Plainclothes “thugs” suspected of having links to the Vietnamese government have attacked dozens of dissidents since 2015 in a bid to silence critics in the one-party state, Human Rights Watch and advocates said.
Freedom of expression is severely restricted in communist Vietnam, where independent media are banned and dissidents are routinely thrown in jail.
The government also has a long history of harassing bloggers and advocates, with awareness of violent attacks growing in recent years as dissidents turn to social media to share accounts of bloody wounds and bruised limbs.
In a new report yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) described 36 incidents of physical assault on dissidents by men in civilian clothing across Vietnam between January 2015 and April.
“While the precise links between the thugs and the government are usually impossible to pin down, in a tightly controlled police state there is little or no doubt that they are aligned with and serving at the behest of state security services,” the report said.
In many cases, the violence took place publicly in the presence of uniformed police officers who did not intervene, it added.
“The fact that thugs abducted activists in broad daylight, forced them into vans and beat them demonstrates the impunity with which activists are persecuted,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said.
The US Department of State and other rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have previously reported harassment and abuse by plainclothes police.
The Vietnamese government did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
Dissident La Viet Dung told reporters he was attacked by six men in July last year after playing a soccer match with other activists in Hanoi.
He was smashed in the face with a brick and still bears a scar above his eye today.
“The attacks on me and others came from plainclothes men,” the 42-year-old software developer said.
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