Vietnamese Dissidents Call on US to Pressure Hanoi Over Rights Abuses at Home

vietnam-hearing-june192015.jpeg Vietnamese dissidents testify at congressional hearing, June 17, 2015.

Growing trade and security ties between the United States and Vietnam must be matched by effective U.S. pressure on the one-party communist state to ease its harsh treatment of democracy activists and religious believers worshipping outside of government control, a group of Vietnamese dissidents and other experts told a congressional panel on Wednesday.

Perceptions of a lack of U.S. concern over human rights issues in the Southeast Asian nation now risk sending “the wrong message" to the government of Vietnam, said Nguyen Dinh Thang, president of the U.S.-based rights group Boat People SOS, speaking to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Wednesday's hearing comes at a crucial juncture in bilateral relations between the two countries, Thang said.

"The [Obama] Administration has partially lifted the ban on sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam, [and] the Trans-Pacific Partnership, of which Vietnam is a negotiating partner, is approaching the finish line," he said.

Thang noted also that Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong will soon be welcomed by the U.S. president on a visit to the White House.

All this sends "the wrong message to the government of Vietnam, that its relentless persecution of dissidents, its brutal repression of independent religious communities, and its suppression of indigenous rights will be met with impunity," he said.

Addressing U.S. lawmakers at the hearing, a Vietnamese blogger recently released from prison, a Mennonite pastor, and the widow of a Catholic parishioner tortured to death by police described abuses suffered at the hands of Vietnamese authorities and called on the U.S. for help.

“The people don’t have a platform to raise their voice,” said blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who writes under the name Dieu Cay and was freed from prison last year to move to America.

“People do not dare to speak their views, simply because any disagreement with the ruling party can get you arrested under vague laws,” he said, adding that conviction under any one of several statutes can now lead to “a dozen years in prison.”

“I know that many of my friends have gone on hunger strike recently,” Hai said, speaking to RFA before the hearing.

“Why? Because of the harsh treatment in communist prisons,” he said.

Worshippers threatened, attacked

Also testifying before the committee, Mennonite pastor Nguyen Manh Hung described how his officially unregistered congregation had been driven from their land by authorities and finally forced to use a cattle shed for their meetings.

Even then, Hung said, plainclothes police officers and government-linked thugs were sent to assault and threaten his parishioners and family members.

On one occasion, plainclothes police "came to my house and destroyed my property and threatened to kill me, my wife, and my son," he said.

“[These experiences] serve as evidence of the Vietnamese Government’s repression of religious groups that do not accept the state’s interference in religious activities,” he said.

Hundreds of similar cases of religious persecution regularly occur in Vietnam, especially in remote areas, said Doan Thi Hong Anh, the widow of a Catholic parishioner tortured to death in 2010 by Vietnamese police.

“I call on you to continue raising your concern and pressure Vietnam[‘s] government to respect religious freedom,” Anh said.

“Strong U.S. and international pressure is necessary and makes a difference,” she said.

Call for U.S. pressure

In the audience, Ngoc Tuyet—a Vietnamese woman now living Kentucky-—told RFA before the hearing that she looked forward to hearing witness accounts of how Vietnam’s government treats its own people.

“After 40 years, we need to find practical ways to call on the U.S. government to put more pressure on Vietnam to change the way they deal with their citizens’ human rights,” she said.

The U.S. now has all the leverage it needs to bring about “concrete changes in Vietnam,” said New Jersey congressman Chris Smith, chairing the hearing.

“If human rights issues are not explicitly linked to our economic and security interests, we risk having discussions on trade and defense moving forward, while human rights conditions go backward,” he said.

Victims of rights abuses by authorities in Vietnam are looking to the U.S. government and people for help, Smith said.

“They are hungry for a U.S. policy that advances the rights and freedoms of the Vietnamese people.”

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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