Activists beaten, robbed by paramilitaries in Vietnam

Vietnam continues to pay a disheartening lack of attention to human rights violations despite continuing promises that the situation would improve with passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which contains language covering abuses, as the ordeal of a Hanoi-based human rights lawyer and his associates demonstrates.

On Dec. 6, Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer and three friends were attacked by as many as 20 plainclothes policemen while they were returning home to Hanoi after leading a forum in Nghe An Province after facilitating a human rights forum in Nam Dan district, 300 km. south near the Laotian border.

The US has promised improved military and economic relations with Vietnam but has used inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a cudgel to try to force Vietnam into improving its human rights record, to little avail, although there are signs that the leadership is gradually growing more responsive to representative government even though it remains a one-party system.

The question is whether the Obama administration in Washington, DC will allow its aspirations to complete the TPP as a counterweight and component of its “tilt” to Asia to China’s growing hegemonism over East Asia to overcome its queasiness over treatment of basic human rights.

The US State Department, for instance, reported in its 2014 report on abuses that “Specific…abuses included arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life; police attacks and corporal punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention for political activities; continued police mistreatment of suspects during arrest and detention, including the use of lethal force and austere prison conditions; and denial of the right to a fair and expeditious trial.”

Certainly, the one area where Vietnam spares no quarter is in the treatment of individual human rights campaigners. For instance, as Asia Sentinel reported on Nov. 16, the newly released human rights activist Tran Minh Nhat was threatened and physically attacked by police outside Lam Ha Hospital. He had also been beaten and detained for 12 hours the previous week by plainclothes police while making his way home from Saigon.

Such confrontations are hardly rare. The current incident started when Dai and his friends organized the forum discussing the rights of the people as covered by the 2013 Constitution. With some 60 people in the audience, district police ordered the forum closed.

“As the attendees were opposed to the order, they sat down and attended the forum,” Dai said in an email to Asia Sentinel. “Once the forum ended at about 4 pm, we headed to the city of Quan Hanh when we were stopped by approximately 20 plainclothes police who set upon us and beat us with wooden sticks.”

They continued to beat Dai on the thighs and shoulders, he said, then dragged him onto a motorcycle and took him to a beach about 20 km away, where they continued to punch him in the face and rough him up before leaving him.

But first, he said, “They took my phone, camera, wallet and all my documents I had with me,” he said. “The value of these possessions was approximately VND32 million (US$1,500). They took my jacket and shoes then pushed me into the water in the cold weather.”

Dai says he borrowed a phone to contact his friends but the police continued to follow him and attack him until he was rescued by a Catholic congregation in Nghe An. His three friends were also attacked, losing all of their money and possessions approximately worth VND30,000 before they managed to escape and return to Hanoi with the assistance of the Catholics.

“We were severely attacked by plainclothes police because they did not want us to share and educate Nghe An citizens about their basic rights,” Dai said. “The regional administration has easily bullied and oppressed its citizens. They beat us as a threat, hoping we would not return to continue our work.”

“Thuggish attacks are on the rise across Vietnam against community activists, lawyers, bloggers and others resisting rights abuses and encroachment by officials and their business cronies,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asian Division of Human Rights Watch. “Dissidents face beatings at the hands of persons with apparently close links to police and authorities, and not surprisingly are frequently able to identify those doing the beating as persons who have been seen working with local police to monitor activists.

“Increasingly, running the gauntlet of harassment and beatings seems to be the new human rights normal, with the government orchestrating this brutality against dissidents and then turning to the international community and lying through their teeth to claim that they had nothing to do with these attacks.,” Robertson continued. “This type of behavior is hardly what the US and other trading partners should accept in a country that is part of the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.”

This was written by a Vietnamese activist who prefers not to be named for fear of retribution