tu and Huan Nguyen,

"When HRW or other organizations disregard the truth and interfere with illegal individuals, these organizations are violating international law and the principles of ensuring human rights,” said the article, published in the column "Against peaceful evolution." 

RFA's Robertson likened the Vietnamese authorities' policies to those of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who ruled the USSR with an iron fist from 1922 to 1953.

“This totally wrong-headed article shows the truly small world view of the Vietnamese police who apparently think that their rights abusing laws are sacrosanct,” he said.

“Their ignorance is so profound that they apparently don't understand that, when a government like Vietnam ratifies international human rights treaties, it is the legal obligation of that government to bring their laws into conformity with those rights treaties.”

“International law supersedes national laws, not the other way around, when it comes to human rights, which are universal values recognized by the UN and the global international system,” said the Bangkok representative of the human rights organization.

“Propaganda like this from the Ministry of Public Security is really rather laughable and pathetic, and points out how far back the MPS is stuck in some sort of Stalinist retrograde, highly repressive communist history,” said Robertson.

“For a nation like Vietnam which aspires to modernity and global presence, this kind of backward attitude is really embarrassing,” he added.

Anti-State propaganda arrests

Bui Tuan Lam, a human rights and social activist, who participated in the civil society delegation during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights in Vietnam in Geneva in 2014, was arrested on Sept. 7. He was charged with “conducting anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

A day after Lam's arrest, Dak Lak provincial police took music teacher Dang Dang Phuoc into custody, also under Article 117 charges.

Lawyer Le Quoc Quan, a former prisoner, fighting for human rights and democracy, told RFA:

“I see the actions of brothers and sisters Pham Doan Trang, Le Van Dung (aka Le Dung Vova), Nguyen Lan Thang, etcetera, who were arrested a long time ago, and more recently detained Mr. Bui Tuan Lam and music lecturer Dang Dang Phuoc are all in line with Vietnamese law and with the demands of people's consciences to speak up for justice, truth, and the grievances they encounter on a daily basis.”

The People's Public Security newspaper defended the arrest of the two dissidents as well as many others under Article 117, calling them criminals. However, according to former prisoner of conscience Le Quoc Quan, their arrest is a repression of freedom of expression and other universal rights.

"The current increase in repression is aimed at protecting the regime and preserving the Communist Party's political monopoly, not preserving national stability" Quan said.

Commenting on Human Rights Watch's response to Vietnam's arrest of activists he said:

“I find all voices of international organizations, democracy and human rights activists or conscientious individuals about the current repression situation in Vietnam very important, necessary, and correct.”

“It reflects a human restlessness and also the conscience that people foresee such persecution, and people speak out. This statement is absolutely correct.”

"The People's Public Security newspaper used slanderous language when it considered HRW's voice to be 'wrong interference'."

Quan agreed with HRW’s call on Vietnam to remove Article 117, saying the article is unconstitutional and contrary to Vietnam's international commitments to human rights.

Lawyer Quan said that the Vietnamese government uses the article on national security as a scanning net to arrest people who are considered "anti-state" while they are just people who are awake to the current situation of the country. He said they dare to speak the truth about the regime’s shortcomings because they want a better country and are not "anti-state" as alleged.

The arrest of peaceful activists and many individuals simply because they expressed their opinions on social media showed the regime’s weakness, Quan added.


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