May 8, 2009 / 12:28 AM / 10 years ago

Vietnam accused of crackdowns ahead of UN rights probe

* Exiles and rights activists accuse Vietnam of crackdowns

* Report issued as Vietnam in dock at U.N. rights forum

* Large demonstration to coincide with rare scrutiny



By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, May 8 (Reuters) - Vietnamese exiles backed by a major international human rights group accused Vietnam on Friday of cracking down on dissidents and minorities, and quashing press freedom and Internet access.

In a joint report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council, they demanded the release of political prisoners held under "vague national security provisions" of the law.

Vietnam is in the dock on Friday at the 47-member state forum in Geneva, which will investigate its human rights record as part of an ongoing probe of all United Nations members.

"Administrative detention, religious repression, crackdowns on human rights defenders, stifling of press freedom, widespread use of the death penalty are serious concerns," said the report by the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

Coercive birth control policies have led to Vietnam’s abortion rate being one of the world’s highest, according to the report by the two Paris-based groups, obtained by Reuters.

Vietnam’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva has previously rejected criticisms of his country’s human rights record as "slanderous and distorted."

The envoy Vu Dung has said that exiled activists should not be allowed to address the U.N. body, and stressed that Hanoi holds regular discussions on human rights with the United States, European Union, and other countries.



ESPIONAGE CHARGES

The new report says that Vietnam’s ruling Communist authorities routinely use charges of espionage to detain "cyber-dissidents" for posting their views on the Internet.

"These crimes, which make no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism and the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, are punishable by harsh prison terms including life imprisonment," it said. Seven crimes carry the death penalty.

Penelope Faulkner, executive secretary of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, told Reuters: "There are several thousand political prisoners all over the country. They are detained in all sorts of ways including house arrest."

Countries including China and Cuba are likely to defend Hanoi at the session, she said. Hundreds of Vietnamese exiles are set to gather for a large demonstration in Geneva coinciding with the rare U.N. scrutiny of their homeland.

"Cyber-police" in Vietnam track down the posting of banned material and block access to websites advocating human rights and democracy, the report said.

An administrative detention law empowers local officials to commit perceived political or religious opponents to mental hospitals or "rehabilitation camps," the groups said.

And once released, they said former political prisoners are subjected to probationary detention, which puts them under house arrest and constant police surveillance for up to five years.

Faulkner said that Vietnam executes an average of 100 people every year, with capital punishment applied for 29 offences ranging from murder to economic crimes and treason.

Repression on religious grounds was also described in the group’s report as widespread, despite freedom of religion being guaranteed in the constitution.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, effectively banned since 1981, and ethnic Montagnards — the mainly Christian tribespeople from the Central Highlands who sided with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War — are the main victims, it said. (Editing by Laura MacInnis and Charles Dick)



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