Viet Nam – lift retaliatory travel restrictions on human rights defender

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The International Commission of Jurists today called on the government of Viet Nam to immediately return human rights defender Pham Chi Dung’s passport so he can travel to the United States to testify before Congress later this month.

Representatives Loretta Sanchez and Zoe Lofgren have invited Pham Chi Dung to testify before the US. Congress about media freedom on 29 April 2014. He’s also scheduled to speak at a seminar of non-governmental organizations in Washington D.C. on 1 May 2014 called “Towards a Free Media in Viet Nam.”

However, he will be unable to travel unless the authorities return his passport.

Pham Chi Dung’s passport was taken from him at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City on 1 February 2014, preventing him from travelling to Geneva, Switzerland to attend a human rights meeting, being held on the margins of a session of a body of the UN Human Rights Council that was going to examine Viet Nam’s human rights record.

Vietnamese authorities had alleged that “hostile forces” were using the Geneva event, linked to the 18th Session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group of the Human Rights Council, at which Pham Chi Dung had been invited and intended to speak, to “defame’’ the government of Viet Nam.

According to information available to the ICJ, Pham Chi Dung submitted a complaint to the Prime Minister of Viet Nam, copying the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Public Security.   The complaint was reportedly forwarded to the Director of Immigration Management Department for further investigation, but no substantive action appears to have been taken yet.

“The continued withholding of Pham Chi Dung’s passport is a serious violation of his rights,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director.  “It is alarming that the Government of Viet Nam is prepared to go to these lengths to intimidate human rights defenders like Pham Chi Dung in an attempt to prevent them from sharing information about Viet Nam’s human rights situation with the rest of the world.”

As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the authorities of Viet Nam are required to respect Pham Chi Dung’s right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly, clarifies that all people have the right to form opinions and discuss and draw attention to the observance of human rights.

It also clarifies that States have a duty to ensure that human rights defenders are protected from reprisals from the legitimate exercise of their rights to speak out about human rights.

In October 2013, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on all Member States to ensure accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal against those who seek to cooperate with the United Nations and its mechanisms.

“As a member of the Human Rights Council, the Government of Viet Nam has the obligation to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” said Mr. Zarifi. “Viet Nam must take concrete steps to show that it is serious about its human rights commitments.”

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