(Washington) – The United States government should consider new ways to pressure Vietnam on human rights issues in the wake of a worsening crackdown on dissent in the last year, Human Rights Watch said today. In Washington, DC, the US Congress launched two days of hearings on Vietnam before separate panels in the House of Representatives.
Obama administration officials are testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 5. Human Rights Watch urged the committee to take action on Vietnam’s deteriorating rights situation.
“The trend-lines show a worsening situation in Vietnam,” said John Sifton, Asia Advocacy director. “In the first few months of 2013, more people have been convicted in political trials than in the whole of last year.”
Vietnam’s authoritarian penal code prohibits public criticism of the government and the Vietnam Communist Party. In 2012, at least 40 people are known to have been convicted and sentenced to prison for peaceful dissent, an increase from the number in 2011, which itself was an increase from an even lower figure in 2010. In the first five months of this year, more than 50 people were convicted in political trials, more than matching the total for 2012.
Human Rights Watch provided new information on the recent May 16 convictions of two activists, Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha, sentenced to 6 years and 8 years in prison for handing out pamphlets, and also noted the May 26 arrest of blogger Truong Duy Nhat and the May 28 conviction of eight ethnic Montagnards first arrested in June 2012, most of whom received sentences from 7 to 11 years in prison.
Human Rights Watch also highlighted a May 5 crackdown in four cities in which police broke up peaceful “human rights picnics” at which young bloggers and activists were disseminating and discussing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents. Police also violently broke up anti-China protests in Hanoi on June 2, arresting over a dozen people.
In a testimony, Sifton discussed the US administration’s belief that current dialogues on military strategic partnership and trade negotiations might serve as an incentive for Vietnam to make changes and improve its record on human rights. Human Rights Watch suggested that the method was not working.
“It is time for the United States government to see things for what they are,” Sifton said. “Vietnamese authorities have not unclenched their fists.”
Human Rights Watch urged the US government to consider suspending its trade negotiations with Vietnam unless major improvements in the rights situation occur, and begin reviewing and possibly cutting the scope of engagement with the Vietnamese military.