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Vietnam mimics China in forced confessions: rights group

Forced confessions violate Vietnam's laws and go against the articles of an international covenant, it says

Vietnam mimics China in forced confessions: rights group

Vietnamese protesters hold photographs during a press conference about human rights violations in Vietnam in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2016. A rights group says forced confessions are increasing in Vietnam. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

Published: March 17, 2020 08:42 AM GMT

Updated: March 17, 2020 08:57 AM GMT

A European rights group has accused Vietnam of aping communist China in violating international norms to televise forced confessions of human rights activists and political prisoners.

Madrid-based Safeguard Defenders identified 21 people since 2007 who were forced to confess on television.

The Spanish organization in its report, "Coerced on Camera: Televised Confessions in Vietnam," claimed to have unearthed videos of 16 confessions from human rights activists, lawyers, citizen journalists and villagers protesting against land grabs.

The actual number is likely to be higher, the group said in a statement.

Just as in China, victims in Vietnam are framed in crimes of anti-state or anti-party activities, said Safeguard Defenders, known for its landmark report on China's forced televised confessions in 2018.

The group's director Nguyen Quoc Ngu told Radio Free Asia that the report aims to tell governments across the world that they have ignored rights violations in Vietnam.

Compared with tech-savvy China, Hanoi's forced-confession broadcasts are less sophisticated. However, authoritarian Vietnam has started raising its game in recent years, it claimed.

The confession news packages have become more elaborate since 2017, the rights group said.

As an example of a more slick confession video in 2018, the rights group took the case of William Nguyen, a US citizen of Vietnamese descent.

"He was shown carefully framed against a blue background and an attempt was made to make it seem natural and not a simple police questioning session," it said.

Nguyen, a graduate student from Houston, Texas, was charged with "disturbing public order" for attending protests.

During the forced confession, he admitted to violating the law, blocking traffic and causing trouble for commuters. The 32-year-old also made a promise: "I will not join any anti-state activities anymore."

In an interview with a Prague-based journal in October 2019, Nguyen recalled the incident: "They styled my hair and had me sit down in front of the camera — we did around five takes until I read the script convincingly enough."

This year Vietnamese state television aired the confessions of family members of a community leader after police shot him dead during a land protest in January near capital Hanoi. Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot on Jan. 9 at his home in Dong Tam's Hoanh village.

The Safeguard Defenders report said that on Jan. 13, four people — Kinh's son, grandson, adopted daughter and another male relative — appeared on state television. Their faces had bruises and cuts. All four admitted to being part of the violence, said the report.

"The case is an extremely sensitive one for the party and it was at pains to urgently control the narrative," said the rights group.

Forced confessions violate national laws and go against articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam inked in 1982, Ngu said.

The rights group said it wants to raise the issue at international level.

Since 1975, the Communist Party has ruled Vietnam. Human rights groups say there are more than 200 political prisoners, many on bogus anti-state charges, in Vietnam.

In 2019, authorities convicted at least 25 people in politically motivated cases, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2020.

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