Please address Vietnam’s human rights abuses, prisoners’ families beg Biden

Relatives of dozens of Vietnamese prisoners of conscience have called on U.S. President Joe Biden to speak up for political activists imprisoned in Vietnam when he arrives in Hanoi this weekend.

Vietnam and the United States are expected to announce a formal upgrade in diplomatic ties after Biden touches down on Sunday. The two countries are looking to solidify trade relations while also addressing common concerns about China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

But the relatives are calling on Biden to also remember Vietnam’s political prisoners when he visits the country on his way home from the Group of 20 Summit in New Delhi.

As of July 5, Vietnam has jailed more than 150 political prisoners according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“We believe that with the values of freedom, democracy, and human rights that American people cherish, attach importance to, and protect, the upgrading of the two countries’ diplomatic relationship will create an impact on the currently dire human rights situation in Vietnam,” said a Sept. 1 letter from the families.

Vietnam’s one-party state ignores the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants that Hanoi has signed and ratified, the letter states. 

“We wholeheartedly call on President Biden to pressure Vietnam to improve its human rights situation, particularly to stop taking revenge against prisoners of conscience (PoCs) at detention facilities, provide proper treatment to sick PoCs, release all of those suffering from groundless accusations, and stop using PoCs as trade-offs in negotiations with the governments of free states,” the relatives wrote.

A coalition of 37 Vietnamese diaspora pro-democracy organizations made a similar plea in a joint open letter released in late August. Biden should insist that Vietnam offer greater freedoms to its people, the coalition said.

“Specifically, the U.S. should voice its support for freedom of expression and independent labor unions in Vietnam, as conditions for diplomatic upgrade of bilateral relationship,” the letter said.

Thach Cuong of Tra Vinh province was one of three members of Vietnam’s Khmer Krom minority arrested in July on suspicion of distributing books about indigenous peoples’ rights. Credit: Vietnam People’s Public Security

‘A minimum of common values’

Reporters Without Borders and seven other human rights organizations also urged Biden “to address the dire situation of press freedom and the right to information” in Vietnam in a separate joint letter sent on Sept. 5.

“A strategic partnership between the two countries will contribute to protecting Vietnam,” the letter said. “However, for this partnership to be beneficial in the long term for both peoples, it is essential that the two countries share a minimum of common values.”

Biden administration officials also heard from representatives of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation during a meeting at the White House on Sept. 5. 

The nearly 1.3-million strong Khmer Krom live in a part of Vietnam that was once southeastern Cambodia. They have faced serious restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and movement. 

Federation Executive President Prak Sereivuth told Radio Free Asia that he asked that Biden urge the release of Khmer Krom people arrested in July for distributing books about indigenous peoples’ rights.

He also asked that the president try to persuade Vietnam to allow Khmer Krom to have freedom to practice their cultural and religious ceremonies. When Khmer Krom want to become monks, they need to ask permission from the Vietnamese government – a new restriction, he said.

Translated by Anna Vu and Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed.

Radio Free Asia

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