Vietnam Using Absurd Laws to Imprison Dissident Bloggers

VIETNAMFREEMEDIAVietnam should drop all charges and immediately release bloggers Nguyen Quang Lap and Hong Le Tho, who were arrested for operating independent blogs, Human Rights Watch said today:

Nguyen Quang Lap was arrested on December 6, 2014, and Hong Le Tho was arrested on November 29 in Ho Chi Minh City. Both were charged with “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state” under article 258 of the penal code. In 2014, Vietnam has used article 258 to convict at least 10 rights advocates and arrest 4 bloggers…..

Nguyen Quang Lap and Hong Le Tho are not the only bloggers who have been arrested and charged with article 258 this year. Other victims of this ongoing crackdown include Nguyen Huu Vinh (known as Anh Ba Sam) and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, both arrested in May 2014. In November, the B14 Detention Center in Hanoi refused to allow defense lawyer Ha Huy Son to meet with his client Nguyen Huu Vinh, and defense lawyer Nguyen Tien Dung to meet his client Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In December, the Procuracy office informed Ha Huy Son that the case has been sent back to the police investigation bureau for supplemental investigation.

“There can hardly be a more insidious legal provision than one that criminalizes ‘abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the interests of the state,’” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These charges are even more preposterous from a government that is not democratic and doesn’t respect individual freedom.”

“Efforts to silence bloggers make a mockery of Vietnam’s commitments to the United Nations when it stood for election to the Human Rights Council,” Adams said. “The Vietnamese government looks like little more than a bully at home and abroad when it persecutes people who do nothing more than express their opinions.” RTWT

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Combating Violence Against Women in South Sudan

zainab banguraSince the outbreak of violence in South Sudan last December, ethnic fighting has engulfed the country, leading to the deaths of at least 10,000 civilians, the displacement of two million more, and massive scales of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). The fighting, which started in Juba but quickly swept through the entire north of the country, forced families to flee their homes and head for UN military bases to seek safety. Many women were attacked and raped while fleeing; yet even within the UN military bases, women are still not safe. Recent reports have shown that violence against women remains a massive problem in South Sudan’s internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.  

Political negotiations between the armed factions of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar have largely ignored the issue of violence against women. Civil society groups have complained that women are not adequately represented at the negotiations taking place in Addis Ababa. As victims of the ethnic conflict and as peacebuilders within their communities, women have a role to play in resolving South Sudan’s current crisis.

Event panelists will discuss the ongoing problem of SGBV in South Sudan, and explore how to incorporate the voice of women in the political peace process and combat this greater trend of conflict-related violence against women. The panelists will also draw comparisons to sexual violence in neighboring countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan.

Combating Violence Against

Women in South Sudan

 December 16


at the

National Endowment for Democracy

1025 F St NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC


Zainab Bangura (above)

Special Representative of the United Nations

Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Ambassador Susan Page

Former Ambassador to South Sudan

Ambassador Princeton Lyman

Former Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan

Natalina Malwal

Civil Society and Women’s Rights Activist

moderated by

Dave Peterson

Senior Director for Africa, National Endowment for Democracy


RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Friday, December 12


Livestream of the event will be available here.

Twitter: Follow @ThinkDemocracy and use #NEDEvents to join the conversation.

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The Russian oligarch myth

Giving up any pretense of independent political action has remained a condition for staying wealthy and safe in Russia, Masha Gessen writes for The NY Times:

When the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov tried, and rather modestly, to test this condition by reshaping an essentially pro-Kremlin but populist political party three years ago, he was yanked back harshly. Faced with the threat of losing his assets, he then fell back into line. In the new era of economic hardship, he has stayed in line: In his most recent demonstration of loyalty to the Kremlin, a media company Prokhorov owns has just kicked the tiny, embattled independent television company Dozhd (Rain) TV out of a temporary studio on its property.


