HRW: Repression Should Top Agenda of Meeting with Vietnam Head

'Repression of religious groups, democracy activists and Internet dissidents should top the agenda during Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s state visit to the United States next week.'

President Bush should vigorously press the Vietnamese government to improve its dismal human rights record when Vietnam’s prime minister visits the White House on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a statement released by the New York-based organization, Human Rights Watch stated that repression of religious groups, democracy activists and Internet dissidents should top the agenda during Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s state visit to the United States next week.

“President Bush needs to send a clear message to Hanoi that progress on human rights will affect other aspects of Vietnam’s evolving relationship with the United States,” stated Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch, which has documented a broad range of human rights abuses in the communist nation, reported that hundreds of dissidents have been jailed on criminal charges simply for advocating democratic reforms or using the Internet to disseminate proposals for human rights and religious freedom.

“Followers of religions not officially recognized by the government are routinely persecuted,” HRW said in its statement. “Security officials disperse their religious gatherings, confiscate religious literature, and summon religious leaders to police stations for interrogation.”

Last year, the United States designated Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” on account of its widespread violations of religious freedom. This year, international pressure has resulted in a number of prisoner releases. In the wake of pressure from the United States, the Vietnamese government in February put into effect legislation that seemingly aimed at banning forced recantations of Christianity and loosening up requirements for Christian churches to register with the government.

Although this year Vietnam had made several gestures that were cited by the U.S. State Department as evidence of progress, HRW said that the United States must do much more to address the Vietnamese government’s repressive policies.

“Hundreds of religious and political prisoners remain behind bars—the vast majority of whom are Montagnard Christians imprisoned since unrest broke out in the Central Highlands in 2001,” HRW stated. “And there has been no let-up in the practice of authorities forcing minority Christians to recant their faith.”

Human Rights Watch has called for Vietnam to “immediately release or exonerate all people imprisoned, detained or placed under house arrest because of their non-violent political or religious beliefs and practices, and cease surveillance and harassment of dissidents including those released from prison or detention.”

According to Adams, “President Bush has raised expectations with his call for democracy and more open societies around the world” and now “the biggest test of whether he means it is his willingness to press countries such as Vietnam on basic rights issues.”

In a new briefing paper on Vietnam’s human rights problems, Human Rights Watch outlined key issues that President Bush should raise with the prime minister during their meeting on Tuesday, including:

- Violations of the right to freedom of religion
- Arrests of democracy activists and “cyber-dissidents”
- Unfair trials and torture in detention
- Censorship and control over the domestic media, including the Internet and electronic communications