(Sydney) – The Australian government should press Vietnam’s leadership to end its systemic human rights violations at the upcoming dialogue between the two countries, Human Rights Watch said today. The Australia-Vietnam 18th bilateral human rights dialogue is scheduled for April 24-25, 2023, in Hanoi.
Australian leaders should use the opportunity of the two countries’ 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations to send a clear public message that respect for human rights is an integral part of their relationship with Vietnam.
“The Australian government should stop ignoring Vietnam’s abysmal record and use the human rights dialogue to jumpstart a serious and meaningful discussion about rights reforms,” said Daniela Gavshon, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s crucially important for Australia to press for the release of political prisoners, including an Australian citizen, Chau Van Kham, and to put Hanoi on notice that there will be no business as usual until he and others are freed.”
Human Rights Watch made a submission in March to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that urged the government to focus on three priorities in Vietnam: releasing political prisoners and detainees, ending restrictions on freedom of movement, and stopping repression of the right to freedom of religion and belief.
Human Rights Watch highlighted the case of Chau Van Kham, who has been arbitrarily imprisoned by the Vietnamese authorities for more than four years. Human Rights Watch also raised the cases of prominent citizen journalists, rights bloggers and activists, including Le Van Dung, Le Manh Ha, Dinh Van Hai, Bui Van Thuan, Pham Doan Trang, Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, Truong Van Dung, and Nguyen Lan Thang.
In the past year, the Vietnamese government has expanded its repression to nongovernmental organization activists. Courts convicted the journalist Mai Phan Loi and the environmental activists Dang Dinh Bach and Nguy Thi Khanh on bogus tax evasion charges. Police also arrested the activists Hoang Ngoc Giao in December 2022 and Nguyen Son Lo in February 2023.
The Australian government should also call on Vietnam to amend or repeal the penal code articles 109, 116, 117, 118, and 331, which the authorities frequently use to repress dissenting voices. Vietnam should also repeal or amend articles 14(2) and 15(4) of the constitution, which allow for restrictions on human rights for reasons of national security that go beyond what is permissible under international human rights law.
“The Vietnamese government repeatedly claims that it only punishes those who violate the law, but many of Vietnam’s laws contravene international human rights law; particularly on freedom of expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, and fair trial rights,” Gavshon said. “Australia should urge the Vietnamese government to repeal or reform its rights-abusing laws instead of imprisoning those who dare to speak out.”