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The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Geneva Bar Association condemn the reported abuse of Covid-19 quarantine measures against a human rights defender in the Quảng Bình Province of Vietnam. On returning to the country on 26 March 2020, Trương Thị Hà was quarantined alongside other travellers as part of the Vietnamese government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. During this isolation period, authorities reportedly confiscated her personal belongings, including her passport, citizenship ID card, driver’s license, student ID card, Thai work permit, diary, notebook, five SIM cards and two mobile phones, leaving her without means of communication.
A Vietnamese law student and active promoter of human rights, Ms Hà has previously faced disproportionate treatment by the authorities. In June 2018, she was detained following her involvement in peaceful protests by Vietnamese citizens against legislation intended to silence activists online.
IBA President, Horacio Bernardes Neto, commented: ‘Whilst certain measures, such as the quarantine of those returning from abroad, are necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19, it is certainly not required to inflict undue suffering. The IBA is committed to defending lawyers, as well as law students, at risk and ensuring the rule of law is upheld during this global pandemic. The use of quarantine restrictions to exercise additional pressure on lawyers and law students is deeply troubling.’
During her time in quarantine detention, Ms Hà was ‘interviewed’ twice by border patrol officers and public security agents of Vietnam’s Quảng Bình Province. Following the confiscation of her mobile phones, the patrol officers repeatedly told others in quarantine not to lend her their own communication devices. An individual who ignored this instruction was subsequently interrogated by the public security police.
IBAHRI Co-Chair, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, stated: ‘The IBAHRI understands and commends the precautions taken by the Vietnamese authorities to prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, preventing Trương Thị Hà; from communicating with anybody outside of the quarantine unit is an abuse of power and violation of a basic human right. The IBAHRI has repeatedly stressed the importance of access to information and recourse to communication during this global crisis. The removal of Ms Hà’s personal mobile phones is far from a necessary precaution with regard to Covid-19; rather, it appears to be penalisation for her important activities defending human rights and the freedom of assembly.’
After testing negative for Covid-19 while in quarantine, Ms Hà was released and allowed to return home on 13 April.
IBAHRI Co-Chair, Anne Ramberg AC CMG, commented: ‘Measures enacted by governments during the Covid-19 pandemic should not be a means for the authorities to intimidate or monitor human rights defenders. The Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provision in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that measures taken should be “the least intrusive and restrictive available to reach the objective”. The removal of Ms Trương Thị Hà’s personal documents and mobile phones are deliberately intrusive and restrictive actions, in direct contravention the Siracuasa Principles.’
Notes to the Editor
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