Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, January 16, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Tokyo) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should pressure Vietnam to immediately end its crackdown on peaceful activists and improve its severely deteriorating rights record, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang will visit Japan from May 29 to June 2, 2018.

“Vietnam’s government remains one of the most repressive in the world,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director. “As the largest bilateral donor to Vietnam, Japan has both the opportunity and the obligation to speak out about Vietnam’s abuses against its own citizens.”

In a May 25 letter, Human Rights Watch urged Abe to raise concerns about Vietnam’s strict limits on freedoms of speech and assembly, restrictions on religious groups and trade unions, and jailing of dissidents.

The letter notes that Vietnam “restricts basic freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and religion. It owns and controls all media in the country and censors the internet. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) monopolizes the leadership of all public institutions and uses them to maintain its hold on power. Since it came to power in 1954, it has never allowed free and fair elections. There are no real democratic processes in Vietnam; its National Assembly is almost entirely comprised of CPV members selected by the party itself. The courts and all ministries are under CPV control. Independent trade unions are prohibited, and social organizations, religious groups, and civil society are tightly regulated.”

Vietnam has intensified its crackdown on human rights activism in recent months. In 2017 alone, authorities arrested at least 41 rights advocates and bloggers for joining protests or other events or publishing articles critical of the government. During the first five months of 2018, Vietnamese Communist Party-controlled courts prosecuted at least 26 rights defenders; several were sentenced to over ten years in prison. Victims of Vietnam’s renewed effort to silence critics include prominent activists Nguyen Van Dai, Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Hoang Duc Binh, Tran Hoang Phuc, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Mother Mushroom), Tran Thi Nga, Bui Van Trung, and many others.

In the letter to Abe, Human Rights Watch lists 140 people currently imprisoned in Vietnam for expressing critical views of the government, taking part in peaceful protests, participating in unregistered religious groups, or joining dissident civil or political organizations. The overall number of known political prisoners appears to have grown in recent years.

“Prime Minister Abe should be publicly voicing support for Vietnam’s brave human rights advocates and urging Vietnam to release those who have been imprisoned for standing up for their rights,” Doi said. “Remaining silent about Vietnam’s abuses only emboldens the government to continue its crackdown.”