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Viet Nam: UN rights experts urge release of activists jailed for protesting toxic spill

GENEVA (23 February 2018) – UN human rights experts* have called for the release of individuals jailed for writing about and reacting to a discharge of toxic industrial chemicals into coastal waters of Viet Nam. 

On 6 February 2018, a court in the central province of Nghe An, Viet Nam, sentenced Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years in prison for blogging about protests regarding the Formosa “marine life” disaster. Also, Nguyen Nam Phong, a victim of the pollution disaster, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly refusing to obey orders of public officials while driving to a protest. 

“Imprisoning bloggers and activists for their legitimate work raising public awareness on environmental and public health concerns is unacceptable,” said Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Hazardous Substances and Wastes. 

“We call on the authorities to release Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong who were detained following their efforts to raise awareness and ensure accountability in relation to the spill of the Formosa Steel plant. Authorities must ensure that Viet Nam’s rapid economic expansion does not come at the expense of human rights, in particular those of local communities and workers.” 

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said he was deeply concerned by the increasing number of arrests and the detention of rights activists and journalists covering issues of public relevance in Viet Nam. 

Last year, the blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, widely known as "Me Nam” (Mother Mushroom), was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her activities online including her reporting on a protest following the industrial toxic spill in Formosa. 

The blogger Nguyen Van Hoa also received a seven-year sentence last November for the same reason. 

“These convictions not only violate the rights to freedom of expression of these individuals but also undermine the rights of everyone in Viet Nam to receive vital information on toxic pollution and to debate the best remedy for it and ultimately to hold those responsible for the disaster accountable,” said Kaye.   

The April 2016 Formosa “marine life” disaster involved the discharge of cyanide, phenol, and other toxic waste into the ocean by a steel mill built by Taiwan’s Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation. The spill reportedly polluted more than 200 km of local waters, killing a large number of fish affecting tens of thousands of livelihoods. The spill sparked numerous protests demanding accountability for the damage caused. 

UN experts have previously urged the Government of Viet Nam to release other bloggers and activists in other cases related to the Formosa spill. The experts concluded noting that they communicated their concerns to the Vietnamese authorities and remain ready to visit the country in order to further their understanding on this case.  

ENDS

(*) Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes,  Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.  

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org or contact Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 94 31, mdaher@ohchr.org) or Alvin Gachie (+41 22 917 99 71 agachie@ohchr.org).

UN Human Rights, country page: Vietnam

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org