United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Hanoi on April 14 to mark the 10th anniversary of the US-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. He should take the opportunity to both publicly and privately urge Vietnam’s leadership to end its systemic abuse of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and release the more than 160 political prisoners imprisoned for exercising their rights.
Blinken should make a special appeal for the immediate and unconditional release of blogger Pham Doan Trang, the recipient of the 2022 State Department International Women of Courage Award, who Blinken has pledged to defend.
The Vietnamese government’s human rights record has deteriorated in recent years, with almost all prominent bloggers, citizen journalists, and rights activists arrested and imprisoned for expressing views the authorities did not agree with. Just weeks before Blinken’s visit, Communist Party-controlled courts convicted and sentenced both land rights activist Truong Van Dung and blogger Nguyen Lan Thang to six years in prison.
The circle of activists subject to arbitrary arrest appears to be expanding. In 2022, courts convicted and imprisoned journalist Mai Phan Loi, environmental lawyer Dang Dinh Bach, and environmental defender Nguy Thi Khanh on politically motivated charges of alleged tax evasion. Nguy Thi Khanh is a 2018 winner of the internationally prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, honoring grassroots environmental activists. Police also arrested activists Hoang Ngoc Giao in December 2022 and Nguyen Son Lo in February 2023.
Blinken should also press government leaders to end restrictions on the right to freedom of movement. Last year, Human Rights Watch released the report “Locked Inside Our Home” that details the myriad ways the government regularly violates this right.
The authorities regularly restrict religious worship and activities to groups and churches approved by the authorities. They routinely ban independent religious organizations that refuse to submit to the government, calling them “evil religions” and subjecting followers to severe suppression. On April 8, the police in Dak Lak arrested Y Krek Bya of the Ede ethnic group and charged him with “undermining the national unity policy” under article 116 of the penal code.
Blinken should be clear there can be no “business as usual” with the Vietnamese government so long as it intensifies its repression of activists and their networks.