Vietnam Harasses the NGOs

Even as Vietnam vies for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2014-2016, the country is in an intensive campaign to keep NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Sans Frontieres, Front Line Defenders and PEN International at bay Despite the government hostility, these organizations have played an important role in promoting the cause and struggle for human rights and democracy in Vietnam, even as a fraudulent legal system is being used as a tool for political repression and suppression of human rights.

The regulation dealing with registration and operation of NGOs stipulates: "The State of Vietnam encourages and facilitates benefits to non-governmental organizations from abroad in the implementation of humanitarian activities and development." That apparently means that the authorities welcome only operational humanitarian and development NGOs rather than for ones seeking to protect human rights.

Under these regulations, NGOs are forbidden to carry out “political, religious and other activities not consistent with the national interest, security, defense, national unity of Vietnam” and cannot “organize, implement and participate in activities for the purpose of profit, not for humanitarian purposes, to develop.”

Another section of the decree specifies that international NGOs can be told to partly or fully suspend all activities or their operations and registrations can be revoked by a decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if their activities do not conform to Vietnamese expectations.

That is if the NGOs’ activities involve human rights and political issues, their organizations' operations will be suspended and terminated. Needless to say, such organizations don’t have an open door to operate legally in the country.

Closure of the Human Rights Watch representative office in Vietnam didn’t satisfy the government, whose state-sanctioned newspapers, radio and television stations have delivered a steady drumbeat of charges that the NGOs are "arms of the West and the United States" as hostile forces.

“The human rights situation in Vietnam is poor and worsening, with a steady stream of people being locked up for nothing more than exercising their rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a 2012 statement. “Vietnam's development donors should publicly express unstinting support for Vietnam's courageous activists and demand the immediate release of everyone who has been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned.”

On Oct.23, 2012, for instance, the newspaper Bao Moi published an article headlined "Human Rights Watch: Human rights organizations disguised" by Lam Son. The author called Human Rights Watch, "nothing more than a charade clumsily built on the political stage."

On Feb. 4, 2013, in an article titled "RSF slander and blatant fabrications" posted on People e-news, one of the main media outlets, of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Lam Son wrote: "[Reporters Sans Frontieres] does not protect true journalists, yet they abetted some bloggers and some impersonating journalists for anti-state activities .... Factors of this nature bring neither prestige nor decency to the image of RSF. In fact, RSF is arrogant and brazen in their criticism of the issues of press freedom in this country or other countries, only to stain their own image more.”

On Jan. 2, 2013, Petro Times, a prominent government e-news propaganda machine, published an article written by Thi Nga, titled "Debunking the true face of human rights prize Hellman / Hammett 2012." The criticized the award of Human Rights Watch’s Hellman-Hammet grants for 2012 to five Vietnamese individuals was an attempt to “blatantly promote, incite, support, and finance opposition movements in Vietnam."

In addition, an article titled: "From where came about the so-called ‘Amnesty International ‘?" On the blog, "Voice of the young generation" of "internet polemicists" (recruited government internet commentators) concluded: "the organization called Amnesty International defended and demanded the release of these dangerous individuals, the purposes and conspiracy of this organization as well as and their means in operations are crystal clear.”

Despite government hostility, employees of these organizations have continued to monitor informally severe violations of human rights. However, unlike the diplomatic language that Vietnam's leaders use in foreign capitals, domestically dissidents have been harassed and employees of the organizations face many difficulties when they attempt to visit the dissidents.

Last year, Pokpong Lawansiri, an employee of Frontline Defenders of Dublin, Ireland, came to Vietnam and, while he was only followed openly by security forces, the dissidents and bloggers whom he met with were forced to report to the authorities. Others were obstructed from meeting with him. Pokpong had to cancel his trip to Saigon and leave Vietnam. Meetings with other organizations were held in secret and at utmost risk.

(Blogger Huynh Thuc Vy, 28, is the daughter of dissident-writer Huynh Ngoc Tuan. Her siblings are also bloggers who disseminate other issues contrary to the view of the government of Vietnam. Thus she has become a constant object of harassment and punishment.)