Western nations condemn recent jailing of dissidents in Vietnam

But ‘deeply worrying’ convictions lead to no significant policy changes toward Southeast Asian country.
2021.12.17
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Western nations condemn recent jailing of dissidents in Vietnam Do Nam Trung and Pham Doan Trang are shown left to right at top, and Nguyen Thi Tam and Trinh Ba Phuong are shown left to right at bottom.
State Media / Social Media

Western nations this week condemned Vietnam’s jailing of four dissidents, including land-rights activists and an award-winning journalist, calling their sentences an attempt to stifle free expression in the Southeast Asian country.

Journalist Pham Doan Trang, writer Do Nam Trung, and rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam were all convicted in consecutive trials this week and given prison terms ranging from six to 10 years for speaking out against official corruption or calling for democracy and better governance in the one-party communist state.

Pham Doan Trang, now jailed for nine years, had written books and posted articles on social media criticizing government policies in Vietnam.

She had also won multiple foreign awards for her writing, including in 2017 from the Czech organization People in Need and the 2019 Press Freedom Award from Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

Writing in separate statements, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K., the EU and the United States all slammed Trang’s conviction, with British parliamentarian and Minister for Asia Amanda Milling calling Trang’s jailing “deeply worrying.”

“Imprisoning journalists for peacefully expressing their views sends the wrong message to those supporting the development of Vietnam and its people,” Milling said in a statement released by the U.K. Embassy in Hanoi.

But none of the countries announced new policies in response to the convictions beyond their public scolding.

Nguyen Tien Trung — a rights activist based in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City — told RFA that “the Vietnamese government is confident that as democratic countries now need Vietnam to be a counterweight to China, human rights can become a less prioritized issue.

“They handed down severe sentences to let people know they should not expect or rely on international intervention over human rights,” he said.

Milling noted that the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had found Trung’s detention “to be arbitrary and in contravention of Viet Nam’s international human rights commitments and obligations.” Trang had also been denied access to her family while in custody and had seen her lawyer only once before her trial, Milling said.

On Friday, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade expressed its disappointment at Trang’s sentencing on its Twitter account, calling her an “internationally recognized Vietnamese journalist and author.”

“As a close friend and strategic partner, Australia will continue to encourage Vietnam to uphold its human rights commitments,” Australia said, while the New Zealand Embassy in Hanoi in a Facebook post on Friday voiced its concern over the sentences handed to Pham Doan Trang, Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, and Do Nam Trung.

“Journalists and human rights defenders must be able to express their views without fear of harassment and reprisal. We encourage Viet Nam to uphold the rights of all citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution and through its international commitments,” New Zealand said.

Arrest, harassment, reprisal

The Canadian Embassy in Hanoi on Tuesday meanwhile pointed to what it called “the ongoing efforts by Vietnamese authorities to curtail media freedom, an essential element of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“We also urge the Vietnamese authorities to allow journalists to practice their profession without fear of arrest, harassment or reprisal, and to end extensive censorship and control over the media and wider freedom of expression.”

The United States on Tuesday and European Union on Thursday also condemned the conviction and sentencing of Pham Doan Trang, with the U.S. State Department calling on Vietnam to immediately release the jailed journalist, “who has been recognized internationally for her work to advance human rights and good governance in Vietnam.”

Trang in her work as a writer had done nothing more than peacefully express her opinions, the State Department said.

“We also urge the government to ensures its laws and actions are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s Constitution and Vietnam’s international obligations and commitments.”

The EU also called for Trang’s release, noting that the three other jailed activists had been sentenced “on similar grounds.”

“The European Union is strongly committed to the protection of human rights defenders in Vietnam and across the world,” the EU said. “The European Union calls on the Vietnamese authorities to release all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained and to guarantee the right to a fair trial for all individuals,” the EU said.

Separately, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement Friday said the jailing of the four activists “appear to be part of a campaign to silence and intimidate those who raise their voices in defence of human rights.”

“All the cases follow similar worrying patterns that raise serious issues concerning the presumption of innocence, the legality of their detention, and the fairness of their trial.”

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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