The International Publishers Association (IPA) has co-signed a statement from human rights bodies including Amnesty International and PEN America calling on Vietnamese authorities to cease their crackdown on independent media and those who express dissent. It asks that they protect and promote the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and information, in line with Viet Nam’s obligations under international law.

The IPA is concerned about an escalating crackdown on independent media and peaceful dissent ahead of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s next Congress in early 2021. The situation has already seen the Vietnamese publisher and journalist Pham Doan Trang – who received the IPA’s Prix Voltaire last month, the body’s ‘freedom to publish’ prize – forced to step down from her position at Liberal Publishing House to try and protect staff.

The statement notes that Trang, an internationally-recognized author ‘who is being targeted solely on the basis of peacefully and legitimately exercising her right to freedom of expression. On 24 June, Viet Nam’s Ministry of Public Security explicitly referred to Pham Doan Trang’s written works as “anti-state propaganda,” and on 10 July, she was forced to dissociate from Liberal Publishing House in order to preserve the safety of its members. She is currently in hiding, and her risk of arrest remains extremely high’.

Trang told Radio Free Asia that police have been abducting, detaining and abusing people associated with the publisher. “We only publish books, but Vietnamese authorities call it a crime and have directly confronted us, using force and causing much damage.”

She said that one employee, Phang Thuy, was abducted and beaten by authorities in May and is now almost disabled. “He cannot move his hands or feet, and he shows signs of kidney failure and stomach bleeding, she said.

The statement continues: ‘While the Vietnamese government has been widely lauded for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with higher international standing comes greater obligations: Viet Nam must improve its appalling human rights record.  Now is the prime opportunity for Viet Nam to grow.

‘We are particularly troubled by the arrests of at least 11 prisoners of conscience that have taken place in June 2020, including Le Huu Minh Tuan, one of the youngest members of Viet Nam’s Independent Journalists Association. Behind bars.  He joins the organization’s vice president Nguyen Tuong Thuy and prominent former member Pham Chi Thanh, who were both arrested in May 2020, and the organization’s president Pham Chi Dung, who was arrested in November 2019.’

According to state media, all the individuals named above are being held under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code for “making, storing, and spreading information, materials, and items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam,” which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

The statement conclues: ‘These arrests represent a further grave escalation in the Vietnamese government’s longstanding intolerance for dissent and its harassment of human rights defenders, activists, and journalists. Independent media and civil society groups — including the Liberal Publishing House and the Independent Journalists Association — have been under sustained crackdown since the end of 2019, further imperilling the environment for free expression in Viet Nam….The world is now expecting better of Vietnam – it is time the country moves beyond repression.’