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US ‘very concerned’ over growing crackdown in Vietnam: diplomat

Scott Busby, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. (Makoto Lin/Office of the President - Taiwan)
June 02, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. voiced strong concern in May at a growing crackdown over the last two years on dissent in Vietnam, and has urged the one-party communist state to free all political prisoners now held in the country’s jails, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday.

Speaking in an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Scott Busby—deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor—pointed to what he called a “rising number of prosecutions of people who have been freely expressing their opinions in Vietnam.”

In talks held on May 15 with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi, U.S. delegates to an annual dialogue on human rights were able to raise their concerns about the situation in Vietnam, Busby said, adding, “Now, whether [the government] will act on our concerns is another question.”

Prior to the dialogue U.S. delegates to the talks had tried unsuccessfully to meet with a number of Vietnamese rights advocates and representatives of civil society, Busby said.

“And in Ho Chi Minh City in particular there were three activists who were prevented from meeting with us, and that was concerning to us, that the government would not allow us to see them.”

U.S. delegates were able to meet, however, with jailed blogger Tran Thi Nga, who was sentenced in July 2017 to nine years in prison for spreading “propaganda against the state under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, Busby said.

“We had an hour-long meeting with her,” Busby said.

“She seemed in good health, but she raised concerns about the way she is being treated in prison, and she also raised concerns about the fact that she is in prison at all. And we told her that she was very much on our minds and that we would be continuing to raise her case with the government of Vietnam.”

Subject of concern

Raised as a subject of particular concern was the case of Truong Duy Nhat, an RFA contributor abducted in late January in Bangkok, Thailand, a day after applying for refugee status and now held at a Ministry of Public Security detention center in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, Busby said.

“And we pressed the government of Vietnam for an explanation about how this came to pass,” Busby said.

Though talks with Vietnam in May were “full and frank,” Busby said, “We had differences on a variety of issues.”

“I would say that one of the biggest differences is the treatment of dissidents in Vietnam, people who are criticizing the government, and the long sentences being given to these people,” he said.

Meanwhile, Catholic schoolteacher Nguyen Nang Tinh, arrested this week in Nghe An province while having breakfast with his son, has now been charged with “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” Vietnamese media reported on May 30.

And activists Nguyen Viet Dung, jailed in Ha Nam province, and Luu Van Bay, held in Binh Duong, have now been moved to other prisons, with family members told only that they are being “disciplined” or have been transferred, sources told RFA’s Vietnamese Service this week.

Vietnam now holds an estimated 128 prisoners of conscience, according to a May 13, 2019 report by rights group Amnesty International.

“The Vietnamese authorities portray individuals who are peacefully exercising their human rights as criminals,” Amnesty International (AI) said in its report, Prisoners of Conscience in Vietnam.

“However, it is the government that flagrantly contravenes international human rights law and its own constitution,” AI said.

Nguyen Kim Binh of Vietnam Human Rights Network meanwhile said in December that the one-party communist state is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang, Written in English by Richard Finney.