Books published by Liberal Publishing House are banned by the government. (Photo courtesy of Liberal Publishing House)
International rights groups have called on Vietnam to end its intimidation and harassment of an independent publishing house which promotes political issues banned by the government.
The groups said that in recent weeks police have harassed and intimidated dozens of people connected to Liberal Publishing House, a local independent publisher that has produced books on public policy and political thought in Vietnam, in what appears to be a targeted campaign.
They said the persecution had taken place in the major cities of Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City as well as in four provinces. The victims are believed to have bought or read banned books from the publisher or worked for it.
Victims were summoned to local police stations, where they were interrogated about their books and forced to promise that they would not buy any more books from the country’s only independent publisher, which was established in February.
In one case, on Oct. 15 in Ho Chi Minh City, a man was detained for more than 12 hours and allegedly tortured and beaten until his nose bled. He was forced to confess to working for the publishing house, which prints books written by human rights activists. After being released, he has gone into hiding, fearful of re-arrest.
On Oct. 23-24, police in Phu Yen province searched another man’s house and confiscated “banned books.”Early in November, a former part-time employee went into hiding after police asked his new employer to inform them when he next turned up for work.
“This crackdown has further exacerbated the prevailing climate of fear in Vietnam, where the authorities severely restrict the right to freedom of expression and where people face arrest and imprisonment simply for voicing their opinions,” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Nov. 27.
They urged the government to “immediately stop this campaign of intimidation and harassment and allow the Liberal Publishing House and those associated with it to exercise their right to freedom of expression.”The government, they said, should start a thorough, independent and effective investigation into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police.
A bond with Hong Kong
On Nov. 25, Pham Doan Trang, author of three books published by Liberal Publishing House, said e-copies of one of them, Cam Nang Nuoi Tu (A Handbook for Families of Prisoners), was being made available free of charge.
Trang said the publisher had initiated a campaign called “Let’s help Hong Kong in our own way” and advised people: “Express your love and respect for Hong Kong, express your anger for the Chinazis and the dark side. You can write a poem (or several) or an essay describing your feelings, to urge the world to speak up and act in the name of Hong Kong.”
She said the publisher, whose mission was to promote human rights and freedom of information in Vietnam by printing and publishing books without censorship from the government, would compile them into a special publication titled Hong Kong — Life and Love.
It will be published in both English and Vietnamese and will be delivered to Hong Kong to express the unity that freedom-loving Vietnamese share with the people of Hong Kong.
“The future of democracy in Hong Kong is the future of democracy in Vietnam,” Trang said.