The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, led by General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and Chairman of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue. May 23 National Assembly elections were neither free nor fair; there was limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates.
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. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment by government agents; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including exit bans on activists; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; trafficking in persons; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and use of compulsory child labor.
The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions against officials who violated human rights or engaged in corruption, but police officers and state officials frequently acted with impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. At least six deaths attributed to abuse in custody were alleged; authorities attributed these deaths to suicide or medical problems or offered no cause of death. There were no reliable data on overall death rates and causes in prisons. According to the Ministry of Public Security, there were 36 deaths while in custody or incarceration, including 21 by diseases, nine by suicide, four by accidents, and two from injuries incurred in fights between prisoners.
Authorities sometimes harassed and intimidated families who questioned the police determination of cause of death. In a small number of cases in prior years, the government held police officials responsible, typically several years after the death. Despite guidance from the Supreme People’s Court to charge police officers responsible for deaths in custody with murder, such officers typically faced lesser charges. Police conducted their own internal affairs investigations to determine whether deaths in custody were justified.
On January 6, a 23-year-old man detained since November 2020 for “disrupting public order” died in Chi Hoa Temporary Detention Center in Ho Chi Minh City. Police attributed the death to suicide, but the man’s family reportedly found bruises on his body.
On September 25, Phan Van Lan died at the Ha Lam village police office, Dạ Huoai District, Lam Dong Province, three hours after responding to a summons for an alleged violation of COVID-19 mitigation restrictions. According to police Lan was drunk and aggressive when he reported to the police station. Although the cause of death has not been determined, Lan’s brother, Phan Van Thuan, witnessed the autopsy, which revealed heavy bruising. The Ministry of Public Security was investigating the case as of year’s end.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit torture, violence, coercion, corporal punishment, or any form of treatment harming the body and health, or the honor and dignity of persons detained or incarcerated. Nonetheless, suspects commonly reported mistreatment and torture by police or plainclothes security officials during arrest, interrogation, and detention.
Activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials assaulted political prisoners to extract confessions or used other means to induce written confessions, including instructing fellow prisoners to assault them or making promises of better treatment. Abusive treatment was not limited to activists or persons involved in politics. Human rights monitoring groups issued multiple reports of police using excessive force while on duty, and investigators allegedly torturing detainees.
On August 12, the head of the economic police and two other officers of District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, reportedly assaulted journalist Mai Quoc An at the police station. Police reportedly summoned An to discuss his work as the director of a social enterprise providing COVID-19 relief. Police beat An after he refused to sign meeting minutes prepared by police.
In December a family member of jailed land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong reported prison guards physically abused him while in pretrial confinement, “taking turns harshly beating [him] over all parts of his body, including his genitals.” The family member reported prison officials threatened to place Phuong in a cell with mental patients if he continued to refuse to confess to his alleged crime of “making, storing, or disseminating propaganda against the state.”
In October international media reported that, according to a lawyer associated with the case, jailed land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu was beaten badly by investigators following his June 2020 arrest; he sustained injuries to his kidney and was hospitalized.
Although impunity in the security forces was a significant problem, and police, prosecutors, and government oversight agencies seldom investigated specific reports of mistreatment, authorities did prosecute some police officers for abuse of authority. In July the Hanoi People’s Court sentenced police officers Pham Hai Dang, Pham Trinh Duc Anh, and Nguyen Tien Anh to 30, 24, and 20 months in jail respectively for abusing detainees in custody. On December 13, authorities arrested Captain Nguyen Doan Tu and detained him for four months, accusing him of using “corporal punishment” against a prisoner at a prison in Ham Tam District, Binh Thuan Province.
The Ministry of Public Security reported it trained police on citizens’ rights and human rights of detainees.
The constitution states 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 for nonpolitical offenses may question the legality of their detention with the arresting authority, but there is no right for the detainee or a representative to challenge the lawfulness of an arrest before a court. There were numerous cases of authorities arresting or detaining activists or government critics contrary to the law or on spurious grounds. Authorities routinely subjected activists and suspected criminals to de facto house arrest without charge.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was effectively under the control of the CPV. There were credible reports political influence, endemic corruption, bribery, and inefficiency strongly distorted the judicial system. For example in May, a Kon Tum City judge was arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes.
Most, if not all, judges were members of the CPV and were screened by the CPV and local officials during their selection process to determine their suitability for the bench. Judges are reappointed every five years, following reviews of their conduct by party officials. The party’s authority was particularly notable in high-profile cases and when authorities charged a person with corruption, challenging or harming the party or state, or both. Defense lawyers routinely complained that, in many cases, it appeared judges determined the guilt of defendants prior to the trial.
There continued to be credible reports that authorities pressured defense lawyers not to take religious or democracy activists as clients and questioned their motivations for doing so. Authorities also restricted, harassed, arrested, and disbarred human rights attorneys who represented political activists. The law required attorneys to violate attorney-client privilege in national security cases or other serious crimes.
The law prohibits arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, home, or correspondence, but the government did not consistently protect these rights and at times violated them.
By law security forces need warrants to enter homes forcibly, but Ministry of Public Security officers regularly entered or surveilled homes, particularly of activists, without legal authority. They often intimidated residents with threats of repercussions for failure to allow entry.
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 the cellphone and internet service of several political activists and their family members.
There were many reports of local police without warrants entering residences of citizens who reportedly did not comply with pandemic-related restrictions, taking them to quarantine facilities. For example on September 28, police and local officers broke into the house of Hoang Thi Phuong Lan in Vinh Phu Commune, Thuan An City, Binh Duong Province and dragged her out of her apartment for a COVID-19 test, reportedly without a warrant. Local authorities apologized for their aggressive actions but still fined Lan for violating COVID-19 mitigation regulations.
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 in or suspected of engaging in unauthorized political activities.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
The government did not permit independent, local human rights organizations to form or operate, nor did it tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to criticize its human rights practices publicly. Some activists reported receiving death threats from plainclothes individuals they believed were associated with the government. Authorities often asserted that human rights and democracy advocacy were acts against the Communist Party and state.
On July 16, police and security officers in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak detained at least 21 individuals who had reportedly participated in civil society training organized by a human rights NGO. The detained individuals were affiliated with two unregistered Protestant churches long targeted by authorities. One detainee said that approximately 30 police arrived at his house in personal protective equipment masquerading as health authorities. At least one victim reported that police officers beat him during interrogations and threatened to kill him for refusing to sign a confession. Another victim reported police shackled her ankles while detaining her and her infant. Interrogators reportedly questioned detainees on the civil society training; on their links to Pastor A Ga; their ties to diaspora Vietnamese; and meetings with foreign diplomats. Interrogators reportedly warned victims they were breaking the law by associating with unregistered churches, taking civil society training, researching the Law on Belief and Religion, and contacting any individuals outside the country. Authorities released all detainees within three days without charge.