Viet Tan’s Digital Advocacy Director Trinh Nguyen testified before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the Canadian House of Commons. Along with human activists Truong Minh Tam and Reverend Nguyen Manh Hung, Trinh’s testimony raised the cases of imprisoned human rights defenders Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, and Nguyen Dang Minh Man.
Statement before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights
Of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
House of Commons, Canada
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, good afternoon.
Thank you for this opportunity to add testimonies on the human rights situation in Vietnam. Last month, you heard from my colleague and chairman of Viet Tan, Mr. Do Hoang Diem. I hope the hearing today not only enriches and adds to your understanding but spurs you to action.
As you may know, the government of Vietnam has prevented many human rights activists from leaving the country in order to attend conferences, meet with regional human rights groups, or appear in front of committees such as this. Viet Tan has documented over 30 such travel bans in the last two years.
So it’s especially fortunate, then, to have the presence of these two gentlemen here today to bear witness to police brutality and the daily repression they face in their work.
Mr. Truong Minh Tam is a human rights defender and a former political prisoner. He’ll be able to give a first-hand account of his experiences in arbitrary confinement and the harrowing prison torture of his friend, Dang Xuan Dieu, a well-known social activist. Reverend Nguyen Manh Hung, a noted religious leader, represents the Interfaith Council, one of Vietnam’s few truly independent civil society groups.
Originally, two family members of those who’ve received some of the the longest prison sentences were supposed to be here. They were unable to travel from Vietnam in time for this hearing; I would like to submit their testimony to the Committee at a later date.
Many human rights defenders and political activists in Vietnam face daily repression in the form of police surveillance, interrogation, and beatings. For those who become targets of the Hanoi regime, they are arrested, often under arbitrary charges and denied adequate legal representative. The proceedings that follow are often show trials.
Such a travesty took place in January 2013 in one of the largest political trials to take place in Vietnam in recent years. In total, 14 peaceful activists were sentenced to 86 years in jail. Today, behind me, are the images of three individuals who received the longest sentences: Mr. Dang Xuan Dieu, 13 years; Mr. Ho Duc Hoa, 13 years; Ms. Nguyen Dang Minh Man, 8 years.
In November 2013, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the detention and conviction of these activists for their peaceful activities was in violation of international law. UNWGAD called on the Vietnamese authorities to release these activists and to compensate them for their arbitrary detention.
If you were to ask Vietnamese officials, they’ll retort that there are only criminals in their jail cells. We know this to be untrue. It is not a crime to advocate for freedom of expression, for political freedom as in the case of Ms. Minh Man.
She and I are about the same age and are both human rights activists. I feel that if her family had not been denied political asylum and sent back from a refugee camp in Thailand in the 1990s, she would now be an activist in the Vietnamese diaspora, perhaps testifying here today.
Instead, she has been in a Vietnamese prison for the last four years. She was charged with subversion and initially sentenced to 9 years in prison. A freelance photojournalist, she documented the courageous acts of ordinary Vietnamese who painted “HS.TS.VN” signs in public to affirm Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
She is currently held at prison camp 5 in Thanh Hoa province, a facility known for its ill-treatment of political prisoners. She has been made to perform arduous physical labor, detained in isolation, and is prohibited from participating in recreational activities. Like many others who have been mistreated or even tortured in prison, Minh Man has undergone two hunger strikes to protest. She has willingly denied what little food she is offered in order to bring attention to her mistreatment.
For Mr. Dieu, Mr. Hoa, and Ms. Minh Man – their courageous dissidence may have placed them in jail but it is their resistance and resiliency in the face of denial of adequate food and water, beatings, and that should spur us all to action.
The number of political prisoners in arbitrary confinement in Vietnam is unclear because of the repressive and secretive nature of which many of these arrests happen. The cases that we do know about are because of the tireless work of these gentlemen sitting next to me and those in Vietnam who risk their safety to document arrests and attend closed trials. Equally important is the role that the international community plays in shining a spotlight on these cases.
I have two simple concrete suggestion for this Subcommittee and Parliament. I urge you, Mr. Chairman to consider a mechanism to adopt these individuals as prisoners of conscience so that the public know their stories. When you stand in solidarity with these individuals, their cause becomes your cause. International support is not only desirable, but also the best guarantor for the safety of these brave individuals.
Additionally, Parliament can press the Canadian Embassy in Hanoi to make prison visits, to ensure that visitation rights, access to medical treatment, access to adequate food and water are being honored.
I want to quote Mr. Irwin Cotler’s fine words on the cases of Iranian human rights activists. “For the remarkable and courageous individuals who dare to challenge the regime, telling their stories is the very least we can do.”
The same applies in the case of Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience.
We should not only name the perpetrators of human rights violations but also honor those in Vietnam who are working tirelessly to champion rights. We should tell the world their stories.
I thank you for the time and hand over to my colleagues from Vietnam.
May 28, 2015