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Venezuela loses faith in ‘rent-seeking’ government

vzla chavez maduroThere is growing public disaffection in Venezuela with President Nicolas Maduro’s government as oil prices have slid 40 per cent since June, Andres Schipani and John Paul Rathbone report for the FT:

Maduro continues to stall on the reforms the Opec country needs to shepherd itself through the oil price collapse and stave off default on its hard currency bonds, the highest-yielding among sovereign borrowers…..Removing a domestic petrol subsidy, as Indonesia has done, would save the government $12bn a year, economists estimate, equivalent to 6 per cent of economic output or a third of the fiscal deficit.

But that would counter the interests of government insiders, such as senior military officers, who analysts say continue to support the government and for whom cheap petrol allegedly fuels a contraband trade worth some $4bn a year.

“A serious economic adjustment needs a sincere economy...but for the government’s power groups the possibility of becoming millionaires is just too enormous,” says Mercedes de Freitas, head of the local chapter of Transparency International, which ranks Venezuela near the bottom of its corruption index.

“There are tremendous arbitrage opportunities,” says Felipe Pérez Martí, planning minister under former president Hugo Chávez. “The scheme favoring government rent-seekers has been cemented.”



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Cuba detains dissidents, ‘uses religion for politics’

CubaCuban police detained peaceful demonstrators at a busy Havana square on Wednesday, shoving dissidents into squad cars in front of onlookers on International Human Rights Day, Reuters reports:

Police snatched demonstrators intermittently as they arrived individually or in small groups over some 90 minutes. The skirmishes briefly disrupted traffic outside the popular Coppelia ice cream shop, providing a spectacle for onlookers waiting for the bus or in line at the cinema. One dissident leader estimated that dozens were detained in similar actions across Cuba. ….Officers grabbed demonstrators who chanted “Freedom!” and “Long live human rights!” or held up their index finger and thumb to form an “L” for “liberty.”….

cubayoaniThe official human rights day carnival was planned for days, months, dissident Yoani Sanchez writes from Havana:

The “corps de ballet” would consist of workers and students – taken from their workplaces and teachers – to occupy the site chosen by the activists. There would be no lack of food kiosks and some provincial towns added huge trucks dispensing beer because, in our case, instead of bread and circuses, the formula is alcohol and repression.

cuba ladies in whiteAmong those detained were 16 members of the Ladies in White opposition group made up of the wives and mothers of jailed dissidents, AFP adds.

The recent news that St. Lawrence Church of Tampa won permission from the Cuban government to start building the first new Catholic Church in Cuba since it embraced Communism in 1959 has many hoping for more religious freedom in the island nation. But an outspoken religious leader who lives in Cuba advised people against getting their hopes up, The Tampa Tribune’s Paul Guzzo reports:

“Cuba uses religion to further politics,” said Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, a Baptist pastor of Ebenezer Church in Taguayabon, Cuba.

The Cuban government, Lleonart Barroso said, forces religious leaders to propagate its own message — that Communism works in the best interests of the people — along with the word of God. Religious leaders who say otherwise risk losing their churches…..According a 2014 report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal commission, the Cuban government has outlawed individual churches from opening bank accounts. Rather, accounts are restricted to one per denomination nationwide. This way, if one church leader gets out of line the entire denomination can be punished — forcing them to police from within.

“The government picks and chooses which religious groups and freedoms to tolerate and at times co-opt based on politics, but otherwise does not accept inalienable freedom of religion as a fundamental right,” said Ted Henken, associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York and author of the book “Cuba: Nations in Focus.”

Lleonart Barroso said he has been detained more than once.

“Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart and his family are under constant harassment by Cuban State Security,” said Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, editor of “Voces,” a magazine critical of the Cuban government. “They have been threatened and arrested temporarily without any charges just as a way of intimidation and coercing them to go to exile.”

One man tossed fliers into the street as he was detained during Wednesday’s protests.

Police scooped them up, refusing to provide a copy to Reuters. Another man quietly told Reuters in English, “Don’t worry, this country will be free very soon. These people are very bad, the communists.” He was then grabbed by police and hauled away in a squad car.

“Certainly there will have been dozens [of detentions] across the country today, mostly in the capital, but it’s still too early to say,” said Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

“I am a patriot who wants all rights for Cuba without any restrictions,” blogger Agustin Lopez told reporters while police removed him from the demonstration.

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