HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Amnesty International released on Wednesday a report revealing that at least 97 people in Vietnam have been held as prisoners of conscience, many of whom are kept incommunicado in squalid conditions and routinely subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.
Among the prisoners are human rights defenders, lawyers, bloggers, and environmental and social activists who received lengthy jail sentences despite only resorting to peaceful means, AI said in the report.
“Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia’s most prolific jailers of peaceful activists,” AI’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez, said in a statement.
“What is worse is that this number is likely an underestimation. It is impossible to know the real figure, given the shroud of secrecy the Vietnamese authorities operate under,” he added.
According to AI, the prisoners were targeted and arrested for organizing protests against the communist government or for disseminating information alternative to that promoted by the regime.
Among the prisoners of conscience, 40 are political, social and environmental activists, and 57 are religious followers, of which 37 are from indigenous people’s groups.
The organization said that in 2017 Vietnamese authorities intensified a crackdown on what they perceived as dissidents and sought to tighten control of the internet and social networks.
Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom, was sentenced to 10 years in jail in June last year for “conducting propaganda” and her health has recently been deteriorating having been denied medical care in prison, according to AI.
In addition to torture, including beatings and electrocutions, these prisoners are often held in solitary confinement and are denied access to lawyers and family members.
“Vietnam must immediately release everyone who has been jailed for nothing but peacefully speaking their minds, and take their obligation to respect human rights for everyone seriously,” Gomez said.
The report was published one day before six other activists appear before the judge on charges of “attempting to overthrow the people’s government,” an allegation that could lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty and which AI described as “trumped-up” and “unfair.”
The six people are members of the Brotherhood for Democracy group, including Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Van Dai, Pham Van Troi and Truong Minh Duc.
These members were detained between 2015-2017 on charges that their activities, such as urging international organizations to raise human rights issues in Vietnam, and providing legal support to farmers and workers, constitute “subversion.”
AI urged for the immediate and unconditional release of these prisoners, a request that several other organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Federation for Human Rights, jointly called for on Wednesday.
“The only crime that these activists have committed is to campaign tirelessly for democracy and defend victims of human rights abuses,” said HRW’s Asia Director, Brad Adams.
“The Vietnamese government should thank them for their efforts to improve the country instead of arresting and putting them on trial,” he added.