d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution states that a decision by a court or prosecutor is required for the arrest of any individual, except in the case of a “flagrant offense.” The law allows the government to arrest and detain persons “until the investigation finishes” for particularly serious crimes, including national security cases. Those detained may question the legality of their detention with the body responsible, but officials denied this right to political prisoners.
According to an NGO, between June and September authorities imprisoned 14 activists for social media posts and charged three for “abusing democratic freedom” and three with “making, storing, and spreading information, materials, and items for the purpose of opposing the state.” Authorities routinely subjected activists and suspected criminals to de facto house arrest without charge.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. The Bureau of Investigation of the Supreme People’s Procuracy (national-level public prosecutor’s office) examines allegations of abuse by security forces. The ministry had a substantial voice in national policymaking; three of the 17 members of the Politburo were actual or former Ministry of Public Security officials.
People’s committees (the executive branch of local governments) had substantial authority over police forces and prosecutors at the provincial, district, and local levels. Provincial and local police often had, consequently, significant independence in their activities.
Although the Supreme People’s Procuracy had authority to investigate security force abuse, police organizations operated with little legal restraint or transparency, and no public oversight. Police officers sometimes acted with impunity. At the commune level, guard forces composed of residents or members of government-affiliated social organizations commonly assisted police and sometimes committed human rights abuses.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
In January a number of criminal laws including the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), 2015 Penal Code, and 2015 Law on Custody and Detention went into effect.
The new CPC introduced adversarial elements into civil and criminal trial proceedings. The CPC also provides a full chapter on the roles and responsibilities of defense attorneys, which includes attorneys’ right of access to evidence and access to the accused at the time of arrest.
Activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials assaulted political prisoners to exact confessions or used other means to induce written confessions, including instructing fellow prisoners to assault them or making promises of better treatment. Some activists also reported routine police interrogations to obtain incriminating information concerning other human rights activists.
By law police usually need a warrant issued by the People’s Procuracy to arrest a suspect, although in some cases a decision from a court (different from the procuracy) is required. There were numerous instances where activists were taken into custody by plainclothes individuals without an arrest warrant. The new CPC allows police to “hold an individual” without a warrant in “urgent circumstances,” such as when evidence existed that a person was preparing to commit a crime or when police caught a person in the act of committing a crime. Police may hold a suspect for 72 hours without an arrest warrant. In such cases the People’s Procuracy must approve or disapprove the arrest within 12 hours of receiving notice from police.
Police frequently used excessive force when making an arrest. There were cases where plainclothes individuals attempted to instigate an altercation in order to arrest an individual. On April 1, plainclothes officers arrested former political prisoner Vu Van Hung on the street near his house after he attended an unsanctioned meeting. Two plainclothes officers reportedly followed him from the meeting and beat Hung when he resisted their attempts to arrest him. Hung was ultimately charged and convicted of “deliberately inflicting injuries against others.”
The People’s Procuracy must issue a decision to initiate a formal criminal investigation of a detainee within three days of arrest; otherwise, police must release the suspect. The law allows the People’s Procuracy to request two additional three-day extensions allowing for an extension of the custody time limit to a maximum of nine days.
The new criminal code reduces the time limit for detention while under investigation, including for “serious” and “particularly serious” crimes. For the latter an individual may be held for 20 months. The law, however, allows the Supreme People’s Procuracy to detain an individual “until the investigation finishes” in cases of “particularly serious crimes,” including national security cases. The government in some cases exceeded these limits for both activists and those accused of other crimes. On October 5, Luu Van Vinh, Phan Trung, and Nguyen Van Duc Do were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms after being held in pretrial detention for almost two years. Consistent with a pattern of increasingly lengthy sentences for human rights activists, Luu Van Vinh received a 15-year sentence for conviction of “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”.
During the period of detention, authorities may deny family visits, which they routinely did for those arrested under national security and related articles such as “disrupting public order.”
The law allows for bail as a measure to replace temporary detention, but authorities seldom granted bail. Investigators, prosecutors, or courts may allow the depositing of money or valuable property in exchange for bail.
