Activists confined during “human rights dialogue”

The blogger known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom is one of those being detained for involvement in an environmental campaign.

The Vietnamese authorities have prevented human rights campaigners from meeting a visiting delegation from the US State Department.

The independent blogger, Pham Doan Trang, and the veteran political activist, Nguyen Quang A, were amongst those confined to their homes by plainclothes police and vigilantes to prevent them meeting the Americans.

The Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Virginia Bennett, is leading a US delegation in Hanoi for the annual human rights dialogue with Vietnam.

She said the dialogue would cover a wide range of issues, including the importance of progress on legal reform, freedom of association and expression, and religious freedom.

The Communist authorities are currently engaged in a vigorous campaign to suppress independent bloggers and those involved in protests over last year’s environmental disaster off the north-central coast.

Some 90 activists are serving prison terms for political activities.

Vietnam has repeatedly signalled a lack of interest in meaningful human rights discussions with the United States and other countries, by preventing visiting delegations from meeting leading activists.

Government critics have also been detained during previous visits by European Union and Australian diplomats, and by the former US president, Barack Obama, last year.

Human rights sidelined

Western diplomats who have taken part in human rights dialogues with Vietnam say they have encountered a defensive and uncooperative attitude from their counterparts.

The United States insists that human rights remains a key aspect of its relationship with Vietnam.

However, analysts say the issue was increasingly sidelined in the latter years of the Obama administration as the United States focused on developing closer strategic and economic ties with Hanoi.

President Trump has shown little interest in the promotion of human rights and democratic freedoms around the world.

The Vietnamese Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, is due to visit Washington next week, as Vietnam seeks to establish meaningful contact with the Trump administration.

Mr Phuc is expected to explore the possibility of a bilateral trade deal with the US, following Mr Trump’s scrapping of the TPP in January, and to sound out the administration on its approach to the ongoing confrontation with China in the South China Sea.

Progress on human rights is not expected to figure significantly in the talks.