UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been challenged to call on Vietnam’s government to halt its crackdown on freedom of expression and release all prisoners of conscience.
The call from human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, comes on the first day of an official visit to the UK by Nguyen Phu Trong, the General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.
At the Prime Minister’s invitation, Nguyen Phu Trong is visiting the UK for two days. The visit marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Amnesty International Researcher on Vietnam, Rupert Abbott, commented: “Mr Cameron should raise concerns publicly about Viet Nam’s appalling restrictions on free speech and the scores of human rights defenders who have been locked up there."
“He should demand the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience – those imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression," Mr Abbott continued.
“Month after month, Vietnam’s government is locking up those who are simply speaking their mind about issues that are uncomfortable for the authorities – including bloggers, songwriters, lawyers, labour activists, members of religious groups and democracy activists.The UK should prioritise human rights in its growing relationship with Viet Nam.
“Mr Cameron should use the opportunity of Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to speak up for those who the Vietnamese authorities have silenced,” the Amnesty spokesperson declared.
The official visit comes at a time when Vietnam’s government has stepped up its suppression of free expression, say critics.
Vaguely worded provisions in the country's penal code are being used to criminalise peaceful political and social dissent and criticism of the government.
In 2012 alone, dozens of peaceful dissidents were imprisoned, with many sentenced to long prison terms in trials that failed to meet international standards.
In September 2012 three popular bloggers including Nguyen Van Hai, known as Dieu Cay (the “peasant’s pipe”), were tried for “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to between four and 12 years’ imprisonment.
The three are founding members of the Free Vietnamese Journalists’ Club and have used their blogs to promote human rights.
The crackdown has continued in 2013. On 9 January, 13 peaceful activists were sentenced to between three and 13 years’ imprisonment on charges of undertaking “activities aimed at overthrowing” the government. T
he Vietnamese authorities suspect them of having ties to the US-based political party Viet Tan, a group calling for peaceful reform in Vietnam, but which its government labels a terrorist organisation.