In these past two weeks, two very influential organizations have released reports about Vietnam. One, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), highlights large-scale police abuse and brutality. Only days after releasing the report, the Vietnamese government handed down strict prison sentences to four police officers involved in the beating death of a suspect in 2012. To read the full HRW report, click here.
The other report, a four-part series of exploratory pieces from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), analyzes aspects of battle for freedom of expression within the country. The series is entitled “Undercover in Vietnam.” Parts one and two have been released. For part one, click here. To read part two, click here.
Expression is not only suppressed for journalists and activists in Vietnam, however, but also often for religious organizations and other civil society groups. Religious groups that are not sanctioned by the government face intimidation, harassment, violence, and even prison time. Recently, three places of worship were targeted for demolition, as Vietnam continues to urbanize. Many, however, believe that forcing religious groups out of the area is all part of the government-led crackdown on freedom of religion. A special UN envoy visited Vietnam over the summer to observe the state of religious freedom there. Many attempts to meet with important groups and individuals were blocked.
There has also been recent news about the role of technology in Vietnam’s repression of dissidents. Wikileaks revealed that Vietnam is one of 17 countries confirmed to have purchased surveillance technology from German company FinFisher. Many believe that FinFisher’s software, which is marketed for police use, has been used to spy on dissidents around the world. FinFisher is part of a growing market for surveillance technology, adding to the constant debate over privacy versus security today, as well as the use of spyware in authoritarian regimes.
Yet, despite its poor human rights record and the recent bad press from Wikileaks and HRW and CPJ’s reports, Vietnam is still widely regarded as an international economic hot-spot and a ripe ally for many nations. Many articles have recently explored dynamics of Vietnam-US relations, Vietnam-China relations, and also what Russia and China’s budding friendship could mean for both Vietnam and the US.
An opinion article from The Diplomat supports using Vietnam as a sort of US buffer against China. A US partnership with Vietnam, especially a military one, is something that would benefit the US and Vietnam both, says the article. This would include doing away with the US’s ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam. The ban was originally imposed in 1984, a consequence of Vietnam’s dreary human rights then. Thirty years later, and not much has changed with respect to Vietnam’s human rights record; however, many US policymakers still support easing the ban. Supporters of easing the ban claim that human rights improvements can be secured by being included as a provision of a weapons sales agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is an unsteady claim with no surefire guarantees of Vietnam’s compliance.
One thing that is not too often or too deeply explored in the opinion pieces and news articles about Vietnam and its foreign relations, especially those with the US, is Vietnam’s continuous lack of transparency and a lack of a commitment to justice and freedom for its own citizens. What’s missing from Vietnam-US rhetoric and trade/weapons negotiations are the voices of the imprisoned dissenters, the underground bloggers, the land and labor rights leaders, the religious and ethnic minorities, and the silenced everyday citizens of Vietnam.
An article from the Asia Times points out a disturbing increase in Vietnam’s attack on dissidents in 2014:
“In the first six months of 2014, there were 53,000 criminal cases with some 83,000 defendants, a 2.2% increase from the same period in 2013. Cases of corruption increased 10% in 2014, while narcotics cases rose by 2.6 percent. Yet the highest growth rate was from so-called ‘justice violations’, which increased 14.7%.”
It is clear that Vietnam’s commitment to human rights still has a long way to go and must be taken seriously by the international community.
It is also important to note that freedom of expression is an issue that effects all nations. This week, Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison for “separatism.” He advocates for open communication and tolerance between the minority Muslim Uighurs and the Han Chinese.
Take action with PEN America for Ilham Tohti.
Send this postcard to support the release of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc.
Donate to give activists the tools they need to do their work and to raise awareness about the situation in Vietnam.
Watch videos from our Freedom of Expression Interview series or watch our documentary, The Repression of Cyber Dissidents, to learn more about Vietnamese activists and their stories.
Send a message to your policymakers. Let them know that Vietnam’s people must have freedom of expression before any trade or weapons deal can take place.
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