Clinton is urged to confront Vietnam on human rights
NY Times, Seth Mydans
BANGKOK — The Vietnamese government has arrested or convicted a half-dozen dissidents and bloggers in the days before a visit to Hanoi by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to the United States Embassy and human rights groups.
Washington has often voiced its concern over human rights issues in Vietnam, and the latest actions drew sharp criticism from some members of Congress as well as a statement from the United States Embassy in Hanoi urging their release.
Congress members and human rights groups are urging Mrs. Clinton to speak out for human rights while she is in Hanoi on Friday and Saturday for a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.
Three dissidents have been convicted on charges of causing public disorder, and three bloggers have been arrested at a time of increased pressure on critics. Many analysts say the clampdown is intended to silence debate before a Communist Party congress in January.
In addition, six Roman Catholics were tried and convicted Wednesday in a case the Catholic News Agency said stemmed from violent clashes with the police over a parish’s attempt in May to bury a woman in a cemetery that the local government had seized for a tourist resort.
The arrests and trials “contradict Vietnam’s own commitment to internationally accepted standards of human rights,” the United States Embassy said in its statement, “We urge the government of Vietnam to release these individuals.”
According to the rights group Amnesty International, Vietnam is holding at least 30 people on political charges, including members and supporters of banned political groups, independent trade unionists, bloggers, businessmen, journalists and writers.
This week, Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, wrote a letter signed by three other House representatives that urged Mrs. Clinton to raise several concerns with the Vietnamese, including “use of the legal code to criminalize peaceful political activities” and the repression of Internet freedoms.
In a separate statement, Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, listed cases of arrests and harassment over the past year and said, “It is clear that the Vietnamese government is failing to afford its citizens fundamental human rights.”
The Vietnamese government, like China, Myanmar and other nations that curb dissent in the courts, says these are not political arrests and that all the accusations involve criminal activity.
The recent case against the three labor activists, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, Do Thi Minh Hanh and Doan Huy Chuong, involved charges of disrupting public order for distributing leaflets supporting workers’ rights at a factory, according Amnesty International. Their sentences were not officially announced.
The bloggers are Le Nguyen Huong Tra, Phan Thanh Hai and Nguyen Van Hai. Mr. Hai was rearrested after completing an earlier sentence for tax evasion.
The government is particularly sensitive to blogs that touch on official corruption, relations with China and a Chinese-run bauxite mine that has prompted widespread controversy.
“In a country where the state controls all traditional media outlets, independent bloggers have emerged as important sources of news, information and social commentary,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The group urged Mrs. Clinton to speak out against what it called "an intensifying campaign" harassment, arrest, beatings in custody, unfair trials and long prison terms” against bloggers and activists.
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