Freedom of Expression Recap: January 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been a hot topic in recent months. As Vietnam finishes up TPP negotiations this year, the human rights implications of the TPP have become even more important to discuss. This month, US Representative Loretta Sanchez of California, the co-chair of the Congressional caucus on Vietnam, spoke with Ted Osius, new US Ambassador to Vietnam, about the human rights concerns embedded in finalizing a trade agreement with Vietnam. She called for the release of Le Quoc Quan, who she has adopted under the Defending Freedoms Project of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. She also supports the release of other political prisoners and the expansion of internet freedom. Jessica McWade also wrote an article for the Boston Herald considering the controversy surrounding the TPP. These voices are critical in helping to push for human rights improvements in Vietnam, and we hope that you will speak up in favor of a transparent TPP as well.

It is important for people to know about the continued human rights abuses in Vietnam. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2015, released on January 29th, spoke of the “revolving door” in Vietnam, with more activists still going into prison than are coming out. Read more from Human Rights Watch about human rights in Vietnam in 2014: Also check out Dieu Cay’s (Nguyen Van Hai) interview to PEN Canada about his life in and out of prison. He says that he will now direct his work to the case of  fellow dissident Ta Phong Tan.

Indeed, abuses of all kinds against activists in Vietnam have continued. Human Rights Watch reports that on January 21, twelve bloggers and activists visited ex-political prisoner Tran Anh Kim, who recently finished his 5.5 year sentence; the activists were detained after their visit. HRW writes: “As soon as the visitors left Tran Anh Kim’s house, their van was stopped by three police officers from Tran Hung Dao ward where Kim lives. The officers ordered them to report to police headquarters. When members of the group refused, saying they did nothing wrong, a group of thugs, acting in apparent coordination with the police, entered the van and assaulted them.” (Read the full article:

Thankfully, citizens, politicians, and organizations continue to voice their concerns about the Vietnamese government’s treatment of dissidents, as demonstrated by Rep. Sanchez, Human Rights Watch, and Jessica McWade’s thoughtful work. Additionally, on January 29th, many gathered in Riverside, California, to protest a California-Vietnam sister city agreement. On January 23, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights sent a letter urging ASEAN leaders to further promote human rights in the region. Plus, on January 19, the EU and Vietnam met in Brussels for their fourth annual Dialogue on Human Rights. The EU brought up issues such as freedom of expression, capital punishment, and Vietnam’s obligations under the ICCPR and the UN Human Rights Council. The EU urged Vietnam to continue improving human rights and to revise its penal code, a code which has several repressive articles used frequently to arrest and try human rights defenders.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister recently publicly acknowledged the government’s inability to ban social media in the country. It is only a matter of time before Vietnam must also acknowledge its obligation to protect media access, freedom of expression, and peaceful activism as well.