The law requires authorities to inform persons held in custody, accused of a crime, or charged with a crime, of their legal rights, including the right to an attorney. The law provides for legal aid services for persons younger than age 18, those with disabilities, or to those accused of a capital crime.
The law affords detainees access to counsel from the time of their detention, but authorities continued to use bureaucratic delays to deny timely access to legal counsel. In many cases authorities only permitted attorneys access to their clients or the evidence against them immediately before the case went to trial, denying them adequate time to prepare their cases.
In cases investigated under national security laws, the government has and routinely used authority to prohibit access by defense lawyers to clients until after officials complete an investigation and formally charge the suspect with a crime.
Authorities did not allow Le Dinh Luong to meet with his lawyer until July, approximately a year after his arrest. On August 18, a court in Nghe An Province sentenced Luong to 20 years in prison, consistent with a pattern of increasingly lengthy sentences for human rights activists.
Suspects routinely were not brought promptly before a judicial officer. Before a formal indictment, detainees have the right to notify family members. Although police generally informed families of detainees’ whereabouts, the Ministry of Public Security held a number of blogger and activist detainees suspected of national security violations incommunicado. On September 2, blogger Ngo Van Dung disappeared; his family did not receive informal confirmation of his whereabouts until mid-October. As of November the whereabouts of more than a dozen other bloggers taken into custody across the country at the same time remained unknown.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly for political activists and individuals protesting land seizures or other injustices, remained a serious problem.
During the year security officers abducted activist Pham Doan Trang and questioned her for multiple times. On February 24, security officers took her from her house to the Security Investigation Agency of Ministry of Public Security, interrogating her for hours regarding her book titled “Politics for the Masses”.
Authorities subjected many religious and political activists to varying degrees of arbitrary detention in their residences, in vehicles, at local police stations, at “social protection centers,” or at local government offices. Officials also frequently detained human rights activists upon their return from overseas trips.
The government arrested numerous individuals for expressing political views or protesting economic conditions, including dozens arrested in June in the aftermath of nationwide demonstrations against a draft special administrative economic zone and the new cybersecurity law. Authorities said three of those were arrested for “abusing freedoms and democratic rights to infringe upon the State’s interests or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals,” which carries a sentence of up to seven years’ imprisonment; two others were arrested for “producing, storing, spreading or disseminating information, documents or objects to oppose the State,” which carries a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment; and one was arrested for “intentionally inflicting injury to or causing harm to the health of other persons.”
Taken into custody on September 2 for comments made on Facebook, activist Doan Thi Hong remained in detention without charge at year’s end; friends say she disappeared after dropping off her toddler with a friend. Her family had no information concerning her whereabouts for several weeks, but they eventually located her in Binh Thanh Ward, Ho Chi Minh City; they have not been allowed to meet with her.
Pretrial Detention: The allowable time for temporary detention during an investigation, equivalent to pretrial detention, varies depending on the offense: three months for less serious offenses, 16 months for the most serious cases, and 20 months for “especially serious” crimes. These limits were exceeded with impunity, including for cases not involving activists. Police and prosecutors used these lengthy periods of pretrial detention to punish or to pressure human rights defenders to confess to crimes, activists said. By law authorities must provide justification for detention beyond the initial four months, but there were reports that court officials routinely ignored the legal requirement of providing such justification.
Lengthy pretrial detention was not limited to activists. The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Procuracy reported that as of May 2017, 452 persons had been in custody for more than 12 months without trial and police had detained seven persons past the maximum period allowed by law. The Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Procuracy attributed the delays to disagreements among the police investigation agency, the People’s Court, and the People’s Procuracy on whether to charge detainees under criminal or civil codes.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained may request that the agency responsible review the decision. If a decision is deemed improper by that body, the individual may be eligible for appropriate compensation.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, but the government did not consistently protect these rights and at times violated them.
By law, security forces need public prosecutorial orders for forced entry into homes, but Ministry of Public Security agents and local police officers regularly entered homes, particularly of activists, without legal authority. They often intimidated residents with threats of repercussions for failure to allow entry.
