Vietnamese activists have appealed for increased pressure from the international community over the government’s increasingly ruthless suppression of free speech.
A delegation representing human rights defenders addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva amid signs that some in the European Union at least are losing patience with Hanoi’s evasions over human rights.
“We are gravely concerned by the crackdown on human rights defenders in Vietnam,” said Dinh Thao, a former medical student turned political activist, in her address to the council.
“Despite its international treaty obligations and recommendations accepted at the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) to respect freedom of expression and civil society space, the Government of Vietnam is doing the exact opposite.”
She stressed that the Vietnamese authorities are becoming ever more intolerant of dissent, arresting at least 16 activists this year alone.
Amongst them are six members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, who are now facing a possible death sentence on subversion charges for what she described as peaceful work on human rights.
Thao herself suffered harassment and threats from the police after becoming involved in civil society work while still a medical student in Hanoi three years ago.
She took part in protests against the city’s plans to uproot ancient trees that line many of Hanoi’s avenues, a campaign that provoked an angry backlash from the authorities but eventually succeeded in halting the programme.
Also in the delegation is Le Thi Minh Ha, the wife of Nguyen Huu Vinh, better known as the blogger Anh Ba Sam.
He was sentenced to five years imprisonment after being held incommunicado for nearly two years for criticising the government.
The delegation has been meeting officials in a number of European cities to highlight growing repression in Vietnam.
The plight of civil society activists in Vietnam has been overshadowed by the ethnic cleansing in nearby Myanmar, and the growing tension in Korea, but there are signs that the EU, at least, is waking up to the extent of the violations in Vietnam.
A senior trade official visiting Hanoi last week warned that ratification of the EU’s 2015 free trade agreement with Vietnam could be jeopardised by concern over human rights.
Forced labour and freedom of expression “are really at the centre of the discussion… if there are not sufficient solutions then the agreement will be in troubled water,” said Bernd Lange, the chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee for International Trade.
European officials were also shocked by the apparent abduction of a fugitive former official from the heart of Berlin in July, an operation that German officials are convinced was executed by Vietnamese secret agents.
Germany is still demanding the return of the official, Trinh Xuan Thanh, and threatening further retaliation if its concerns are not met.