Petitioners calling for help from Vietnam’s government in resolving complaints over land grabs and other injustices have been detained in advance of a major Communist Party Congress beginning in the capital Hanoi on Monday, sources say.
Independent journalists and other democracy advocates are also being kept under surveillance by police as Party meetings get under way.
The detentions of petitioners came as authorities in Hanoi continued to tighten security in the city ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s 13th National Congress, a meeting held every five years to select top leaders and approve economic policies for the next five years, and scheduled to run this year from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2.
City authorities on Jan. 21 directed officials to resolve outstanding cases of petitioner complaints at Hanoi’s central office, calling on police at the same time to disperse large public gatherings likely to cause security problems during the politically sensitive event.
Police have now rounded up large numbers of petitioners in Hanoi, sending many out of the city and back to their home areas, petitioner Nguyen Truong Chinh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday as the Congress got under way.
“The petitioners are either victims of land grabs or loss of property or other kinds of injustice,” Nguyen, the father of Nguyen Van Chuong—a death-row inmate widely believed to have been wrongly convicted—told RFA, adding, “They have formed themselves into groups to help each other in times of sickness or of physical harassment and arrest.”
“We do not protest against the state,” he said.
“I began to call for justice in my son’s case in 2007, and in 2014 I came to petition in Hanoi.”
“Since then, every month, I have sent two petitions to the Supreme Procuracy and the Supreme Court, and four petitions to the National Assembly Inspectorate, the People’s Committee, the State President, and the Communist Party’s Central Committee of Internal Affairs,” he said.
Nguyen said he had stayed in Hanoi last month for about a week, and now intends to go back as soon as he can. “But the police have watched me closely and have even phoned to ask about my health,” he said.
“It’s likely they will be harsh because of the Party Congress, but for the sake of petitioning about my son’s case, I cannot stop,” he said.
‘Still they silence us’
“We have petitioned peacefully for 10 years already,” said a land petitioner from Hanoi’s Duong Noi township named Lan, adding that she and other petitioners from her township are careful not to incite disturbances or call on others to support them.
“The authorities confiscated our land in Duong Noi in 2007 and 2008. We follow all the legal stipulations for submitting petitions to all levels of authority, and recently we came to ask for help at the People’s Reception House in Hanoi.
“They said they would allow only one in every group of five to come in, but we didn’t agree to this. How could just one person speak for all the cases of the others?” she said.
“We are elderly and use appropriate language. We don’t shout,” added a woman named Huong from central Vietnam’s coastal Binh Dinh province. “We have petitioned peacefully, but still they silence us. They have not settled my case, so I will have to go back to Hanoi again,” she said.
Police in Hanoi have meanwhile kept a close watch on democracy advocates and independent journalists, with one activist named Dinh Duc Long on Jan. 23 posting on his Facebook page a photo of a group of men he said had surveilled his house around the clock.
Dinh said that he had called local police to complain, but no one had responded.
“In terms of the law, if we leave our house and they try to prevent us from going out, this is a violation of the law. But if they only watch, that’s just their job,” he said. “I haven’t seen any court orders or warrants. They just watch to see what I do.”
“These are just warnings, mainly as a form of deterrence,” he said.
‘This focus is all wrong’
Independent journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh also posted a photo of unidentified men watching his house, saying, “They sit in front of my house, impolitely pointing their camera at my friends and visitors who come to see me, so I feel that I can post a photo of their faces on Facebook.”
“They started to watch my house in four shifts around the clock starting within 10 days of the Party Congress, and there are thousands of others who are under this kind of close watch around the country.”
“In my opinion, this focus on public security is all wrong,” added an activist named Tran Bang. “The security forces should instead be guarding the country against foreign invasion and the forces that harm the state and the people’s interests.”
“We do good things for the state, like protesting against China’s aggressions against Vietnam’s islands [in the South China Sea]. This kind of activity protects people’s interests and help them know that China’s nine-dash-line [claiming almost all of the South China Sea] is illegal,” he said.
A preliminary session of the 13th Communist Party Congress meanwhile opened on Monday attended by 1,587 delegates from around the country, among them two senior leaders—Hoang Trung Hai and Nguyen Van Binh–previously disciplined following accusations of mismanagement, state media sources said.
Hoang, aged 62 and a member of the Party’s politburo since 2011, was reprimanded on Jan. 10, 2020, for what were described as serious wrongdoings in directing the implementation of the second phase of the Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel Corporation, “causing public concern and badly affecting the Party’s prestige,” state media said.
Nguyen Van Binh, the head of the Party Central Committee’s economic commission was reprimanded by the politburo for mistakes made during the time he served as governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, media sources said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.