The early release of Do Thi Minh Hanh, a woman labour activist and prisoner of conscience, in Viet Nam is a positive step but authorities must now follow up and release the scores of other peaceful activists still behind bars, Amnesty International said.
Hanh, 28, was released on 26 June by Vietnamese authorities and arrived home yesterday. She had been imprisoned for seven years in 2010 for “conducting propaganda against the state”, after handing out leaflets in support of workers demanding better pay and conditions.
“We are of course delighted that Do Thi Minh Hanh has been released, but she should never have been locked up in the first place. Sentencing someone to seven years in prison for handing out leaflets is ludicrous, and a sad indictment of the Vietnamese authorities’ long-lasting crackdown on dissent,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
“The Vietnamese authorities must now follow up and immediately and unconditionally release all others who have been jailed for peacefully exercising their human rights.”
Hanh suffered harsh conditions in prison and was frequently beaten by fellow inmates, with guards apparently doing nothing to stop the abuse. She was not given access to adequate medical treatment and is reportedly in bad health.
Several other prisoners of conscience have been released in Viet Nam over the past months, including legal scholar Cu Huy Ha Vu, blogger and pro-democracy activist Nguyen Tien Trung, writer Vi Duc Hoi and teacher Dinh Dang Dinh, who died shortly after his release.
The Vietnamese authorities continue to use laws and decrees to criminalize freedom of expression, and have harshly repressed dissent in recent years. In a 2013 report, Amnesty International documented scores of prisoners of conscience who remain behind bars in the country.
Apart from Hanh, at least four other women are currently imprisoned for “conducting propaganda against the state”, a vaguely worded “offence” the government uses to punish peaceful activists.
These include Ho Thi Bich Khuong, a peaceful activist who was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in December 2011, and Ta Phong Tan, a founding member of the Free Journalists Club of Viet Nam sentenced to 10 years in jail in September 2012. Khuong’s family say she has been beaten in prison by other prisoners and has not had medical treatment for her injuries. Ta Phong Tan’s mother died after setting herself on fire in July 2012 out of despair at the treatment of her daughter.
At least two other women are each serving long prison sentences after being convicted for aiming to “overthrow” the government – Catholic social activist Nguyen Dang Minh Man and Hoa Hao Buddhist and land rights activist Tran Thi Thuy. Both are accused of being associated with Viet Tan, an overseas based group campaigning for democracy in Viet Nam.
“Viet Nam’s government must repeal the draconian legislation that it continues to use to punish peaceful dissent,” said Rupert Abbott.
“Only once it does this and releases all those it has jailed for speaking out, will the country begin to shed its reputation as one of the worst violators of freedom of expression in South East Asia.”