Vietnamese government security agents bundled a local activist from his home and held him for five hours to prevent him from meeting a U.S. official visiting Hanoi for an annual dialogue on human rights last week, according to the activist.
Pham Hong Son, a Vietnamese physician and businessman, and human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai were invited for talks on Saturday with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Dan Baer, but the two activists, who had spent time previously in prison, were barred from the meeting by the Vietnamese authorities.
Son said police had started to arrive outside his home one day before the planned meeting.
"On Friday, I saw abnormal signals with many plainclothes policemen sent to my house and following me," he told RFA's Vietnamese Service. "More policemen came the next day and they even set up a checkpoint right in front of my house. They had some signs saying ‘Don’t come near,’ and 'No cameras.'"
Son said he still wanted to go for the meeting "because I am a free citizen and nobody can block me."
He said that concerned U.S. Embassy staff told him they would send a car over to pick him up, "but by the time I got out, there was a [Vietnamese] government car outside blocking the lane."
"I could not get out. They forced me into their car and drove to the commune’s office, about 100 meters [300 feet] away. They tried to keep me there. I could only go home at 6:20 p.m.," he said.
He said that during the five hours he spent in their custody, police used the "same old trick" of purportedly investigating complaints against him and that he vehemently protested their actions which he characterized as "very disappointing and shameful" and "tainting the government’s face."
The U.S. State Department said this week that Washington was "troubled" by Hanoi's action to prevent the two activists from meeting Baer.
"[W]e are troubled that Vietnamese authorities reportedly prevented activists Nguyen Van Dai and Pham Hong Son from meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer as planned," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters on Monday.
"So this really underscores the need for Vietnam to make continued progress to comply with its international human rights obligations and commitments," he said.
Ventrell said the the U.S. and Vietnam had "candid and constructive" talks on issues including freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and prisoners at the human rights dialogue.
Son has continued to champion democracy in the one-party communist state since his release from prison in 2006 under a government amnesty.
He was arrested on March 27, 2002 for translating an article into Vietnamese titled “What is Democracy?” from the U.S. Embassy's website and sending it to friends and senior party officials.
After a 15-month pre-trial detention, Son was tried and sentenced to 13 years in prison and three years of house arrest.
Upon appeal, Vietnam’s Supreme Court reduced his sentence to five years in prison and three years of house arrest. While imprisoned, he suffered from poor health and an untreated inguinal hernia.
In 2011, he was rearrested along with prominent lawyer Le Quoc Quan when attempting to observe the trial of democracy activist Cu Huy Ha Vu.
The pair were held for "causing public disorder," and Son's wife said that he was assaulted by police with batons prior to his arrest and that both were released without charge eight days later.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.