BANGKOK—The U.S. embassy in Vietnam has said it is “deeply disturbed” by the convictions last week of nine Vietnamese democracy activists for up to six years for peacefully criticizing the government—the latest in a series of moves against dissent.
Under Penal Code Article 88, many of the defendants were convicted in connection with banners they displayed that denounced the ruling Communist Party and called for democracy.
“The activists were simply expressing their views peacefully and posed no threat to Vietnam’s national security,” the embassy said in a statement.
Shawn McHale, a Vietnam expert and director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University, called Hanoi’s recent crackdowns on dissent “troubling”—and a possible reflection of its proximity to increasingly authoritarian governments in countries nearby.
“There have been a variety of different kinds of developments in the last year or so … all sorts of cases in which people have been actually put in jail,” McHale said in an interview.
“I don’t know if there’s a trend in that direction, but the space for democratization is not really opening up. That’s the problem,” he added.
Vietnam is “next door to places like Cambodia, but also Thailand … If Thailand can get away with what it’s getting away with, Vietnam obviously can as well.”
Vietnam’s laws against dissent “are kind of vague,” he said. “Are [dissidents] really doing things that subvert the state? That’s dubious. It’s just plain dubious.”
Writer, clerics cited
The embassy also expressed concern about the case of writer Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, “who was beaten and arrested after she publicly expressed her support for the nine activists.”
“These actions, together with the violent expulsion of monks and nuns from the Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province and the government’s failure to protect them from assault, contradict Vietnam’s own commitment to internationally accepted standards of human rights and the rule of law,” the embassy said.
The monks and nuns from Bat Nha are followers of one of the world’s most influential Buddhist monks, French-based Thich Nhat Hanh, a peace activist and confidant of slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Late last month the followers said they had fled Bat Nha for another pagoda after driven out by a mob of unidentified people armed with hammers and batons and apparently directed by local officials and police.
The embassy urged Hanoi to “honor its international human rights commitments” and immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held in detention for peacefully expressing their views.
Original reporting by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Additional reporting by Richard Finney. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.