The European Union has a real opportunity to pressure Vietnam’s leaderson human rights, say activists, when the European Parliament discusses the Communist authorities’ rights violations on April 18. The United States this week expressed concern after Vietnamese officials barred two activists from meeting a US representative in Hanoi for talks on human rights.
US officials had invited pro-democracy campaigner Pham Hong Son and human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, both former political prisoners, to talks with State Department official Dan Baer.
But Baer was able to meet in prison with one of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents, the outspoken Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
The Communist authorities are also stepping up intimidation of the Unified Buddhist Church, which was outlawed in the early 1980s for refusing to join the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church, a US Congressional hearing (above) was told last week.
“I call upon Congress and the State Department to look behind Hanoi’s mask, beyond the veneer of state-sponsored freedom of worship, and recognize the full extent of religious repression,” he told the hearing in the U.S. Congress on “Highlighting Vietnamese Government Human Rights Violations in Advance of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue.”
Other witnesses testified on issues of human trafficking and abuses against Christian Montagnards, Catholics and other religious communities.
Vietnam has imprisoned at least 40 dissidents so far this year, matching the 2012 total, Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director John Sifton told the hearing.
“The fact is that a growing number of dissidents—including religious leaders, bloggers, and politically active people—are being convicted and sent to jail for violations of Vietnam’s authoritarian penal code,” he said.
The latest crackdown on dissidents indicated that the Communist authorities are especially anxious to prevent the politicization of recent rural protests that could arise from an alliance with largely urban-based dissidents such as Buddhist youth leader Le Cong Cau (below) or human rights activist Le Quoc Quan (right).
Front Line Defenders reports that on 24 April 2013, the appeal trial of Messrs Ho Duc Hoa, Thai Van Dung, Paulus Le Son, Nguyen Xuan Anh, Tran Minh Nhat, Nguyen Dinh Cuong, Ho Van Oanh and Nguyen Van Duyet will start in Vinh city, in the province of Nghe An on the north central Vietnamese coast. The human rights defenders are part of a larger group of seventeen human rights defenders who were arrested between 30 July and 16 August 2011.
In a further blow to dissident voices, the anti-censorship NGO Article 19 warns that proposed amendments to the 1992 Constitution for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Draft Constitution) fail to protect fundamental human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression and information.
Freedom of expression will be at the top of the agenda on Thursday, April 18, when the European Parliament discusses Vietnam’s human rights in a plenary session, writes Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Over the weekend, CPJ’s Brussels-based Senior Adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz blogged about the issues the parliament must confront in Le Soir [citing Democracy Digest coverage of the issue]:
Marthoz argues that because Vietnam has met with economic success and because its prolonged fight for independence drew international empathy, the country’s human rights policies have not been subject to appropriate criticism and scrutiny from European Union members.
He frequently cites Shawn Crispin’s September 2012 special report for CPJ, “Vietnam’s press freedom shrinks despite open economy.” Crispin has been writing consistently on Vietnam (and the rest of Southeast Asia) for almost a decade for CPJ. His most recent work includes a chapterin the 2013 edition of Attacks on the Press focused on Internet censorship in three Asia countries, particularly Vietnam, and news alerts on the case of Le Anh Hung as well as on the harsh sentencing in January of five bloggers.
The European Parliament has a real opportunity to pressure Vietnam’s leaders into stepping back from their harsh anti-media stance–one that has hardened since 2009, Crispin says. Like China, Vietnam in its drive to modernize has invested heavily in developing its digital communications network. Yet CPJ ranked Vietnam as the 6th worst place to be a blogger in 2009.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group