April 25, 2012
The following is a guest post by Trinh Nguyen for Access, an organizer for Viet Tan, a pro-democracy organization dedicated to championing the causes of free expression and the freedom of association and assembly within Vietnam.
“Live until you die, don’t die while you’re still living.” These words mark the blog of Paulus Le Son, 26 years old and arbitrarily detained in Vietnam. An active community organizer, a citizen journalist for Vietnam Redemptorist News and other outlets, Paulus was arrested on the street in front of his home on Bui Xuong Trach Street, Hanoi on August 3, 2011.
Everything suggests that his arrest is linked to his coverage of social justice, human rights and sovereignty issues on his personal blog. Paulus signed a petition for the release of prominent legal rights activist Cu Huy Ha Vu, attended and covered Vu’s trial in April 2011. He also demonstrated opposition to a controversial bauxite mining project in the Central Highlands.
Currently held at the B14 detention center in Hanoi, Paulus is charged under Article 79 of the Vietnam Penal Code which bans “carrying out activities with intent to overthrow the social government.”
Unfortunately, Paulus’s arrest is not an isolated event. Between August and December 2011, 16 other human right defenders, primarily Catholics and involved in the same networks as Paulus, have been detained in Vietnam. The commonalities that ties these individuals are quite alarming: all 17 are young activists arrested without a warrant, have limited access to legal representation and until only recently were allowed family visitations.
Under Vietnam’s legal system, detainees can be held for initial questioning for up to four months before being formally arrested on a charge. The authorities can extend the temporary detention period three times, therefore “investigation” can last up to sixteen months.
For most human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Vietnam, this waiting period is mired not only with a perversion of justice but with continued intimidation and interrogation. Since his time in prison, Paulus was granted limited access to any legal advocate and denied family visitation with his ailing mother. She recently passed away on Saturday, April 21st.
These arrests are part of an escalation of crackdowns by the Vietnamese government targeting human right defenders. Other prominent activists recently arrested include musician Viet Khang and social activist Bui Thi Minh Hang. Outraged by this crackdown and inspired by Paulus’s writings, activists from around the world produced a music video to bring attention to the youth activists detained in Vietnam.
Rights advocates have taken notice: most recently, Access joined eight other rights organizations to send an open letter to the Prime Minister of Vietnam highlighting the citizen journalists arrested in the group, including Paulus.
Key members of the United States Congress have also spoken out; soon after the arrests, House Resolution 484 was introduced, calling for the repeal of Vietnam’s vague national security provisions used to suppress dissent and demand the immediate release of these human rights defenders.
You, too, can help these activists by:
Send a message to your Members of Congress, calling on them to co-sponsor H. Res 484.
Write or fax a letter of protest to the Vietnamese embassy in your country, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Vietnam solely for the peaceful expression their opinions, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a signatory.
For a partial list of Vietnamese embassy addresses, see www.embassiesabroad.com/embassies-of/Vietnam