President Trump’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership last year encouraged the Vietnamese government to “drop its mask” and increase persecution of pro-democracy activists, according to the annual report by Human Rights Watch.
The New York based group said that Vietnam’s repression of government critics increased significantly in 2017, with at least 24 people convicted for their writings.
“After the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, Vietnamese authorities engaged in a renewed crackdown against rights activism, arresting dozens of bloggers and activists and sentencing many to long prison terms,” said the report.
“State-sanctioned thugs often attacked dissidents, while police brutality, including deaths in police custody, remains a serious problem,” it added.
Vietnam made fewer arrests and postponed high profile trials of bloggers during the TPP negotiations, in an apparent attempt to win over critics of its rights record in the United States.
However, there has been no such restraint since the conclusion of the talks and President Trump’s later decision to pull the plug on ratification.
Some 28 people have been arrested on “national security” offences over the last 14 months, said the report, charges often used to punish critical speech and peaceful activism.
A charge of conducting propaganda against the state, used to imprison the pro-democracy campaigner Nguyen Van Dai and his colleague, Le Thu Ha, in December, 2015, were changed to the more serious charge of subversion in July last year.
The two are still being held in isolation awaiting trial.
HRW calculates that 119 people are currently serving lengthy prison terms for expressing critical views or taking part in peaceful protests.
It says that Vietnam’s trade partners and donors continue to prioritise trade and strategic links over human rights concerns.