Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns repeated attempts by local police to harass and interrupt a digital security workshop that RSF and Defend the Defenders (DTD), a Vietnamese human rights group, successfully organized for 23 Vietnamese rights activists near Hanoi last weekend.
Held from 31 July to 2 August in a hotel on Cat Ba Island, 160 km east of Hanoi, the workshop consisted of training provided by DTD member Ton Phi in how to protect against viruses and the pro-government malware that increasingly targets activists. Uniformed and plainclothes police kept the three-day workshop under constant surveillance and repeatedly tried to interrupt it. “It is unacceptable that Vietnamese citizens who are not breaking any law should be spied on, harassed and threatened in this manner by the police,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “We urge the Vietnamese authorities to apply the constitution, article 25 of which guarantees freedom of expression and the media, access to information and the right to form associations. It is time to end the government crackdown on bloggers.” A group of policemen burst into the conference room on the first day and tried to end the workshop but gave up after participants protested and pointed that the police had no official document ordering its termination. One of the participants, Thuy Nga, filmed the police intervention: Thereafter around ten policemen, some of them in civilian dress, kept a close watch on the rest of the workshop. The police ordered the hotel’s owner to cut the Internet connection and to deny further use of the conference room, after which the workshop continued in the room of one of the participants. The police continued to harass them, carrying out an “administrative check” on the rooms of the activists in the middle of the night, during which they manhandled Nguyen Huu Vinh, a blogger known as JB who is a member of the Association of Vietnamese Journalists. The authorities meanwhile continue to intensify their crackdown on bloggers. The blogger Me Nam (Mother Mushroom) was attacked and detained for several hours by police on 25 July while on her way to a demonstration to demand the release of Vietnamese political prisoners. Trinh Anh Tuan, a blogger known by the pseudonym of Gio Lang Thang, was attacked and badly beaten by three individuals in civilian address a few days before that 40th anniversary on 30 April of the end of the Vietnam War. He said his assailants were police officers. Three bloggers – Le Thi Phuong Anh, Do Nam Trung and Pham Minh Vu – were given sentences ranging from 12 to 18 months in prison on 12 February for posting information on Facebook about an anti-Chinese demonstration by South China Sea oil rig workers. Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.