The U.S. State Department voiced strong concern Tuesday over reports that Vietnamese democracy advocates have been prevented from meeting with members of a U.S. delegation ahead of a human rights dialogue later this week.
“These very issues—greater respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights—are at the core of our dialogue with the Government of Vietnam,” a State Department spokesman told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in an email.
“We call on the Government of Vietnam to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of association and expression,” the State Department said.
Contact between Vietnamese human rights advocates and U.S. diplomats is frequently blocked by authorities in the run-up to the annual dialogue, with dissidents kept under strict surveillance, followed by police, or confined to their homes, sources say.
Hua Phi, head of an independent branch of the Cao Dai church in the central highlands province of Lam Dong, told RFA this week that police in the province’s Duc Trong district had barricaded his home to prevent him from traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, to meet on May 13 with the U.S. diplomatic mission in the city.
“The police brought heavy furniture such as beds, chairs, and tables to block the door to my house,” Phi said, adding that he has assigned other members of his church to attend the meetings in his place.
In November 2018, angered that Phi had escaped police surveillance in order to meet with U.S. diplomats in Saigon on another occasion, district police set fire to the store room of his coffee plantation, burning all his tools, Phi told RFA in an earlier report.
Former political prisoner Le Cong Dinh was meanwhile also blocked from a meeting requested by U.S. delegation members this week, with state security agents forbidding him from leaving his residence, Dinh wrote on his Facebook page.
Convicted in 2010 of involvement in a “plot to overthrow the government," Dinh—a prominent attorney who had defended bloggers and other free-expression advocates—served three years of a five-year prison sentence before being released on probation.
Speaking to RFA, Nguyen Thi Hue, the sister of jailed Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, meanwhile confirmed that her brother is now confined in isolation following a confrontation in which he was physically assaulted by a prison guard.
Hoa, now held at An Diem Prison in south-central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, was choked and beaten in the incident, Hoang Nguyen—younger brother of another prisoner Hoang Van Binh—told RFA on Tuesday.
After she was informed of the attack, Hue went immediately to An Diem Prison and applied for permission to visit, she said.“But the guard in charge called me and said I was not allowed to meet with Hoa because he was being punished.”
“We now have to wait for Hoa to call home before we can verify that what the guard told us is true,” she said.
Hoa, who had blogged and produced videos for RFA, was jailed for seven years by the People’s Court of Ha Tinh in Nghe An province on Nov. 27, 2017 after filming protests outside the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant, whose spill in 2016 killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces.
He was arrested on Jan. 11, 2017 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, but the charges against him were later upgraded to the more severe “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88.
Prisoners of conscience
Vietnam now holds an estimated 128 prisoners of conscience, according to a May 13, 2019 report by rights group Amnesty International.
“The Vietnamese authorities portray individuals who are peacefully exercising their human rights as criminals,” Amnesty International (AI) said in its report, Prisoners of Conscience in Vietnam.
“However, it is the government that flagrantly contravenes international human rights law and its own constitution,” AI said.
Nguyen Kim Binh of Vietnam Human Rights Network said in December that the one-party communist state is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.