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Vietnam Should Release Land Rights Activist

Phil Robertson

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director, Asia Division

July 12, 2023 9:00AM EDT

Progress Requires Rights Respecting Reforms

Truong Van Dung celebrates the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10, 2020.© 2020 private

One dissident at the time, the Vietnamese government is pursuing a campaign to systematically eliminate what’s left of the country’s human rights and democracy movement. By inexorably adding peaceful activists to the growing list of more than 150 Vietnamese political prisoners, Hanoi is violating international human rights law and betraying its duty as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council to protect, rather than trample, fundamental human rights.

The latest appearing in court is the land rights activist Truong Van Dung, 65. On July 13, the appeals court in Hanoi will hear his appeal of his six-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the state.” However, like virtually every other appeals trial held in Vietnam for activists convicted on politically motivated charges since 2016, no one expects any reduction of sentence, much less a reversal of the conviction and release.

So what in the government’s view were Truong Van Dung’s crimes? Essentially, he exercised his rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. For example, he took part in various public protests on such topics as Vietnam’s policies towards China, public action on environment and land rights issues, ending government corruption, and upholding basic human rights principles. He publicly boycotted Vietnam’s national elections, which the ruling Vietnam Communist Party ensures are neither free nor fair. And despite his limited means, he provided financial and other support for political prisoners, land rights petitioners, and their families.

Truong Van Dung has experienced years of government harassment and intimidation, including police interrogations, house arrest, a travel ban, and physical assaults. In March 2014, after being assaulted by unknown assailants in civilian clothes, he told Radio Free Asia: “I will not budge. The more they act this way, the more inspired I will be on my path … I am very proud of myself. I did nothing to be ashamed of.”

Every time the authorities throw an activist like Truong Van Dung behind bars, respect for human rights in Vietnam takes a hard knock. Donors and international trade partners should be clear that if Vietnam wants growing trade and investment, its leaders need to recognize that people speaking their minds are part of the solution that strengthens, not weakens, the country.

© 2023 Human Rights Watch


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