This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Vietnam is adopting the techniques of fellow Communist state China when it comes to televising forced confessions of human rights advocates and other political prisoners, a Spain-based rights NGO said in a report on Wednesday.
In the report “Coerced on Camera: Televised Confessions in Vietnam,” the NGO Safeguard Defenders identified 21 people since 2007 who had been forced by authorities to confess on TV, and found videos for 16 of them.
Of the 16, 14 were human rights defenders — rights lawyers, citizen journalists, villagers protesting against land grabs – while one was a state oil executive accused of corruption and another was a farmer charged with murder.
“That number is likely much much higher,” the group said in a statement.
“Vietnam’s poor human rights record makes it more than likely that many of these victims are also routinely exposed to arbitrary detention, mental and physical torture and threats,” it said.
“Like China, some of Vietnam’s victims are made to frame their crimes as being anti-state or anti-Party, a reflection of how authoritarian countries criminalize dissenting or critical voices,” said the group, which in 2018 produced a landmark report on China’s televised forced confessions.
“Like China, Vietnamese victims confessed to anti-State crimes and thanked the authorities for showing them the error of their ways,” it said.
The report noted that Hanoi’s forced-confession broadcasts have long been less sophisticated than those of Beijing, but said Vietnamese authorities have started raising their game in recent years.
“Starting in 2017, the confession news packages appear to become more elaborate,” it said.
Family members forced to confess in murder case
Among examples of the more slick confession videos, it said, was that of William Nguyen, a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese descent and the only foreigner subject to the practice.
“He was shown carefully framed against a blue background and an attempt was made to make it seem natural and not a simple police questioning session,” they said of Nguyen’s confession in 2018, when the graduate student from Houston, Texas, found guilty of “disturbing public order” for taking part in rare, large-scale protests and then deported to the United States.
This year, Vietnamese state television went even further in showing the confessions of family members of elderly community leader killed by Vietnamese police during a land protest outside Hanoi in January.
Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed on Jan. 9 by police who attacked his home in Dong Tam’s Hoanh village in an early morning assault that involved about 3,000 security officers from the police and armed forces.
“On 13 January, just four days after the attack, four villagers, including Kinh’s son, grandson, adopted daughter and another male relative, appeared on state broadcaster VTV1 to confess to taking part in the violence. Their faces were bruised and cut. All four were accused of murder,” the report said.
“The case is an extremely sensitive one for the Party and clearly it was at pains to urgently control the narrative,” said Safeguard Defenders.
“This explains why four coerced confessions were aired–an unusually high number–and the sensitive story was reported at length in an effort to persuade the public, many of whom may also have felt sympathetic towards the villagers,” it said.
In an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday, Safeguard Defenders Director Nguyen Quoc Ngu said the report aims to “remind many different countries that they have ignored human right abuses in Vietnam.”
“Safeguard Defenders wants to raise concern from international organizations about this issue, hoping that they will call on Hanoi to end human rights abuses and comply with the signed international commitments,” he said.
Televised forced confessions violate Vietnamese laws under the 2015 Penal Code forbidding extortion of confessions and also go against articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam signed in 1982, Ngu said.
“We need voices to pressure the Vietnamese Communist Party to comply with laws and international commitments,” added Ngu.