Violence Against Viet Protesters Extends to the Streets

Despite warnings that the country’s stance on civil rights could harm its international standing in connection with a major trade pact, Vietnam’s security forces continue to attack dissidents, staging 31 physical attacks in 2014 and another 17 this year, according to a dissident group based in Hanoi.

The latest occurred on May 19 – the birthday of the country’s liberator, Ho Chi Minh – when Human rights defender Dinh Quang Tuyen (aka Tuyen Xich Lo) was riding his bicycle for exercise when he was set upon by two masked men on a motorcycle who overtook him and punched him in the middle of his face, breaking his nose.

The group baring the extent of the attacks is Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, who do not stem from the dissident blogger community, who are more sophisticated and guarded, according to David Brown, a former US diplomat with long experience in Vietnam.

“The reports focus on repression of unsanctioned religious people – Mennonites, radical Catholics, humble people protesting land expropriation with meager compensation, environmentalists,” Brown said. “The recurrent theme generally is that they are ‘uppity people’ who are frequently jumped by thugs and bully boys. The public security people can deny they had anything to do with it.”

By and large, human rights groups say, foreign governments rarely look beyond the arrest and incarceration of dissidents. But another world of danger exists on the streets. Disguised as thugs to mask attacks by authorities, the Vietnam security police forces have used violence to intimidate and humiliate human rights defenders, the Former Prisoners of Conscience says, an approach that is "safe" for the government because the democratic countries’ concern on human rights in Vietnam do not go beyond recording dissidents’ arrests.

The number of victims is increasing, according to Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, which condemned the use of violence to harm dissidents. The organization accused individual policemen masquerading as thugs to assault human rights defenders, citing a long list of specific cases and displaying photographs of beaten and bloodied men and women over the past five months.

The charges of willful disregard of human rights and beating of dissidents are of particular concern at a time when the United States congress is debating the implementation of the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a comprehensive trade pact involving 22 nations on the shores of the Pacific Ocean both in the Americas and Asia. Civil rights crusaders are demanding that Vietnam demonstrate tangible progress towards liberalization before the country is allowed to join the pact.

So far, there is little indication that Vietnam is willing to cede any liberalization. Human Rights Watch’s 2015 World Report said the human rights situation “remained critical in 2014,” with the Communist Party unwilling to give up one-party rule despite growing public discontent with basic freedoms. As the NGO has charged, Human Rights Watch said that “security forces increased various forms of harassment and intimidation of critics. “

On Jan. 1, for instance, according to the NGO, a group of land petitioners in front of the Palace of Independence, police cars rushed into the area, dragging nine women into cars to deliver them to police headquarters, pulling their hair and beating them. Lu Thi Thu Van was beaten about her eyes.

On the same date, Mennonite Church believers who gathered to pray at a local pastor’s house were surrounded by local authorities who prevented the believers to go near the pastor’s home. Many were detained and beaten. Pastor Quang went to the police station to ask why they detained and beat his followers, the NGO said. Quang was also attacked, his shirt torn.

Similar attacks have been mounted against land petitioners in Bac Giang City and Dong Noi, where protesters have been left bleeding by thugs. Attempts to seek protection from the police resulted in protesters being driven to police stations where they were beaten again.

“Police brutality, including deaths in police custody, are an increasing source of public concern in Vietnam,” Human Rights Watch said in its 2015 report. “In 2014, even the heavily controlled state media frequently published reports about police abuse. In many cases, those killed in police custody were being held for minor infractions. Police frequently engaged in cover-ups, including by alleging the detainee’s suicide. Many detainees said they were beaten to extract confessions, sometimes for crimes they say they did not commit. Others said they were beaten for criticizing police officers or trying to reason with them. Victims of beatings included children.”

Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, in a statement sent to Asia Sentinel, “strongly condemns and protests the use of violence to harm dissidents. It is more urgent as the number of victims is increasing. Individual security policeman masquerading as thug have executed orders to assault human rights defenders.”

The organization asked that the security personnel be put on trial for justice and the safety of society, hardly likely in the current political atmosphere despite the western concerns over civil rights as related to the trade pact.

“We call on all democratic governments and their diplomatic corps in Hanoi, the international human rights organizations to raise their voices to protect victims of physical attacks, the NGO said. “Demands for the Vietnam government to end violence should be placed as a pre-condition for signing economic or military agreements.”