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Vietnam: Biden Should Raise Rights on Hanoi Visit

Crackdown on Activists, Repressive Laws Pose Barriers to Better US Relations

Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, left, speaks before a luncheon with then United States Vice President Joe Biden at the US State Department, Washington, DC, July 7, 2015. © 2015 Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

(Bangkok) – Unites States President Joe Biden should publicly urge Vietnam’s leaders to immediately release all political prisoners and reform abusive laws during his planned visit to Hanoi on September 10, 2023, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a September 1 letter, Human Rights Watch urged President Biden to publicly as well as privately raise human rights concerns with the Vietnamese government. Key human rights issues include persecution of human rights and environmental defenders; suppression of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly; and violations of freedom of religion and belief. 

“President Biden should be clear with Vietnam’s leaders that closer relations depend upon concrete and verifiable improvements in Vietnam’s rights record,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The US should not sideline human rights concerns as it seeks to expand its diplomatic and economic partnership with Hanoi.”

Vietnam is holding at least 159 political prisoners – people imprisoned for peacefully exercising their basic civil and political rights. At least 22 other people are in detention pending a police investigation and eventual trial before a ruling Communist Party-controlled court. During the first 8 months of 2023 alone, Vietnamese courts convicted and sentenced at least 15 people to long prison terms, in violation of their rights to a fair trial.

Biden should raise the cases of the human rights and democracy activists Bui Tuan Lam, Tran Van Bang, Pham Doan Trang and Nguyen Bac Truyen, and environmental defenders Hoang Thi Minh Hong, Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, and Bach Hung Duong, and others. Their sentences should be quashed, and they should be immediately and unconditionally released, Human Rights Watch said.

Biden should also urge Vietnamese leaders to repeal or amend vaguely worded and loosely interpreted provisions in the Vietnamese penal code and other laws used to prosecute activists, such as for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” and “undermining the unity policy.” They should reform all laws to be in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a party, such as by amending the Criminal Procedure Code so that everyone detained for alleged offenses, including national security crimes, has immediate access to legal counsel upon being arrested.

Biden should call on the government to repeal or amend the law on Cyber Security and the associated Decree 53/2022 to bring them into full compliance with international human rights standards.

Finally, Biden should publicly urge Vietnam’s leaders to allow all independent religious organizations to freely conduct religious activities and to govern themselves. Churches and denominations that do not choose to join one of the officially authorized religious organizations with government-sanctioned boards should be able to operate independently.

“President Biden should recognize that the US relationship with Vietnam goes beyond ties with the government and needs to also reach the Vietnamese people,” Robertson said. “US silence on human rights may be seen as complicity in the Vietnamese government’s ever-expanding crackdown on rights, compromising the long-term relationship.”

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