According to social media, on July 6, three plainclothes individuals broke into the home of Tran Van Chuc in Loc Thang town, Bao Lam district, Lam Dong province and beat him badly with wooden sticks, breaking his arm and causing multiple injuries. Activists reported that the assault was retaliation for attendance at a mass demonstration on June 10.
Without legal warrants, authorities regularly opened and censored targeted private mail; confiscated packages and letters; and monitored telephone conversations, email, text messages, blogs, and fax transmissions. The government cut telephone lines and interrupted cell phone and internet services of a number of political activists and their family members.
The Ministry of Public Security maintained a system of household registration and block wardens to monitor unlawful activity. While this system was less intrusive than in the past, the ministry closely monitored individuals engaged or suspected of engaging in unauthorized political activities. Local officials in several provinces in the Central Highlands, including Doan Ket village, Dak Ngo commune, Tuy Duc district, Dak Nong province, denied registration to 700 Hmong Christians who had migrated there in recent years, according to an NGO. As a result school officials did not allow their children to attend to school.
Family members of activists reported numerous incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by Ministry of Public Security officials. Such harassment included harassment at the work place, and denying education and employment to family members of former or existing political prisoners or activists.
The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program,” which allows couples or individuals the right to have one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing citizens who have more children than the program allows; however, there were reported instances where local authorities imposed administrative fees on families in Nghe An province who had more than two children.
The CPV and certain ministries and localities issued their own regulations on family size for their staff. A decree issued by the Politburo, for example, subjects CPV members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.
CPV membership remained a prerequisite to career advancement for employees in nearly all government and government-linked organizations and businesses. Economic diversification, however, continued to make membership in the CPV and CPV-controlled mass organizations less essential for financial and social advancement.
Representatives from state-run organizations and progovernment groups visited activists’ residences and attempted to intimidate them into agreeing that the government’s policies were correct, according to social media and activists’ reports. For example on August 8, a group of injured veterans surrounded the private residence of activist Nguyen Lan Thang, calling him names and playing loud music for hours, according to social media. The group repeated the harassment for several days and authorities did not intervene despite repeated requests.
Family members of activists reported numerous and sometimes severe instances of harassment by Ministry of Public Security officials and agents, ranging from threatening telephone calls and insulting activists in local media and online to attacks on activists’ homes with rocks, shrimp paste, and gasoline bombs. There were reports that such abuses caused injury and trauma requiring hospitalization.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Law and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits, however, and persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations perceived to be political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials.
The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of environmental activists, anti-China activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, women’s rights, and former political prisoners.
Social media and multiple activists reported that on June 17, authorities took some 180 people, including those who were involved in protesting the draft SAEZ and cybersecurity laws and those observing the demonstrations, to Tao Dao stadium in Ho Chi Minh City. Some activists including Phan Tieu May said they were not protesting but were taken by authorities from their homes or cafes to the stadium Authorities searched, and beat those detained. Many of those involved said they sustained injuries to the head, and some lost consciousness. One individual required long-term hospitalization for his injuries.
On August 15, Ho Chi Minh City police and plainclothes individuals beat musician Nguyen Tin and other activists at Casanova Cafe in District 3 in Ho Chi Minh City after Nguyen Tin held an unregistered concert. They tied him to a chair and beat him over the head with his guitar, according to other activists.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government restricted freedom of association severely. The country’s legal and regulatory framework establishes mechanisms for restricting freedom of NGOs to act and organize, including by restricting freedom of association. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF. The government used complex and politicized registration systems for NGOs and religious organizations to suppress unwelcome political and religious participation.
Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics and prohibit organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political issues, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also do not permit them to engage in the public distribution of policy advocacy positions.
The Law on Belief and Religions, which came into effect January 1, still requires religious groups to register with authorities and to inform officials of activities. Authorities had the right to approve or refuse religious activities. Some unregistered religious groups reported an increase in government interference.
Some registered organizations, civil society organizations including governance and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.